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.

Advertisements

Comin’ Atcha on Freaky Friday

Today is the day we take a moment to see things from the dog’s perspective. How is this dog feeling? How can you tell? If you’re not sure, start by listing some of the things you see in her individual body features. Which direction is she moving in relation to the person? What’s her overall body shape? Let’s discuss in the Comments section. Happy Friday!

271_Cookie_1

Gettin’ Schooled on Freaky Friday

Time for a Freaky Friday multiple choice quiz! Freaky Friday is the day we see the world from the dog’s perspective (just like Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan did when they switched bodies in the movie).

I thought I’d try out a twist to the format (thanks to your feedback). Below the photo I will point out some body language the dog is displaying that gives clues into how he or she is feeling. Since this Friday’s photo is from a classroom, I thought I’d offer a multiple choice quiz, too (see below). Please let me know what you think, about the clues, the quiz and about the dog’s perspective.

This dog may love children. His person is generously sharing him with the kids. All good, in theory. But what is the dog’s perspective, at least in this moment (copied with permission with the N&O)? What do you notice about his ears, eyes, mouth, body position/direction/movement?

GreatDaneClassroom

Ears: stiff and rotated half-back
Eyes: wide, pupils very dilated (a bit hard to see in the copy of the print)
Mouth: shallow panting, corners of mouth drawn far back
Body: head turned away from kids, moving away (biggest and clearest clue)

Quiz time! Choose one based on what the dog is trying to tell us with his body language:

a) This dog would probably like it if the humans kept doing what they are doing.

b) This dog is feeling very relaxed.

c) This dog is trying to create space for himself because he is not feeling comfortable.

Extra credit: If you were the dog’s handler, how would you rearrange the space and positioning of yourself, your dog, and the kids? What instructions would you have given the kids in advance? What would you do/say to the kids right this minute if you noticed all these signs of stress in your dog?

Study aids:

Madeline Gabriel’s new blog post on what to do when other kids are around your dog: Dogs and Babies Learning
Wendy Wahmann’s (funny and wise) book on the right way for kids to make friends with dogs: Don’t Lick the Dog (book trailer)
K9Kindness for new doggie educational programs in the classroom: K9Kindness

I look forward to your questions and comments. No grades, but you get points for trying to imagine how this dog feels!

A Hands-On Freaky Friday

It’s time for a very hands-on Freaky Friday. Freaky Friday is the day we take just a moment to see things from the dog’s perspective. How is this dog feeling? How can you tell? Is there something the person could have done differently to take the dog’s feelings into account? Why might the dog have turned back toward the person in the last shot? Let’s discuss!

ScooterBScooterCScooterD

Lean Machine

 

What is going through this dog’s mind? How is he showing how he feels?

Today is Freaky Friday at Very Fetching. That means we try to see things from our dog’s perspective, like Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan did in the movie. (If you’re my age, you may remember the book by Mary Rodgers. Highly recommend.)

Coming When Called Tip #2

A big priority for most dog owners is to be able to get their dog to come to them when they’re called. It’s actually not that hard to teach, if you go about it in a way that takes advantage of how dogs learn.

For this behavior (which is really a series of small behaviors, or actions), I have a high standard of performance that I strive for. I want the dog to come immediately, quickly, and on one cue. After all, it’s just not all that useful to train it such that the dog responds eventually, approaches slowly, or does so only after multiple cues or threats. With that in mind, the next few Top Notch Dog Blog entries will offer some tips to improve your dog’s responsiveness to you when you call. It is not so much a “how to” series as pointers to keep you successful as you go.

Some principles to keep in mind: Behaviors that are rewarded tend to increase in frequency, intensity and duration. This means you should make it worth it for your dog to come when called. Reward your dog’s effort, and be generous. Make him really glad he came to you. The flip side of this is to avoid punishing him when he does come to you. That may sound obvious, but many people punish their dog’s behavior without even realizing it, and then continue to struggle down the line, wondering why the dog won’t listen to them.

Coming When Called Tip #2: Control Consequences Carefully

Imagine you are a dog, and you are enjoying a good sniff outdoors or playing with one of your friends. Maybe you just found something excellent and really dead to roll in. Then your person calls you. Now you have a choice to make. What might increase the chances you would leave what you’re doing, and go bounding to them? You may be much more likely to drop what you’re doing and fly to your person if you had no doubt there was something good in it for you. In other words, if you had been trained to assume that the consequences would be really good.

So when you are teaching a dog to come when called, be careful that your consequences affirm in your dog’s head that it is best to come to you without hesitation. Good things should happen to your dog when he comes when called. Really good things. Like his supper, dog play date time, a walk, a car ride to a favorite spot, or a raucous game of tug.comingma

Sometimes when we are training a dog to come when called, we think we are providing good things, but we are really providing consequences that are punishing. It’s the dog’s opinion that counts as to what is a “good thing.” So it’s best to avoid calling the dog and then:

  • Using unpleasant touch or body language (see Tip # 1)
  • Putting the dog in the house (if he was enjoying being outside)
  • Putting him in the car (for example, at the dog park)
  • Putting him on leash (if he’d been running free)
  • Doing something boring or annoying (like checking for a tick or cleaning his ears)
  • Sticking him in his crate and then leaving
  • Scolding the dog (if he had just been doing something you didn’t like, so you call him and then punish him)

Of course, it is practical to be able to call your dog to be able to do all but the last thing on the list above, and eventually, after a long history of rewards, doing so should not ruin your dog’s responsiveness. (Especially if you occasionally surprise him by calling him, putting him in his crate, and letting him right back out again! Dogs love games like that.) While you’re in the training phase, when you need to do something other than provide wonderful consequences, just go get him. Or teach a different cue from his recall word, like “inside” or “kennel up.” If he’s doing something naughty, instead of calling him, think in terms of what you could have done to prevent the naughty behavior to begin with.

Speaking of consequences, you might be inclined to punish a dog who does not come when called. That may work if you’re exceptionally skilled and know exactly what you’re doing. You still might get some unintended fallout with that approach. Personally and professionally, I prefer to put my energy and training into getting the dog to come with confidence and enthusiasm, rather than getting him to come because he is afraid of what I might do to him if he doesn’t. If I called a dog in the learning stage and the dog didn’t respond, I would be sure to note in what way I had made it too hard for the dog to be successful (was he too far away or too distracted compared to where we were in our training?). With a well-trained dog, who had carefully been taught to come under great distraction, I would promptly and quietly collect the dog by the collar, ending whatever fun he was having, and then work on a training plan to brush up that gap in his education.

When your dog chooses not to come when called it sure can feel like he is giving you the bird (that one was for all the retrievers out there). But if you examine the consequences you’ve been providing, you may well find the key to turning things around.

Coming When Called: Tip #1

A big priority for most dog owners is to be able to get their dog to come to them when they’re called. It’s actually not that hard to teach, if you go about it in a way that takes advantage of how dogs learn.

For this behavior (which is really a long series of  behaviors, or actions), I have a high standard of performance that I strive for. I want the dog to come immediately, quickly, and on one cue. After all, it’s just not all that useful to train it such that the dog responds eventually, approaches slowly, or does so only after multiple cues or threats. With that in mind, the next few Top Notch Dog Blog entries will offer some tips to improve your dog’s responsiveness to you when you call.

Some principles to keep in mind: Behaviors that are rewarded tend to increase in frequency, intensity and duration. This means you should make it worth it for your dog to come when called. Reward your dog’s effort, and be generous. Make him really glad he came to you. The flip side of this is to avoid punishing him when he does come to you. That may sound obvious, but many people punish their dogs’ behavior without even realizing it, and then continue to struggle down the line, wondering why the dog won’t listen to them.petunderneath

Coming When Called Tip #1: Body Language

Use your body language to your advantage. If you face your dog with direct eye contact, you may be encouraging him to stop before he reaches you or to come in more slowly than he might otherwise. You’ll make it even worse if you have a stern expression on your face. Try standing at even just a very slight angle, making more indirect eye contact (like looking between his eyes), and smiling.

When your dog reaches you, avoid looming over to pet him, grab him, or take his collar. That communicates you are taking up the space in front of you, and you want your dog to get out of that space. Of course, you don’t want him out of that space; you want him to come all the way to you. So remain standing, or squat down instead.

Finally, most dogs do not enjoy being patted on top of the head. As primates, it is our tendency to reach, bend over, and touch palms-down, but those are all counterproductive if you are hoping to reward your dog for coming. When you think about it, petting your dog on top of his head may actually punish his attempt to come all the way to you when called (that is, it may decrease the likelihood of the behavior happening again). You’ll know that’s the case if he comes in just short of reaching you, if he turns away, or moves away instead of coming closer for more. Try petting underhanded, under his collar or on the sides of his face. Avoid grabbing him, hugging him, or taking his face in your hands. Touch and praise him in a way he finds rewarding, and you may well find he comes closer to you.