It was tough. At home mom with a military contracted spouse who travelled a lot. Three younger children and a puppy. Mom wanted the puppy to help teach the kids responsibility and such. However, Mom also described her children as spirited and fun-loving. She encouraged them to express themselves creatively. The problem was the children were allowed to have fun and express themselves creatively in ways the puppy did not find fun.
The client was out of my travel range but I took the family on as a favor to a friend who was an animal professional. She knew I did child/dog safety work.
When I entered the house I saw the puppy’s crate (large crate for a puppy that would grow to be a large dog) decked out and made into a play platform. A child was sitting on the crate singing and kicking. Another child was running around the puppy while the critter was trying to eat. When the puppy nipped another child would run up and yell NONONO! Then the children proceeded to host a show – on top of the “crate stage.” Then a child tried to get the puppy involved in the play. This all went down while I was trying to take a history.
Mom was upset because the children only wanted to have fun with the puppy. The puppy was described as a nasty brat.
The puppy was trying to survive. The children were allowed to play inappropriately with him because Mom assumed a dog should learn to tolerate anything a child does. If a child wants to have fun, the dog should accept it.
Here is the flaw with that – what the child thinks is fun the dog may find threatening. It does not matter what the child’s intentions or parental assumption is if the dog is not having fun. Humans do not determine what is fun for the dog – that is personal to the dog.
This pup was not having fun. The kids wanted to play but the pup needed security and respect. Just because you and your child thinks the crate is a great play area and a stage does not mean the puppy will feel the same. No, crates are supposed to be a safe place. Puppies and dogs should be able to eat and chew toys in peace. When I pointed out all the stress signals the pup was giving preceding a nip, Mom was shocked. However, she was still loathe to teach her children different ways to play because they were spirited and she did not want to break that.
Over the weeks, I tried to show her how the kids and pup could have fun. I encouraged and outlined safer games. I tried to make the pup’s crate a quiet zone where he could retreat and be given breaks from the kids. We worked on self-control exercises for the puppy and kids. We rearranged things so the puppy and children could have fun together in a more appropriate way.
Here came the issues though – Mom felt the kids should dictate what they did for fun and not the pup. She was not going to intervene and stop them because that would squash their creativity. So I brought my daughter to show her how well children and pups could do with boundaries – boundaries are needed for safety. My daughter was younger than her children. We all went for a nice walk, we showed how much fun they could still have with set safety boundaries. Mom’s only comment was “Well I am not a dog trainer and my children need to express themselves. My kids must have fun.”
The puppy was having fun with my child, she was properly guided and given boundaries. The puppy was encouraged to take breaks and given needed breaks. This was nothing the mother could not do if she wanted.