Seeing the pure joy on a child’s face when you bring home a puppy is priceless. At that moment, not only does your puppy’s training begin but your child’s as well! Introducing a puppy into a home with children can be overwhelming and it’s difficult to know what aspects of raising your puppy the kids can be involved in. The exciting part is that your family just got a little bigger! If your kids are eager to help out, we’ve gathered a couple fun (and age appropriate) activities for the whole family!
The most important thing is to keep interactions between your kids and your puppy positive and supervised. Any corrections given should come from an adult only.
Hand Feeding (5 and up)
Hand feeding is an easy way to get the kids involved and encourage bonding! Instead of scooping some kibble into a bowl, we recommend using mealtime to your advantage! Not only is hand feeding a great way to teach your puppy to work for their food, but it can help them develop a stronger bond with the person feeding them as well.
Under supervision, have your child hand feed one of your puppy’s meals each day to encourage a gentle, positive relationship and to help them bond. If you would like instructions on how to hand feed, check out our Best Ways to Feed Your Puppy blog.
Trainer Tip: If your child is nervous around your puppy, have your child drop pieces of kibble at or near their feet for your puppy to eat. This reinforces calm behavior around your child and allows them to bond in a way your child is comfortable with. As your child grows more confident with your puppy, feel free to try hand feeding when they feel ready.
Name Recognition (9 and up)
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you said your puppy’s name once and they looked up at you immediately? Better yet, came running when you said their name? Well, we have a fun game the whole family can play to begin the training process!
Start by practicing inside to minimize distractions. We’d recommend an adult practice this exercise a couple times before the kids join in. It gives your puppy a chance to learn “the game” before bringing in the whole gang. Make it really easy at the beginning. Grab a small handful of kibble (3 to 5 pieces) and stand only a couple feet away. When your puppy is looking away from you, say their name one time. The moment they look in your direction, praise them (“good girl!” or “good boy!”). Reach your hand out to your puppy holding a piece of kibble to encourage them to walk towards you and feed them. Take a few steps back and repeat! As they respond to their name more reliably, gradually increase the distance between you and your puppy and practice calling your puppy back and forth with your child (and other family members!). Just remember it is essential to only say their name once while practicing.
Trainer Tip: Be mindful of how often you say your puppy’s name on a daily basis. A common mistake is saying a puppy’s name repeatedly without a reward or saying their name if they are in trouble and accidentally associating their name with a punishment. Doing these things can water-down their name, reducing the likelihood that they will attend to it.
Training Your Puppy
When involving children in your puppy’s training the key is to keep things simple and as consistent as possible. Teaching your kids how to treat your puppy is vital. Learning to respect your puppy’s boundaries is beneficial to your puppy’s care and can help keep your child safe around other dogs they may encounter in the future.
Encourage your kids (at any age) to be calm and gentle around your puppy, even during playtime. And the same goes for your puppy too! Easier said than done, right? However, puppies can get overly excited, especially if the kids are getting a little rowdy. During these times you might see an increase in problem behavior such as play-biting and jumping. Our CFO Sean Savage covers these puppy behaviors (and more!) in our vlog to help you navigate puppyhood like a pro!
To reinforce calm behavior around your puppy, teach your kids how to give treats and praise first. Have your child gently pet your puppy’s chest or body (not their head) and praise them. You can reinforce calm behavior from your puppy by giving them a treat and/or praise when they are being calm (i.e. laying or sitting down) around the kids.
Hopefully these recommendations will help you and your family build a strong, positive relationship with your puppy. If you’re interested in learning more about our in-person puppy training programs feel free to contact our team!