Kids and Puppies: A Natural Fit? By Maryanne Fiedler, ABCDT

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I love it when, on the first night of a new Puppy Kindergarten session, mom or dad brings the kids along to participate in the puppy’s training.  Dog trainers talk a lot about consistency – what is true with mom should also be true with dad, what is not ok for the puppy to do today should be not ok for the puppy to do tomorrow. Friends, family, anyone that will be interacting with your dog should know the rules… including and especially the kids!

There is something fascinating about watching kids interact with their dogs and, (dare I say it) consistently, the puppies seem to more strongly react to the kid’s request for a behavior then to mom’s or dad’s.  Are kids and puppies a natural fit?

The next time you have the opportunity, just stand back and watch as young children and puppies interact. We grown-ups have so much to learn.

  • Sense of wonder:  Kids and (socialized) puppies approach the world with wonder and curiosity. Flowers smell better, the sky is bluer, games and toys are fun and exciting and, until they are exhausted from play, the fun goes on and on.
  • Happiness:  Experience the joy! Puppies and kids bounce with excitement.
  • Energy:  Think about it… what does your voice sound like when you call your puppy or ask for a simple “Sit?”  Now think about it in comparison to how a child calls the dog. Which tone of voice would you respond to? A kid’s level of energy is closely matched to the puppy’s and, let’s face it, your puppy would much rather respond to someone who is very excited to see him.

I would never suggest that children be set free to interact with a puppy without supervision and education. This is a potentially harmful situation for the child and the puppy. Children should understand how to interact and handle the puppy; the puppy should be closely watched for mouthiness and nipping and biting.  Teach children about the importance of being calm and using their “inside voices” when greeting the puppy. Mom or dad may want to hold the puppy while the child politely introduces himself.  Allow the puppy to get a good sniff of the child then the child can gently the stroke the puppy. You may also consider using a stuffed animal as a tool for showing your child how to properly handle a puppy

There are great tools and tips for helping children learn how to play with and train puppies including some terrific books that you and your child can read together:

  • My First Puppy by Mandy Wood
  • My Dog! A Kids Guide to Keeping a Happy and Healthy Pet by Michael J. Rosen
  • Kids and Dogs: A Professional’s Guide to Helping Families by Colleen Pelar, CPDT
  • Good Dog! Kids Teach Kids about Dog Behavior and Training by Evelyn Pang

Through all of this, one of the most important lessons you’ll teach is RESPECT FOR ANIMALS!  Your child will learn how to love and nurture the puppy; a lesson that will carry over to how he treats all living things.