puppies and children

How Can Your Family Dog Teach Your Children Empathy?

Can your dog teach your children empathy? Oh yes! And so easily. Plenty of ideas and resources in this post | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Dog training, new puppy, puppy training, dogs and children | #newpuppy, #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

“You have to share.” 

This is a concept we all want our children to learn. Preferably before they become known as the mean kid at playschool. 

Nagging your child whenever he has something - but wants to keep it to himself - is not the way we want to interact with our family. Being told to share can push a reluctant sharer the wrong way and increase his feelings that his possessions are being threatened.

And it can backfire. Witness toddler Connor who wanted a taste of his mother’s glass of wine. When told no, he gathered up all the authority a 2-year-old can muster and said, “You have to share.”

So, to dodge this particular minefield, how about bringing in a helper who will teach your child the joy of sharing without any pressure - or even parental input?

Your Family Dog!

There she is, waiting in the wings, always happy to oblige with a bit of company.

Careful introductions

You have doubtless put plenty of effort into ensuring that child and dog got off to a good start - starting early in pregnancy acclimatising your dog to baby gear, sounds, smells (see Resources below for help with this). 

Puppies and children need no-pressure interactions from the start. Plenty of ideas and resources in this post | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Dog training, new puppy, puppy training, dogs and children | #newpuppy, #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

Exposure to each other should be limited and always actively supervised. The child should never be allowed to badger the dog, and - of course - you never leave any child alone with any dog, not even for a moment, not even while you answer the phone. Always take one of them with you.

You’ll need to teach the dog a default  Leave it - check out the step-by-step book here - so that boundaries (toys, food, beds) are clear and there's no confusion. And your baby will need to learn the same trick! It’s part of learning respect for others and their space and things. 

Oh, and no cutesy pictures of the baby crawling on or hugging the dog please! A little study of Dog Body Language will show you how close many of these babes you see on the internet are to a bite.

Toddlers and older children

So, having carefully worked through all that, the pay-off is that your small child should already have a firm relationship with your dog, enjoying the fun she brings to play, and the comfort of a soft, fluffy friend to commune with when in need of company or reassurance.

You can encourage your child to include the dog in his plans. You can encourage him to think of her needs. 

Puppies and children are a mix made in heaven. But things could go badly wrong! Check out the ideas and resources in this post | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Dog training, new puppy, puppy training, dogs and children, dog biting child | #newpuppy, #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior, #dogbiteschild | www.brilliantfamilydog.com
  • “What’s Maisie having for dinner?” Your child can help prepare her something he knows she likes, and learn to see to her needs before he gets his own supper.

  • “Where’s Maisie going to sit?” you may ask when being shown a splendid “treehouse” in the hedge. This is probably just a muddy hole with some branches over it - but it’s an important construction! And there may well be a place for your dog built in to the plan already.

  • “Shall we bring Maisie?” You can discuss how Maisie may feel about the proposed outing, and whether she’d be happier coming or staying at home.

  • “Do you think Maisie would like to be left alone to sleep now?” Oh how important this one is! Maisie has a right to her own privacy, and will need to sleep at least as much as your baby does. You can juggle the waking and sleeping times so that there are only very few times when both are active and need that constant supervision from you. An under-rested dog is just the same as a fractious overtired toddler - she can’t cope when she needs to be asleep and is being poked and prodded. Don’t test your dog’s patience!

Spontaneous Sharing

Sharing his treehouse, his games, his excitement, his sadness - and sometimes the food he doesn’t want to eat, secretly dropped into Maisie’s waiting mouth below the table - will give your small child a way to express himself and his feelings without the complications of human interactions or sibling competition. 

If he doesn’t want to feature the dog in one of his games or imaginings right now, then she’ll be happy to doze in her bed till she’s needed. No offence taken.

He will learn the pleasure of sharing in a simple, natural way - without us having to keep telling him.

Putting the dog’s needs first, helping her with the things she can’t do herself, and appreciating the things she can do so much better than he can - having her find lost shoes, for instance - will teach your child empathy faster than any other way I know.

The Darlings in Peter Pan had Nana. You have your own nursemaid. Put her to work for you!

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10 Ways to Stop puppy biting

Babies explore the world with their mouths, puppies do the same. The only difference is that babies have gums, while puppies have needles! 

Everyone seems to expect a bit of puppy nipping when they get a puppy. According to my oft-quoted maxim that “What you expect is what you get”, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I can also add that “What you accept is what you get”! And I find many new puppy-owners accept a level of savagery from their puppy which astonishes me. I’m often shown arms covered with scratches and nasty bruises. And I’m here to tell you that this is totally unacceptable!


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This is a frequent cry from first-time puppy-owners - or first-time-since-they-had-children puppy-owners. The perfect family home - full of joy and laughter - that they anticipated when they brought a puppy into their midst is crumbling about their ears. They start to regard the puppy as the enemy, instead of a welcome friend. He’s a nuisance, and has to be kept under increasing control. This is not a good way to start any relationship.

When the puppy is very new and very tiny and wants to play roly-poly with their small child, this may elicit approving nods and smiles from the parents. But they soon learn that the puppy develops at a much faster rate than their baby, and is also armed with sharp claws, sharp teeth, and an astonishing ability to jump high! It’s only when their puppy hits teen-weeks (about fourteen weeks and up) and they realise these games are getting out of hand - when their toddler’s happy gurgles turn to wails of pain and fear - that they decide Something Needs To Be Done. And by now it’s all become a well-established habit. 

The answer is simple, but multi-faceted. There’s a lot going on here.

I can honestly say that my own puppies learn that dogs’ teeth never touch human skin - very, very fast. And they will never have been yelled at. Here’s how it’s done:


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Ten ways to stop puppy nipping


1. The ideal age to get a puppy is eight weeks. There are many reasons for this, but for the purposes of this post we’ll focus on how this lowers the chances of the puppy nipping and biting us. By six weeks or so, the bitch has usually had enough of her pups and will often be separated from them for most of the time. But this doesn’t mean they’re not learning! The time from six to eight weeks of age is prime socialising time. They find out what works with their littermates and what doesn’t. Now puppies have a thick fur coat, so the immature jaw control doesn’t do them any damage. But a pup will soon tell his brother if the play got too rough, and the biting too hard. A puppy who is bullying his littermates will become Billy-no-mates until he learns to tone down his enthusiasm. He’ll learn this quickly - and what he’s learning is called Bite Inhibition. He can use his mouth with exquisite control - he can grip without biting, touch without ripping. This is one major reason for getting your puppy at the right age. 


2. Once he arrives with you, the puppy should have a safe den (a crate is ideal) where he can retire or be taken when tired, and which is totally out of bounds to children and other animals. A young puppy should be going down to sleep every hour or two throughout the day, and all night. To find out how to get your pup to sleep through the night from Day 1, read this post.


3. Never leave any child alone with any dog, not even for a moment. If you have to leave the room, take one of them with you. 


4. The same goes for any older dog in the household. They didn’t choose to get a puppy - you did. So to maintain harmony in the home, you need to protect your older dog from endless puppy attention. A general rule would be a maximum of twenty minutes a day of free play, which would be closely supervised, in five-minute bursts. The puppy is not free to pester people, children, or other household residents, whenever he feels like it. Protect older dogs, cats, and small children from too much attention. How much is too much? That depends on the victim. When they say it’s enough, it’s enough.


5. Supervision should be active, not simply a distracted presence in the same house. When puppy and child are both loose at the same time, this should be the parent’s focus. Clever manipulation of sleep and mealtimes may minimise these times a lot, and allow the adult to devote all attention to either the child or the puppy (or, occasionally, themselves!). You have to be sure that you spend time on your puppy and not just drop him into the mix as a tagalong: this puppy is not going to train himself!


6. Both child and pup need to learn manners and boundaries. In neither case is this done by shouting, saying NO, or scolding. Showing and encouraging is the way to go.

New Puppy? Puppy biting? New Rescue Dog? | 10 Tips to stop puppy biting | FREE GUIDE | #newpuppy, #newrescuedog, #dogtraining | www.brilliantfamilydog.com


7. No-one should ever play with the puppy without a soft toy in their hand. The pup should always be encouraged to play with the toy, down at floor level - not leaping up to grab it from the hand. Releasing the toy is rewarded with another quick game, or a treat if playtime is over. Teeth on skin causes the game to stop for a moment for all sides to regroup and remember the rules. Then the game can resume. If the puppy has gone wild and over the top, this is a sure sign that he’s tired and is no longer able to make rational decisions: an hour or two’s napping in his crate will restore equilibrium. And if your toddler is also screeching and squawking, it looks like you’re going to get a peaceful couple of hours while they both have a nap!


8. No-one may interact with the puppy at all unless all his four feet are on the floor. This gets easier as time goes by, and you’ll have a shorter and shorter time to wait before you can address your pup. Start on Day 1, at eight weeks old! No attention is given till feet are all on the floor. The split second the feet arrive on the floor you reward with attention - down at his level. He’ll learn very fast!


9. Teach the puppy which games or parts of games are acceptable. It’s quite possible for a dog to understand that they may chase something but not bring it down. Think Border Collie - these amazing dogs can replicate their instinctive hunting patterns by stalking, flanking, driving and chasing sheep, but they never close in for the kill. Friendly chase games in the garden are great for using up lots of energy from both the child and the dog. A very mouthy puppy can be encouraged to carry a soft toy in his mouth, so there’s no danger of grabbing. Teach your children to play statues the moment the pup gets over-excited and tries to grab a trouser-leg or sleeve. Once the “prey” is still, the hunt is over, and pup will let go - especially if a moving toy is whizzed past his nose. It goes without saying - but I’ll say it anyway - that such games must always be very closely supervised.


10. Practice makes perfect! The more you play controlled tug games with your puppy, the better he’ll get at instantly releasing the toy when you ask (to start with, just hold a tasty treat to his nostrils and wait for him to let go) and waiting patiently for the game to start again. He’ll learn that the opportunity to play is dependent on demonstrating impulse control.


You got a puppy for your family because you wanted your children to enjoy their childhood with a dependable friend - perhaps as you did when you were a child. But don’t toss natural safeguards out of the window!


In time your adult dog will be your growing children’s very best friend. But while he’s still a baby your puppy needs a lot of guidance and management. You can’t expect to toss the puppy into the family and let him sink or swim. You were already busy every moment of the day before your puppy arrived. So you’re going to need to carve out some time for playing with him and teaching him what he can do to please you, while still having a whale of a time being a dog.

If you haven’t been near a dog training school for years, you’ll be glad to know that many have changed beyond recognition! The very best schools now teach mostly through games, and they are entirely force-free. You should feel that you and your children are welcome at the class, and you should also feel confident that the trainer could “train” your toddler in the same way as they show you how to train your puppy, without you being concerned for your child. No doubt you teach your toddler with kindness and patience. There’s no need to act differently with your puppy - who’s merely another toddler in your family, and who has to be managed, and learn to follow the rules, just the same as the other children. 


You simply have to show him how.

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10 ways to stop puppy nipping
10 ways to teach your puppy to stop biting

Get your free Guide to stop puppy biting!


You'll also get a free email course for your puppy!

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