“You know how no one told you how hard it is to have a baby?” I heard my best friend’s voice say in a comfortably familiar tone through my cell phone, “Well this is me saying, if you get a puppy with a toddler, its going to be hard. This is your heads up.”
The fact is: I had puppy fever. Bad. I knew I would be in charge of most of the puppy training as a stay-at-home mom with a 1-and-a-half-year-old daughter. So here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned to staying calm and training a puppy with a toddler:
Bite Inhibition. The puppy is going to bite your kid, and you, and everything else. Get plenty of chew toys for the dog, and don’t let the toddler play with them. These the dog can chew on as much and as hard as it pleases. Frequently practice bite inhibition with the puppy. Let the puppy play with your hands, and when it’s too hard, yelp and let your hand go limp. This is enough to tell your dog that the bite was too much; this is how they played with their litter mates to determine rank. Now, your toddler will need to be trained on yelping and going limp too, and this could even be practiced with a stuffed dog before the real puppy shows up. A toddler’s initial instinct is to scream, cry, run, maybe hit or bite back, and all of those actions are signs to keep playing for a puppy. So there’s the yelping and going limp trick. If it’s not working, cease playing and ignore the puppy for a few minutes. Repeat often. Then you can move on to allowing the puppy to play with the hands only if invited to do so, and gently. If it’s too rough, then yelp, go limp, or walk away.
Consider puppies are a lot like toddlers; do your best to eliminate the options of puppy’s needs like thirsty, potty, hungry, tired, and really high energy before practicing bite inhibition with your toddler — just like you would take care of your toddler’s needs before playtime with puppy. That way everyone’s bringing their A game.
Also there’s a method called clicker training where you press a button to make a click sound to reward desired behaviors, and follow up with a treat. This clicker training would be great to reinforce bite inhibition every time the puppy stops biting when we yelp and go limp, and when it mouths gently.
Sit to Play. Have a rule where your toddler sits down every time to signal that it’s okay for the puppy to approach. When a toddler chases the puppy around to play, it’s an invitation for the puppy to chase and tackle back, and someone could get hurt. Also, forcing a puppy to sit for unwanted attention may cause the dog to avoid the child in the future. A seated child with a treat and a toy is a rewarding interaction, and puppy can retreat when it has had enough.
Safe Places. Crates and dog beds should be made safe places where puppy may retreat to rest and know that it will not be pestered. Supervise and enforce this rule.
These are just some basic beginning training tips to bring a puppy home to a toddler, with less biting, less chasing and tackling, less pulling and tugging. Model good behavior with the puppy, offer immediate calm consequences and praise consistently.