How to Prevent Your Puppy From Harassing Your Kids

Has your puppy turned into a nipping nightmare? While puppy nipping is a normal phase that all pups grow out of, it can quickly become a problem when directed at young children.

If your puppy jumps on your kids and pulls at their clothes, chances are the pup is trying to engage in play with your children, the way they would with another puppy. Puppies sometimes treat kids like littermates so understand that your pup is not being aggressive, it is play behavior, albeit inappropriate.

We want to fix this before your kids no longer want anything to do with the puppy. We will take a multi-faceted approach to the problem, using the tips listed below. It won’t be just one thing in particular that will fix this, but rather everything working in combination.

Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts

DO

  • Catch Your Puppy Being Good. I cannot emphasize this enough. When you see your pup walk within 3 or 4 feet of your child and not jump or grab clothes, Click your clicker (or say Good Girl!) and roll a piece of kibble to her. (giving the treat on the floor will keep your puppy's head low which will keep her body low and we will prevent a jump) While her feet are still attached to the earth mark (click or Good Girl) a few more times followed by more treats. If you're not already, you should be keeping a few dry treats or kibble in your pocket so you can reinforce the behaviors you DO want through out the day. Don't fall into a pattern of reacting to unwanted behavior, reinforce the behavior you DO want before you even see the unwanted behavior.

  • Use vigilant supervision when the puppy is with the kids - I’m a parent too and I know that this is easier said than done, but it's critical. If you can't supervise, crate the puppy.

  • Use a Time Out. When the pup is misbehaving, say Time Out and immediately remove yourself and your child from the room. Make sure there is a baby gate or door separating the pup so he cannot follow you. Time out only needs to last 20 – 30 seconds. Upon returning, give your pup a toy to redirect his mouthing

  • Keep your puppy’s mouth busy by providing long lasting chew items such as a pig’s ear, bully stick, Himalayan Chew, or stuffed Kong.

  • Feed meals exclusively from puzzle toys to provide mental stimulation and to keep puppy busy. The mental exercise from working the puzzle toy will take the edge of her energy plus it provides and outlet for mouthing

  • Tether your pup. A tether is a leash clipped to her collar and then tied to a heavy piece of furniture or to your belt. Being on a tether allows her to be with you but provides some management and control because she cannot get up and bother everyone. A tethered dog should never be left alone.

  • When kids need to run and be wild, remove your puppy to his crate or teach him to lay on a mat while the kids play. Kids and dogs should not engage in rowdy play together otherwise your puppy will continue to view your kids as littermates.

  • Teach kids to “Be A Tree” if the puppy is getting out of control around them – stand feet shoulder width apart, fold your branches (arms) across your trunk (chest) and keep your hands tucked under your arms. Look at the sky (up and away from the dog) and hold still. This position usually indicates to the dog that the child does not wish to engage and the dog will move away. Teach the kids to call out for a parent to come and remove the puppy (but remember you should right there since we are not leaving kids and pups alone).

  • Have your child participate in some of the basic training like Sit, Down,Touch and Stay. We want puppies to see kids as Leaders, not Littermates. This is accomplished through basic training.

  • Make sure your puppy is getting plenty of play time with puppies and young dogs so she has an appropriate outlet for all that energy. Dog to dog play also provides an appropriate outlet for mouthing.

  • Find ways to increase your puppy's exercise. Run her hard playing fetch or chasing a flirt pole.

  • Teach your puppy to "Say Please" by asking him to sit for everything he wants. Sitting is a polite deference behavior and should be installed so well that your puppy just offers it automatically.

  • If your puppy starts to get mouthy or jump on the kids, intervene by calling the puppy’s name (in a very high pitched sing-songy voice) or clapping. Once you’ve got her attention, redirect her onto toys and food puzzle toys, something appropriate that will hold her attention. If after repeated attempts to redirect she is still being mouthy, remember to use a Time Out.

  • Use trained behaviors such as Leave It to stop unwanted behavior rather than just shouting NO

  • Let your puppy drag a short, light leash also so that you have something to grab or step on if she starts jumping on the kids. Once you've stopped her, direct her onto something else (puzzle toy, chew bone, rope toy) or have a Time Out.

  • Watch these videos from The Family Dog with your children:

I Speak Doggie For kids 2-4

Dog Stars For kids 5 and up

How to Kiss a Dog For kids of all ages

DON’T

  • Allow Kids to lay on the floor while the puppy climbs all over them

  • Allow Kids to run and scream in the presence of the puppy

  • Leave kids and puppies unattended

  • NEVER use physical punishment with your puppy for chasing or nipping at kids. This includes squirt bottles, shaker cans and bopping the puppy on the nose

  • NEVER alpha roll your puppy for inappropriate behavior or instruct children to do so

In summary:

  • Re-direct your puppy onto toys, telling her in a sense “don’t do that but do do this”

  • Use a Time Out so she learns “that behavior has that consequence” (social isolation is the opposite of what she wants)

  • Use good management like tethers, crates and baby gates that prevent her from practicing the unwanted behavior

  • Provide appropriate outlets for excess energy and for mouthing

  • Teach children to act appropriately around dogs – don't run, scream or roll on the floor

  • Get children involved in the training so your puppy sees them in more of a leadership role and less of a littermate role

  • Remember to catch your puppy being good!

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