Has your dream of getting your kids a puppy turned into a nipping nightmare?
If your puppy is constantly jumping on your kids and pulling at their clothes, chances are she is trying to engage in play with your children the same way she would with another puppy. Puppies sometimes treat kids like littermates, so understand that your pup is not being aggressive – she is exhibiting play behavior, just with the wrong creatures. Let’s fix it before your kids no longer want anything to do with the puppy!
Take a multi-faceted approach to the problem using the tips listed below. It won’t be just one thing in particular that will fix this, but rather everything working together.
- Supervise when the puppy is with the kids. I’m the parent of a three-year-old, so I know that this is easier said than done, but it’s critical.
- Try to prevent the behavior from happening by providing your pup with something else to do, like working on a food puzzle toy or chewing a bone, pig’s ear, bully stick etc.
- Use Time Out. If puppy bites a child’s clothes, tell your puppy Time Out and immediately remove her to the time out area.
- Use a tether indoors. A tether would be a leash clipped to her collar and then tied to a heavy piece of furniture. This anchors her in place. Being on a tether allows her to be with you but provides some management and control in that she cannot get up and come bother everyone. She should be given a bed and a bone to chew. Remember a tethered dog should never be left alone.
- Separate puppy when kids are active. When kids need to run around and be kids your puppy should be separated from them. Kids and dogs should not engage in rowdy play together; otherwise puppy is going to continue to view the kids as playmates. Ask the kids not to run and scream around her.
- Teach kids to “Be A Tree” if the dog is getting out of control around them – stand feet shoulder width apart, fold your branches (arms) across your trunk (chest) and keep your hands tucked under your arms. Look at the sky (up and away from the dog) and hold still. This position usually indicates to the dog the child does not wish to engage and the dog will move away.
- Have your child participate in some of the basic training like Sit, Down and Come. It’s good for dogs to take direction from kids and see them as “givers of treats and good things” in exchange for polite behavior. Keep in mind that words like Sit, Down and Come sound different coming from a kid than from an adult. Your puppy probably won’t recognize that it’s the same position request when spoken by a 3-year-old, so teach young children to use hand signals for these training words.
- Practice Touch. Touch is a great exercise for kids to do. You can hold a young child’s hand in yours and teach your pup to Touch, and of course an older child can do this on his own.
- Make sure she is getting plenty of puppy playtime. Frolicking with other puppies and young dogs gives her an appropriate outlet for all that energy. Pampered Pets offers a weekly drop-in puppy playgroup from 9-10 am on Saturdays.
- Find other ways to increase your puppy’s exercise. Run her hard playing fetch or chasing a flirt pole.
- Feed exclusively from puzzle toys to provide mental stimulation and to keep her busy and occupied. The mental exercise from working the puzzle toy will take the edge off her energy plus it provides an outlet for mouthing.
- Intervene if you see your puppy chasing your child. You can stop the chase by asking puppy to Look or Leave It (both learned in Puppy Kindergarten) to redirect her behavior. Once you’ve got her attention, redirect her to toys, food puzzle toys or any appropriate plaything that is engaging to her.
- Let your puppy wear a short, light leash indoors. This gives you something to reach down and grab if she starts chasing the kids in the house. You have stopped the behavior and can then move her on to something else.
So, in summary:
- Re-direct your puppy, telling her in a sense “don’t do that, but do this”
- Use a Time Out so she learns “that behavior has this consequence” (social isolation is the opposite of what she wants.)
- Use good management like tethers, crates and baby gates that prevent her from practicing the unwanted behavior.
- Provide appropriate outlets for her energy and for mouthing.
- Teach children to act appropriately around dogs – no running, screaming or rolling on the floor near them.
- Get children involved in the training so your puppy sees them in more of a leadership role and less of a littermate role.
Hopefully these techniques will stop the puppy’s harassment of the kids. If you have further needs or any questions, please feel free to reach out to me!
Valerie Balwanz PMCT, CPDT-KA, Pampered Pets Lead Trainer