girl with her dog
Dogs and kids go together like macaroni and cheese, right? Not exactly. That equation is missing one crucial element: you.
“People think puppies and kids are a great match, and that isn’t always the case,” said Susy Nastasi, Certified Pet Dog Trainer with Dogs-in-Hood Training in New York City. “When you get a puppy for your child, it requires a lot of adult supervision. Don’t expect that the puppy and your kid can be playing on their own, because it’s not going to be fun for your child.”
Ed Semcer, certified Master Dog Trainer with Canine Consultants in Naples, warned “A child under the age of 10 should never be left alone in a room with a dog without supervision. “
Most often, children are so excited about getting a new dog or puppy that they want to start playing immediately, something Semcer advised against. “Let the dog get acclimatized to the home,” he said. “It’s going to take time. You don’t know what kind of life he had before, whether he was neglected or abused. Maybe the dog has been bounced around. Now he has to realize this is going to be his permanent place. It’s going to take a few days.” He advised having the family first meet the dog in a neutral location, before bringing the dog into the home.
Once at home, ensure your dog has a place to call his own, such as a cage or a crate. “If he’s agitated with the children he can go there,” Semcer said. Once the dog is in the crate, make sure the children leave him alone, especially if he’s sleeping.
Keep a close eye
When your child and dog do start interacting, close supervision is vital. If left unsupervised, an overexcited puppy may scratch or bite the child, which can make the child resentful and/or afraid of the dog, Nastasi explained.
“You want to prevent that from happening by teaching your child what to expect from the puppy, and being there is help them interact, supervising carefully,” she said. “Let them know the puppy has very sharp teeth and claws right now, and that someday the puppy won’t be as silly and goofy as it is right now. The puppy is just a baby.”
Other key points to cover with your child before bringing home a new dog, according to Semcer, include: don’t pull the dogs’ tail or ears; don’t get near the dog while he is eating or having a treat; and don’t tease the dog with toys.
Kids can be involved with their new dogs, and should be assigned chores such as feeding and watering the dog, Semcer said, but the activities should be age appropriate, and performed under close adult supervision. “You need to be right there, too,” Nastasi cautioned.
Parents need to watch both the child and the dog carefully, Semcer said. “You need to know something about the signs a dog gives: if the lips curl up and start to show teeth, or there’s growling, or the ears are erect, there’s something wrong and the parents need to intervene.”
A solid foundation
The cost of hiring a trainer may have you considering training your new dog yourself, but having a professional involved from the outset does provide considerable benefits for your family and pet. “It can be considered a luxury,” Nastasi said. “But it’s like learning to play tennis: should you get lessons?”
Semcer advised hiring a trainer before choosing a dog. “Get in touch with a trainer first and let the trainer know what kind of dog you are looking for,” he said. “If you find a dog, have the trainer evaluate his behavior. Whatever you pay the trainer, it’s going to worth every penny. You’re going to know what kind of dog you’re bringing home.”
Finding a trainer is much like hiring any other professional. Ask friends and family for recommendations. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers offers a search engine to locate local trainers on their website: www.apdt.com. “It is also important to get referrals from current clients,” Nastasi said.
Before the trainer arrives, your family should sit down together and “decide what is going to be acceptable behavior and what is not, and everyone needs to follow those rules and be on the same page.” For example, some families are fine with dogs on the furniture, while others are not.
If you have adopted a puppy into your family, puppy classes are an option, but Nastasi warned that the quality of such classes varies widely. She suggested visiting a class before signing up, and look for a trainer who is supervising sessions in a calm gentle manner.
Some families may need a trainer that specializes in a certain area. For example, Semcer, who has been training dogs for 40 years, noted that many trainers will refuse to work with a dog if he demonstrates signs of aggression. At the point where some trainers give up is where Semcer steps in. He specializes in training aggressive dogs to be a happy, functioning member of the family. He estimated that 98% of the aggressive dogs he has dealt with were able to be trained. These are dogs that many owners would have had put down because they were thought to be too dangerous.
Part of your routine
Regardless of the type of training you choose, make training your dog a part of everyday life, not a separate activity. “Try to make every moment a teaching or training moment, kind of like you do with your kids,” Nastasi advised. “You don’t have to take half an hour extra out of your day to train. You should be training all of the time. Even when you feel tired, don’t let them do whatever they want. Those things add up. Training is very important to set a foundation.”
To contact Ed Semcer, call (239) 290-5959 or visit www.weteachdogs.com. To contact Susy Nastasi, visit www.dogsinthehood.com.
Leigh Ann Newman is the owner of ABC Swim School as well as the Copy Editor of Neapolitan Family magazine.