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Surprising Similarities Between Child Raising and Dog Training

Puppy Jack russell terrier lying on a carpet and looking guilty.Having been a professional dog trainer for many years, there is always one pitfall we trainers have to be careful to avoid when talking to customers and that is using ‘dog speak’ – or terminology that is very well known among us in the canine world, but to the everyday person means nothing.  So to avoid this I use numerous analogies during my training sessions to make sure my clients understand exactly what I am talking about.  I try to find examples that are common in everyday life – and more often than not, I find myself equating training situations to those that are similar with raising kids…especially when I am dealing with parents.

I know…it sounds strange, but it works.  Picture “little Johnny” instead of “little Pup-Pup” and all of a sudden, the things you would normally sit there and say “I have absolutely no idea why my dog is doing that”, suddenly become clear.  So, that being said, here are some of the more “useful” analogies I’ve shared with my customers …and some funny scenarios they’ve in turn shared with me…

Housebreaking and Potty training.  When a customer is having trouble with this task, they tell me they let the pup out, it played for hours, then came back in and peed or pooped on the floor.  There are actually three “kids and dogs” analogies I typically use to help customers make sense of this.

  • The first thing I will ask them is “Did you leash the pup and go out with them?” Usually they tell me no. So here, I will say to them…. When you potty trained your child…. Did you bring them to the bathroom door, send them inside, close the door and hope they went? Or, did you physically bring them inside, pull down their pants, put them on the toilet, and wait with them until they went? And after they went, did you just pick them up off the bowl and send them away? Or did you praise them, smile and clap your hands, give them some stickers for doing a good job?” So….. the only difference between potty training and housebreaking, besides the obvious leash and collar, indoors/outdoors thing, is that the dog gets a biscuit instead of a cookie, and we forgo the stickers and give them a toy instead! Other than that, it is the same…. You have to physically be there, stay with them, and praise when it is done.
  • Part two of the same example I just gave is that the dog is getting confused what the outside is for if they are allowed to go outside and play for hours. So for this, I tell my customers that the analogy I am about to give them is a bit outlandish, but makes its point….. I tell them, If you kept ALL of your child’s toys in the bathroom, how would you know if they wanted to go in there to play, or if they had to make? This lets the dog’s owners know that the only time pup/dog should be outside is to go potty…. Not to play…. At least until they understand what the outside is for.
  • Part three of the above example I gave is when a customer is upset that they have been working on housebreaking for two weeks… why is this not done yet… I ask them, “How long did it take your child to potty train? Did they get it overnight or in a few days? Just like potty training, housebreaking takes patience, time, and consistency.

Distractions. When we are training, I tell the customer to put all the pup’s toys away while we are training…and to do the same when they are practicing.   Just like turning the TV off when their kids are doing their homework…the kids are not going to be able to concentrate with all those distractions in the background, and neither is the pup!

Calm a Hyper Pup. Another analogy I find myself using – usually with puppies and very hyper dogs – is in response to an owner complaining about how they let their dog run and play outside for hours to burn up their energy, and they came back in just as crazy.  How can they fix this?  My response… with training. Then I go on to ask them when their child goes to a birthday party, there is plenty of running around, playing, etc… but very little focused work that requires brain power, so more often than not, their child comes home still rearing to go! However, put that exact same child in a classroom for the same amount of time, they come home ready for a nap. Mental stimulation is ALWAYS more taxing and tiring than physical.

Consistency. Finally, here are some additional analogies I offer my clients to help bring home why practicing what their pups have learned during training makes such a huge difference.

  • One question I get asked all the time – especially by clients who call to inquire about my one-week boot-camping (intensive training) program – is “After the week is done, will they know all of the commands they need to be a really well behaved dog?” Sounds logical…it is an “intensive” training course. Now I ask them to think about this a little differently. If your child goes to kindergarten for one week and learns their A,B.C’s…. are they ready for college? This just puts the question into perspective for them and gives them a more realistic understanding that in a week I can teach all of the basics, but it is up to them to follow through and continue with their training.
  • Also, when we are talking about consistency regarding a dog’s training, when I am asked why they need to keep drilling the dog on even basic commands such as SIT and STAY in different locations, I explainIt’s for the same reason they hold fire-drills in the schools. They do not want to wait until there is an actual emergency and hope the children will know what to do”. In your living room, with no distractions around, it is great that your dog knows the commands…. But in an emergency, it is imperative that your dog knows to follow the same commands with no hesitations.  You want to know when the fire-bell rings, the kids jump up, find their buddy, get in line, no one is scared, everyone is accounted for, no one gets overlooked and no one gets hurt.  And when you’re out with your dog – you want to know you’ve put the same safety net in place.

So, as I’ve said, it can be very helpful when trying to explain a dog training concept to a parent, to relate it to a child raising experience.

What can be very funny however, is sometimes…when I least expect it… a dog training concept I worked on with the owner works “in reverse” with the child.

My favorite story of this was little Sophia.  The entire session, this child’s name was repeated over and over and over again. Seeing this was going to make training difficult for this poor puppy, I decided to forgo the usual first commands of SIT and STAY, and work on a “WATCH ME” command. The purpose of this is that no matter what distractions are going on, when you say this command, your dog should look directly at you. We worked on the command the entire session, and the pup was focusing on us and paying attention like a champ! At the end of the session, we went over to the table where my date book was (Sophia had now climbed up on the table) and while I went through my date book, all I heard was, “Sophia stop it!! Sophia, leave that alone! Sophia, get down….” On and on it went. Next thing I know, Sophia has opened MY pocketbook, and has started to go through it. The mother was mortified, and after a minute of yelling at her to “leave it alone, get off the table, stop it” (all requests being ignored), I hear a second of silence, and the mother yells, “SOPHIA!! WATCH ME!!” …and the kid stopped dead in her tracks and stared at her Mom right in the eyes!! Her Mom at that point begged me to move in!

Not unlike little Sophia, there have been other times after a training, when I hear the parent use a technique we worked on with the dog (like STAY!!) … with their child (hand signal included)!!  And it always cracks me up when they turn to me and say, “IT WORKS!!!”

For the record…even though I’ve had a number of my customers at the end of a successful session ask …  I don’t train children or husbands!!  🙂

Building a Child’s Confidence Through Dog Training

Many people who know me and are friends with me now, have a very hard time believing that it was not that long ago that I was a nervous, insecure person with horrible self esteem, and no self confidence. And there are two things in my life that I credit for this miraculous turn around. Ginger girl training her lovely petThe first was finding the 12-step fellowship program of Narcotics Anonymous, and getting my act together. But even that had not given me the ‘personality make-over’ I so desperately craved. Those early years of recovery for me were not easy, and it did not ‘cure’ my insecurities and low self esteem. It did, however, open the door for me to get a job with an old friend who owned a puppy store…which reminded me of just how much I had always loved working with dogs. Where I had once suffered from serious depression, working with the dogs made me happy again. On a bad day, holding one of the pups and petting it made me feel so much better. And I was so fortunate that sometimes my boss/friend would allow me to take a pup home overnight. Those were always the BEST nights for me in those early years! (I hope someday he knows that I will never forget that kindness he did for me, and will forever be grateful for it!)

But as I immersed myself more and more into the canine world, and started training dogs again, I started to feel a bit more confident with each new person I worked with. One day I noticed I held my head up instead of looking at the floor when talking to people. Not too long after that, I started to notice that I was looking people in the eyes. Suddenly, I had these dogs and their owners looking to me for feedback and advice and help…. And my confidence grew more and more every day. I also started to notice that when I asked my customers to do something, they weren’t so sure about it…but when I told them what to do, they never questioned me. So I grew stronger, and again, more confident. And with my confidence growing, my body language changed as well… my shoulders weren’t so slumped, but stood taller. When I sat down, I sat erect. And I started to understand more and more the absolutely wonderful value of Pet Therapy. But although I saw this change in myself, and others who were close to me saw it, I really understood for the first time a few years ago that this could not only change my life, but I had clients with children who were quiet, nervous, shy, scared….. and it was while I worked with them, helping them to train their dogs, I saw miraculous changes in them as well!!

A great example of this was about 6 years ago. I had a client who hired me to work with her Golden puppy. She had gotten the puppy for her daughter, who had experienced some “emotional challenges” during her first year of college. She got the pup as a companion for her daughter, but the pup was being a typical Golden Retriever pup, very nippy and hyper and a bit wild, and the girl became afraid of the pup, and was becoming more introverted. So I started to work extensively with the daughter and the pup on “dog training”. I would say, “Tell him to sit.” And in this tiny little voice, she would repeat the word, and the dog did nothing. So I joked with her, “Say it like you mean it!! Let him know you mean business” and her voice got just a tad louder. I said, “Better…. Now again, louder!! He still thinks you are joking with him!” And we did this again and again. I did not allow her to get frustrated, but we kept going…. And all of a sudden, out of this shy quiet girl, came a blast of the word “SIT!” And to her utter shock, the rump on that pup went right down! This young girl’s face lit up like a Christmas tree! It warmed my heart right to the very core! And this young girl was suddenly laughing, and wanting to learn more and more! It was so exciting to see the metamorphosis of this young girl…. who went from being a caterpillar in a cocoon, to a beautiful butterfly! Her smile lit up the room! Within a few short weeks,  we had him behaving well enough to walk outside appropriately next to her on the leash, and her head was high, she was smiling, and people were drawn to her and her beautiful dog! People stopped her to ask questions about the dog, and she answered them with confidence and her head still held up.  We had worked with her and the dog on eye contact, and because of this, she did not look down to answer them, but looked them right in the eye as she talked with them! Her Mom cried and hugged me. It was a moment I will never forget in my dog training career, and have since repeated several times, and it still gets me every time!

So, how can YOU take your shy, quiet, nervous, child, who lacks self esteem and confidence, and use dog training to help build this up? Here is the recipe:

Start with:

  • One child (any age, any sex)
  • One dog (also any age, any sex…size and temperament appropriate)

Mix in the following ingredients:

  • Patience
  • Compassion
  • A sense of humor
  • Tons of encouragement
  • Tons of praise.
  • A Dog Trainer (optional  ….If you need assistance finding a professional trainer in your area, you can find a great list of them by contacting the IACP)

Begin your regimen by putting the dog on their leash, and showing your child how to do the first easy basic command of “SIT.” Remember, even if your dog knows it, the point is to let your child be the dog’s new teacher. Have your child hold the treat in their hand, bring their hand up slowly, and tell the dog to “SIT”.  If he does not do it, do not let your child get frustrated or disappointed. Listen closely to how your child said it…. Did they whisper it? Did they look the dog in the eyes? If they whispered it, tell your child, “You did it right! But I am not quite sure he heard you. Try it again, but this time a bit louder” And let them do it again. And again, and again and again. Praise your child and the dog. Laugh with your child! If your child was looking at the floor, point it out in a non-judgmental way by saying something like, “I’m not sure Fido knew you were talking to him!! Can you look him in the eyes this time…. Just to make sure he knows who you were talking to?” And let them do it again!

As your dog starts to respond more and more to your child (as they most certainly will, because dogs listen to those who are willing to lead them!) you will see your child’s confidence grow more and more each day. Then here is the amazing thing that happens with their interpersonal relationships…. The mind- set of how the dog listened and respected them when they were strong and confident with it, starts to slowly be practiced on friends. And when friends respond the same way….. well, the sky’s the limit! How do I know all this? Because it happened with me, and a young girl I once knew. And so many other children since I have become a dog trainer. Let them get involved. Let them take an active role (age and size appropriate, of course….. I would not recommend giving a small four year old the leash of a ten month old Golden Retriever…. Remember, we want to set them up for success, not failure, so know your child, know your dog, and let them do tasks together that they can accomplish!) Let them feel proud of themselves!

And one other important thing I do not want to forget to mention….. we are not trying to correct the kids, but to encourage them. So it is okay to say things like, “LOUDER!!!” or “STRONGER!!!!” or “I DON’T THINK HE’S LOOKING YOU IN THE EYE!” But be very careful of critiquing and accidentally criticizing. Remember, how your child holds the leash….. not important. How your child holds their own head up…. Super important!!!

Let’s let our dogs help us to raise happy, confident and self assured youngsters!!!   And extra training for Fido is never a bad thing!!!

Mom is Sick. How to Avoid Kids & Dog Taking Charge

Professional dog trainers talk a lot about being the ‘pack leader’ and setting solid rules, boundaries and guidelines for our animals as well as our kids. We discuss the importance of being consistent so that our kids and animals know what to expect and what is expected of them. But what happens when we are not at our best due to illness or injury? What sort of dangers or difficulties may we encounter during these times? Especially when we are the primary rule makers and enforcers?

The number one ‘reaction’ I have repeatedly encountered with both children and animals is Insecurity. The ‘unknown’ can be scary for all of us and can make us worried, fearful, apprehensive, and a host of other feelings we might go through. And as parents, it’s instinctual to want to shield your children from these unpleasant feelings. We try to smile and act like everything is okay, and for a little while, it may work. But no one can hide these feelings forever. You suddenly find yourself short tempered, frustrated, weepy, etc. And often, it is over silly insignificant little things. So, you started out trying to ‘protect’ your kids, and now you are snapping at them and everyone is walking on eggshells.

Now let’s look at the family dog: You can ‘paste’ that smile on your face and tell them that everything is okay, but they can see right through the facade. Or more accurately, they can see, hear, smell and feel right through it. Words have little to no value to dogs. If you said to your dog, “Rex, I’ll let you out in a few minutes, then we’ll go to the park and practice “SIT” and “STAY”, what they heard was…“REX, blah blah OUT blah blah PARK blah blah SIT blah STAY.

Why? Because they don’t understand words like we do (except for the ones they have heard repeatedly.) They communicate through scent, body language, voice inflections, and gestures. A good example is the sentence “What did you do?” If you smile and say it in a happy excited voice, the tail will wag furiously, and they will circle you for pats and love. However, those same four words said with your arms across your chest, a scowl on your face, and in an angry tone will have them running to hide! When your entire demeanor shifts involuntarily, they feel it!! They know when something is wrong.

So, how can this inconsistency affect your household?

I can best answer this question by sharing with you a recent experience I encountered:

I got my dog Reilley at 3.5 months old. He had a few negative behaviors even as a puppy, such as resource guarding his toys and food around other dogs (see my article Recognizing a dog’s body language before your child gets bitten’ to understand what resource guarding is.) I had to work hard to help him overcome this. I run a dog boarding and training business… it simply would NOT do if MY dog had issues that could potentially put a client’s dogs at risk! So we worked on socializing Reilley with kids and with other dogs.

All was going well and according to my plan, until I needed surgery on my leg. And although I did my best to act like the surgery was no big deal, I was scared and nervous. I saw a few subtle changes in my dog’s behavior, but nothing that overly concerned me. When I came home from surgery, I was lying in bed recuperating and I enjoyed having Reilley lying on the bed next to me keeping me company and cuddling with me. My mom had come to town to help and Reilley’s care was taken over by her and my husband. Everything seemed relaxed and my recovery was going well.

It did not take me long to realize that something big had changed for my dog. This dog who had been social and outgoing with every dog and person who arrived here was suddenly standing back, guarded, and growling at dogs and people! I had seen dogs react negatively to change before, but it had always seemed to affect their behaviors (actions)… a previously housebroken dog starts having accidents, or they are not listening to commands they know very well…. But this was a huge change in his personality, and I did not understand it. So I asked for help. I described what I was seeing to my dog trainer friends through the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and sought their guidance. Although their advice made total sense to me after the fact, I must admit I was a bit surprised at first with what they all had to say.

  • Prior to my surgery I was the primary rule maker as well as the rule enforcer. Not that Reilley grew up in a prison, but there were a number of rules we had set that we lived by every day, and they worked for us (e.g. I poured his food and he sat and waited for permission to eat). My husband on the other hand, was a “dump the food in the bowl and walk away” kind of guy.  And Reilley, like a lot of kids who hate rules but in reality, NEED them, didn’t do well when the rules actually went away. My inability to enforce the rules he was used to living by had left my dog feeling insecure and unsure
  • Because I was the ‘pack leader’ in my house, I was the person in charge of welcoming guests into our home – I maintained order. With others caring for me, I was no longer the “leader” enforcing calm and overseeing who had permission to be there. I was no longer the protector. In the absence of my leadership, he became confused and began to question our roles…I was the sick and injured member of the ‘pack’, maybe it was HIS job to protect me and not the other way around.
  • Finally, because dogs can be so child-like in their actions and reactions, seeing his leader so scared and vulnerable made him very nervous and insecure. (Not so dissimilar to a child realizing for the first time that a parent is fallible or does not always have the answers.)

You may be thinking, ‘what’s the big deal, your dog growled at some other dogs.’ But consider this… what if there were children that he was growling at? An insecure or fearful dog can be an unpredictable one.

So what if you, as the primary care-giver suddenly became ill or injured?

How do you help your family (including the family dog) acclimate to this time of crisis?  How do you help them through it when you are in pain or feeling miserable and are temporarily unable to be the ‘enforcer’?

The two most important answers I can give you are preparation and communication.

I. Preparation:  Obviously this applies more so when you have to go for surgery or something similar that you know about in advance. But even though injuries and illness are often unexpected events, there is still some planning you can do ahead of time, so you are ready if the need should arise.

  • Spend time talking with your significant other, or, if you are a single parent, chose one or two family members or friends you trust with the health and well being of your kids and pets.
  • Make a full list of schedules and routines that include……
    • what time the kids get up, head out for school or the bus, get home from school, and when homework is typically done,
    • what time and day each child has an extracurricular activity, what time they eat supper, approved and not-approved snacks, and what time they need to be in bed. You can also include how much screen time they can have, and approved ‘viewing’ items.
    • Make sure you include things in your list like how you personally reward your child for a job well done or correct or discipline your child for not doing what they are supposed to. (e.g. do they earn stickers on a wall chart or cookies with milk?)
  • While it is a child’s job to push boundaries and try to get away with stuff, even though they think they want these ‘perks’, in the end, it can be quite unsettling for them to suddenly get their way because it varies from the normal routine which can again make them insecure and fearful.
  • Remember to update this list frequently, as schedules and routines may change or vary.

Now, as for the dog:

  • Do not assume just because the family pet is like another child to you, that everyone else will feel the same way. Make sure the person who agreed to stay and help with the kids is also okay with taking care of the dog.
  • Create a similar list for the dogs that you did for the kids, with the dog’s regular routine.
  • Include in the list behaviors that you approve of and do not approve of so that they can follow through (ie: allowed on furniture, allowed to jump up on people when greeting people, etc)
  • Do some research on local boarding facilities just in case it is too much for the person caring for the children to care for the dog as well. This way it is a comfortable choice and not a last-minute decision that keeps you up worried.

II. Communication is vital for all parties involved… whether it is being honest with your kids about what is going on (within reason and age appropriate of course) or talking very openly with the person you have entrusted your kids care to. This reduces so much stress for everyone involved…. Including you! The last thing you want if you become sick or injured is to worry about your household becoming an unruly chaotic place. This can cause the kids to act out, and this is especially important if you happen to have a special needs child whose life is all about the schedules and routines they have come to depend on. And since the family dog tends to feed off the emotions of the family, why risk him being on edge and nervous or fearful…. Which can lead to behavior changes ranging from accidents in the house, to all out aggression.

So I will wrap this up with one last piece of advice: If you are on the other end of this, meaning you did not see this list prior to this scenario happening, and you find yourself now dealing with a chaotic household, heed the advice of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music when she says,  “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start”…

Don’t be afraid to go back to basics with both the kids and the dog. 

For the dog, it might be going back to some crate training and basic commands to remind them you are in charge; for the kids, same thing.  😛  Just kidding…for the kids, it may be being very strict about routines. Whatever you did when they were young to have your house chaos-free and running smooth, repeat until you are back there again. It will not be a lengthy process to back-track a bit, but it may be very useful to help get everyone back on track. The ‘basics’ bring with it a familiarity that everyone may need for now.

Teaching Your “Very Friendly” Child How to Meet a Strange Dog

Boy meets dogMany of you have children that either grew up with a friendly, sweet, loving dog, or got the pup after you had your children, so it is easy for those children to mistakenly think all dogs are friendly. It is these same children that often do not think twice about approaching a dog they do not know in an open and friendly manner; just to potentially receive a growl, or even a bite.

So how can you teach your child how to appropriately and safely get comfortable around other dogs…. The ones they do not know, and who do not know them?

In my next article, we will talk about how you can help your child if they are very fearful of dogs, how to help them to overcome it… But let’s tackle the ‘overly friendly’ child first. Here are some important rules to set down for your child when meeting a strange dog for the first time…..

  • Always ask the owner first. It is very important to teach your children to ask some important questions before approaching any dog. For example:
  • Is your dog friendly? (Too many people stop asking questions after this one. It is important for your child’s safety that they learn to ask a few other key questions as well….such as…..)
  • Does he like to be petted?
  • Has he ever been pet by kids before?
  • Is there a specific way I should pet him?
  • Are there areas that I should avoid petting?
  • Be aware of the dog’s body language. Even if the owner has said it is okay to pet the dog, and that there are no sore spots or anything on the dog that need to be avoided, not all dogs are in the mood at that moment to be approached. The dog may have been out on a long walk already and may be tired, or maybe the walk was more stressful that day than usual. (See my previous article on recognizing a dog’s body language)
  • Stand to the side of the dog to pet them. When we stand directly in front of a strange dog to pet them, especially a child who is lower to the ground, direct eye contact usually occurs….which any dog can perceive as a threat or a challenge.  Also if they get spooked for any reason, they will not think to go around your child if they go to bolt…. They will barrel straight ahead, potentially causing your child to be knocked over in the process. It is better to go from the side of the dog rather than in front (usually by the dog’s shoulder).
  • Let the dog sniff your hand first. Many people think this process is to let the dog get your scent first. This is not really the case…. They caught your scent long before you approached them. However, many people instinctively go to pet the top of the dog’s head first, which can tend to spook them… as some dogs are what we call ‘hand shy’. In some dogs, it can be perceived as a precursor to getting hit….especially a former shelter dog. So by approaching them from the side and placing your hand palm down under their nose first, it is a very non-threatening gesture to them. It is often said to ‘let them sniff you first” because it is much easier than explaining all the other stuff.
  • Do not hug the dog or get in its face. This may be a common sense thing for us adults, but remember, we are dealing with children. Once they see the dog likes to be pet and is friendly, more often than not, they go in for a hug or to kiss the dog. Hugging a dog…. Any dog, can tend to make them feel trapped or threatened, and in a matter of seconds, they can go from ‘digging this petting session’ to ‘why am I being grabbed and restrained’ and try to break free of the hold. Especially from your children that tend to have a ‘death grip’ so to speak. Also, a dog that might be fine with humans might not be so with other dogs, and a child moving in for a kiss might be reminiscent to the dog of another animal moving in for a bite.
  • Use slow gentle strokes when petting the dog. This piece of advice is for adults as well as for kids…. Often, after we get in the initial pets and see the dog is okay, we tend to be a bit less careful, and may start rubbing the ears, or just scratching the sides…. And more often than not, we take this cue from the owner, seeing them do it, we think it is safe to assume that the dog likes it, and it is therefore okay for us to do it too. But remember, ears, paws, and tail are sensitive areas on a dog’s body…. And even though they may be comfortable with their owner doing this….it is important to remember the owner has already built their relationship with the dog as a safe and comfortable one. The dog does not know you yet, any more than you know them…. So take it slow and pet with slow comforting strokes from the back of the neck to the base of the tail and their sides. Long slow strokes are much more comforting to a dog than quick and rapid movements. And remember to keep ‘checking in’ with their body language. Just because they were okay at the start, does not mean they remain that way. If you notice their body language change, it is time to end things on a good note and move on. This makes for a positive experience for everyone involved.
  • If your child is going to a friend’s house that has a dog, remind them of these rules. It is important to remind them that their friend and the dog have had time to get to know each other, not to just ‘jump in’ and act the same way around the friend’s dog that the friend did, but to take their time so the dog can get to know your child as well.

So a quick recap of everything, make sure to ask all pertinent questions before petting a strange dog…. get in the habit yourself of always doing this.  Remember that kids mimic everything we do, and if this is always the way you do it, it is a pretty good bet that going forward, your child will always do this as well, even at a friend’s house when you are not there to remind them. Go slowly, take your time, greet the dog from the side by its shoulder and put your hand, palm down, under its chin first. Pet slowly from the back of the neck to the base of the tail and the sides, and remain vigilant watching their body language. If it has changed at all, it is time to move on and end things on a positive note. As always, an ounce of awareness equals an advantage in your and your child’s health, safety, and well being.

How To Travel Safely For The Holidays With Pets AND Kids

As I have said previously in numerous previous posts, I love that our dogs have become so much a ‘member of the family’ that many would not give it a second thought to bring them along on their holiday travels, or include them in their holiday plans. But there are several things you can do to ensure that you, your pets, your kids, and others around you also have an enjoyable holiday as well.

For starters; if you are driving

  • Make sure you have seat-belts for each dog.  A dog being allowed to roam free in the car is a safety hazard for everyone in the car. If you have to slam on the brakes, they can go through the windshield just as easily as any other unrestrained passenger in the car would. Another serious issue that could arise if you should have to suddenly hit the brakes is they could accidentally slam into your kids, causing a serious injury. I have personally gotten some painful ‘fat lips’ just from going to kiss my dog on the top of his head at the same moment he brought his head up quickly…. So you can just imagine the injuries that could occur in a fast moving vehicle that suddenly stops! On top of that, dogs will instinctively use their front paws to brace themselves, and their nails can really hurt your children if they are on their laps. Lastly, if they hit the back of your seat when you are driving, it can put everyone in the car in serious jeopardy.
  • Make sure the seat belt is attached to a harness. Never attach a seat belt to your dog’s regular collar. This can cause some serious injuries to your dog’s neck if you have to stop short or are in an accident.
  • Make sure they are in the back seat. Even if they are appropriately restrained (a booster car seat for small dogs, or a harness for larger dogs) a deployed air bag can be deadly for our furry friends.

Hotel ‘Etiquette’

  • Make sure hotels are pet friendly in advance! If you are traveling with your pet, the days of ‘We’ll just find a hotel from the road” are a thing of the past. Unless your dog is a service dog, make sure the hotel is pet friendly. You must map out your trip in advance, and most importantly, you must inform the hotel that you will be traveling with a pet. Many hotels have specific rooms used for pets, not unlike ‘smoking rooms’ for smokers. So I recommend you call them and make sure they can accommodate you and your pet. Here is a link that allows you to search for pet-friendly hotels in whichever state you are traveling to. If you are getting a separate room for the kids, I recommend the pet stay in YOUR room. As I always stress, children should never be with pets unsupervised.
  • Remember that the dog should be on a leash outdoors at all times. This is especially important as many hotels are located on busy roads…. Not a great idea for the kids to be the ones to walk them, even if it is their job to do it at home. For safer nighttime walks, bring a flashlight with you. Many hotel guests arrive at night, and they may have been on the road for a long time, and are tired too. This will ensure they will see you and your dog when they are pulling in. It will also help you to see Fido’s poops so you can responsibly clean up after him. You might want to ask the hotel staff if there is a designated ‘Pet Relief Area’ that you should bring him to. Make sure you have a leash that is no longer then six feet, and free of any fraying, rips or tears. Also, do not use retractable leads while out and about. You need to have control of him at all times, and if your friendly outgoing dog runs up to another child that is fearful of dogs, you can be putting someone else’s child in danger.
  • Since you’ll probably want to go out as a family:
    • Bring a crate with you. Do not forget that this is not your dog’s regular environment… and you are ultimately responsible for any damage your dog does.  You do not want to risk your dog panicking and tearing up pillows or blankets or chewing on furniture while you are out. Also, leave a note for housekeeping on the door informing them that there is a dog inside. Just because it is not your home does not mean your dog will not be protective of its environment, and a person that your dog does not know who unexpectedly enters into ‘his space’ can be a recipe for disaster.
    • Bring a blanket or bed for your dog, and plenty of bones or toys. Make sure you have brought sufficient items to keep your dog occupied while you are out.
    • Make sure you leave at least one cell phone number at the front desk if you have to go out. I have seen some of the best trained dogs still panic when left alone in an unknown place, causing them to bark and whine.  Be considerate and make sure you leave a reliable number for the hotel staff to contact you if your dog is freaking out while you are out.
  • Be aware of ‘No Pets Allowed’ spaces, and respect their policies. Pools and spas are there for the humans to enjoy, not the dogs. If the hotel has a restaurant or serves a Continental breakfast in the morning, dogs should not be in those areas unless they are service dogs.

Flying with your dog

  • Always check the Airline’s policy. Each airline has its own policy with regards to flying with your pet. puppy in a travel bagMost small dogs are permitted to fly in a carry case under the seat, but each airline’s seat dimensions are different. Make sure you have the appropriate sized travel bag for your dog that will fit under your seat. Keeping a constant eye on your children in a busy airport is imperative, so the last thing you want is to spend any time being distracted because your dog’s flight bag is not fitting.
  • Find out security’s protocols in advance. Having to go through security is stressful enough… add corralling kids through there, it can be very difficult. Now you are adding a dog to this as well! Find out exactly what you need to do in advance. Do you need their leash and collar off? Do you walk through first and then send the dog through…. Knowing exactly what to expect allows you to have them ready in advance so that you can safely and effectively help the kids through.
  • Make sure you know where the Pet Relief Areas are. Call up the airline in advance and make sure you know where these are, and take them for one last potty break before boarding. Last thing you want is Fido relieving himself in flight!
  • Leave the dog in his bag! The kids may feel badly that their pup is cooped up in a tiny bag and wedged under a seat the entire time, and may beg you to take him out. This is not a safe idea for anyone! Think about how loud it is to us, and multiply it ten-fold with their sharp hearing! I absolutely hate take offs and landings, but I calm down once we are in the air. Just because I have calmed down, does not mean my dog has!! So for the safety of everyone around, leave your pup where he is until you have safely landed and are off of the plane. Some bags have a leash inside so you can open a flap and pet your dog…. I suggest leaving the flap closed! If he is scared, the second that flap is opened, he will try to get out, and getting the ‘genie back into the bottle’ will be no easy feat!! Especially in a small cramped area!
  • Pack a chew stick for him in his bag for takeoff and landing. I do not honestly know if their ears ‘pop’ the way ours do, but if it does, the chewing motion will help.

Going to friends or relatives houses

  • Always ask in advance if it is okay to bring your pet. Just because you view your dog as a family member, does not necessarily mean your host will too. Be courteous and ask beforehand. Hosting a ton of people in their home can be difficult enough without a dog running around! Also, you never know if another guest, especially a child, is allergic to dogs, or if someone else DID ask in advance and is bringing their dog!
  • Keep a constant watch over your dog. As we discussed in an earlier article (Kids, Pets & Your Holiday Party: Read this List (check it twice!) your dog may react differently to “everyday situations” than they would in their home or typical environment. A child that your dog does not know, doing nothing other than reaching over to calmly pet your dog, can get a serious bite if your dog is in a nervous heightened condition.
  • Be aware of your dog’s body language at all times! Holidays can be stressful for people – imagine what it might be like for your dog.  Be alert to what their body language is telling you! Dogs only have two options when they are in a heightened state… fight or flight. Hopefully, they will always resort to the latter one, but they can resort to the former one in an instant! So let’s avoid this by being constantly aware of them, and if you see signs that they are getting stressed out, remove them from the situation! If you need some assistance on what your dog’s body is saying to you, read my article (Recognize a Dog’s Body Language Before Your Child Gets Bitten) to help you out!
  • Again, bring a crate with you. If your dog is getting stressed, the last thing you want is to have no options of where to put him! Do you want to be on ‘doggy patrol’ all night? Having a crate gives you a place to put him so he and everyone else around you are safe!


The last thing I want to touch on is grooming your dog prior to taking him on vacation with you! Regardless of whether you are driving or flying, staying at a hotel or going to a friends, make sure they are well groomed.  Give them a bath, make sure their ears are clean and do not smell.  If they have a long coat, even if you brought them to the groomer, make sure you brush them out thoroughly to get rid of any dead hair and excess dander (helps with allergies in close quarters) and make sure nails are trimmed back so no one gets scratched accidentally.

So to wrap this up, the most important things to remember before traveling with your beloved pet is to do your research and always be courteous to others around you! Much of what I have written is common sense, but the fact is, in a stressful time, even the incredibly obvious can escape each and every one of us!!! So follow some of these guidelines laid out for you, make your to-do lists, check them twice, and you, your family, and everyone around you can have a fun, wonderful and safe holiday!!

Happy Holidays everyone!!!

Keeping You and Your Family Safe From “Free Roaming” Dogs

Father and toddler feeding and walking with dogMany years ago, my sister had told me that while out walking her small young pup (A shih Tzu/Bichon mix) near my Mom’s house, a huge Mastiff came flying out of a house and ran straight for them. Her initial reaction was one that many of us would have…. Protect the one you love… so she grabbed Sylvi off the ground and used her own body to block the huge dog from getting to her.

I had not heard much more on this subject until recently…. but in the past few months, I have heard it quite a bit. My sister called me for advice on how to respond to some recent articles in her neighborhood newspaper about unleashed aggressive dogs in the neighborhood, that come flying out at people walking by with their dogs or kids. A friend of mine stepped in when a dog viciously went after her dog, and she ended up getting severely bitten in the process. And yet another instance where my friend’s 7 year old daughter was playing in her own front yard and a medium sized stray went after her. She only got a scratch, but that was because luckily, her Dad was right inside and chased the dog away… or it would have been much worse! But the most difficult part of this is that this little girl, who loved all animals, is now a bit fearful of dogs.

Let’s face it, having to be on guard the entire time is anything BUT relaxing!… so how do you handle it when a strange dog comes flying at you, your child, or your dog while you are just out for a nice relaxing stroll?

I have heard many different solutions to this problem… for example, some recommend carrying mace or pepper spray at all times. The problem I find with this is that for it to be effective, the dog has to be right up on you already.  At that point, the spray may lessen the damage they do, but is not going to thwart the attack. The other danger to this is that you are spraying a chemical while you are in a panicked state, not to mention to use this item, you have to remove the cap, point and aim correctly, and make sure the wind outside is in your favor. The chances of you spraying it and hitting your target are minimal at best, and if you accidently spray towards your own eyes, you are now rendered useless and cannot help you, your child or your dog.

Another method I have heard used often is a walking stick brought along on the walk. The stick could be used as a weapon against a stray dog coming at you. However, for the same reason I find the Pepper spray or Mace to not be a good idea, again with a stick, you have to wait until the dog is right up on you to use it effectively.

So what is your best option? To start, some things to do before your next walk:

  1. First off, the most important thing you can do is to remind yourself to stay calm. No one thinks clearly when they are panicked.
  2. With regards to your children, you need to have a safety word that lets them know NOT to scream or run at that moment. Because self preservation is present the minute we are born So instinctively, if a dog runs towards your child, their initial reaction will be to scream and run. This is absolutely the WORST thing that they can do at that moment. When an animal in the wild is actively being hunted or pursued, it shrieks and runs away. So when your child goes to do this, it sets off the chase/prey/hunt instinct even more. Whatever your word(s) may be, make sure your child understands it means to calmly and quietly step behind you, but not to grab your legs….which would restrict your movement.
  3. Another important piece of advice…. Kids are notorious for asking a million questions. This is not the time or place to answer them. I remember growing up my Dad always had one rule in his car that had to be obeyed… if he said, “DUCK” at any time; we were to do it first, ask questions later. Same rule applies to your safety word. Now is not the time for: “But why…??”
  4. Finally – get yourself a very loud air horn. You will find them very inexpensively at Walmart or even at Party City . The advantage to these are they are lightweight, easy to use, no harmful chemicals are utilized, and best of all, it works!! Why does it work? When an animal has ‘locked on’ to a target, it is very hard to sway them from their mark. (We actually discuss this in detail in my post Recognize a Dog’s Body Language Before Your Child Get’s Bitten). Their 100% focus is on that target at the moment. However, a very loud and unexpected noise will break through and interrupt that brain wave that has them focused on you, your child, or your pet. Think of all the old movies you have ever seen that take place in the wilderness…. When the wild animal is about to attack, the human in the movie will shoot their gun into the air… and the animal takes off. Again, it is the loud unexpected noise that startles them and changes that brain wave.

If you are with a pet or a child and a strange dog comes at you, don’t quickly bend and pick them up. This now makes you the obstacle they have to get through to get to their target, and they will have no qualms about attacking you to get to them. Add to this that if you panic and go to pick up your dog or your child, now you have to juggle them and the horn, making it that much harder for you to use the air horn effectively.

Again, the most important thing is for you not to panic…. The calmer you stay, the calmer your child or pet will be knowing that you have the situation under control.

So now lets walk through the steps of what to do if a strange dog is coming at you, your child, or your pet…..

  • If you are walking with your child….. Have the air horn in an easily accessible place… many of them come with belt clip-ons. You see an animal coming towards you, Remember to remain calm…. sudden movements may agitate the stray even more. Give your child the word that means stand behind you. Your child gets behind you and you have your body turned towards the approaching animal. Mother And Daughter Walking Along PathCalmly take the air horn, and now blast the air horn. (Hold the button down for a long continuous noise. You don’t want to keep hitting the button over and over again… remember, it is the loud sudden unexpected noise that startles and stops them… don’t give them a chance to ‘get used to ‘ the noise by repeatedly hitting the button It will lose its effectiveness.) While holding the button down, instruct your child to start slowly walking backwards with you. When the animal stops and/or runs away, be aware that your adrenaline is still pumping…. It is a scary moment…. But do not start running away with your child…. It may cause the animal that was retreating to want to chase you again. Keep calmly walking away until you know you and your child are safe. Now, remember to tell your child what a great job they did!!!! Let them know how proud you are of them, that your teamwork kept both of you safe!!!
  • If you are walking with your dog…. It is important to remember that your dog’s instinct is going to be either fight or flight….. which are both dangerous reactions in this scenario. If their instinct is flight…and they go to run, the aggressive dog is going to give chase. On the flip side, if their instinct is to protect you…and they go into fight mode, they are actually ‘challenging’ the other animal and things can get ugly very fast. So remember, before heading out for your walk, put the air horn in an easy-to-reach convenient place. If another animal comes towards you, immediately tighten up on the leash, or step on the leash as close to their collar as you can get. (One of the advantages of you stepping on the leash close to the collar, is that this unusual action will surprise your dog, and they will be more focused on this than the approaching threat. It will also keep them still and free up your hands.  Now blast that air horn!! Remember that it may startle your dog as well, so make sure you either have a firm grip on your leash, or that your foot holding the leash is firmly planted. The last thing you want is to have your foot on the leash, the air horn frightens your dog, and your dog tries to run, knocking you over in the process. Once the intruder has ran off, do not assume they are gone for good. Start backing away with your dog, keeping an eye on where the intruder went. You don’t want to turn your back on the intruder, thinking he is gone, bending over to pick up your dog and now you are attacked. Once you are sure they are gone, you can then pick up your dog or start walking away… but again, don’t run… it can attract the intruder’s attention and have him coming back for more.
  • If the other dog starts to head back in your direction, blast that horn again, long and loud.  It should stop them in their tracks.  At the very least, it should attract passerby attention and hopefully get you some assistance.

So to wrap this up, we’ll do a quick recap…. Before leaving for your walk, have the air-horn in an easily accessible place. If a strange dog starts to come towards you, remain calm and rational, have your child get behind you slowly, or hold your dog’s leash firmly to you. Do not run away or make any sudden movements. Give the air horn a long steady blast, not a bunch of quick bursts, then slowly back away, keeping an eye on where the intruder disappeared, and once you know you are safe, praise your child or pet your dog and reassure them (and yourself!) that you did a good job keeping every body safe!!

One last comment: as a professional trainer, I’m sorry to have to add that I can’t account for every possible dog’s reaction. I wish I could. But, for example, a dog that has been trained to be aggressive may not react the way the majority of animals would.  There are always exceptions to every rule – however in most cases, this will be the most effective way to keep you and your family safe.

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