Dog Training for Kids

Dog training is essential for the well being of a dog but it is also essential for the people that encounter them. A bad encounter as a child can result in years of fear.

I have walked dogs thousands of miles over the last fourteen years. Most walks have been uneventful and very enjoyable. But there have been times that a neighbor’s unleashed dog or a wandering cat has added a little excitement; a sudden cloud burst has made some of the miles quite unpleasant; and on several occasions, uneven pavement has sent me tumbling to the ground–but I have never let go of the leash!

Long experience has made me very cautious of some situations, especially involving children.

Children Need Training

Some dogs, especially small ones, do not enjoy being pet by children. Kids are unpredictable; they move suddenly, they can be loud in their excitement and they can try to hug the animal, which is a potentially dangerous situation. When I can’t avoid an encounter, I tell the adult with the child that the dog is not mine and I do not know how the dog will behave. Most understand and agree it is best the child leave the dog alone.

I have learned that many people never teach their children to be cautious around a strange dog and how best to approach them.

An Old Man’s Terror

Many years ago, I glanced up from watching a dog named Jack as he sniffed a pile of autumn leaves to see an older man of slight stature who had just rounded the corner. He stood frozen on the sidewalk, arms hanging stiffly by his sides, extending slightly outwards. His mouth formed a big ‘O’ and eyes were wide with what I could only interpret as terror. He was also watching Jack.

Jack was a short-haired, pointy-eared, 50-pound dog of mixed heritage and wouldn’t have hurt a fly. He would have ignored the gentleman, had he even noticed him, because Jack was not a dog that craved attention from strangers. Although I doubt knowing this would have lessened this poor man’s fright. I hustled Jack away in search of an equally aromatic pile of leaves on the opposite side of the street.

As someone who loves dogs, it is very disturbing to see someone react this way to them. These creatures can be so loving and gentle but I can understand a person being frightened, especially if there has been a bad experience with a dog in their past.

As Parents Watch …

Even dogs that have gone through training can react negatively if they feel threatened by the way a person comes up to them and tries to touch them.

It is always disturbing to see a child quickly approach me with his or her hands extended to pet my dog as the parent casually watches without comment. I have owned an extremely affection dog but I always felt obliged to stop a child and explain how to approach him. Bad experiences can often be avoided if we understand how to interact properly with these animals.

How to Approach

People need training as much as the dogs. First of all, a child should be taught to never approach a strange dog, especially if unattended by its owner. Assuming the owner is present, the child should first ask permission to pet the dog. It is important that they understand that the answer they may receive may will be no and it is not because the owner is trying to be mean to them. Like people, some dogs may have had bad experiences interacting with children and may no longer trust them.

If the answer is yes, the child should slowly approach the animal, from the side if possible, with an extended fist. They should be told that they should not look the dog in the eyes because looking straight into a dog’s eyes can be a little scary for them. It is a sign of aggression on the part of the child.

The dog should be allowed to sniff the back of the hand before the child tries to touch the animal. Wait until the owner indicates it is okay to pet the dog and then slowly reach out and pet the dog on the side of the face, under the chin, or on the chest. Dogs do not like to be petted on the top of their heads.

As a precaution, the child should get into the habit of keeping his or her face away from the dog’s face. They will likely avoid only a good licking but it is better to be cautious.

Always be Watchful

No matter how friendly or how much training a dog has had, circumstances may arise that may make the animal uncomfortable. If there are any signs of unease (ears are being put back, there is growling or whimpering, the dog is turning his head or backing away, etc.), the child should be told to quietly and slowly back away from the animal.

Training to Prevent Hurt Feelings

One day when I was walking a dog that was not my own, a beautiful, curly haired young girl about 6 years old came running towards us with a big smile on her face, arms outstretched to hug my small, white, fluffy companion. As she came close I said, “Please, stop. I’m sorry, but my dog is afraid of people.”  Because the dog was small, it was more likely to be fearful of children. I had no concrete knowledge that this particular dog had any problems dealing with kids, but I didn’t want to take a chance.

Although I tried to explain further, I felt so badly when she turned away crying and ran back towards her parents. But perhaps in the future, she will not be frozen like a statue on the sidewalk at the mere sight of a dog sniffing a pile of leaves.

Dog and people training is always needed.

I Tweet, Therefore I Am

Social media has forever changed the way we interact with the world, be it the interactions with friends and family or business associates and clients. A recent New York Times article, “I Tweet Therefore I Am,” questioned whether or not people truly enjoy an experience when they are so preoccupied with figuring out what they are going to say about it in 140 characters or less to their hundreds of online followers.

In my daily pet care business, I maintain journals for the animals that I see on a regular basis. In them I describe how a dog—I usually don’t visit cats on an ongoing, daily basis—is behaving during my visit and our activities together. These daily entries are my low-tech version of a daily tweet, having only one or two followers. Like those that send their tweets out into the internet cloud, I too am often preoccupied by what it is I am going to say about my time with an animal. (There is only so much that can be written about a dog’s bodily functions.)

After reading the Times article, I became concerned I was not enjoying my time spent with the animals and not giving them as much attention as I should because of my need to “tweet” about the experience. My thought pattern became a vicious cycle of trying to focus on the animal’s activities, pleasures, and the context of the moment—immersing myself in our time together— juxtaposed with observing it from an outsider’s perspective. (Although, this vigilance does have a positive side benefit. By knowing well what normal behavior is for the dog, it is easier to discern what might be indicative of an illness, injury, or even signs of stress the animal is feeling.)

Ultimately, it seems that there is a delicate balance between being conscious enough about what is we are experiencing without losing the pleasure of the moment. I came to realize that I would have often missed the pleasure of seeing an unusual bird tucked into a tree or the beauty of a flower if I hadn’t been paying close attention to my furry friends in order to comment upon them. They draw my attention to what it is they see, hear, or smell.

As a dog walker I have far too much time alone to think and like most things in life, it’s all about moderation. I’ll have to log into my Twitter account and tweet about this.

[This is the “Editor’s Notes” from the April/May ’11 issue of Pet Tails.]


If patience is a virtue, then caring for animals can help make us virtuous.

I was far from virtuous one recent morning as my first coffee awaited my return from the daily ritual of walking the dogs as soon as I roll out of bed. A cold wind sweeping off a pond did nothing to improve my mood as I stood waiting at yet another patch of innocuous grass as both Labradors intensely sniffed, oblivious to my scowl and growing impatience.

I know that the life expectancy for my two large dogs is relatively short—one now ten and the other nine—and I should not be wasting any of the time we spend together in an impatient state. Later that cold day I realized it was the 7th anniversary of the passing of our golden retriever, Jake; he had been twelve. I resolved then to have more patience with Baxter and Cole, even when stopping for the umpteenth time during our morning walk. Besides it is a new year, an appropriate time for making resolutions.
Cole, Baxter, & Waldo
Our cat Waldo entered our lives last October and he, too, is now teaching us about patience. One of the first lessons came when trying to find items he enjoyed scratching other than the living room chairs and dining room seat cushions. Not only did we need to find the correct item, but we also needed to determine the correct location for it. The patience part came in the waiting for the absence of inappropriate scratching. It took several weeks before we were no longer awoken at 3 AM to the ripping sounds of cloth being shredded.

A new lesson in patience is on-going. Two weeks ago, Waldo stopped eating. We now have a plethora of cat foods in the pantry closet. After a couple meals of wolfing down a particular brand, Waldo decides he no longer wants it. I’ve had as many as four different ones open in front of him before he decides on one. Our vet suggested adding clam juice, which does help the appeal of a waning liking for a particular brand, but not permanently. (We need to have patience as we figure out what is going on…)

Anyone that has pets learns the need for patience, from house training a puppy to teaching a cat to stay off the kitchen counters. Numerous studies show the many benefits of pet ownership, both mental and physical. Learning patience is just one more.

[This is the “Editor’s Notes” column from the February/March issue of Pet Tails.]