On the topic of kids and dogs…
Depending on the age of the child/children – and on the “jumpiness and mouthiness” of the puppy – one of the first games even a really young child can be taught (as in 2-3 years of age) to play with the new family puppy – is “Four on the floor”. This game is a really great way to get young kids involved in training, and also teaching a jumpy puppy about what we want him TO DO rather than getting frustrated and trying to solve something we “don’t want the dog to do” (as in “Greet kids/ and adults with Four on the Floor” rather than trying to say to a dog what “not jumping” means)
The set-up is really simple: start this game in a quiet indoor location, such as your kitchen or living room…arm your child with a clicker and either

  • put several treats in child’s pocket (if your child is able to fish them out?) or
  • stand next to the child and hold on to the treats and hand them over as needed or
  • have a treat container up on a counter or shelf that the child can reach (but the dog can’t).

Stage 1: When puppy approaches the child; as long as all four paws are on the floor – instruct the child to “click” and then either give the dog a treat or drop a treat to the floor in front of the puppy. Even a very young child can usually master this skill quite easily: instruct them to look for all four paws on the floor (or say “Both front paws need to be touching the floor”) and CLICK while you see that. After the click – toss the puppy a treat. Repeat.

If pup takes treats from small hands too roughly, it is probably a good idea to just have the child toss/ drop the treat to the floor for now instead of trying to work on taking treats gently at the same time. Just work on “Four on the Floor”. Puppy should be rewarded generously for approaching nicely and keeping all paws to the floor beside the young child: therefore, your toddler can be instructed to click and treat quite often (!) – as long as all four paws are on the floor! Once puppy gets the idea (and may even start sitting to earn the next treat!) – you can insutruct your child to “click” – and then toss the cookie a little further away so that you “re-set” the game and let puppy run a few feet away – only to return to the child for a new click and cookie-toss.

A little troubleshooting hint: If there is a lot of jumping up on the child, or pup is trying to grab cookies from the hand; it may be because the rewards for “four on the floor” are not coming often enough….if the timing of clicks is off and don;t come very often in the beginning/ if you miss opportunities to click and wait too long, the pup may not understand what is wanted and may start to jump because of timing issues and arousal. Solutions to this problem: perhaps have puppy drag a light line/ leash so you can put a foot on it to prevent jumping or You may need to also have a clicker yourself so that you can click appropriate responses and give the pup more feedback about good choices. Remember also that every “click” should be followed by a treat! Don’t click and not follow up with a treat! Click = a promise that THAT behavior will be reinforced with a cookie!

A quick word about the clicker.
Instruct kids (and adults?) to hold the clicker with one hand – hand held by the side of their body – NOT pointed toward the dog! It is not a remote control and dogs can hear quite well so it does not need to be stuck into their face or ears. The click always comes first, THEN the treat. If using a clicker is a foreign concept – there is a ton of information on the internet about “how to”. A great and trustworthy source can be found here: http://www.clickertraining.com/basics 

Stage 2: “Four on The Floor” becomes a  Puppy Come! game. In this game we want puppy to really start to listen to his name and come running to you when he hears his name. Puppy should now already understand that approaching with four on the floor is a good thing and there should not be much jumping (if any) when you start Stage 2. If puppy still jumps alot/ and especially if your dog will be a big dog – stay at Stage 1 until that is resolved. When you feel pup is ready for Stage 2; Start calling puppy back and forth between two family members;  mom and child for example. As puppy approaches, he earns a click and a treat…then the other family member will call him “Puppy, Come!” and reward as soon as he gets there – keeping four to the floor. Great fun – and great exercise for the pup! Play in short sessions, two-three minutes is plenty and will probably have the pup run back and forth several times. You want to end this game before pup ends it! Always leave the dog begging for more 🙂 You can do several sessions in a day – but each little training session should be very short!

Stage 3; when puppy recognizes his own name;  teach puppy the names of his family members.
This is a fun thing to do. Once you have worked through stage 1 and 2 and puppy loves this game of running back and forth between family members as he gets called, you can start to teach him what the names of his family members are. A great set up for this is in a back-yard or a safe field where you can let puppy run from one person to the next – creating a big circle/square.
Let’s say we have Buster, the puppy, Lisa – mom, Nick-6 years old, Paul-dad, May-3 years old. The four family members are standing (in this order) as in a big square about 6-7 feet apart initially.
Lisa (mom) starts with Buster in front of her, holding on to his collar/or leash, saying to Buster “Go to Nick”. Now, Nick entices Buster to come running to him…”puppy, puppy, puppy!”….Mom lets go of puppy, when Buster gets to Nick – he immediately rewards him with tons of praise and treats. He now takes a hold of Busters collar/leash and instructs Buster “Go to dad!” next. Now dad calls the dog, enticing him to come. Dad then sends Buster over to May, etc…

If at any point the dog goes to the wrong person, don’t say anything – and don’t give him treats (!) / only reward the dog when he has gone to the person instructed to go to. In the beginning
this will of course be confusing to the dog, until he starts to put two and two together. You may need to help him out a lot on the beginning – sometimes it may help to walk the dog over to the younger members of the family especially. Many dogs have much more of a reinforcement history going to an adult, so going to a child may not come as quickly. Another way to speed up the process and have some great success is to have the adults/ or the ones pup is most likely to go to – have “relatively boring” treats, whole the youngest kids have the most amazing, yummy and fantastic treats!

Once puppy is racing around the circle from person to person, just roaring to go again – reverse the circle…have him go in the other direction – and ultimately – start to really mix up the order so he does not do the family members in the order they are standing. This is how he will really start to understand that “May” and “Nick” are specific names.

After puppy understands THIS game, there are many more versions you can add on: Hide-and-seek, for example – where you gradually start to put a specific person out-of-sight and ask the dog to go “Find May” or “Find Nick”….TONS of fun!
And as always; play in very short sessions. End the game before the puppy is ready to end; that is how you will build motivation for puppy to always be ready to go again!
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