2013 DWAA nomination for ‘Excellence in Single Blog Post’
Out of all of the things that I am, all of the hats that I wear, being a mother to my children and animals is first and foremost.
I have been raising babies, children, and now teenagers, with our puppies and dogs, for almost a decade and a half. This is my reality every day, and I love it. It is my source of everything great in my life, what keeps me grounded.
For the most part, the human part of our home lives conflict free. HA! My kids are sleeping right now but would so argue this point! I choose to not wake them and will go with my version.
For the most part, the animal side of our home is even more conflict free. We have never had growling, pushing, or posturing with our dogs in our home. Honestly, I have a lot of respect for their ‘conflict resolution’ style of living. It is admirable, impressive, and truly a great model to live by. And our dogs are all VERY high drive working border collies, no couch potatoes in this home.
As for our children and dogs interacting and living together, we have never had one altercation, or moment of distress. And this isn’t because we are magical in our household, but rather we live with meticulous management, which is a great deal of effort, but worth it.
Love and respect flows between our dogs and kids, freely. This was my goal from the beginning, and again, there is a great deal of work on my part to keep the peace, and again, it is worth it.
So with a very clear understanding that all households are different, everyone has a different flow, pattern, style, beliefs, and way of living, here are my Top 10 tips for keeping the peace with children and puppies.
- Do you have the time? – Even if your kids are begging, pleading and making crazy promises to clean the house forever, only consider getting a puppy if you want a dog for an average of 15 years or so. The novelty wears off for children fairly quickly, especially when the puppy starts the normal and predictable, nipping, chasing ankles, barking, and chewing the heads off of Barbies. Whoever pays for the puppy, pays the veterinary bills, and buys the food is the true owner, guardian and caretaker of the puppy. Make sure you have the time and desire.
- Be Realistic – Choose a puppy that is the best fit for your household with your children. Please read that sentence over and over again, I cannot emphasize this enough. Look at the breed descriptions, activity level, shedding, potential allergy problems, and size. If part of the breed description says “great family dog, relaxed and easy”, just know that is the ‘adult’ dog description of that breed, and most likely will not be achieved or witnessed for years. Puppies are generally boisterous, playful, mouthy, scampy, curious, and adventurous, until they fall asleep. Also, if you ever plan on having play dates with your children’s friends at your home, or having a social life of your own, please stay away from the powerful guardian breeds. I don’t care what anyone says, I have seen too many doors that were turned into kindling by guardian breeds of well intentioned families, who had no idea that there dog would guard them from everything.
- Preparing the home – Much like baby proofing a home, you need to puppy proof your home too. The big difference is that puppies are much faster, have four legs, and sharp puppy teeth. If you don’t want it chewed, pick it up and put it away! If your children are use to leaving toys out and about, you might want to consider off the floor organizer boxes. If you leave your shoes by the front door you might want to invest in an off the floor rack, or leaving them on the outside of your door. If you don’t want your puppy to chew on your children’s toys, socks, or underpants, than you have to help your children learn, and teach them how to put things away as part of good management. You cannot scream or yell at a puppy for chewing on something, if it was your fault for leaving it down. This isn’t a one time deal, in fact sometimes it is a 100 times a day deal, but it helps with success. Whoever created the ‘Calgon Take Me Away’ slogan, had children and a puppy!
- Respect – It is super important to talk with your children, as soon as you can, that puppies are living, sentient beings. They are not toys, they are not for folly, they are beings we share the planet with. If you want your puppy to grow into an adult dog that you can trust around your children, then your children need to be respectful, thoughtful, and trust worthy during the puppy stages. No grabbing, rushing, chasing, pulling, riding (dear god), rough housing, or teasing (especially with food). In my opinion, I do not direct children to puppies, or puppies to children. I do not force interactions, and purposefully get them to play together. Young humans, and young canines play differently. Creating a ‘parallel’ household where they can feel free to do their own things independent of each other, come up and say hello kindly, but then choose the adults for the focus. This is a respectful household. Children and puppies, will learn about each other over time, they don’t need to be in each others faces, or directed towards each other.
- No Baby Sitting – Please do not, even accidentally, ask your children to watch the puppy, or put the puppy in the position of watching the children. Children are not fully developed human beings, their brain and decision making capabilities are not mature yet. In other words, they don’t always make great choices without adult supervision. Puppies are also not fully developed in the decision making department, and if they are pressed they will generally make a decision based on what they can accomplish with their paws or their jaws. If you put a child or puppy in the position to make an adult decision, they will generally fail and remind you they are children and puppies, and it may not go really well for you. Safety means adult supervision all of the time, period. It’s a lot of work for the parents, I know this, but the pay off will be happy humans, happy dogs, and no altercations.
- Management – Separating puppies from children during certain periods of the day is not a bad thing. Young children can have a wide range of emotional swings in a very short time span, and that can be a bit rough on the household. When puppies are frustrated, teething, or overly tired, it’s like a toddler on caffeine, and nobody wants that! Baby/DOG gates are awesome for separating rooms, I recommend 2-3 per household. They are either portable, or pressure wall mounted semi permanent (which I prefer and recommend), and can be used all over the house, depending on where everyone is. If your children are playing in one room, and it is kind of big play, you can baby gate your puppy with you in the kitchen while you are getting a meal ready. If your puppy is tired, the crate is a great option. You are incorporating your puppy into your families home and life, so they need to be with you all, not chucked into the back yard and isolated. But sometimes integrating a puppy will require small steps forward an a ton of management. For really active puppies, always have the leash on before a door opens in the home, especially the front door. If you never teach your puppy to bolt, they will never have a need to try it. Good management prevents these types of accidents. If children are running in and out and playing and things are busy, have your puppy with you behind a gate in your office, kitchen, etc.
- Chew Items and Toys, and equal exchange – Puppies are teething for roughly 13 months. They are dropping puppy teeth at a rapid rate and bringing in all of their adult teeth around the 7 month marker. From 7-13 months your puppy (now and adolescent) will be setting their teeth. Chew chew chew! If you do not provide chew items all of the time, your puppy will find things to chew on, toys, socks, underpants, shoes, glasses, hearing aids, books, wood trim, dry wall, etc. When your puppy picks up a toy, don’t get overly excited, grab a bully stick, stuffed KONG, or other valuable dog chew item, and exchange kindly for what ever they have in their mouth. If you make a big fuss about what is in their mouth, you have marked it as SUPER HIGH VALUE and they will learn to do it over and over again, and to really keep it away from you. Have teething items around the house at all times.
- Nurturing – One of the coolest and simplest things you can do with children is to allow them to be part of the daily care of your puppy. Portioning out their meals, washing their bowls, filling up their water dish, making some easy and fun toys out of old socks and water bottles, baking your own treats, braiding strips of old blankets for tug toys, etc. Taking care of the nurturing side allows children a bigger, and deeper role with the family puppy. Instead of having a furry biting machine in the house, we have a living being that needs love, kindness, and lots of care in order to thrive. To me this is a very important life lesson for our children, from very early ages. Caring for other living beings, and how cool to have a puppy in the household as a teacher!
- Teaching – Puppies start to learn from their families the day they come home. There is no need to wait when it comes to teaching life skills. Adults are the teachers in the household, and guides to the children when it comes to working with the puppy. Some puppies are gentle with taking food, others not so much, this is totally variable, so it will vary from household to household if the children can give rewards or if the parents need too. Allow your children to watch you reward your puppy for good choices, tell your puppy ‘good job’, give appropriate pets. Kind and gentle handling teaches our children how to be kind and gentle with animals. Buying a tricks book is the best start possible when there are children in the home. There are so many possibilities, it’s so varied, and children love puppies that can spin and twirl. Sit is kind of boring to kids, just sayin! The more you introduce, the more you can do, and the better the communication in the household. Children love to tell the world all of the cool things their puppy can do, it is a sense of pride, so it’s a good thing for parents to help their puppy learn lots of new things. And the bonus, the more mental exercise you do with your puppy, the more settled they become! WOOP! When your puppy is 10-12 weeks old consider joining a reward based puppy class. This will expand your community of puppy friends, give you new skills, and continue with a nurturing environment. Children & Puppy Video
- Visitors – When your children have friends over, the puppy should not be included in their play. Their friends are their friends. And to be truthful, not all children are appropriate with puppies, and you don’t want an accidental nip to a visitor that could have been totally avoided. Let your puppy say hi to the visitors, greet, and get rewarded for being so good, then the puppy stays with you while the children are doing their thing. If your children want to show their friends what their puppy is learning, the adult is right there to supervise, guide, and help out. Visitors are great for socializing, but always monitored, always managed, and always with you.
There are probably 100 more tips that are valuable, but I am all to aware of time poor families. Hopefully these 10 will get you off to a great start, encourage you to up your management, learn more, and move forward with raising a loving family, both furry and non furry alike.