Even though most experts think it’s not a good idea, many children receive puppies as holiday gifts. Whether or not a child’s new puppy was a surprise or planned well in advance, there are many ways to help children raise the new family member so she will develop into a happy, healthy dog. Here are ten tips for doing right by the new puppy in a child’s life.
1. Help your child. Don’t rely on a child to do all the care and work. Always supervise, even though all parents know that it’s sometimes more work to monitor what your kids are doing than it is to just do it yourself. Adults must be a big part of the dog’s care and training. On a related note, if everyone shares the less popular jobs (backyard poop, anyone?), most kids respond favorably to the fairness.
2. Help your puppy to succeed. Limit her access to just part of the house and thoroughly puppy-proofing those areas. It’s easier to prevent bad habits from forming than to try to change those bad habits later on. Encourage your children to be responsible about closing doors and gates.
3. Take house training seriously. At all times, a puppy who is still learning where the potty is should be: 1) Confined to a crate or small puppy-proofed area, 2) Outside with someone who is ready to offer excellent treats along with praise as soon as she eliminates, 3) Inside being watched constantly for any signs that she needs to relieve herself. What about other situations? There are none!
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4. Play with your puppy. Play provides so many benefits—fun, mental exercise, learning life skills, training possibilities, exercise, and the opportunity to develop a great relationship with your puppy. Few activities offer the bang for your buck that playing with a puppy does. Among the best games for kids and dogs are fetch and hide-and-seek. Tug and chase games are best for adults only since they can result in puppies who are highly aroused, which can lead to trouble, even with nice kids and nice dogs.
5. Provide toys and chews. Puppies tend to be very busy, and it’s always wise to teach your dog what she is allowed to put in her mouth and what is off limits. Teach kids to leave dogs alone when they are chewing on something. Many dogs tolerate people bothering them when they have a treasure, but even if yours does, it’s unwise to let a child think that approaching a dog with a chew toy is okay, because another dog may react badly. Children should learn to respect dogs’ space and puppies should learn to entertain themselves.
6. Train the puppy. Training a dog to be a polite member of society is an ongoing process, but it’s never too early to start. Get off on the right paw by prioritizing and starting to teach your puppy a few cues. I like to begin with teaching a new puppy her name, to come when called, to sit and lie down on cue, and to wait at the door. Also important are greeting people properly with all four paws on the floor, walking nicely on a leash, and to stay. It’s ideal to have adults teach the puppies new cues before the kids use the cues with the puppy.
7. Have each child be in charge of teaching one trick to the puppy. Great options include roll over, high-5, and crawl. Trick training is fun and great for the relationship between kids and puppies, but it’s low pressure since there’s not a lot riding on whether or not the puppy can perform the trick well. It allows kids to be involved in the training without any risk of setbacks on something as important as a reliable recall.
8. Take a family dog training class. Everyone can attend and learn how to train from an professional, which means that the kids have an outside person, rather than Mom or Dad, who is instructing them. Choose a class that is taught by a qualified person using humane training methods.
9. Provide opportunities to exercise. Typical puppies need a minimum of two 45-minute sessions a day of high-level exercise, plus many additional short walks or backyard play sessions. Off-leash romps in safe places are ideal.
10. Let your dog make new friends. Arrange for canine play dates with one or two social, polite dogs or puppies at a time. Not just any play partner will do. They must be dogs who play nicely and never frighten or overwhelm your puppy. The risk of that is too high at the dog park, so I would avoid such places with a puppy. Adults must supervise play sessions, as it’s unfair to ask a child to monitor the emotions and arousal level of the puppy.
If your family was blessed with a new puppy this holiday season, congratulations to you! Enjoy this magical time with an individual who has only been on the planet for a short time. Treasure moments such as watching the joy on your child’s face match the joy on the puppy’s face. As for the moments that are less joyous, such as leaving a cozy bed at 5 AM to head out into a snowstorm with a puppy who needs to pee, remember this: Puppyhood is brief and wonderful, but it’s okay during rough moments to consider that it is wonderfully brief.