The story of George…my Doodle Ambassador drop-out.
I knew George’s lines well. I temperament tested the litter and in hindsight, he was a bit more reserved on a couple of the tests but well within the parameters of what I’m looking for.
I thought George was adorable, so I bought him.
I told myself, this is only one moment in time, he’ll develop and grow. This dog is devoted, willing to please, people oriented, doesn’t startle too much, all qualities I love. And we began our foundation of how we raise puppies the Pillars of Pack Leadership. At about 14 weeks old George really showed me he didn’t care for children.
I noticed that George would move away from them, if he could. He would look at kids alertly and he would vocalize a bit. I thought, “This can’t be true! George is so sweet, so friendly, so adoring. I simply cannot believe it.”
I kept training him. He was wonderful and coming along nicely on all obedience, manners and socialization. And yet, every time George was with children, he would look back at me. He would let me know he was under stress when around children. George told me the truth about how he felt. I needed to acknowledge that truth. I needed to believe him. I needed to accept I couldn’t change this with all the training in the world. It is worth noting that George NEVER did anything inappropriate to a child, nor did I ever allow a child to do anything inappropriate to George.
I was always there to supervise, establish clear boundaries and advocate for George when he was around kids. But, the truth was, George was never going to love kids. He might tolerate them for a bit, but he’d never be happy in a home that lived with them 24/7.
Before we can have any meaningful conversation of helping a dog learn how to live in a home with children, let’s first assess whether your dog actually likes kids in the first place.
Special emphasis here, there is a significant difference between a dog tolerating attention versus enjoying it.
In order to understand the difference, you must take a real look at how your dog behaves in certain situations. No rose-colored glasses allowed on this one! Honesty matters here peeps! As you answer these questions, truly, simply, honestly, answer them. No explanations for a dog’s behavior, no excuses for a kid’s actions, no explanations of any kind, no minimizing.
Simply read and answer yes or no. When interacting with a child or children does your dog:
Does your dog turn away his face when being touched?
Does your dog move away to another area?
Does your dog crouch?
Does your dog yawn frequently, lick lips or pant?
Does he shake off, like when he’s wet and shaking the water off?
Does your dog hide?
Does your dog keep his tail-tucked?
Does your dog’s ears plaster against his head?
Does your dog growl at a child?
Does your dog bark at a child?
Does your dog Lift one front paw, move slowly or grow very still?
Does your dog show the whites of his eyes?
Does your dog begin to shake?
If you answered YES to any of these questions your dog is letting you know he is under stress.
Whenever I hear someone say, “He just snapped out of nowhere and nipped the kid.” I promise you, it didn’t happen ‘out of nowhere’. There may have been subtle signs, but they were there.
The better you get at noticing the signs of stress early on, the better it is for the safety of kids and the well-being of your dog. And know, if these stress signs go unnoticed or you think it will just get better over time without intervention, you are mistaken.
If you answered NO to all the questions above–WAHOO!
You have that dog that simply enjoys the mayhem and bumps and booms that children bring to their world! However, if you answered YES to any of the above, you need to begin to implement strategies to lower the stress level of your dog so that you can keep everyone safe and balanced.
Your dog, more than others, needs great direction, supervision and reinforcements from you about how to better cope with the uncertain things kids do that bring him discomfort.
Here’s my TOP 3 (PLUS A BONUS) things you can implement today to lower your dog’s stress :
- Create a safe space where your dog can be in the home, around you all but at a good enough distance from the hubbub of the kids. I call this PLACE. And the most important thing about place is that your children CANNOT approach him, touch him, talk to him, look at him, or interact with him at all while he is on place. Kids cannot even go within 6 feet of his place bed. Do this at least 3 times a day for about 20 minutes. You can learn about PLACE and how to teach it to your dog in this post.
- You must not allow children to run up to your dog to say, “Hello”. I always teach people to use your body language to quite literally provide a buffer between you and the oncoming children. I call this strategy appropriate MEET N GREET etiquette.
- After some great exercise with your dog, start practicing having a trusted, quite-minded, confident child that can follow instructions well, quietly hold out his hand with a high-valued treat in it. Tell you dog “OK, you can have the treat”. It is essential that the child won’t move his hand when the dogs moves in to take the treat. The goal is that your dog will begin to trust that a kid isn’t always unpredictable or invasive to him or trying to get something from him. He can begin to associate something that usually makes him uncomfortable ( a kid) with a thing that he really likes (treats).
BONUS: SUPERVISION. SUPERVISION. SUPERVISION. You can only do something to change a situation with your dog and kids, if you see that your dog is uncomfortable or stressed. When you do, believe him.
Unfortunately, if you do nothing, you might be one of those people that say, “Out of NOWHERE, my dog bit a kid.”
Now is the time to Step in. Step Up. Get Real. Get the professional help you need to be able to successfully lower the stress your dog is experiencing so that you can all live life together in a safe, sane and civilized way! We have workshops, online training, in person training and a community here to help.