This post originally appeared in American Dog Magazine
Here’s a sobering statistic: 80 percent of dog bites happen to children under five. And 80 percent of those bites are directly in the face.
Considering that dogs have, as I like to say, worked their way from the backyard to the bedroom in the last 50 years, this is a situation in sore need of redress. These days, dogs participate and play an ever-greater role in every aspect of our lives, including those containing children.
That being the case, let’s take a quick look at some helpful exercises you can do with your dog to safeguard his or her interactions with children.
How To Train A Childproof Dog
1. First and foremost, ensure that your dog is well-trained and respects you as its leader.
That doesn’t mean you need to be a bully or that you need to “show him who’s boss,” but it does mean that your dog should be in the habit of looking to you for direction before making important decisions…especially in uncertain situations.
This way you’ll be able to guide your dog into new and novel circumstances, including those involving children.
2. Second, teach your dog to accept childlike handling and never—no matter what—to bite or even mouth gently in response to being touched.
This can include holding the puppy in your arms without allowing him to struggle, giving him a body examination while doing so, “hazing” him by batting him around, pulling an ear, a tail, poking his side, all in an upbeat tone and with the presence of lavish treats.
3. Third, you should immediately and sharply reprimand any biting, because the dog must learn that humans may occasionally handle them a bit roughly, but that biting is still off limits.
If you have an older dog that has never done such exercises, all the same rules apply, except that you want to take a bit more time to ease them into it. You can definitely teach an old dog new tricks, but sometimes it just takes a little longer.
4. Fourth, have as many kids as you can ask your dog to do commands such as sit down and whatever else you’ve taught them in exchange for treats. While you do this, it’s key that you keep the whole experience positive.
If your dog refuses a command, gently, but firmly, demand the behavior, teaching him that children carry at least some measure of your authority.
Along the same lines, to the degree that your dog enjoys games such as fetch or favorite tricks, have children play games and practice tricks with your dog.
5. Finally, teach your dog never to jump up on anyone, including children.
There are a million ways to keep a dog from jumping. Here are a few:
- A spritz on the nose with a water bottle or a taste deterrent such as Binaca or even Bitter Apple spray;
- Standing on the leash when the dog jumps up so that he gives himself a small correction;
- Turning your back on the dog every time he jumps up and bending over to pet him only once he keeps all fours on the ground, etc.
Leadership Is The Key
To close, let me emphasize my opening point once more.
A childproof dog must respect your leadership. You earn your dog’s respect through consistent, kind training and the willingness to provide structure, guidance and authority.
The extent to which your dog respects you as leader will determine your dog’s ability to understand how to behave in novel and challenging situations.
Want to learn more about preparing your dog for the arrival of your baby? Check out my book: Good Dog, Happy Baby