Involving children in dog training can be a great way to teach them how to behave appropriately around dogs, while also teaching the dog or puppy how to behave appropriately around them.
When I have a parent in class who asks to bring their child to class, I always tell them the kids are welcome, so long as they can behave—either sitting on the sidelines or actively participating in helping to train their dog. They are NOT allowed to run around during class or try to interact with other people’s dogs, unless invited but I try to encourage participation.
I also have several games I recommend to parents who want to work on skills with their children at home. Each game works on an important skill their puppy and their children will need.
Freeze Tag for Bite Inhibition
It’s fairly common for kids and puppies to both get worked up, running around, and then those sharp little puppy teeth come out. And puppy tends to turn nippy.
Teaching them how to calm back down when they start to get excited can be a good way of teaching impulse control to the dog while teaching the kids how to react when the dog gets over excited.
Most trainers know how to teach dogs to drop with a toy. This game is a similar idea — when the puppy calms down, the game starts back up.
How to play Freeze Tag with Dogs
The premise of the game is pretty simple: when mom (or dad!) yells freeze, everyone freezes until the dog sits. With small children, I teach them to stand with their their arms crossed or their hands up in the air. This tends to prevent them from flinging their arms around and getting the dog more excited on accident.
Then they wait until their parent yells, “Go!”
The adult running the game should wait until the puppy starts to calm down. As a first step, the adult may need to call the puppy over and ask for a sit with a cookie. Once the puppy has offered a calm behavior, release him and then restart the game!
Before long, when everyone freezes, the puppy should offer a sit.
Once that happens, the family (including the kids!) have a tool to use anytime the puppy gets overexcited: they can freeze!
Teaching a Dog to “Come” to the Entire Family
Teaching a dog to come when called is possibly the most important cue they’ll ever learn — but often, one person in the family takes over training. These two games are a way that everyone can participate.
Both games require at least two people, but could easily be played with many more.
Pass the Puppy
The first game requires everyone to sit around in a circle (or, if there are two people, at least a few feet apart). Everyone should have cookies. Start by calling the puppy around in a circle — person A calls the puppy, then person B, etc. This keeps the recalls short (in terms of distance).
When the puppy comes, the person who called him should give out several cookies. If there are at least 4 people playing, you can add distance by calling the puppy randomly. Different people can call the puppy at different times, until the puppy happily comes to everyone when called.
This game can be a great one to play with the puppy’s dinner — divide it up among all the people playing, and take turns until the the puppy has had his whole dinner.
Hide and Seek
This game is exactly like it sounds. One person holds the puppy or dog, feeding them kibble or cookies to keep them busy (and not peeking) while a second person hides. Once the second person has hidden (start easy!), they call the puppy. The first person should stop feeding the puppy and let it go.
When it finds the hidden person, everyone can throw a party! Kids can give the puppy several cookies or play with him with his favorite toy.
Most kids love to hide and then reward their dog for finding them — if the kids are a bit older, then the adult can even take a turn, hiding while the kids and the dog celebrate their first find and then practicing another recall.