Helping Your Kids Become Little Trainers

There are few things cuter than watching children and puppies work together and form a lifelong bond. With some clear direction and supervision, children can be a great help when it comes to training the new family dog. Participating in training is not only good for Fido, it's great for your kiddo, too. We often get asked how to safely introduce puppies to children. By having kids take part in training early on, you can help teach responsibility, taking ownership of tasks, and how to have a fun, appropriate relationship with dogs.

Letting your children assist with everyday tasks that involve your pup helps them understand the day-to-day care for a healthy, happy dog. It can also help keep both puppy and kiddo on a schedule. To start, we have several ways to teach children how to help with feeding the family dog. We don't recommend letting kids put the food dish on the ground if your dog isn't calm about feedings, but they can help prepare the food. Teach them how much your dog gets, let them measure out the food, and then call the dog to breakfast or lunch. A good general rule is once the food and bowl are on the ground, no child is to touch the bowl. A parent should pick it up once the dog is done eating.

Kid giving dog a treat; photo by Kerri Irwin/@dustydesertdogsTeaching any puppy to take treats nicely can be difficult. To make training go a little smoother, we like to teach a ‘soft mouth’ for taking treats from hands. A good rule of thumb is that the puppy only gets treats while performing a calm behavior. Calm behaviors are typically a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ and should never include jumping up or grabbing at the treat hand. When kids are giving treats, it's best to have them ask the dog to sit and then SLOWLY give the treat with a flat hand facing palm up. The calmer your kiddo can be when delivering a treat, the calmer your puppy is likely to be when he takes it. If your kid isn't comfortable giving the treat directly to the dog, they can still ask for a behavior and then place the treat on the ground for the puppy to get. We emphasize that the treat should be placed on the ground because sometimes throwing treats can make pups more frantic in the race to catch the flying cookie!

For adults, we recommend holding a treat in your hand, offering it to your puppy, and only releasing the treat when puppy is gentle. If your puppy becomes too mouthy, take your hand away with the treat, wait a minute, and try again. The goal here is for your puppy to realize that only a calm, soft mouth will get the treat out of your hand. Because treats are something that most puppies are eager for, this training may take a few tries.

Another great way to have your child help with training is to engage your dog in a game once a day. The perfect time of day for this is when everyone gets home in the afternoon. Usually the dog is excited, your kids are excited, and you're just trying to put your bags down and come up with a dinner plan! Here are a couple of games they can play together to get everyone focused and ready to settle down for the evening.

Go Find It!

This is a fun game that will help everyone calm down and focus. Give your child three good-sized treats, like Zuke’s Z-Filets or Lil’ Links. Have your little one hide a few treats in one room of the house (no peeking from the puppy!). To ensure success for your pup, the treats should be hidden on the ground or below waist height. Once the treats are hidden, invite the puppy back into the room and ask him to "find it." In the beginning, the treats need to be pretty easy to find so the puppy learns that “find it” means to use his nose to find treats. You will know you can make the treats harder to find when you say “find it” and your puppy immediately puts their nose to the ground and starts sniffing around. This game can also be played outside in a yard, and even in the snow for a quick romp outside during winter!

Hide-and-Seek

This is a great way to reinforce a recall. Give your kid a few treats and have them hide somewhere in the house (keeping it simple to start). Once they are hidden, have your little one call your dog. Once your puppy finds them, have your child ask for a ‘sit’ or a ‘down’ and then have them give a treat to reward good, calm behavior. This game helps with impulse control and reinforces a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ when your pup engages with kids, which can help curb unwanted jumping.

With any training involving kids, it’s important to always supervise. It's best to keep the training sessions short and fun to keep puppy and child successfully engaged. A good way to keep training sessions succinct is to measure out 1/4-1/2 cup of treats (depending on your dog) and end the session when the treats run out.

One of the best ways to build a bond between dog and human is through training together. By having your kids participate in training the family dog, you are encouraging a safe and fun bonding time that will ultimately lead to a healthy and mutually respectful relationship between your new puppy and his new best friend.


Amber with her dogsBlog author Amber Pickren, BA, CPDT-KA, is the owner of GentleCanineLLC in Durango, Colo. After earning her bachelors in Psychology, Amber found her passion working with dogs and has never looked back. Since 2004, she has been training dogs, specializing in behavioral issues. When she's not busy helping other pet parents with their dogs, she can be found running and climbing around Durango with Sadie, Lily and Imogene.

Images by adventure dog blogger Kerri Irwin, dustydesertdogs.com