Having a dog can be wonderful for children. Taking care of a pet will not only help your kids know how to properly interact with our four-legged friends, it will teach responsibility and life skills that they will apply all throughout life. At the same time, your dog will learn positive behavior for interacting with children and what it means to be a well-mannered family member.
There are many age-appropriate games and training methods available, and we will go over a few easy ways to incorporate your children into the process of dog training.
1) ‘Leave some bread crumbs’ game
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This game is easy and appropriate for children as young as three. Start with small treats, like Zuke’s Mini Naturals. Depending on the size of your child’s hands, you can have them take a handful or put some in a small bowl. Then, have your child walk around the house while dropping one treat at a time behind them. This game teaches dogs how to appropriately interact with children and reinforces rules like keeping all four paws on the floor, not jumping up, and keeping their nose near the ground and not in anyone’s face. It also teaches them to stay behind or to the side of children instead of in front of them, which could result in a child accidentally being tripped. The key to this game is making sure that the treat reaches the ground first before the dog grabs it.
We played this game a lot with my friends’ children. When they would come to my house, my puppy would get so excited that she would scare them! So, the second a child came through the door, they got a little cup of Zuke’s Mini Naturals to walk around and drop treats.
2) Taking and giving treats
When a dog is given a treat, it’s important that they take the treat nicely and with a “soft mouth.” This is not only important for manners, but for safety as well. We love having children help out with training and a big part of that is offering treats from their hands. If you are an adult or older child and a dog lunges for a treat, this may not be a big deal and you probably have the reflexes to pull your hand back. However, younger children often don’t have these reflexes or know how to bring their hand away. By teaching children how to give treats appropriately and training your dog how to take treats nicely, you help them build trust in each other.
We always recommend that children place the treat in the middle of their hand and give the treat with a flat hand. Make sure the treat is big enough so that it doesn’t roll around and that the dog knows what they are supposed to eat. Depending on the child’s comfort level, they can start by placing their hand on the ground and have the dog eat the treat from there. The goal is for the child to be able to hold their hand above the ground, near the dog’s head, and have them take the treat calmly.
To help your dog learn to take treats nicely, we recommend that an adult practice with them using the same hand formation. When you are giving a treat, ask your dog to do something first. Having them sit is a great way to help them rein in some energy and focus on what they are supposed to be doing. They should never be allowed to run up and take the treat, put your whole hand in their mouths, or be too pushy when taking treats. Remember that slow, calm movements by you will help them stay calm.
3) Help your kids get creative
Kids are great little trainers! By teaching them how to train by luring with treats, you’ve taught them a methodology that opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Encourage them to teach the family dog a fun new trick, like crawl, roll over, spin/dance, or anything else that comes to mind. This not only builds their confidence in training, it also helps the dog learn to respect and work with the children in the family. Sometimes it’s hard for a family dog to know how to act around children. Training is a great way to reinforce proper engagement on your dog’s part.
By teaching your kids how to appropriately interact with your dog at home, you’re giving them a skill set that will help immensely when meeting other dogs. It’s important for children to have boundaries with dogs and know how to interact with them. It’s also important for your family dog to know how to interact with children. Clear direction will help them to stay on the right track.