GoldendoodleIdeally I would say a puppy needs some physical boundaries – not too much freedom, and calm humans who don’t give him mixed messages.

However, one size simply can’t fit all. Starting puppy off right can save a whole lot of trouble later on.

Yesterday’s family have a wonderful 11-week-old Goldendoodle puppy called Dexter. They also have a very large open plan house, a big garden and two young children who are very keen to be involved!

I sat in the kitchen watching a lovely scene through the window. In a world of their own, the two children and the puppy were climbing some rocks in the garden beside a covered pond. This is perfect until the children or puppy get excited and start to run about.

When someone hasn’t had a dog before, let alone a puppy, it can be hard to see things from the dog’s perspective. This is the dream: ‘Won’t it be lovely for my seven-year-old boy and his little sister to have a dog to play with’, based on childhood stories and films of dogs bounding free and sharing adventures.

The reality is that this lady now has three young children! Thankfully, the newest member of the family will grow up a lot more quickly, but meanwhile he needs the same sort of attention translated into doggy terms. He needs encouragement, teaching good manners, rewards and reinforcement. The children aren’t smacked and nor should he be. Toddlers are forgiven for toileting mistakes whilst being encouraged to go in the ‘right place’ and so should the puppy.

Little children aren’t given unsupervised freedom anywhere and nor should the puppy. This is particularly the case when he is outside with the children. Thinking it would be fun, they have actively encouraged chasing games which have resulted in Dexter now getting over-excited, hence grabbing and nipping. Running along with children is part of the dream – but chasing them is not.

It may never have occurred to a new dog owner that the dog may not want to be cuddled, crowded and carried around by a child.  It is so important that the children are trained to respect the puppy’s personal space because already Dexter (really the most amenable and gentle puppy) is beginning to growl at the little girl.  It’s also essential that the children keep their distance when he is eating or chewing anything.

Just as Dexter needs reinforcing for everything he does that they like, so do the children. We rewarded the little girl with small sweets for touching him gently on the chest and for hanging back when she wanted to cuddle him. To her he is just a large animated teddy bear and she already has a small cut on her face – but is undeterred. When an excited Dexter ‘goes for’ the little boy, he gets scared and angry and smacks him. This is a recipe for disaster.

The children can have great fun with Dexter by playing games that teach him desirable things.  Instead of chase games, the family can call him from room to room and in from the garden, rewarding him for coming – a brilliant recall game. They can play the sort of tug games that teach him to release and to be careful what he does with his teeth. They can teach him to walk nicely beside them off lead.

Mum is going to have her work cut out for a few months! In addition to starting puppy off right, the children need training as well!

Rather than let things get out of hand and allow Dexter to become unruly and rough, she needs to pre-empt trouble. The moment he begins to get over-excited he should be called to her, rewarded liberally, and shut behind a gate with something to do. Then the children need to be taught that they simply must stay the other side of that gate until he has calmed down.

Although children speak the same language as we do, they are probably harder to train!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Dexter, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own puppy can do more harm than good, particularly where children are involved too. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).