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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

How do I get my kids to…..?

QUESTION received via email: I agree with everything you just wrote regarding my role in Katie's continued good behavior after rehabilitation at DarnFar. I can do everything by the book. It's my children I worry about. They are not mature enough to understand how an animal thinks or how they should behave. The funny thing is animals are always this way toward my son. He seems to be the "weak one" in the pack and they can sense it. Tommy is very trusting and naive and although I have explained things to the kids many times they just cant comprehend that Katie is an animal acting out of instinct not that she doesn't love them, etc...How do I teach the kids to establish dominance? Katie knows to behave in my presence but as soon as I am out of sight these bad behaviors seem to happen. I am a single mom and I cannot always be there to monitor her. ANSWER: 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. © 2008 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email Tammie.