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Norwich Bulletin - 9/23/2007

Play Nice

Despite the wonderful television and magazine ads to the contrary, puppies and children do not go hand in hand naturally. It takes a lot of work on the part of the parents to teach their children how to properly and safely interact with their puppy.

There are no instant friends in this scenario, especially when the puppy is jumping and nipping at your six year old who is not able to control the situation. The result is usually a crying and stressed out child who ends up yelling at or even hurting the puppy, whose only crime is acting like an untrained puppy.

Christmas is just around the corner, which means parents start thinking about the Christmas puppy being the perfect gift for their young child. They expect that a puppy and their kids will get along immediately and be best friends. Unfortunately for mom and dad, when the teething begins, the sharp puppy nails start to scratch and the puppy becomes an excited bundle of non stopping fur, the kids get frustrated and there are lots of problems.

Between the ages of two and ten months, puppies teeth and their mouths hurt. They relieve that pain by chewing on everything and anything – including little human fingers and feet. And so it is up to the parents to make sure their children do not become a large chew toy.

Toddlers and pups should only be together with supervision. This is a hard and fast rule. Young children should sit on one of their parent's laps, which will make them feel more secure around an active puppy. Setting up structured playtimes and elevating the children, makes them less accessible to mouthy pups. And if the puppy does get overly active, a parent is there to intervene.

Interactive play can also be encouraged if there is an adult around. Attaching a toy to a long rope and letting your child drag it around for the puppy to chase, is a great game for both players, and will also help to tire them both out! Remember, while the puppy is chasing the toy, it is unable to paw and nip at your child. The toy is the target and not the human.

It really is much better to wait until your child is around eight years old before you get that puppy. At that point they are big enough to turn their back and ignore the biting and jumping pup. If the puppy is ignored, it will generally become bored and go find something else to do. At that point, the puppy can be redirected to a chew toy. It is important that the child does not push the pup away, scream or run, because that will immediately appear to be paying and the dog will continue to give chase and nip.

If you are going to go ahead and get that puppy no matter how young your children are, there are a few basic rules you should cover with the family before bringing the puppy home.

Teach your children to not hit, kick, or tease the puppy. No yanking on his tail or pulling at his ears. If the dog gets hurt, he could lash out and retaliate. Kids are no more than siblings in the dog’s eyes and they do not consider them a force that must be obeyed.

Teach your children that they should never yell or scream in the puppy’s face. Dog’s hearing is more sensitive than ours. Also, do not bother the puppy when it is eating or sleeping. These times belong to your pet and they should not be pestered during those times.

If the puppy walks away from the children, no-one should follow him. It means the baby is tired and wants to rest. It is very important to teach the children to respect the puppy’s resting area. Also, when there are multiple children in the home, there should be only two hands on the puppy at any one time. Kids can overwhelm a dog if they all try to pet him at once.

There are things different age groups can handle to learn responsibility and instill a feeling of being able to help take care of the family pet. What tasks a child can do, really depends on his or her maturity level and the dog’s age, size and temperament. For instance, a three year old can groom a puppy with a soft brush and pick out toys, collars and leashes. They should not be left to do grooming by themselves, but an adult should be nearby supervising.

Four and five year olds can handle walking a puppy with Mom or Dad. There are leashes that have a loop at the clasp. Children can walk with their parent, holding the loop while the grown up actually has the leash. The fact that you are actually walking the dog does not have to be relayed to the child.

Six to eight year olds can feed and give water to the puppy. Just make sure they have a no spill container or a half full plastic water pitcher that can easily be poured into the dish on the floor.

And if your child is nine to twelve years old, have them do all of the above and attend puppy training classes with you. This is a great way for the whole family to communicate effectively and to better understand your new puppy.

If you think you, as a parent, can handle the responsibility of getting a puppy and your child in a safe and harmonious way, then please use this column as a guideline. It will make the transition of having a dog in your home much easier.

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