My Kids Are Afraid Of The Puppy
Is your cute little fuzzy buddy terrorizing your kids? Here's why and how to put a stop to it.
The locale is your backyard. Weather, sunny and warm. Big play area, a couple of kids, and a half-grown puppy for them to play with. All in all, an ideal and heartwarming scene guaranteed to make professional calendar photographers grab a camera and sixteen rolls of film for a profitable afternoon shoot...except the kids are running in terror, the Pup from Hell is close at their heels wearing a maniacal grin, and the only shooting anyone feels like doing involves the dog, a pistol and a quick trip to the woods. Your third-grader’s hands and arms look like hamburger and the kindergartener sticks her thumb in her mouth and merely stares at the puppy from her perch atop the back of the living room sofa with bleak, haunted eyes.
How did this happen? Kids and dogs go together, for cryin’ out loud! That’s why you got the dog in the first place, and now they won’t voluntarily have anything to do with him. Where did you fail?
Well, for starters, I’d be willing to bet that the kids haven’t been much involved in the puppy-training process at all. As far as your pup knows or cares, they’re just litter mates and downright puny ones, at that. Delicate, slow, and no fun at all unless he can chase them and play the Nip-The-Nearest-Appendage game, they’re ciphers in the heirarchy of dogdom.
“So what?” you ask. “My kids aren’t dogs.”
I know that, and you know that, and your kids know that. But the dog doesn’t know that. And he’s not going to accept your unverified word for it, either. You’ll have to show him the money, and that means getting the kids to participate in training Attila the Hound.
Luckily, you have a couple of things working for you here. Properly done, dog training is fun for everyone, and it’s especially intriguing for youngsters...both the two-and-four-legged varieties. Another plus is the increasing popularity of dog obedience classes. Even if you intend to do the bulk of the training yourself...and you really need to, you know... reputable obedience “schools” are ideal places to socialize your puppy. And the kids, for that matter. You should be able to find ads and recommendations for such classes at your local pet supply store, and some may offer classes on site. Think of the relatively small expense as an investment, whereas bandaids, Bactine, and psychotherapy are merely overhead. Let the kids be the handlers during class, and encourage them to practice the exercises with the dog at home. They’ll have fun, the dog will have fun, and the bloodshed will halt fairly abruptly.
So, what does your dog need to know to ensure that he doesn’t think of your kids as life-support systems for chew-toys? He needs to know he’s not in charge of them, and their status is higher than his. All family members should be able to get the dog to come when called, sit and lie down when told, and walk on leash without flying his protesting escorts like kites in a high wind. He should stay on command, permit the handling of his feet, ears and muzzle without a struggle, and unfailingly allow proximity to his food dish and sleeping area with no growling, shoving or simply standing in the way like a hairy boulder. Those are the minimum daily requirements for healthy dog-people relationships.
What do the kids need to know, besides the reciprocals? They have to understand that the dog isn’t a football, a trampoline, a garbage disposal or an economy-model pony. Until they do, and until the dog accepts them as superior officers...or at least non-coms...it’s a good idea to supervise their interactions. You can help your children learn to think like dogs, but it’s just not possible to teach a dog to think like a human. Start early, be consistent, and keep the rules as simple as you can. All your young creatures will benefit in the long run.