Dog bites are on the rise. More folks getting puppies, more kids home with puppies. And, a big misunderstanding about what the early days of raising a puppy need to include. Simon Usborne’s recent article in The Guardian, Dog-Bite Britain: the problem with the pandemic puppy explosion explores potential causes for the uptick in children getting bitten. In Psychology Today Dr. Hal Herzog’s article, Do School Closures Cause a Surge in Dog Bites in Children, shares some recent stats on the topic.
Shaken not Stirred
Puppies are predators. Kids move around like prey. Kids have high-pitched voices, they are low to the ground. They move erratically, flailing arms and legs. All of this is very enticing to a dog often resulting in a puppy chasing, jumping, and biting at the kids. This highly charged mix of a puppy, kid combo can lead to puppy pandemonium. One thing is for certain, when things go sideways the result is puppy bites, tears, and upset for parents. A plan for how the day will flow and games for the kids will go a long way toward setting your family up for success.
Tips for Success
1. Teach the kids
Kids should learn to give the puppy space and leave them alone when they are sleeping, chewing, and eating. A great way to teach children to interact with a puppy is for them to wait for the puppy to initiate contact instead of them lifting the puppy to cuddle and pet. Kids should be taught to use lots of treats and to always be gentle. Kids should be taught to teach the puppy to keep 4 on the floor and to resist the urge to chase and pick him up. The Family Dog has videos for kids starring kids. Make some popcorn and sit and watch these videos together.
2. Structure in the form of crates, gates, and leashes
Puppies need a lot of sleep. A safe spot for them to rest when they need a nap or you need to focus on something else will help prevent unattended time with children. A leash on in the house prevents the puppy from chasing the kids as does a gate. All of this structure is important for the early months together so kids can be kids and puppies can be puppies!
3. Long toys
All kids should have a long toy. Think 4 feet long! This can be a stuffed animal or rubber ball tied to a lightweight rope. These long toys provide plenty of room between a child’s hands and the puppy’s mouth. They also give the puppy something to focus on that is low, this will help prevent jumping up as well as grabbing at moving kid legs.
Here are two games that will enhance a dog/child relationship.
Round robin recalls with treats delivered on the ground
A minimum of two people but more than two can easily play. Have the kids next to a counter or table for them to access the treats and have the treats pre-portioned. Using high-value, soft treats will make it easier for the kid and more fun for the puppy. Take turns calling the puppy and delivering the treat to the ground right by your toes. This helps keep the puppy from jumping up. No need for the puppy to sit when they come. Feed them a treat as quickly as you can and send them off to the next person calling.
Freeze Tag with treats delivered on the ground
This game helps teach the puppy to keep 4 on the floor when he is around the kids. It teaches the kids to use lots of treats! The kids will need to hold onto a handful of treats or have a treat pouch. The rules are the puppy must always get the treat before they jump, so the kid will have to deliver the treat quickly. Also, it is important to start slow and build toward more action.
Warm-up – The kid takes 1 step, freezes, and delivers a treat to the puppy (on ground). Repeat 5 times.
Step 1 – Kid slowly takes 3 steps, freezes, and delivers a treat to the puppy (on ground). Repeat 5 times.
Step 2 – The kid can start to move around a bit more quickly, you say freeze, kid freezes and delivers a treat to the puppy (on ground).
Step 3 – Build toward the kid running around and freezing when you call freeze, then they quickly feed the puppy.
Tip – there should be about 8 freezes per minute, this is fun for the kid and ensures the puppy is getting plenty of treats for not jumping on a running kid!
Bonus move – After you have all become champion freeze tag players you can add another level to the game. Once the puppy has received the treat from the kid you call them to come. With practice, you will be calling your puppy away from running kids.
A Bright Future
Empowering young people with the skills to peacefully interact with a dog is an incredible gift to give both the child and the puppy.