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.

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:

January is National Train Your Dog Month (and how this could affect your dog)

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has designated January to be National Train Your Dog Month. It is a brand new year…help your dog dog kick that troublesome habit he has! Special events at Top Notch Dog during the month of January include:

Receive 10% off your first training appointment

Win a free training appointment by winning the Trick Training Contest ($100 value, details to follow)

Participate in any of three upcoming workshops at a special rate of $25 (or attend all three for $60):

* Tricks to Calm Your Dog (Wed Jan 20 1:00)

* Say Goodbye to Pulling on Leash (Sat. Jan 23 10:00)

* Teach Your Dog to Come When Called (Mon Jan 25 4:00)

Email barbara@topnotchdog.com to register or find out more. Or call (919) 493-4560. For oodles of dog training tips, see the National Train Your Dog Month website. Enjoy your dog more, starting today. Happy training!

How to teach your dog to be annoying

I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that if your dog is doing something that you don’t like, you may well have trained him to do it. Without even realizing it, you may have taught him that his pullingonleashannoying behavior pays big dividends and he should keep it up. How did you teach him to bark at you, to paw at you, to put his paws onto the countertop, to pull on his leash, or to wake you up at the crack of dawn? By rewarding the behavior. You may protest that you never told him “good dog,” nor did you feed him a treat when he engaged in the behavior you don’t like. And I believe you. But life rewards, things in the world that your dog likes, can be just as powerful, if not more so, than rewards we deliberately give our dogs when we are aware we are training them.  

Of course, that is also the good news. If you can identify what life reward you have given your dog in response to his annoying behavior, you are well on your way to turning things around. And you’ll be more aware of the pattern in the future, so you won’t be as likely to teach your dog to be annoying.

Here are some common behaviors people ask me to help them fix, listed along with the powerful rewards they have unwittingly given their dogs for engaging in them:

Annoying behavior                           Reward given by person

pawing                                               social interaction (touch, speaking, eye contact)

waking the person early                      getting up and taking the dog outside

pulling on leash                                 with tension in leash, moving in the direction of the scent or temptation

‘demand’ barking at person                 playing with dog, getting dog’s dinner, letting dog out/in, social interaction

whining in crate                                   speaking to dog, taking dog out, giving dog a toy

puppy biting at your hands                 giving dog a toy

 

There are lots of ways to fix each of these in relatively short order, but my main point here is to spare you having to go down that road to begin with. As I told someone today at our appointment: consequences drive behavior. The client, without realizing it, had taught their dog to bark in the car. “What do you do when he barks?” I asked. “I roll the window down, because he really likes to feel the wind on his face as we drive down the road.”

You may be chuckling, but we’ve all done it. Next time your dog does something annoying, pause to consider whether you inadvertently may have been rewarding that annoying behavior.