Dealing with “Rough Play” Between People and Pets

I’d like advice about how to handle a playful dog, who is very rowdy and sees the children more as his “playmates.” My husband and sons love “rough play” with our lab pup who gets very excited, but he mouths them as his very natural way to interact and roughhouse with his “littermates.”

The men and boys in the house don’t mind this, but I sure do!  It’s teaching the dog that it’s okay to nip for fun.  Then he nips my younger children when he’s excited and thinks they want to play, and he’s actually pierced skin sometimes because he obviously doesn’t know how to be more careful.  I can’t get the men in our house to stop playing with the dog this way, so how else do we teach him that nipping is not okay?

I am sure this is a common problem with the men and boys in homes.  Several acquaintances have mentioned this same problem to me.  It would be great to see more information on your site on how to handle these types of situations….overly playful dogs and teaching them the “right” ways to play with the kids. ~ Rita

Ah, Rita, I wish I had the magic answer for you. I live in a house full of males (husband and three sons), and it’s really difficult to convince them to moderate their behavior so that they don’t rile the dogs to the point of inappropriate behavior.

I haven’t given up though! I always teach people to recognize stress signals because I think it’s important to be able to recognize them. So I’ll say things like, “Ooh, ‘getting a lot of half-moon eye there. Time to bring it down a notch.” (Half-moon eye is when you see the whites of a dog’s eyes. There are some stress signals shown on my website in both video and photo form.)

I also talk about how it’s really hard for a dog to know what he can and can’t do with any given individual. If my 15-year-old riles the dog up and gets him jumping and mouthing, how is the dog supposed to know that he shouldn’t jump on and mouth the kids when I take him to preschools? It’s really unfair to blame a dog for not having sophisticated reasoning, but a lot of people think the dog should know that he can only do these activities with certain people. How is the dog supposed to figure that out other than trial and error?

Teach your husband and sons to “be a tree” when the dog starts getting too excited. (The tree pose is with feet firmly planted, hands clasped and held close to the body, and eyes looking down at toes. This gives clear guidance of what to do, rather than what not to do.) This body language is a cut-off signal for a dog, and most respond quickly to it.

Encourage everyone to play games with toys like fetch to keep the dog’s energy focused and channeled. Even tug can be a great game as long as you set some rules.

If you happen upon the brilliant solution to this age-old problem, I would love to hear it!  It’s definitely a common problem.

Good luck with your guys!

Should I Get a “Replacement Dog?”

My 12-year-old daughter would really like us to get another dog. She loves all dogs and  is very attached to our 10-year-old cocker. The cocker has had some health issues this year, so I’m worried about how my daughter will react when he dies. Is it better to get a second dog now or wait? ~ Carolyn

There isn’t a perfect answer to this question. As a teen, I was in a similar situation and convinced my mother that we should get a “companion dog” so we’d never be in the position of getting a “replacement dog.” I was very upset when my 15-year-old dog died, and, for me, it was very helpful to have another dog I was already devoted to.

You really have to consider if you would like a second dog and whether it would be too stressful for your cocker. Some older dogs are really bothered by puppy antics, so you may want to consider adopting an adult dog.

If you decide to get a second dog, remember that age has its privileges. Be sure that your cocker gets plenty of breaks from the new dog as well as some special one-on-one time. It may seem that helping the new dog settle into the household takes all your attention, but make an effort to show your older dog how much you love and appreciate him too.

My Dog is a Tripping Hazard?

We have a busy household with three teens, and our dog, Cargo, loves everyone—sometimes too much. He always wants to be in the middle of the action.
My mother-in-law is coming to live with us because she is having trouble getting around with her walker. She loves dogs, but I’m worried about her tripping over Cargo. I don’t want to yell at him for being friendly, but my mother-in-law can’t risk a broken hip. ~ Mary

Dogs are quite perceptive. I would not be surprised if Cargo intuitively gives your mother-in-law the space she needs.

Borrow the walker and practice teaching your dog a “move away” cue. You can teach him not to approach anyone using the walker, but that he’s allowed to approach when the person sits down. That way he can visit with your mother-in-law without tripping her. For the first few weeks, carry treats in a fanny pack so that you can reward him for being gentle and appropriate. He’ll soon learn that he needs to moderate his behavior around her.

Be sure that he gets lots of exercise too, so that he can burn off his excess energy in appropriate ways and won’t be quite so likely to be underfoot all the time.

Don’t Try This at Home

My wife and I are having a disagreement. From time to time, our dog, Mohican, will grab a napkin or Kleenex and run behind the couch. If you try to reach back to get it from her, she’ll growl at you. I won’t tolerate a dog growling at me, so I shove the couch out of the way, grab the dog, and wrestle it from her. My wife thinks we should trade a treat for the garbage. What do you think? ~ Michael

Many dogs will growl (or even snap or bite) if they have something they consider valuable and someone tries to take it.

Growling is an early-warning sign. It’s possible that she may be sufficiently intimidated by your method to give up growling, but that won’t make her any more comfortable about being approached when she has something she really, really wants. In many cases, this will cause a dog to skip over her warning signals and move directly to biting. Definitely not what you want.

Also force-based methods work only for people confident enough and strong enough to carry them through. Imagine if one of your kids tried diving behind the couch to retrieve a napkin from the dog—she’s be far more likely to bite a child who attempted your maneuver.

Trading for a treat can be a good idea if the dog is taught to drop what she has so that you can safely pick it up. The best book on the subject is Mine: A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs, by Jean Donaldson. You and your wife should read it to develop a plan that works for both of you, avoids aggressive behavior, and doesn’t scare your dog.

photo by: Sahsha Kochanowicz Photography

Touched-Out Teachers Have Dogs Too

http://www.tgfoto.com/​​​Today's post is written by Debra Murray of Smartypaws Dog Training.

​While chatting with a teacher friend today, it was brought to my attention that teachers with dogs and kids have some unique challenges when adjusting to back-to-school schedules.  All day teachers pour their energy into other people's children and come home to their own households and families with important physical and emotional needs that must be met.  

Then, the family dog, who had access to people, play, and ample potty breaks throughout the summer, is ready for rambunctious interaction or inseparable snuggles.  Yet teacher parent is tired and touched out.  They just need a few moments to breathe without the world around them urgently demanding something every single second.

Dear Teachers,

I hear you! I hope these 6 suggestions* can help you find at least 15 minutes of calm in the craziness of raising kids and dogs together while teaching and inspiring our children daily.

(Good news!  You don’t have to be a teacher to try these Back-to-School Doggy Dinners.)

  • Take-Out (scatter feeding):  Let the dog out to potty when you get home while you get the kids and their school stuff situated.  Let pup back in and send the kids out with dog’s dinner.  Have the kids toss and scatter doggy’s food around the backyard.  Call the kids in, then send the dog out for dinner.
  • Tasty Tosser (kibble toss):  This can make some of my teacher friends cringy, but ideally the mess that is made will be cleaned up by the dog.  Children of just about any age can participate in this feeding fun.  Separate dog and children with a sturdy baby gate.  You can take a seat on either side of the gate – probably closer to whichever “animal” needs you most, but being on the same side as your child is optimal.  Have your young kiddo pour dog food in a pile on the floor next to where you are seated sipping cider and gathering your thoughts.  Of course, you can keep the kibble in a bowl or container next to you if you prefer, and sip whatever you choose.  Encourage the child to grab a piece or handful of kibble and toss over the gate to the dog.
  • Homework Helper:  Since doggy snuggles can be nice, sit on the sofa and snuggle and scratch your pup the way you enjoy lovin’ together.  You can play, too if that helps settle your stress.  Use a baby gate to keep pup from interrupting the kids if necessary.  Have the kids practice their letters, spelling words, or math facts by writing them with kibble on the kitchen floor.  When they are finished, switch your snuggle partner.
  • Burrowing Blankie: This is similar to scatter feeding, but indoors and a little different.  Have kids spread dog’s food on the floor while pup is outside or with you in a different room.  Let them lay a blanket or towel over the food for Fido to burrow under and find his feast.  They can use more blankets and towels and spread the food out farther. 
  • Jr. Trainer (hand feed):  Let older children (8+) who have helped with training hand-feed Fido as a training exercise.  Instruct the child to ask for basic behaviors the dog knows well (e.g.,  sit, down, find), and feed or toss a piece of kibble when dog responds correctly.  It’s important only older children who won’t tease or frustrate pup implement this strategy.
  • Brain Toys and Puzzles:  Have kids fill food puzzles and let pupper play engaging in mealtime enrichment.  Check out Smartypaws January and February blogs with mealtime enrichment ideas:  https://www.smartypaws.net/blog/57-enrichment-feeders-for-enriching-the-new-year.html

* The above suggestions are for family-friendly dogs without a history of resource guarding or aggression.

 * Keep dogs and kids separated when eating (except older children for hand feeding)

* Always supervise kids and dogs and remember baby gates are not a substitution for supervision.

Debra L. Murray of SmartyPaws

About the author:  

Debra L. Murray is the owner of Smartypaws LLC Dog Training and Family Education in Lee’s Summit, MO.  She is a licensed educator for Family Paws Parent Education, AKC Canine Good Citizen and S.T.A.R. Puppy Evaluator, professional member of Heartland Positive Dog Training Alliance, and presenter for Good Dog in a Box Dog Smart Education.

Debra also is a homeschooling mom committed to promoting safety and creating harmony between dogs and their families. Currently, she has a rescued Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix named Dolly, a husband of 20+ years, and 3 beautiful children.

​Photo credits: Child spelling "dog" with kibble by Sahsha Kochanowicz Photography, photo of Debra Murray by Tim Galyean

Toddler Obsessed with Skittish Dog

I have a HUGE problem. My dog is very skittish, and my 2-year old son wild.

Andrew pursues her all the house. He laughs when she leaps up to move out of his way. And for some unknown reason, he just doesn’t quite get the word “no” and “dog” being in the same sentence.

He is obsessed with her tail. He smacks it every chance he gets.  When we all go out, he throws rocks and gravel at her.

We had the dog years before we had our son. I don’t feel as though I should have to get rid of her because of him. She has never done anything back to him and gives him no reason to mess with her. I am just afraid it will turn ugly. I would hate for her to bite him, although my husband always says that if she was going to do it, she would have done it by now. ~ Mandy

Toddlers are notoriously short of empathy. Your son isn’t mature enough to understand that he’s scaring or hurting your dog. He just likes getting a reaction.

That said, you need to do everything you can to prevent him from bothering your dog. Indoors make liberal use of baby gates, so that your dog can see and hear you, but Andrew can’t get to her. When you and Andrew are playing outside, leave her in.

When you take her out for a potty break, try giving him something to hold that he can’t throw well, like a zip-lock bag with water and a few floating toys. He can squish the bag to make them move, but the weight will make it difficult for him to throw. Keep that as your special outside toy that he can only have when your dog is outside with you (and change the floating toys from time to time to keep it interesting).

Most important, make sure you praise and reward Andrew when he interacts with the dog in appropriate ways. As much as he needs you to stop him when he’s doing something wrong, he also needs to know how pleased you are every time he is gentle and kind.

beagle

Adult Dog Growls at Puppy

My family just adopted a 5-month-old beagle mix. Parker’s really sweet and playful. We all love him—all of us except our 7-year-old shepherd mix that is.

When Parker wants to play with Cookie, she frequently growls loudly at him. He’ll bring her toy after toy, and she’ll occasionally play tug, but most of the time, she’ll just get up and move away from him. Heaven forbid he follow her because she’ll turn around and bark in his face.

She doesn’t hurt him, but it looks scary. Will we have to give up Parker? ~ Diane

It sounds to me like Cookie doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for puppy antics. In most cases, this isn’t a serious issue, but rather an adult dog setting down the household rules. It will help if you make sure that Parker gets lots of exercise and, if possible, opportunities to play with dogs closer to his age. Having an outlet for his energy will help.

You may also want to take Cookie in for a physical, just to rule out any health or aging issues. If you find that after a month things haven’t settled down (or at any time if they escalate), you may want to bring in a dog trainer to watch the interaction and give specific advice.

But based on your description, it really sounds like Cookie is just telling Parker that she’s the queen and she’ll let him know when he has earned the right to play with her.

Airedale terrier

Dog Gets Wild and Crazy Twice a Day

Twice a day, my dog goes nuts. At 8 am and 7 pm, she races around the house, crashing into things and barking like crazy. You could set a clock by her. What’s up with that? ~ Dylan

Lots of dogs get “the crazies” and will expend excess energy in the way you describe.

For those dogs, I recommend increasing their physical exercise and presenting them with some mental challenges as well. If we get their brains and bodies working, the problem usually goes away. (Julie Fudge Smith and I talked about this in episode 9, Fun with Food, on the Your Family Dog podcast. You may find some suggestions there.)

But the fact that you can identify specific time periods makes me wonder if this could be a food sensitivity. Many dogs have difficulty digesting corn, dyes, and artificial preservatives, which are all too common in dog foods.

Try switching your dog to a food recommended by Whole Dog Journal (which I think of as Consumer Reports for dogs). Give her two months on a high-quality food and keep track of her behavior. I’m betting you’ll see a significant decrease in the crazies at your house!

border collie puppy

Kids in Dog Class

Our 11-year-old daughter loves dogs, and we recently bought her a border collie puppy. Since she’s the dog’s owner, I want her to be the main trainer. However when I tried to register her for a class, I was told that she couldn’t be the primary trainer. Why not? ~ Marie

Most 11-year-olds are very good trainers. Some trainers enjoy having kids in class, and others don’t. I’d love to have a motivated 11-year-old bring her dog to class!

Look around in your area for a trainer that welcomes kids. Ask questions and go watch a class or two before signing up. (The how to choose a trainer post may be helpful.)

When kids come to my classes, I require a parent to stay on site and help the child if needed. With a child as old as yours, you could probably just sit and watch, but for younger kids, it’s very helpful to have the parent hold the leash so the child can train hands-free.

The biggest challenge for most kids is keeping the dog close by, so if you take care of maintaining the dog’s location, the child can focus on training and rewarding the dog. As the dog’s behavior improves, there will be less need for you to pitch in.

As much as possible, let the trainer teach your child and let your child teach the dog. It’s really tempting to coach your child, but far too often, I see kids becoming self-conscious and inhibited if they get too much guidance from mom or dad.

Encourage her to ask the trainer questions and practice outside of class. She may also enjoy Puppy Training for Kids.

close up of young boy

Difficulty Speaking Leads to Miscommunication

My 6-year-old son is receiving intensive speech therapy. He gets frustrated when our dog doesn’t respond when he asks him to sit. I don’t think the dog knows what he is saying, but I don’t want to tell him that as we are encouraging him to speak as much as possible. Any idea how to bridge the gap? ~ Sofie

Dogs communicate primarily through body language. It’s quite likely that you already use some sort of body-language cue to ask the dog to sit. Most people have a tendency to both verbally say a cue and do some sort of physical signal.

Figure out what signals your dog looks for. You may want to have a few solo practice sessions so that your dog will be good at a few simple tricks (e.g., sit, down, spin, and shake) before your son starts working with him.

Help your son practice these skills using the physical cue only (no words yet). Use amazing treats so that your dog thinks working with your son is the best game ever. When your dog is good at responding to your son’s physical cues, then you can encourage your son to use verbal cues as well.

Ask your son to say “sit,” and then do the physical cue for sit. (Stay actively involved at first so you can make sure the dog responds–perhaps by giving the physical cue again behind your son’s back.) When the verbal cue comes first, the dog will begin to anticipate the physical cue and may respond even before it occurs.

Soon your dog will sit when your son asks, even though your son’s words sound different from how the other family members say it. And if you continue have fun practice sessions with tasty treats, your dog may soon respond to your son better than he does to anyone else, which can be very exciting for a child.

Don’t have any idea what physical cues you use?

One simple way to figure out what kind of body language you use to communicate with your dog is to stand like a toy soldier, stiff with your arms at your side, and ask the dog to sit. If the dog doesn’t sit, relax your body and repeat the cue. What changed? Odds are that you nodded your head forward and moved one of your hands either upward or in a pointing motion at the dog. Notice what seems natural—that’s what your dog is watching for.

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