Every family with both kids and a canine companion is presented with opportunities—and obstacles—in providing for their needs. To be sure, both can be met, many in similar ways. Dogs and kids share so much: the need to decipher the confusing world of adults, learn the complexity of language and the consequences of their actions, figure out the seemingly arbitrary limits imposed on their pleasures and interests. They can also share many activities, including hiking, chasing, napping and divvying up a sandwich.
Kids can and should be integral to the dog’s training and care. A well-trained dog gets invited into more of the family’s life, both at home and away—more of the good life that is.
On their part, kids need to be encouraged to integrate themselves into, not separate from, the full spectrum of a dog’s daily activities. Setting down the food bowl or going for a perfunctory leash walk won’t reinforce the bond or afford much joy. Kids should be fascinated by their companions, thrilled with their willingness to join in almost anything, eager to share time massaging, photographing, inventing games, learning words they can share. Make your dog a fancy collar, homemade biscuits, a tug toy from worn-out jeans! Learn the parts of your dog’s body! Calculate his ROW (rate of wagging)! Create a snowy obstacle course, a plaster cast of his paw, shrink-art dog tags for his collar—and your backpack.
Here’s a sample of projects kids and dogs can share, addressed to the kids in your family. For a host of other recipes, games, cool projects, training tips and more, visit workman.com/mydog.
In cold weather, both dogs and people tend to spend more time indoors and, as a result, get less exercise. While ice skating and snowboarding aren’t sports your dog can share, with a little planning, you can create a veritable canine winter Olympics! Here’s a sampler of activities that can also be adapted to indoor fun—indeed, the whole idea here is to improvise. Each “event” reinforces the learning successes that your dog needs.
Leap over a pile of leaves, tunnel through a cardboard box, walk across a picnic-bench bridge, race up a leaning plank, leap into the sandbox, bound across a snowball-wall—invent a course with whatever safe options you find.
Remember to progress slowly. Make each challenge a success before adding another one. Set up the first course with only two or three objects, and build up to six or seven. An adult’s help is really worthwhile here.
Try going through the course together, leash-walking your dog over or under the obstacles. Use lots of encouragement, a few key commands, praise and some treats for good measure. You might find that UP, DOWN, COME and SIT are especially useful. Or invent new commands as needed; teach UNDER, for example, if you want your dog to crawl beneath an object. Use the same words every time, and stand just on the other side of the obstacle so that the dog is coming toward you.
Follow these guidelines to make your own fun, safe course:
• Use only sturdy, steady obstacles. Nothing should slide or wobble under the dog’s weight. Remember that when leaping, a dog’s legs push hard, and that could upset something that isn’t heavy or anchored well.
• Nothing on the course should be sharp, splintered or movable (like a swing).
• Every “landing pad” should be soft—grass, sand or snow.
• No dog should jump to or from a level that is higher than the top of his head. (Measure that distance so you can design your course accordingly.) Toy and long-backed breeds (think Dachshunds) shouldn’t jump from any height at all.
• Make the course short and easy so your dog can complete it without frustration.
• Change the course every so often. You’re improving your dog’s physical agility as well as his ability to work with you. This is rewarding work!
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