What is the best dog for my kids?

 

Kisses
There is enough love to go around. (Photo by Jabrina Robinson.)

Have you decided to add a dog to your family? You may be wondering what the best way is to go about it. To be honest, there is no magic formula to ensure you will get the perfect dog. Much about the outcome is not under your control. Life is interesting that way! I think it’s important to acknowledge that in order to take some pressure off you, your dog, and your family. Having said that, I also think your wise efforts before, and after, you choose your dog can stack things in your favor for happy relationships and safety.

With that in mind, look for the following qualities when you visit with doggie candidates you are considering.

Friendliness

Why it’s so important:

  • A dog who prefers to be close to children is likeliest to be a safe, fun companion.
  • One who voluntarily wants to be in the kids’ space is less likely to take offense when one of them gets on her nerves.
  • You’re likelier to bond with a people-oriented dog and therefore help her with training challenges that crop up.
  • A dog who loves to connect with people will be a joy to include in family activities.

What does friendliness look like? If your doggie candidate enjoys toys, romps with another dog, or has an adorable appearance, it may look like friendliness because those things make us smile. However…

  • The key is to look for a dog who approaches your kids and maintains contact with them.
  • Look for loose, open body language and a tail held at spine level or lower.
  • Pet the dog and then stop, and have your child do the same. A friendly dog will ask for more by stepping closer.

No matter where you get your dog, friendliness should be the top priority.

Maturity

Ideally your new family dog will be a young adult, about 1-2 years old (or older).

  • Parents with young kids usually find it stressful to housetrain a puppy, teach him or her to accept confinement, learn the right things to chew on, and how to sleep through the night.
  • It is challenging to teach children to interact gently and safely with a teething, energetic puppy.
  • By selecting a more mature dog, you’ll be able to see the dog’s grown-up personality when you meet, making a successful match that much likelier.

Settles down easily

Children have a lot of energy, come and go throughout the day, and have emotional ups and downs. When evaluating a dog, run around, play with a toy, or lavish the dog with excited attention for a couple of minutes. Choose a dog who simmers down when you become quiet.

Attentive to you outside

Interact with the dog outside. If the dog pulls moderately on the leash, training can turn that around. But if the dog fails to check in with you (without you coaxing), tunes you out when you try to get his attention, gets the leash twisted into a spiral, nearly drags you over, or leaps and mouths incessantly, he or she will likely be a challenge to integrate into your family.

Relaxed around other dogs

Picture your new dog walking beside your kids as they tell you about their school day, and imagine how stressful this will be if your dog habitually barks and lunges at other dogs. Arrange a mock leash walk with a helper who will walk one or two different leashed dogs past you to see how your candidate reacts. Whether the barking is out of aggression or frustration, helping a dog overcome this issue takes more time and training than most people wish to invest. Choose from candidates who are more blasé about canine cousins they see coming down the pike.

Not overly possessive of food or toys

Snacks and toys are a normal part of family life, so choose a dog who is not upset by a person approaching or reaching for valued items. While you will coach your child not to do this, it is impossible to always prevent your child and dog from being interested in the same items.

It is risky to assess a dog for possessiveness, since he may escalate quickly from keep-away to a frozen, hunkered body posture, growling, snapping or biting. It is best to get professional assistance with this, or follow the tips in the book Successful Dog Adoption.

Easygoing about everyday situations

An easy going dog will take in stride household routines, play dates and outings. Try to assess how calm or jumpy your candidate is.

  • Drop an item like some keys when the dog is looking away.
  • Have someone knock and enter wearing a hat or holding an open umbrella.
  • Sit quietly and simply hold the dog by the collar for one minute.

Choose a dog who remains nonplussed by these common events.

Consider your children, too.

Are they rough-and-tumble or quiet? Do they typically follow instructions or do they have trouble following through? Try to match the personality of the dog such that he can enjoy your kids. If they are well matched, your job will be so much easier, and their friendship will be much likelier to flourish.

After You Bring Your Dog Home…

No matter which dog you choose, be a kid-canine coach. Successful kid-canine coaching requires that you:

1) Guide your child to respectful, kind behavior. That means no approaching the dog when he’s resting or chewing, and no imposing on his space by following him, sitting on him, or hugging him. Dogs may tolerate hugging, but unlike human family members, they rarely like it. Coach your child to play games like fetch and tricks, to read to the dog, and to show affection (when the dog solicits it) by kissing their palm and petting the dog on the chest. (If you find your dog is great and “will let the kids do anything,” read this.)

2) Monitor your dog’s signs of relaxation and tension. Loose, open body language, a partly open mouth, and choosing to be close to your child are good signs. Stiff body language, a tense mouth, or turning away from your child are signs you should separate them. This is Ruff Love. Otherwise your child may learn it’s okay to touch someone who is saying “no.” Your dog may defend himself when his pleas for space go unheeded.

3) Use a Safety Zone when it’s not a good time to coach their interactions.

Choose your dog wisely and be a kid-canine coach, and the friendship between your child and your new family member will be off to a dreamy start.

To blend a dog of any age into your family, see Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers. If it’s not yet time to get a dog, have fun with Don’t Lick the Dog in the meantime!

BONUS

rainywalk
In good hands. (Photo by Celeste Huntington.)

The Best Dogs for Kids: Myths and Facts

Myth: It’s better to get a puppy.
Fact: You cannot raise a puppy to have a certain personality. Puppies are no more blank slates when they are born than people are.

Myth: Some dogs are hypoallergenic.
Fact: There is no such thing as a dog who poses no allergy risk. All dogs shed hair and dander, so talk with your doctor before getting a dog.

Myth: Certain breeds are better with kids.
Fact: You can’t judge a book by its cover. Certain personalities are better with kids. Get a friendly dog and teach your child the dos and don’ts.

Myth: Shelter dogs have too much baggage.
Fact: It is possible to get a really great or a really difficult dog or puppy from any source. Carefully assess any dog or puppy you’re considering, no matter the source.

What makes your dog come running?

BodhiCuttingBoard

All I have to do is let a knife hit a cutting board. My dog Bodhi can be three rooms away or playing with our other dog, but if he hears the sound of a knife on a cutting board, he comes flying.

I have never fed him food from the cutting board, dropped what I am chopping or let him lick the cutting board.

His enthusiasm stems from what the sound of the knife on the cutting board predicts. The smell of dog treats, sure, but more importantly: action.

Action is the most important thing to Bodhi. It’s more important than food, toys or affection. And when I chop treats, it means there is going to be exciting stuff happening. A field trip to go see his dog buddy. A training session to learn a new trick. A new friend coming over. Chopping treats is very special because it always predicts excitement to follow. (It helps that I rarely chop anything else on the cutting board; he does not react this way when the cook in the family chops!)

I wouldn’t have noticed this association, except I started to feel like I was in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Chop, chop, zoom! And there was Bodhi, practically standing on my head.

The moral of this story is this: You may wish your dog would respond to your call with more gusto. Or perhaps you’ve said, as many have, “She knows her name, but get her in [kryptonite situation] and she just won’t listen.”

These so-so outcomes result when we try to apply a training plan that sounds good to us, but leaves the individual dog out of the equation. Have you ever really considered (and applied to a training challenge) what your dog thinks is the greatest thing ever?

Just for fun, think about it. On an average day, what gets him really excited? It might not involve you! It might be gross! It might be something you can’t hold in your hand! Try to drop your own ideas of what counts as a reward, and really ask what your dog likes best.

Next, can you give him that, a version of it, or at least mimic it? Then all you have to do is make your come-when-called word the magic sound, the tip-off, the predictor that his favorite thing is about to happen.

It takes some creativity, and, if you’re like me, you’ll make mistakes along the way. When Bodhi was young it took me a while to figure out that something as intangible as action was what he loves best. Once I let him show me, though, we were in pretty good shape. I made a list of his favorite high action games, and started calling his name only when I had a plan to provide one of them. Whamo, association made.

What does your dog love to do? How can you provide that after you’ve called? Even if you try it just for a week or two, I bet you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes. Happy training!

 

 

Why and What Does My Dog Need to Chew?

Chewies

With rare exception, dogs need to chew like birds need to fly and kangaroos need to hop. It’s part of who they are. Accepting that will save you huge headaches, property destruction and veterinary bills.

Dogs need to chew. So we provide appropriate outlets for what is a perfectly normal doggy behavior. People who live with a creature with a set of predator-style choppers need to plan accordingly, you know?

Here is how to figure out what to give your dog:

  1. A good rule of thumb(nail): Choose items softer than your dog’s teeth. Your ability to supervise, your veterinarian, and your dog’s chew style together determine the best items, which should be soft enough to leave an indentation with your thumbnail, but not so soft pieces can be torn or chewed off.
  2. Don’t believe the packaging. The package may say “safe,” “dental,” “natural…” There are many very popular products sold in stores and online that are a very bad idea because they are harder than your dog’s teeth. Skip them, I beseech you. Exhibit A on what can happen when you fall for the claims on the package (as I once did!).
  3. Toss worn toys that get the outer surface shaved off so that bigger chunks or the ends can be eaten. The two center-most toys in the photo above are past due and should be thrown out (in fact, I fished one of them out of the trash to take the photo, which is gross, but now you know my level of passion for your dog’s chew needs).

The orange Bionic toy on the far left in the photo is one of the few things I’ve found that is softer than teeth that my large, super chewy dog can dig into and not bite chunks off of. The Squirrel Dude and Chuckle from Premier work for him, as does a stuffed Kong. The softer, nubby toy pictured on the far right is usually a good one to try (for a dog less like a T-rex).

Stay away from sticks, rocks, metal, plastic, bones, glass, horns, petrified cheese, antlers, old coffee table legs, ice cubes, corn cobs. You get the picture.

If you think your tiny puppy or new young dog has outgrown the chewing phase, read this.

And if you don’t already, consider brushing your dog’s teeth. It’s pretty easy (your vet will show you), many dogs need it only a few times a week, and it is a great way to make sure your dog’s mouth is in good shape without risking fractures from sketchy toys. Something to chew on.

When Your Dog “Waters” Your Plants

DogShrub
The culprit with his shrubs, real and fake.

If your dog consistently lifts his leg on the same favorite plant, chances are you’ve had to replace it, or wring your hands when he moves on to the next nearest object and starts the process all over again.

After once replacing a shrub my dog’s “watering” had killed, I realized it was going to get expensive to watch shrub after shrub bite the dust. Sure, I could put him on leash to prevent him from always going to the same spot, but I preferred the convenience of just letting him out the backdoor.

So I replaced the favorite pee shrub with a fake specimen, leaving the old shrub there for a more branch-like look. For $1.99, my dog can now lift his leg on his favorite shrub location to his heart’s delight, and the plant looks good as new.

Simple solution, everybody’s happy. Here’s to dreaming of all the lovely springtime plants that will be sprouting before we know it!

 

 

 

 

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

BAShumannfang_Home
“Home” Acrylic on canvas by Barbara Shumannfang

We humans are always trying to get our dogs to do something. Or to stop them from doing something. Or teaching them to do something fun, or practical, or something that’s good for them. There’s a lot of doing.

Where’s the being?

Is it possible to relax with a dog? Or even because of a dog?

When my youngest dog was about 5 months old, he did something he’d never done before. He voluntarily laid down outside of his crate for the first time. That is what a busy little guy he was, always on the go, always in search of excitement. When he plopped down that first time without being cued or crated, I could hardly believe my eyes.

I learned to really cherish the not doing with him. Watching him sleep became one of the most relaxing things for me. To this day, when I see him curled up on his bed, perfectly still, breathing in and out, my own breathing slows down, too.

I think even (or perhaps especially) the busiest dogs have something to teach us about being still and relaxing. Be sure to give your dog, no matter their age or activity level, time to just be. Maybe you will even want to join in, if only for a few breaths.

 

Housetraining in Horrible Weather: A Tip to Help Your Dog Go Outside in the Snow

RubyCardboard
Little Ruby models her super-deluxe winter potty area.

Snow, ice and slush are not the most helpful ground covers if you’ve got a puppy to house train, or a diva dog who recoils at the thought of her tiny feet getting cold and wet. I can understand our dogs being too distracted to do their business, on our schedule, especially in extreme weather. But what to do?

One solution is to teach your pooch to go potty on cue. That helps when you want to take them out, get it over with, and return to the cozy indoors. (See Chapter 9 in Puppy Savvy for easy instructions on how to do this. Through 1/25 it’s 15% off with code JANSAVE15 at Lulu.com checkout.)

CardboardOverSnow
If you don’t have cardboard handy, a tarp or large trash bag will work.

A simple trick that you can start using today is to keep a preferred potty area dry by covering it with a sheet of cardboard before the frozen stuff accumulates. When it’s time to go out, just lift the cardboard and offer your dog a familiar, inviting spot to go. Clean up afterwards so your dog will continue to want to eliminate there.

Puppies form strong substrate preferences (surfaces that they seek out to pee or poop on) by about 9 weeks of age, so be sure to give your pup opportunities to eliminate in snowier areas, too. This is particularly important if you live in a climate where snow is a sure thing each winter.

Stay warm, and happy housetraining!

Can You Trick Your Dog Into Holding Still?

 

BucketPartway
I am holding verrrry still.

The answer is: yes! Which is oh-so-useful and kind when your dog needs veterinary treatments.

Doesn’t it seem like dog training is on one end of the fun spectrum (tricks like sit pretty, come, don’t jump up) while veterinary needs (hold still for eye medicine, don’t move for having blood drawn) are way on the other end of the spectrum?

I thought about this when my veterinarian advised soaking my dog’s paw twice a day for five minutes. You know how it goes: before you know it, you are soaking wet or have eye medicine up your nose, and your dog is desperately trying to get away from you.

However, if you teach your dog to love learning new tricks, veterinary treatments can be fun. Holding still is a trick (otherwise known as “stay”). Holding still while someone does things to your ear or paw is a slightly fancier trick (otherwise known as “stay with distractions”).

Dogs are pretty good with abstract concepts like “try something” or “don’t move.” So once you’ve taught a couple of easy tricks, the concepts transfer amazingly well to all kinds of scenarios. I love this approach for the way it takes out the fear and puts in the joy.

For foot soaking, I got out an empty bucket and waited for my dog to do something bucket related. (That’s how we start nearly all our tricks. It is called shaping. No coercion, just cooperation. Anyone can do it!) I gave him a treat every time his front foot accidentally moved (but not when he did other buckety things), and soon he was touching the bucket with his foot, then holding it inside the bucket, and then he stood in it. It seems fast, which is just because he is used to the concept of learning a new trick. Your dog can do it, too!

BucketAlltheWay
This is one weird trick, lady.

I asked him to stay, which he already knew from his “stay” trick, and quickly took a photo. Next session I added enough water for soaking before beginning. I will soak his foot near his favorite window so he can enjoy looking out for the five minutes (less fidgeting!), and of course he’ll get treats for holding still.

How can you apply tricks training to treatments you or your veterinarian need to administer? I welcome your questions and would be glad to offer tips in the comments section!

 

At the Dog Park

DogPark(c)BarbaraShumannfang
At the Dog Park (c) 2016 Barbara Shumannfang

As you know, I love dogs. I also love art. I am not sure how these will end up together, but I thought I’d include some of my art here and see what happens.

Some people hear “art” and freeze.

“What am I supposed to think of it?”

“Do I have to say I like it if I don’t?”

“What if I like it, but I don’t know why?”

To this I say, pretend you’re a dog. If a dog sees a new toy, he or she doesn’t worry if they “get it” or if they are reacting appropriately (well, unless they’ve been punished around toys). Generally speaking, they act according to what they’re feeling and thinking and don’t sweat it.

So, you may see a new painting here and think, “Wow!” or “Nope. Doesn’t do a thing for me,” and either is okay by me.

If one of my paintings makes you happy, or if it gets under your skin, or if it reminds you of your Aunt Mildred for reasons you can’t put your finger on, I would like to hear your comments. Because, to be honest, when I ask my dogs what they think, they always say, “We think this should be in the Smithsonian. Now may we have a treat?” It’s just so hard to get a more nuanced response, you know?

I made this painting after doing some sketches at a dog park. I was incognito, on a bench with my sketchbook, until a very powerful dog showed serious predatory behavior toward a much smaller dog, who screamed in panic and got no help (at which point I took off my artist beret and put my dog trainer hat on). I left that part out of the painting.

No matter how perfectly socialized and dreamy your dog is, please download the $0.99 Dog Park Assistant for your phone and do not ever get sucked into bystander mode. If you don’t think you need the info on the App, you may be the very person who could use it the most. If you’re not sure about your dog, you can even upload a video clip for professional analysis. I highly recommend it!

 

The Surprise Factor

Surprise your dog with rewards after he or she has done something you like. This video clip shows me calling my dog and then surprising him with a toy he’s never seen before. His speed and focus as he approaches show the results you can get by using surprises in your training. Powerful stuff!

To teach a great come when called, start with the Gotcha Game.

How can you incorporate the surprise factor into other behaviors you wish would become automatic for your dog?

Surprise! Enter code NEWYEAR30 and save 30% on Puppy Savvy and Happy Kids, Happy Dogs through December 31. (The coupon code is case sensitive.)