Teaching children to play with and respect a puppy is a reciprocal endeavor. Parents have the obligation to teach children how to play as well as teaching the puppy how to play and both need to learn and respect each others boundaries.
Puppies see small children as litter mates so the way they interact needs to be taught and supervised by an adult. In the same way one would never leave a toddler unsupervised, one would never leave a puppy unsupervised and never leave a dog and a child alone.
Appropriate play is fetch, teaching tricks, walking on leash, hide and seek.
• Fetch: Fetching a ball or a toy is a great way for kids and pups to play. The important aspect in fetching is to make sure that you don’t chase the dog, rather stay put and have the dog bring the object back to you. If the pup is taught to play fetch with a ‘DROP IT’ command then all the child has to do is throw the ball and the pup will drop the ball on command. This becomes automatic when the pup returns with the ball.
• Teaching Tricks: There are all kinds of tricks to teach and many can be found online. Examples: Shake (give me five, or give me your paw), roll over, speak, crawl, take a bow, etc Trick training is easy using treats to lure your dog into doing what you are asking.
• Walking on the leash (with supervision) Walking provides exercise and mental stimulation. The walk is for the dog so it’s ok for the dog to stop and smell and socialize with people and friendly dogs.
• Hide and Seek: Once the pup has the STAY command, the child (again with supervision at first) can ask for a STAY and then hide behind a piece of furniture in a different room entirely. Release the pup from the STAY command with OK or whatever release command was taught and the pup goes running to find the child. This is a great game and is the beginning of scent training which is what search and rescue dogs do. You can also hide your pups favorite toy and teach “FIND IT” and the pup has to find the toy. Start with his favorite toy or ball and hide it in a pretty obvious place at first, increasing the challenge once the pup understands the game.
Inappropriate play is chasing, grabbing, hugging, pushing, stealing food or toys and teasing.
All of these incite a chase or a wrestling match both of which are fine dog to dog but not dog to child. Too often toddlers and small children start a chase game with a dog and the dog bites the child’s legs (in play). When the child cries, the pup is punished or banned from playing with the kids. Hugging, grabbing, pushing, stealing food/toys or teasing can trigger a dog to bite.
Dogs and children living together can be an incredibly wonderful experience or a complete disaster. It’s up to the parents to teach both the children and the pup to play appropriately. The joy and love you’ll witness will bring many memories that will last a lifetime.