So you received a new puppy for Christmas or you gave one to your children so that they would have companionship and learn responsibility with their new puppy. The success of having your children depends on a number of factors:
- The age of the children
- The style of training
- The time adults can oversee the process
What Are Your Expectations?
Many of us want the perfect relationship with our dogs that we see in the movies. The dog who comes on command. The dog who knows how to perform any number of tricks. And the dog who will go to get help when little Timmy is trapped in the abandoned mine shaft!
The reality is that having a dog who can do all of those things takes time. If you have bonded well with your puppy, you will be the most important human in your puppy’s life. This is good. Now it is time for you to take over from where the puppy’s mother left off. While with her mother, your puppy learned what was and was not acceptable canine behavior around other dogs. Your job is to teach your puppy what is acceptable canine behavior around people and everything else in the world.
You also want to include your children in the training because the dog will be their responsibility. Many parents expect their children to know how to take care of the dog without providing any training in how to do that. This is unfair to both your puppy and your children. The one big certainty is that the parents will spend the most time training both their children and their puppy.
Can Children Train Dogs?
This depends on the age of the child. Very young children should never be left around the puppy in case they accidentally pull on the dog’s ears or tail and the dog reacts by biting them. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children what is and is not acceptable behavior around the dog.
Children younger than age 12 will probably not be able to take care of or train a puppy without considerable adult supervision. They should be permitted to assist the parent with training the puppy and can work with the puppy under supervision. The puppy needs to learn that she is responsible to obey all the humans in the family. Children need to learn not to pull on ears or tails as this can hurt the puppy and result in a bite, and that they should not startle a dog. Children should definitely learn how to feed, water and pick up the dog’s poop, but a parent will need to supervise this.
Children should also be taught how to meet a new dog so that if they encounter a strange dog at a friend’s house or elsewhere that they will not be afraid or provoke the dog into an aggressive response.
I am a proponent of using positive reinforcement as the best training technique. Children should never use any means of punishment on a dog as the dog may learn to resent the child. The child may not understand the nuances in using devices such as shock collars.
Children should help the parent with training by extending the time working with the puppy by helping with additional commands. The child should be taught to use the clicker or a toy as the puppy’s treat during training. The parent or adult should use the food treats to prevent the children from potentially overfeeding the puppy. You also do not want the puppy to only work for food. There are other types of treats such as praise and toys.
Children usually have more time to devote to training the puppy as well as more energy. They can help with the training by continuing the lesson begun by the adult. The adult should only work on one new command at a time. When the adult has to leave, the child can continue to work on that one command with the puppy. This allows the child to be an important part of the puppy’s training, but doesn’t rely solely on the child’s skill as an animal trainer.
Classes or Home School
If you have a local animal shelter, check for puppy training classes there. Some of them will not permit a child to be the puppy’s human so you will need to check with them first. If they do not allow the child to participate, check to see if the child can attend and watch from the sidelines. It’s still a good learning experience for them. Then when you get back home, the child can continue the process
Some shelters may offer classes specifically designed to help children learn about caring for a new dog. These are a worthwhile investment in creating a responsible pet owner.
If you want to get a book and train your dog using that, I provide some recommendations on an earlier post. Training takes time. This time is an investment that will pay off as children who take care of dogs do become more responsible and resilient adults. You should first read about the next training command or topic together. Have your children read it aloud and determine what it is saying together. This will help your child with reading comprehension. Then discuss how you will approach this topic with your puppy. Then do it! You can also have a critique session afterwards to look at what worked and what did not work so that you can modify your training during the next session.
Go For It!
By training your new puppy with your children, you are demonstrating to them that the puppy is important and that they are also important. The time you spend with your children whether reading up on puppy training techniques or at a class offered by your shelter is never wasted. Any time spent with your new puppy is always good for both you and the puppy. Training your new puppy with your children is a win-win-win situation for you, your children and your puppy.
Thank you for your attention. Please continue the conversation by offering a comment below.