Pavlov’s Children: Training My Kids with a New Dog

I adopted my first fur baby almost 4 years before I brought home a human baby. She had her issues, but she was an incredibly sweet and gentle dog, so though I was extremely diligent about supervising my children’s interactions with her, I was never worried about her reacting to them. Both of my girls learned how to behave appropriately around the dog from infancy, and from the moment they came home from the hospital, they were loved and protected by my sweet Ellie Mae.

In addition to teaching my children how to behave around their own dog at home, my husband and I were also very careful to make sure they knew all the rules about approaching and playing with other dogs. My girls have always been good at making sure to ask the owner before they pet a strange dog. They know to be calm, to be gentle, and to let the dog sniff them. They know they can’t expect other dogs to behave like their own, and we taught them how to read a dog’s body language as best we could. For me, teaching my daughters these lessons was not just about preventing potential injury, it was about helping them to recognize that different animals have different likes and tolerate different things, just like people.

After saying goodbye to our sweet Ellie in July of last year, we finally adopted a not-quite-one-year-old rescue baby about six weeks ago. I knew we were going to have to work to train her, and I knew at times it would be messy, frustrating, and exhausting. I was ready for the challenge, but she is super smart and learned very quickly. She was nearly 100% house trained within a week. She took to crate-training with ease. In typical puppy fashion, she loved to chew and nip, but she figured out quickly that the obnoxious human buzzer noise meant she was doing something wrong. Within the first month, she had sit, down, and drop-it in her command vocabulary, and she was generally a sweet, cuddly, playful thing.

My children, on the other hand, were a completely different story.

Perhaps it was the months without a dog of their own or exposure to other people’s dogs due to quarantine. Perhaps it was the assumption that this was their own dog so she would be just like Ellie. Whatever the case, my children seem to have completely forgotten how to behave around a dog, and this southern mama has heard herself cry, “Child! Have you lost your damn mind?!” a little too often lately.

Neither one of my children can seem to get it through their heads that this is a NEW dog, that she needs time to figure us out and get comfortable, and that we need time to learn her personality as well. My oldest loves having a younger dog to play with, but then she gets upset when the dog gets rough. She also wants to participate in teaching the dog commands but doesn’t understand the importance of conditioning or that she should ONLY do the buzzer noise when the dog is doing something we don’t want it to do. My youngest is even more of a challenge. She is constantly wanting to crawl on the dog, put her face in the dog’s face, or pat the dog a little too roughly. I’ve found myself pulling her off the dog and punishing her with “no-dog time.” We have conversation after conversation about why she needs to respect the dog’s space.

While my precautions with my first dog were always about protecting the babies from the dog, this time around I feel like I have to protect the dog from the children. And let’s be perfectly clear here: if my dog bites my children because they provoke her, she will not be a casualty of their refusal to listen.

I was prepared for the challenge of training the new dog, but I must admit, I wasn’t fully prepared for the challenge of re-training my children. Hovering over their every interaction has been exhausting, and while the dog has proven calm, lovable, and fond of snuggles, I’m not quite ready to assume she won’t react if provoke, so instead I’ve shifted focus. Now I’m working on dog-training the kids.

I wonder if bells or clickers will work for them too?

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


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