The arrival of a new puppy is a magical thing for a small child.
But is likely to be a little unrealistic.
So preparing a child for a new puppy in advance is a great idea.
You’ll need to explain to small children that puppies sleep a lot and need time to rest on their own.
It is also important to explain that rough and tumble play encourages puppies to engage in painful nipping. But of course, despite all the explanations, you’ll still need to issue lots of reminders in the early days.
You may find it helpful to buy the children some special treats, books/dvds/video games etc, in advance of the puppy’s arrival.
Young children can be very intense with the puppy and it will be helpful to be able to distract them with a non-puppy activity from time to time.
Once the puppy has arrived, if the weather is fine, introductions can be made in the garden.
If it is too cold and wet, the puppy will still need a little time in the garden for toilet purposes, then he can be brought indoors for the children to meet him. Try and make sure he has an empty bladder first.
Children under five, older if the puppy is very large, need to sit on the ground or floor to cuddle a puppy and older ones need to be shown how to hold the puppy correctly with both arms
Puppies are often a little overwhelmed and quite reserved when they first arrive home. After all, it doesn’t feel like their home yet. It’s all a bit strange.
This is usually a temporary state of affairs and you’ll find the puppy becomes more excited and playful over the next few days.
This is where problems can arise with children and puppies if you don’t supervise the interaction between them. If you leave them to play, there will be problems. Puppies play very differently from kids.
Out of bounds
Don’t let children take your puppy off into their bedrooms. They won’t supervise him properly and he will wee on the carpets, chew up their stuff, and bite their toes.
A good rule for kids is that they can play and interact with the puppy only in the kitchen, rather than carrying him around the house.
Small children need very close supervision around small puppies. Mainly to make sure they don’t harm or over-excite the puppy. But also to protect the children.
All puppies bite, and they bite much harder when excited.
They also growl very fiercely during play. Little children can get very upset by these puppy nips and scratches from sharp little claws, and by the sudden snarling that accompanies them.
Puppies don’t understand the meaning of a child’s cries and the fact that the children are upset may excite the puppy even more and encourage him to bite harder. Without supervision the situation can rapidly deteriorate.
The first few days
The first week at home sets the tone for the weeks to come. Many children over five will benefit from being given responsibility for some aspect of the puppy’s daily care.
Grooming is often ideal. Most children will enjoy giving their puppy a thorough brushing, and it can be a part of their morning routine after breakfast, or when they get home from school in the afternoon.
These periods of controlled interaction rather than ‘play’ are very important, because playing between puppies and children can be very upsetting and confusing. On both sides.
The rules of play
Puppies understand the basic rules of play. They understand what starts and stops a game. When to play harder, and when to back off. But with one very important proviso
They understand these rules as dogs. And dog rules of play are very different from human rules.
These are rules that other puppies understand and that work well when your playmate has a thick furry coat.
The rules of human play are different from the rules of puppy play. A loud squeal when children play may mean “stop that, it hurts” A push or a shove, means “back off” Walking or running away may indicate an unwillingness to play any more. All this is enhanced by verbal language and explanations.
Puppies are different. Pushing and shoving is part of play. Running away means “chase me, chase me”
Puppies do not understand that playing with children is different. They don’t make allowances for delicate human skin, and they don’t recognise when children are hurt and need to stop the game.
To make things worse, children don’t recognise signs that puppies are getting overexcited. The whole game tends to get lost in translation and things can quickly get out of hand. With a small dog this can be inconvenient and upsetting. With a large dog it can become dangerous.
Stopping a game
It is important that you teach your children how to stop a game. Most children will try backing away from the puppy, and when he follows them, they will start to run.
This triggers a game of chase which the puppy enjoys enormously, whilst the child become increasingly upset.
The canine signal to stop a game is to stand up tall and keep still with straight stiff legs. If your child needs the game to stop, this is what he must do. Stand up straight and keep still.
Children under eight are rarely capable of doing this without help and reminders, which is why you must supervise them around the puppy.
Limit rough play
With larger breed puppies, and puppies that are clearly getting overexcited, it is best to limit rough play, or rule it out altogether.
People often say to me “my puppy gets so excited when I sit on the floor” That is because the puppy interprets this as an invitation to play ‘puppy style’ If in doubt, stand up. You and your children don’t need to get down on the ground and play like a puppy in order to bond with your dog.
Keep the noise down
Many puppies interpret shouting as ‘barking’ and will bark right back at you.
Noise gets puppies excited. Puppies play noisily, and stop making a noise when they want to stop playing.
Games between puppies and children need structure – free play is rarely successful. You need to supervise and encourage activities that your children can control, such as fetch and tug – we’ll look at those in another article.
If you start as you mean to go on in this respect, life will be a whole lot easier for you.
Don’t worry, this phase will pass. And one day your dog will be sensible enough to sit on the floor whilst you or your children sit there next to him and relax with a book or a game.
The Golden Rule of puppy play
Dog body language for ‘stop this game’ is very specific. The key is to stand up tall, and stand still.
You’ll notice that the dog stopping the game will be very quiet and motionless, even if the other dog is bumping and pushing it.
Later on, if his playmate persists in pestering, the dog who wants to stop may give a warning growl. But initially, the whole ‘stopping’ ritual is silent.
Children can learn to do this too.
Here’s the golden rule of puppy play – if you want the game to end
- Stand up
- Stand still
- Be quiet
That’s it in a nutshell. If the puppy is over-excited, zooming about, biting, growling, tugging, yapping – STAND UP, stand still, and shhhh!
Not all puppies get over-excited around children, but most do. And puppies don’t really benefit from rolling around on the ground with human beings. That’s what other dogs are for.
Ideally, the whole atmosphere around a puppy should be calm. Excited puppies bite and many need ‘time out’ away from the kids to recover! Try and prepare your children in advance so that they are not expecting a ’round the clock’ playmate
Teach excitable kids to be ‘little mice’ around the puppy. See who can be the quietest. You could have a prize for the best mouse.
Some children will be able to cuddle the puppy on their lap whilst holding on to a rawhide chew with one hand so that the puppy can chew on the other end of it. This avoids the puppy gnawing on fingers. Just make sure you remove the chew when it starts to disintegrate so your puppy doesn’t choke on the bits.
Remember to supervise small children around the puppy and distract them with toys and games if the puppy begins to get excited. And don’t forget to set rules and boundaries for how and where the children can interact with the puppy.
That way you’ll be able to control playtimes and make sure that all goes smoothly.