Turn Tahoe dog games from frenzy to control
May 21, 2013
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. – Dear Carla,
We have three kids, ages 10, 8 and 5 and a 1-year-old Lab named Dixie. She is a very active dog and loves to play. When the kids are running around, she jumps and bites at them and has knocked the 5-year-old down many times. The kids get mad at her and that just works her up more. Our home is crazy enough without all the screaming and yelling at the dog!
Dear Losing it,
Dixie sees your kids as playmates and when they are running around having fun she wants to join in. Young kids usually yell in high voices, run around and move their arms which are play signals to Dixie. Dogs play with their mouths and paws so a human trying to push them down is a signal to the dog to play more!
You will have to do several things to get control of this situation. First, Dixie absolutely must get enough off leash exercise every single day. I cannot emphasize how important this is. A young dog with excess energy will look for ways to let off steam.
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Second, you need to teach your kids a "stop" signal so you can get control of a situation that is spinning out of control. Most kids have played "red light/ green light" before. Put the dog in another room. Tell the kids that when you say "green light" they are to run around and act as crazy as possible. When you say "red light" all activity and noise must stop and the kids need to wrap their arms around their chest. Red light means absolutely no movement. After you have practiced several times, let Dixie in the room. Now play the game with her in the mix. I think you will be amazed how quickly Dixie stops jumping if the kids don't move at all. When things get too crazy, just say "red light." This signal can also stop the action long enough to get Dixie and put her somewhere to calm down.
Last, your kids need to learn some productive ways to interact with her. Playing games where they control the action are best. Puppy-in-the-Middle is a fun game where the kids can call Dixie to run between them and then give her a treat when she gets to them. Fetch is another wonderful game (especially for a Lab), but Dixie must learn to bring the ball back and drop it so it can be thrown again. Hide and seek is a fun game where the kids hide and Dixie has to find them. Start with easy hiding places and gradually make them harder.
It's important for the kids to learn to treat Dixie with kindness and giving them the tools to interact with her appropriately will decrease their frustration.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.