By Tara Choules, Dog Training Ireland
Children and dogs together seems to be a common theme to the calls we get to the training centre every day. Whether it is that a dog's behaviour towards a new baby, or young child is causing concern, or training a dog so as to manage the household better -- we are happy to help. (Photos contributed by members of the IrishAnimals chat forum - join us!)
The importance of the socialisation of your puppy in the time period of up to 18 weeks of age cannot be underestimated. (read more about this.) Supervised appropriate socialisation will build confidence, develop coping skills and most importantly teach bite inhibition.
Remember while your dog may be very friendly, accidents do happen. Likewise a confident, well socialised dog will be less likely to experience fear or anxiety in new situations or when they are meeting a new child. So invest in your dog's early weeks and months and socialise well under the supervision and guidance of a professional dog trainer. Dogs of all ages should receive regular health checks, especially in a home where children are present or if a new child is due. This should include adequate worming by a vet and a full physical check should be carried out. Vaccinations should be up to date and a check of the dog's ears, eyes, joints etc is advised, as a dog in any pain will be less tolerant. Every family is different. While some dog owners may think that when a child arrives they will be 'ok', there is sometimes a tendency to panic or stress on the first meeting.
If this happens it is best to manage the situation as best you can without excluding the dog or panicking the child. The biggest mistake parents make is excluding the dog or banishing the dog to the back garden. The myriad problems this causes is endless, and fixing these problems can be difficult.
Instead, use the available tools such as baby gates, puppy pens and crates in a positive way. This will help you to safely and slowly introduce the dog to child and vice versa. You will be better equipped to manage the situation and this will help you to stay calm and organised
Even if you have not considered the arrival of children into your home, it is vital that puppies learn all of the above so as to set them up for the eventualities that our human lives will inevitably throw at them. Bite inhibition means teaching your puppy that biting hurts, to decrease mouthing and ultimately teaching a soft mouth. A dog without bite inhibition will inflict a serious wound in an accident situation, whereas a dog with good bite inhibition may only inflict a pressure wound in the same situation. This is vital and it is every dog owner's responsibility to teach bite inhibition in every breed of dog.
Learn to read canine body language by purchasing DVDs or discussing this with a professional. 99% of dog owners get it wrong when reading their dog's signals. A wagging tail does not always mean a happy dog, a roll over is more than likely a request for space and not a request for a belly rub -- and a growl should be seen as a good thing, as the dog is giving a verbal warning giving you the time to deal with the situation.
Forget dominance, pack theories and the notion that your dog has to be beneath your child in the pecking order. Rest assured that your dog does not have the ability to forward think and plan to take over the household. He is a dog and he will do things that make him feel good and that are worthwhile doing. Pack theories and dominance theories have long been disproved. Any qualified trainer or canine behaviourist will confirm this. The term 'calm submissive' is used a lot, but this is not what you are looking for. A relaxed dog that can listen to cues and perform these on cue should be your goal. A dog that is confident to leave a situation that he is not comfortable with is ideal. Remember to allow your dog to retreat and rest if this is what he wants. He needs a den, a place of safety where he can simply be uninterrupted.
Attend a training class so that you can teach your dogs basic cues such as sit, stay, leave, come here and how to walk on a loose lead. Never use interactive punishment when training your dog, as hand slaps or harsh handling or choke type corrections will cause your dog to be hand or lead shy. Children are all about hands and movement so hands and movement should be a good thing always. Classical Conditioning is your best friend. Child = something nice, repeat enough and your dog will associate the presence of children as a positive. This will mean that your dog will feel good when children are around.
Teach your child how to appropriately interact with your dog in an open space and without crowding either of them. Verbally praise both when they get it right. If a child gently pets the dog, let them know how well they are doing, if your dog gently licks your child on the hand reward him for that. Mark every good behaviour, feedback to the child and dog is vital if you want those good behaviours to be repeated.
If you know that your dog has behavioural issues, deal with them now. Attempting behaviour modification in conjunction with introducing dog to child is not going to work and you are simply setting yourself up for failure, while putting your child and dog at risk. If you have a dog that bites or has bitten in the past, has resource guarding issues or lacks socialisation consult with a professional behaviourist and have your dog assessed.
These DVDs from Dr Ian Dunbar titled 'Every Picture Tells a Story' and 'Dog Training for Children' are both an excellent investment. They are available online.
If you need further advice consult with a CCPDT www.ccpdt.org or APDT UK www.apdt.co.uk certified dog trainer and one with a recognised college qualification in the area of canine training and behaviour.
Copyright Dog Training Ireland 2009. This article is for informational purposes only, if you have questions please contact a trained professional.
Tara Choules, is Director at Dog Training Ireland in Dublin. DTI is a Canine Training and Behaviour company with CCPDT & APDT UK qualified trainers. Our mission at Dog Training Ireland is to help dogs live in our human world through better communication and understanding. This in turn will bring harmony and happiness to the home for everyone involved.