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Dog Tip: Living with Kids and Dogs

By Robin Tierney

NOTE: The content on this website cannot be used in connection with any profit-seeking activity due to agreements with the writers, editors and sources contributing to the content. These articles may NOT be reproduced in any form without author permission. To contact the author, email Robin at Tierneydog@yahoo.com.

Must reading for everyone who has dogs and kids - and even for parents who don't have pets. Order copies at http://www.LivingwithKidsandDogs.com

Living with Kids and Dogs ... Without Losing Your Mind:
A Parent's Guide to Controlling the Chaos

by Colleen Pelar, CPDT

Colleen Pelar's compact paperback is not just for parents. Anyone who has a dog, no matter how experienced, will find ingenious tips and techniques that will make life with Rover smoother. There's no greater insurance against damage, escapes and bites than knowledge put into practice. In her essential, award-winning handbook, Pelar presents real-world, practical guidance in engaging, straightforward and easy-to-apply lessons.

The chapters cover preparations before baby arrives, managing baby and toddler along with canine family members, teaching empathy and thoughtful decision-making to young children, dealing with situations that arise in the elementary and teenage years, and effectively handling tough events such as the loss of a pet. Many of the lessons for teaching kids how to, and how not to, approach and handle canines can be applied to those legions of adults who demonstrate lack of knowledge or poor judgment. Such as bothering dogs when they're eating ... roughhousing ... annoying a tired dog, etc.

A sampling of topics:

* Choosing a dog based on behavior traits instead of breed reputation ... and why a mature dog is often best for families with young children.
* Choosing the right person to help you train your dog.
* Ways to calm down your dog.
* What's resource guarding and what to do about it.
* The scavenger hunt for puppy socialization.
* Must-know body language.
* Teaching pups bite inhibition.
* Teaching kids "the Freeze Dance."
* "The Name Game" - how to get your dog's attention ... every time.
* Realistic ways to teach children age-appropriate responsibility.
* Teaching Leave It, trades, and Drop It.
* Real-world housetraining
* Easy crate training and other management techniques (which are not substitutes for training).
* Smart, fresh techniques to stop jumping up on people, discourage begging and attention-seeking behavior when you're trying to take care of baby, and "go to bed" (for the dog).
* Management tools from baby gates to in-home tethers to the best style of walking harness.
* Effectively using clicker training techniques - with your tongue instead of a clicker that would likely get lost or fumbled as you juggle kids, dog and daily duties.
* Diets linked with ADHD-like hyper behavior in dogs (for example, corn) - and how to improve the diet for everyone's benefit.
* Four habits to change before baby arrives - and how to do it.
* Teaching kids to safely greet other dogs.
* The perils of permissiveness - and kiddie behaviors that should not be allowed (picking up the dog, playing near the food bowl, teasing, screaming, wrestling, riding the dog ... and likewise, letting the dog forage for food while your baby or toddler is eating).
* Teach your dog to happily follow you to the bathroom, the dryer, etc. - since it's critical not to leave dogs and young children together unsupervised.
* When does the time come that you can let a child interact with a dog without supervision? Pelar offers advice and suggests reviewing the guidance at www.DoggoneSafe.com .
* What do these bits of body language mean: lip licking, yawning, turning away, moving slowly, half-moon eye, and (uh oh) freezing? Pelar tells you.
* Watching for warning signs that dogs give when they are uncomfortable: frozen posture, hard stare, curled lip, growling. And what to do if you see them.
* Learning as a family from books and videos; guiding children as they practice petting stuffed animals.
* Using language that children of various ages will understand in teaching them to understand and safely and humanely interact with companion animals. Changing "don't" admonitions, which are often hard for kids (and dogs, and adults) to process, to constructive "do" phrases. Getting kids to actively think through the consequences of various behaviors.
* The key behaviors you'll want to teach your dog. And why 5-minute training sessions can be the best choice.
* Using a "boundary rope" to manage your dog.
* Training exercises tailored to kids - including group activities that are fun (and educational) for the dog as well as the kids.

I practically ran out of highlighter ink marking the one cogent paragraph after another.

Each chapter ends with "Words for the Weary," a summary that Pelar recommends as minimum required reading for the busy. But skipping or even skimming the simply articulate chapters will deprive readers of invaluable information. Better to set aside time each day or night to read the whole book, even a few pages at a time. The imparted wisdom will save you time and stress, and possibly relationships, in the short and long term.

As Pelar writes: "Parenting books say ‘control your dog.' Dog training books say ‘control your kid.' The reality is far more complex and goes way beyond placing blame on either children or dogs for being who they are."

Miscommunication with both dogs and kids runs rampant. The dog nipping at running toddlers' ankles may be responding as bred - to round up straying sheep. Hugging is a sign of human affection, but it makes canines feel trapped.

She discusses the need, and how, to give your dog plenty of physical and mental exercise even when you're juggling those endless new-parent tasks. Plus intermittently tossing little treats to your dog when she's calm - teaching her that being still has its rewards.

Many experienced dog people scold or punish dogs for growling. Pelar explains why growling, an early-warning signal, is good. "Would you like traffic lights to go from green to red without the yellow?"

Naturally, we don't want our dogs to nip children or anyone else. Pelar outlines how to extinguish nipping by puppies using brains, not brawn.

The "Freeze Dance" involves becoming still, like a tree - a way for children and adults to help calm a dog ... from the family canine to a loose dog wandering the neighborhood.

If your dog does not have an apparent resource-guarding problem, you can and should engage in food bowl exercises to prevent it from developing. Pelar describes how to teach your dog that having people approach when he is eating is wonderful, not threatening. "Begin by hand-feeding [the dog] his meals."

Similarly, teach Rover that it pays to "drop" things on command, instead of leading you on a chase with dirty diaper in mouth - because he'll get something desirable in return. And make sure he has toys of his own - that the kids know not to touch - so he's not inclined to seek out unauthorized items.

Pelar concisely explains such issues as barrier frustration (why chaining a dog can lead to aggressive behavior) ... the importance of teaching acceptance of strangers instead of "protectiveness" ... positive, effective responses to pottying in the house ... and teaching children, even the very youngest, that they must respect the dog's need to rest and to have "getaway" spots including a crate and doggie mats.

Tips for convenience include getting a headset phone so mom and dad can keep hands free ... diaper pails with locking lids ... a bathmat for each room in which you spend a lot of time, so that your dog will have her own special seat near the family without being underfoot ... a homemade tethering station ... food delivery toys such as Kongs that preoccupy the dog for extended periods.

She addresses concerns such as baby swings, which get some canines overly excited. Scientific data includes a finding that it can take two months for a dog to recognize a new child as a pack (family) member. Vigilance must continue as the child grows; for example, as a toddler becomes mobile, she'll begin investigating low-lying areas that a dog might have considered his own domain.

Among key points:

* Make sure your dog has a place that is all his own, a place where the children (and others, for that matter) are not allowed to go. This can be his create, bathmats, bed or a special corner. Don't expect youngsters to police themselves; again, always supervise when kids and dogs have access to one another - or make sure they are fully, physically separated, such as by a closed door.

* Teach verbal as well as gestural cues. You want to be able to verbally direct your dog sit or go to her mat when you're holding baby, and do the same through body language in a noisy situation.

* "It helps to use emotional labels when describing a dog's behavior. ‘It looks like Pixie is tried and needs a nap,' or ‘I think it makes Pixie nervous when you make that loud noise.' It's hard for young children to put themselves in someone else's place."

* Kids have a much harder time understanding what not to do than what to do. Rephrase to avoid saying "don't" so often. Instead of "don't bother her while she's sleeping," you can suggest "Let's get a book to read to she can take a nap."

* A brilliant way to deal with the common urge to dress up the dog: make a few bandannas in different colors for various roles the child wants the dog to play. Add a Velcro closure so the child can put them on and remove them easily and without annoying the dog.

* Use the dog's natural desire to be with the family to teach acceptable behaviors when the baby or child is in the room.

* When your child encounters a dog, he or she should take these steps before petting the dog: Ask the Owner; Ask the Dog (by observing body language ... do not allow children to pet a dog who does not approach them willingly); Pet the Dog gently and not near sensitive areas such as eyes, ears and the top of their heads.

* By guiding a child's relationship with the family dog, you can help your child develop judgment, decision-making skills, empathy and character.
Modeling proper behavior is very helpful," she writers. "Preschoolers like to be part of a team. Tell them, ‘Our family never frightens an animal. We are kind to animals.'" This will help the child resist the influence of people whose actions and attitudes are not humane.

* "We expect more tolerant behavior out of dogs than is expected of adult members of any other species, including humans," writes Pelar. To replace those unrealistic expectations, she gives us insight and effective, ready-to-apply techniques to manage, train and nurture safe relationships between our human and canine family members.

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Teaching "Go To Bed," paraphrased from Living with Kids and Dogs ... Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent's Guide to Controlling the Chaos by Colleen Pelar, CPDT. Available from http://www.LivingwithKidsandDogs.com

Also called "settle," the "go to bed" cue sends the dog to his bed or mat. Pelar suggests placing clean bathmats in each room in which you spend a lot of time. This way, your dog can feel part of, and not isolated from, the family, without getting underfoot.

Since training "go to bed" goes faster if you pay full attention to the dog, she encourages it to be done before the new baby joins the household. Otherwise, plan to conduct the training sessions when baby is sleeping or someone else is able to watch her, allowing you to focus solely on the dog.

Teaching the behavior: set aside 5 minute sessions a couple of times a day. Fill a small bowl with treats that you can toss. Sit in the room and watch the dog. Don't try to entice him toward the mat. Instead, any time he looks in the direction of the mat, click your tongue and toss a treat toward the mat.

"Soon, he'll be hanging out near the mat because that's where the treats arrive." Now begin watching his paws. When he places any paw on the mat, click your tongue and toss a treat to him.

"When he's pretty consistent about having at least one paw on the mat, raise your criteria to two." Once he achieves that, move on to 3. Once he gets three paws on the mat, begin adding the cue word - "go to bed" or "settle."

"Start moving around the room. Click and toss treats only when he has three paws on the mat, regardless of where you are. Most dogs will get bored watching you and will lie down. That's wonderful. Definitely toss treats for that. In the initial stages of training, keep your rate of reinforcement high enough that he thinks moving away isn't worth it. If he just stays on his mat, good stuff keeps coming.

"You may also want to use the "magic mat" concept. Each time you leave the room, toss a single treat onto the mat without letting [the dog] see. Then when you return to the room later, he'll find that the mat is a very reinforcing place to be. It's magic. Treats apparently grow there spontaneously."

Note: prevent active toddlers from accessing the magic mat.

Discouraging jumping behavior when walking, paraphrased from "Living with Kids and Dogs ... Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent's Guide to Controlling the Chaos" by Colleen Pelar, CPDT. Available from http://www.LivingwithKidsandDogs.com

Hook two leashes to your dog's collar. When kids approach, drop the extra leash on the ground, and step on it while holding your better leash in your hands.

Standing on the extra leash prevents the dog from jumping up. As your dog gets better at sitting (note: have the kids use the "Sit" cue, since it benefits everyone to involve them in proper training), you can begin leaving the extra leash on the ground without stepping on it.

And when you have two leashes attached to the collar, your child can help walk the dog.

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Last Updated: June 23, 2013 (LET) PawSupport