I love it when kids that are calm and old enough want to engage in the training process with their dogs. The child-dog bond is extra special, and having the dog grow up with children is one of the delights on this earth.
Very young children should be supervised at all times and taught by parents what is appropriate and inappropriate around the family dog. Please don’t blame the dog when parental training has not been done properly with the little people.
Once a mature and trustworthy child is ready to be taught how to engage a dog there are some skills that the kids should work on.
Come when called: This is usually one of the easiest things for kids to do since dogs should be taught this as a Play command – and who better to play with than the little people who are more fun than adults anyway!
Have the child learn to teach Sit first, then Wait while stepping back about 8 to 10 feet. Call the dog by name three times in a row in a high-pitched voice, adding the Come command followed by Treat.
As the dog approaches, quickly add the Sit cue again. This should be practiced three times in a row. Taught this way, it helps with dogs who jump on kids out of excitement. It becomes a routine: Come to the child and Sit instead of jumping.
With the dog sitting in front of the child, he can now earn the treat. Repetition breeds success!
Leash walk: When a child is big enough physically, it is time to teach them to walk the dog safely. The first part would require making sure the proper walking equipment is on the dog. For some it is collar, for others a harness.
In either case, there are lots of choices within both categories and it is important to know what works best. Under NO circumstances should the child use a retractable leash!
The dog needs to learn to walk by the child’s side to learn the leadership role the child has. While the Come command ensures understanding the child can be both played with and respected by sitting, the walk is about leadership.
The dog should not be out ahead of the child. It is both unsafe and sends the wrong message to the dog – a matter of “I can pull this kid” rather than “I have to listen and stay by his side.”
Use a short, loose leash, and praise the dog when walking and not pulling. Stop walking and correct with “Eh Eh” if pulling. Change directions frequently and give the dog treats when walking properly.
Have the dog Sit by child’s side before crossing the street or when a distraction is near.
If these practices are started when the child can physically control the dog, it will add to their wonderful relationship.
Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. AlphaDogTrainingAcademy@gmail.com