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.

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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.

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!

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.)

How Your Puppy Is Just Like an Alligator (And I Don’t Mean Because of All the Biting)

alligatorPuppies and dogs drive us bonkers, what with all their leaping, biting, pulling and indoor peeing. It can be challenging to live with a dog, no doubt about it. Why is it sometimes so difficult?

Imagine that you and your family have decided to adopt a pet alligator. First you would find out a little about alligators, then you’d visit ReptileFinder online to look at photos and pick the cutest one, and finally you’d bring the little dickens home.

Soon the alligator would start exhibiting her normal behaviors. She would slip into the goldfish pond in your garden and wreak havoc (pretend you have a goldfish pond). She would hide under the couch to take a nap, ripping the underside of the upholstery with her pointy back. She would open her huge mouth, holding it wide in a toothy threat display because you approached her too fast. The sight of her gaping, massive jaws would probably scare the you-know-what out of you.

Obviously you would not say to yourself, “This is a naughty alligator! I need to learn how to discipline her!” You would think, “Well, duh. Alligators need to do alligator things. I had better get a kiddie pool, a raised platform underneath which she can nap, and, to put her at ease, I need to learn to move differently around her.”

But it is not so obvious with a dog who appears to be naughty. Why not? It is because, unlike with an alligator, or for that matter literally any other animal on earth, the natural histories of dogs and humans are specially intertwined. Some scientists would even say humans and dogs have co-evolved. We “get” each other in ways that no other human/non-human pair understands each other. We have emotions in common and enjoy many of the same things. Dogs can read our body language and facial expressions, and even anticipate and fulfill our needs. It’s not your imagination.

However, we tend not to return the favor by trying to understand what our dogs are feeling and what they’re trying to tell us. Why? Because we are in charge, so we don’t trouble ourselves with it. We generally consider dogs’ needs and opinions less valuable than ours. When you think about it, that is a pretty arrogant attitude (some would call it “speciesist”). That’s not the kind of person most of us want to be. Golden Rule and all, if you see what I mean.

Honestly, there is no harm in giving your puppy the same consideration you would an alligator. It might even teach you and your kids something about yourselves, and about how we treat those who are similar yet different from us.

Granted, it is not always easy to live with another species. I don’t blame you one bit if at times you get emotional with your puppy, or try to explain to her the rules in the way that makes sense only to a human, or feel like she should know better. We all get sucked into that, partly because of how much we have in common with dogs. The connection we have with dogs is downright amazing, but it is no wonder the lines get blurry about what we expect they should automatically know. We have given them the role of family member, fashion accessory, disposable project, worker, best friend, menu item, hero, and hat trim, just to name a few. It’s confusing, to be sure. They are so like us, and at the same time we could do a lot better job of understanding and respecting our differences.

Perhaps we could meet our dogs halfway. If we make even a tiny effort to see things from their point of view, to learn to read their body language and meet their needs, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more harmonious life can be. We may even learn a thing or two from them.

Oh and the alligator thing was just a made-up analogy. I really doubt it is a good idea (or, you know, legal) to live with one.

The Bowl of Happiness

The Bowl of Happiness
The Bowl of Happiness

I last left you with the advice to never let your puppy out of his confinement area, crate or tether without first having a specific answer to the question, “What will I give the puppy to do next that will set him up to succeed? What game, project, training session, edible toy or other ‘coloring book’ will I offer right off the bat?”

Yet it is one thing to remember to ask yourself this question, but how will you know how to answer it?

The answer to this question will depend on what your puppy likes, your mood, what you have time for, and even the weather. Perhaps you would like to teach the pup to play fetch or go to his spot. Maybe you would rather tether the pup with a stuffed Kong while you finish some emails. Or perhaps a puppy field trip would be a good choice to provide socialization and get you both out of the house.

Now, maybe you are like most people, who have a lot of things on their minds and don’t want to spend their days memorizing puppy games to pull out of thin air in a pinch. I’ve gotta say, that seems reasonable. I find it helpful to write each puppy-occupying game, skill or chew toy on a small piece of paper, put all the slips of paper in a bowl near the puppy’s crate, and fish one out before I release the puppy. I call this the Bowl of Happiness.

What’s that you say, you don’t have time to sit around writing down games on little slips of paper? Again, who could blame you! Not to worry, I have done it for you. Just click on the Bowl of Happiness image (above or on the Puppy Savvy page). You’ll find ready-to-cut-out tips to keep your puppy occupied. Draw one of these slips of paper from a bowl and you’ll have a plan before you risk letting the pooch run wild. These are things you may already have handy or know about; the rest are Magic Wand strategies, Life Lessons and Training Skills described in Puppy Savvy.

Presto! Even with a puppy in your house you can have peace, quiet and happiness. Ahhh…

Are You Puppy Savvy?

Scan 123170008It’s getting pretty exciting around here as we are just days away from the launch of Puppy Savvy. I thought I would offer a series of puppy posts to get us in the spirit of things. Starting with the secret formula to being truly puppy savvy:

a) Imagine what you wish your puppy would do.

b) Set up the situation to make that desired behavior likely, and then, when your puppy behaves as you wish,

c) Surprise! Present a reward that matters to your puppy.

The behavior you reward will become a habit.

One of my favorite restaurants, Elmo’s Diner, uses this approach to great effect (with humans, though I am sure they could teach a puppy to do anything). When you ask for a table at Elmo’s, if you have children the friendly host seats you with menus, crayons, and sheets of paper with the Elmo’s cartoon duck to color in. The Elmo’s staff thereby applies the same principles that will yield great results for you and your puppy:

a) They wish young kids would color instead of whine or tear around the restaurant.

b) They make this coloring behavior likelier by, right off the bat, presenting the opportunity to color in a way that makes it a special ritual (the stuff is not just sitting out on the table).

c) Surprise! In the middle of the coloring session, they deliver the pancakes and juice the parents have ordered. The kids are invited to hang their masterpieces on the Duck Wall.

This is powerful stuff. It is so peaceful (and delicious) a dining experience that I even have an Elmo’s t-shirt. But back to your puppy…

Will you let your puppy gallivant through the environment, letting his adventures and the taste of your favorite shoes be his rewards? Will you then unintentionally pile on more rewards in the form of attention, making these undesirable puppy behaviors even stronger by interacting with him (“No!” “Come back!” “Give me that!”)?

Choose a better way. Harness the power of rewards to your advantage and to help your puppy. Use rewards consciously and strategically. Use a baby gate, a crate or x-pen, an indoor leash known as a dragline and an indoor tether to keep your pup out of mischief, and always give him the equivalent of a coloring book to keep him occupied (a game or a stuffed Kong are often good options). Get in the habit of never taking your puppy out of his crate (or off his indoor tether) without first having a specific answer to the question, “What will I give the puppy to do next that will set him up to succeed? What game, project, training session, edible toy or other ‘coloring book’ will I offer right off the bat?”

Have you tried this approach with your puppy? What questions do you have about how to make this work? Let me know! Up next…ideas for keeping your puppy occupied with the right kind of “coloring book.”

One Minute Dog Training Solutions…For Free

I have for you some seriously budget-friendly dog training advice in honor of National Train Your Dog Month. This is pretty cutting edge stuff. Without further ado:

Freebie Number One

Enjoy free webinars and Facebook chats on a terrific variety of training topics presented by the Associaiton of Pet Dog Trainers. Want to help your dog to stop pulling on leash? Not sure if you should get a dog from a shelter? Want your dog and baby to get along? Struggling with separation anxiety? Think you might like to become a dog trainer? Check out the schedule and grab all the state-of-the-art training advice you like!

Freebie Number Two

“But,” you say, “I want customized advice for my dog!” No problemo. Email me [barbara[at]topnotchdog.com] a one-minute long video of where you are stuck in your training, and I will write back with advice on how to get unstuck and meet your goal.

Your video must be one minute (or less) in length. (Limit three per person.)

Your training dilemma must be for everyday, basic manners issues, like trouble teaching your dog a position (like sit or down or sit pretty) or getting him to do something (come when called, settle on a mat, bring the ball back without getting so distracted). What would you like a little help with?

I will provide you some tried and true instructions that should get you unstuck, perhaps something new I invent that I feel sure would work, and maybe even some tips to advance things as you progress. Depends how zesty I’m feeling.

Feel free to send your video up to Valentine’s Day. I can’t wait to see it!

Here’s some video footage of tricks I did with one of my dogs just to get you inspired to get your training challenge on tape: