Many times a month I am asked,
"how do I get my kids to..... with the dog?". Or, "How do I get
my husband to..... with the dog?".
My answer is always the same.
"You can't". It's a well known fact that one human can only try to
influence the actions of another human. But, there's no guarantee that
the other individual will comply. We simply don't have that sort of
control over other people's behavior. Even incarcerated prisoners have
a certain amount of "free will" to do as they please.
My opinion is that, when children
are involved, it is the adult who is responsible for the dog's behavior.
It is not fair to ask young children to somehow impose their "dominance"
over a dog. They simply cannot do that. So, when the dog
presents any sort of behavior that might even suggest she is not acting
respectful of the kids, the responsible adult in the home must address the
dog's behavior. If you cannot supervise the interactions of people
(including your children) to make certain that the dog behaves appropriately
around them, then management is the key. Management might include
crating the dog when you are not around. Management is about
controlling the dog in her environment.
Even homes with teenagers (who
SHOULD be able to follow their parent's directions and who may have
developed appropriate leadership skills with dogs), are sometimes
irresponsible with the dog. If the kids can't be trusted to behave
properly around the dog (sometimes, it's that they don't let the dog outside
and there are housebreaking issues, sometimes they leave doors open and the
dog gets out on the street, sometimes the dog is allowed to dominate them),
then the kids need to be told, "leave the dog in the crate until I get
home". That's sad with teenagers, who, if they had been raised
properly should be responsible. But, if it's the truth of the matter
and the dog could be allowed to develop very bad habits, then the
responsible adult(s) must be just that, responsible for the dog's actions.
It's great when every human in
the household can be the dog's "leader". But, the reality is that, for
most homes, that's simply not the case. Although some of my 4H kids
are super at handling their dogs at the young age of 9 or 10, children under
around 12 are often incompetent at projecting an aura of authority with a
dog. And, although, it's great when all (or most) of the folks in the
household can perform the task of "leader", the dog needs just one, highly
dedicated, competent person. And, that person needs to play the
leadership role for the dog, imposing expectations for behavior, especially
for people who are not competent leaders (including children, seniors or
folks who simply refuse to take on the role, themselves). When there
are more competent leaders then those folks can share the burden of
responsibility for the dog's behavior.
I simply define each person in
the home as "competent" or "incompetent" at canine leadership. A
spouse who is disinterested in playing the role of leader for the dog is
incompetent simply because s/he chooses not to play the role. That's not a
criticism, it's simply a judgment based on the reality of the situation.
I accept it, rather than fight with it. So, instead of ranting,
"Honey, the dog trainer says that you are supposed to correct Fluffy for
jumping up on you!", sometimes it's better for the dog if the dedicated,
competent "leader" simply addresses the dog's behavior by going to the dog
and correcting the jumping behavior.
I often joke with clients who
ask me, "How do I get my husband to.....", by replying, "Oh, I could tell
you, but it's going to cost you a lot more money!" Attempting to
control the behavior of other adults is a lot more challenging than
controlling the behavior of dogs and if I knew how to do it successfully,
I'd be rich!
Neighbors or other guests into
your home, too, should not be considered "competent" leaders for YOUR dog.
He's your dog, not theirs. His behavior is your responsibility, not
theirs. So, I advise against falling prey to expecting others to
interact appropriately with your dog.
In particular, children should
not be expected to project an aura of authority over a dominant dog.
It can be dangerous and it's terribly unreasonable. I am aghast at how
often I am asked how to get a four or five year old child to properly
interact with the dog. It's simply beyond their abilities and terribly
unfair to both the child and the dog. It's dangerous and
irresponsible. I prefer to be realistic and assume the responsibility
that I accepted when I brought dogs into my home. I can control the
dog's behavior far more effectively than I can control the behavior of other
humans! And, that is my typical recommendation for folks who ask me
how to "make" another person behave in a way that may be beyond their
ability and/or desire. If someone finds that advice to be
insufficient, then, I recommend that they seek a professional that is
equipped in teaching adults how to "make" their kids or other adults behave.
That's truly beyond my scope as a dog trainer.