Kids and Dogs - Jim Burwell’s Petiquette

Thinking about getting a new dog or puppy? With kids in the mix, it can drastically change the dynamics of a newly created hybrid pack of two-legged and four-legged critters. Not to mention pushing a Mom’s patience to the limit. At first it seems so right to want to over-love and spoil your new puppy or dog — especially with kids.

We are two very different species — dogs and humans. Dogs are naturally hard-wired to run, chase, bite, chew, bark, jump, pee and poop. But now that we humans have domesticated dogs and have them living with us, we have our human standards up to which dogs must live: NO biting, NO barking, NO jumping, NO peeing or pooping (except in approved locations), and NO chewing (except on appropriate doggie toys). Communicating effectively with dogs to make life more enjoyable requires focusing on a number of areas.

As you begin to think about the best way to integrate your new puppy or dog into your home, here are some recommendations:

Basic Concerns

Kids chase dogs and allow dogs to play keep-away. Chasing dogs reinforces dogs’ feeling of dominance. This can be dangerous, especially in the early stages of the relationship. Try to keep your child from chasing your pet.

Kids run from dogs, too. Running from dogs activates a pet’s prey drive. Dogs chase prey and, when they catch it, they usually eat it. Get the picture?

Dogs are extremely sensitive about “their” space, too. Kids (and some adults for that matter) routinely approach dogs head on. This is a bad idea early in the relationship. Instead, teach your child to turn to the side, giving the dog a calming signal, and then approach your new pet. It’s even better to let the dog approach your child (rather than the other way around).


Get kids involved in helping to give your dog more structure in the house, so that dogs know what to expect and who the boss is. Teach your kids how to put your dog on a “learn-to-earn program.” More specifically, everything your dog gets in life from the family — food, treats, praise or life rewards, such as a game of fetch, a walk, a chance to go outside to eliminate—ought to be earned by performing some obedience commands such as sit or down or both. You teach your kids to say “Please,” so teach the dog to “Sit!” on command as his way of saying “Please!” Have the kids take turns making your pet sit for his food.


Sign up for an obedience class and take appropriate-aged kids along to observe your dog in class. There’s no substitute for a well-trained dog. Kids will learn along the way as they watch Mom or Dad train.

Make sure you have your dog on voice commands for “Off!” or “Leave it!” as well as a well-disciplined “Sit!” Sit is a good control command to which you can redirect inappropriate dog behavior.

As your dog gets better at training, buy a book on dog tricks and begin to involve the kids in teaching their pet to shake, roll over or respond to “Bang, you’re dead.” This begins to teach kids proper ways to play with their dog, while at the same time making the dog work for its food and praise. It also reinforces the child’s leadership over the dog. Make sure that parents supervise all dog/kid activities.

At home, write down responsibilities related to caring for your new puppy or dog — things like shopping for dog food, feeding, walking, brushing, picking up toys, grooming and training. Assign each person in the family (yes, Mom and Dad included) jobs to do. Some like an even-day/odd-day schedule, while others prefer Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday — Thursday type of schedules. Some of the jobs are yuck jobs and some are the good jobs. Be sure and rotate job responsibilities regularly.

Behavior Management

Get the kids involved in making a list of behaviors you want to modify or change in your dog, like jumping up, counter surfing, taking and playing with inappropriate kid toys or running out the front door. Once you have your list, post it on the door of the refrigerator. Now before your begin, make sure you have your leadership role clearly defined in the dog’s mind and your dog responding well to the commands mentioned earlier

Always set up specific times to train your dog when it’s convenient for you, so that when your dog is placed in a situation causing him to offer up an inappropriate behavior, you are more likely to get a positive response. For example, teach your dog to go to its place when the doorbell rings, so that you solve the problem of running out the door or jumping on house guests. Remember always to train your dog on a leash. This enables you to reinforce all commands. And, when appropriate, use your kids for distractions; for example, have them ring the door bell and come in the house while you require your dog to remain on its dog bed.

Dogs are our constant companions giving us unquestioned love and loyalty regardless of our age or need. They love us for who we are — not what we have. We have invited them into our world with our family, and it is our responsibility to give them the proper framework in which to live. It’s also our duty to teach our kids to love and respect their puppy or dog and understand it for what it is — a dog. They will probably form a friendship that is treasured and remembered for a lifetime.