I was at a new Home Dog Training session last Saturday in Buckhead working with a new Home Dog Training client and her two-year-old Labradoodle named Darcy.  We had an excellent session and Darcy quickly demonstrated respect and obedience towards my client and the direction that we taught her to provide.  As the session was winding up, I asked her if she had any additional questions or issues we needed to address that day. She thought for a moment and said that there was just one more thing.

Children safely play with the family dog

(Trainer’s Note: As you will momentarily discover, I am really happy she asked this question because it is an issue that many people don’t completely understand).  

She told us that there are times when the kids play with Darcy and she gets a little too aggressive, physically excited, and crazy. She went on to say that this would scare her kids and wondered what should be done so the kids still have a great “kids and dog time” without their becoming frightened at Darcy’s temperament.

We all hope that our children can have the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful, bonding, and memorable time with our family dog. From my own experiences, these times can be part of the “great memories” that will remain with us through the rest of our lives.  As parents, we are blessed with the additional experience of passing that on to our children.

As parents, it can often be difficult to properly manage the relationship between our dog and children.  We must let them play and have some rough house time as kids and dogs love, but not allow it to escalate into a situation that becomes scary or even dangerous.  Because of the dichotomy of canine behavior versus human behavior, successfully navigating these waters can often be murky.

Since this is such an important topic for me, I have spent a great deal of time over the years observing kids and dogs in order to establish proper rules and procedures for such a situation.  I shared them with my client and would like to now share them with you:

  • It is critical that you always have an adult supervising the play activity or any activity between the kids and your family dog if any of your kids are under the age of eight. Younger kids often have the habit of becoming overly excited and can cause a “passive nip response” from the dog.
  • Our parents always told us not to play rough in the house.  The same is true when it comes to our dog.  When our children and family dog start to “go nuts and get super excited” while playing inside, that is when things start to break.
  • Keep your dog on a six-foot-leash when there are small and young children present.  If a situation arises where you need to quickly separate your dog from the kids, a quick tug on the leash and redirection away will immediately defuse the situation and keep things happy.
  • Clearly explain to your kids that things like poking your dog, pulling on his paws, or yanking his tail or ears are not allowed. These physical activities will spike your dog’s adrenaline and create a “doggie tag your it” moment.  Your dog will naturally respond to these activities by nipping and jumping.  It is not his fault, the kids “told him to do that”.  Unfortunately, these things will probably scare the kids.
  • I have very few “rules in stone” in my dog training class curriculum.  One of those “very few rules” is NO TUG OF WAR.  One of your kids will be tugging on one end of a sock while your dog has the other end of the sock in his mouth.  During the “give and take” of the engagement, your child’s hand and your dog’s mouth will come into contact.  That means “doggie teeth on child’s skin”.  Although harmless and non-aggressive, this will still scare your child.  (I am sure it would scare you too!)
  • Explain to your children that they should play games with your dog like “chase the ball”.  Find four or five tennis balls (any tennis ball will work, but Kong Toy makes some excellent ones for this game) and tell your kids to throw one out for your dog.  As your dog actively runs to get the first ball, have your kids throw the next ball to another location.  Your dog will then “lock in on that tennis ball” and go after it.  Continue the process so that your dog is excitedly chasing each ball as it is thrown to another part of the yard.  As your dog is running after “the next ball”, calmly pick up the discarded ball so that you can throw it again.
  • Play “hide and go seek” with your dog’s toys and goodies. Hide them around the yard and then have your kids encourage your dog to find them.  Promote comradery by having your kids give your dog hints and point to where the next “hidden treasure” lies.  When he finds the goodie, praise him by saying “Good Puppy”.
  • Believe it or not, teaching can be part of the playing experience.  Teach your kids how to perform obedience commands with your dog.  Once they are “good teachers”, have them practice the Come, Sit, and Stay commands with him.  Have them calmly walk him on a leash around the back yard.

Let your children clearly understand that if they ever feel uncomfortable while they are playing with your dog, they should immediately stop whatever they are doing and calmly stand up.  Once they are standing, they should remain completely still (I always tell them to become a statue) until your dog calms down.

Once they feel safe and the dog is calm, they can decide if they want to continue playing.  If they are done playing, or the dog is still a little crazy, they should calmly and slowly back away from the dog while always facing him.

As dog owners and (obviously) dog lovers, we can’t conceive of a world where we are not surrounded by our dogs.  Having a wonderful and bonding time with our dogs when we were kids was the genesis of this lifelong experience.

Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over nineteen years.  We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and excellent families and are ready to help you.