Thursday, 7 March 2013

Creating a Respectful Bond via Touch and Play, at the Right Time in the Right Way - You, Your Child, Your Puppy, Your Dog

In this article...
1) Key Issues and Awareness;
2) How to Create a Healthy, Mutually Respectful  Relationship

 When working with clients, their children and their puppy this is a topic that I always make sure I address thoroughly

When a family engages me - within in the first few weeks of acquiring a puppy, I can make sure that the relationship between puppy and child starts out the right way – thus ensuring that problem situations and behaviours do not develop.

In other cases, I get called in after the puppy has been in the family for months, the puppy and child not having been taught at the outset how to respect each other are now in crisis mode. The puppy has taken over, is jumping, biting, hyper and out-of-control. What happened?  

Well…the dog's people did not fully realize their important role as coach and mentor to the puppy and they also did not understand how to effectively communicate with the puppy.

So What Are Some of the Key Issues To Be Aware Of?

1.0 It Is Important To Understand Your Puppy's Natural Disposition

Most puppies – given the opportunity, will self-regulate to one degree or another. It is the puppy's person who must actively take on the role of encouraging and enabling  normal, healthy natural behaviours - just as you would do with a child.

It is also important to understand that just each human is an individual with their own unique combination of inherited dispositions - consisting of desirable and undesirable tendencies - so it is for the individual puppy.

Some puppies are, by natural disposition:
  • Calmer, more complacent, less vocal, less pushy;
    • While others, for example are more:
      • Curious, 
      • Persistent
      • Willful, 
      • Determined, etc. 
    • Each of these traits - when enabled the right way, can contribute to the formation of a well-adjusted dog, or when enabled the wrong way will led to big behaviour problems.
  • More confident and naturally well balanced;
    • While others may have a tendency towards insecurity - which can, if enabled develop into anxiety, obsessive or aggressive reactive behaviour
2.0  It is Very Important for a Puppy to get Accustomed to Being Handled:
  • Being touched from head to tail, including;
  • Having its fur and nails groomed, its teeth and ears examined and cleaned;
  • Being picked-up;
  • Being turned on its side;
  • Not biting if its tail or ears are pulled…

It is equally important to teach the child that he/she must respect the puppy and not constantly invade its space, constantly touch, roughly touch, and insistently rev-up the puppy to play.  

3.0 It Is Important To Support The Puppy in His/Her Natural Daily Rhythm

Dogs are hard-wired to adapt to a routine of work, eat and rest. It is natural for a puppy to want to eat, play and then go off to a quite place to rest. This is a dog’s ‘normal’.  If you think about it, the sequence of work-eat-rest is also a normal and familiar sequence to human behaviour.

When a child is permitted to constantly pester a puppy, the puppy learns an altered state of normal. The puppy is inadvertently taught by the child that being excited all of the time is normal. Couple this with failure to teach structured play to the puppy (yes, puppies as young as 8 weeks old can be taught) and the end result is a ‘hyper’ puppy with little to no social manners.

By that time the puppy has learned:
  • To associate humans with high levels of excitement;
  • To go over-threshold…no rules, no limits and;
  • To never go into a relaxed and calm state.

At this point the puppy’s people are upset with the puppy as it jumps on people, bites without restraint, gets into everything, chews-up shoes, steals gloves, grabs food, runs around like a maniac despite the fact that it may have had sufficient physical exercise.

Who set the puppy up for failure?  The humans inadvertently did.

So First Let’s Talk About ‘When’ To Touch Puppy

Invasion of personal space and lack of consideration in when and how we touch another being (human or canine) is a two-way street. If we desire respect and consideration we must also give respect and consideration.

Dogs are not robots, nor should they be considered slaves to the wants and desires of mankind.  Dogs are intelligent sensitive beings, and like humans – when provided with the opportunity to learn from well-adjusted older members of our respective species - become well adjusted, considerate social beings.

I find the most effective method to help my clients grasp the situation is to show them in real-time relative terms…

You would not like it if your sister, or brother, your friends or child were constantly touching you, getting into your personal space, and they in turn would not appreciate it if you did not respect their space and body. There are times when you require that your personal space be respected.  This is a basic and foundational lesson for a child. In the absence of this learning experience the child can end-up seriously lacking in social grace. This lesson is very important in the journey to becoming a well-balanced, social being.
The same lesson is taught to puppies by adult dogs. The lesson is universal – for humans and canines alike.

To teach a child to understand what it feels like for a puppy to have their space constantly invaded, I lean into the child’s personal space and ask them if they feel comfortable. Invariably the answer is ‘NO!’

Then with a little smile on my face and the child, sits with a matching smile on their face - I say to the child ‘and now you know how your puppy feels when you disrespect its personal space’.
And for the parents, I always ask, ‘what happens, if you over-stimulate your child – let them get too excited and at the same time allow them to skip their rest time’. The child becomes hyper, agitated and exhausted all at the same time. And so it is for a puppy. If you were to continue to allow the child, on a daily basis to spend the bulk of their time in an over-excited state and be depleted of rest the child would be in a constant altered state of normal. Flooded, anxious, and eventually lose the ability to calm down. And so it is for a puppy.
So, should your child constantly pester, touch and invade your dog’s personal space and senses…the answer is NO.

And what is it that humans love so much about dogs? It is the fact that dogs love selflessly.

A puppy can provide the perfect opportunity to teach a child selfless love. To honor the dog, to honor mutual respect, self awareness, self discipline and a reasonable quota of independence, to enable calm and trust, to respect the dog we must also learn to love selflessly.

Both children and adults should share affection with their puppy when the circumstances are mutually beneficial (for dog and human) as discussed in this article.

Your child SHOULD NOT constantly flood your puppy with voice or get in the puppy’s space and pester him/her. Your child SHOULD learn to share mutual warmth and affection in the right way and at the right time. 

How to Touch Puppy

Again let me show you in a way that will be easy for you to relate to. Did you like it when your parents or grandparents ruffled you hair? With one of your hands reach up to your head, place your hand flat against the top of your head and move your hand back and forth quickly on top of your head, Did that feel pleasant? Did it make you feel relaxed? Or was that touch annoying and agitating?

Now instead reach your hand-up to the back of your neck and with a firm pressure behind your finger tips give you neck a slow massage.

Now consider the two types of touch - one touch was annoying and agitating, the other touch was calming and peaceful.  If you don’t want a hyper puppy who associates humans with high states of excitement and agitation then when you touch your puppy enable calm with your touch – not agitation. This is what I teach my clients and their children. I lean over and quickly ruffle a child’s hair, I then ask was that annoying? Children get the concept very quickly. Then it becomes the parent’s job to remind, coach and mentor.

How To Play With Puppy

Your child should learn how to work with puppy at play-time. Teach the puppy to sit, calm, make eye contact and then the child can throw a toy for the puppy to retrieve.  By taking this approach to play time:

The Puppy:
  • Has a much needed opportunity to work physically and psychologically.
  • Just like humans, dogs need to exercise both their body and their mind in balance.
  • The puppy learns that it must connect with its human, ask permission, wait for direction and then take action…this builds a puppy’s confidence the right way.
The Child:
  • Also gets to work physically and psychologically;
  • Has his/her first opportunity to learn pack leadership;
  • The child gains quit, respectful confidence;
Child and Puppy have an opportunity to bond in a mutually beneficial way!

Puppies Have a Natural Need to Chew - Satisfy That Need the Right Way

Puppies, teenage and adult dogs all have a natural need to chew. Read more about that here.

Puppies Require Coaching & Mentoring to Instill Bite Inhibition

Bite inhibition is a behaviour that should be taught and re-inforced (the right way). . I work with a lot of people who did not understand how to teach their dog this important lesson. Not the dogs fault. Sometimes people just don't realize how important it is to impart this lesson when their dog is a cute little puppy. In other cases the people may have tried to address the issue but due to the techniques used may have been unable to translate the need to stop into a lesson that their puppy could understand. Once again:
  • Offering treats to a puppy or dog that is nipping and biting will not teach bite inhibition;
  • Using unrestrained physical force and dominating your dog:
    • May teach a 'type' of bite inhibition but in so doing you may end up:
      • Creating fear in your dog, and;
      • May make your dog aggressive;
      • Or insecure submissive;
    • In either case - as far as I am concerned both of these methods and outcomes are very damaging to the dog. As many of my clients can attest - having used those methods before they worked with me.
    • The end result that you should instead seek to create is a happy, confident and respectful dog.

It is sometimes difficult for a modern day human to realize that dogs will do exactly as you tell them to can't just give a puppy or dog a direction with your voice. Before you get upset by this statement you need to realize that all animals, whither conscious of the fact or not, use multiple methods to communicate. Its not just your voice that you are communicating with - it is your:
  • Facial Expression;
  • Body Language;
    • How the smaller and larger parts of your body are positioned;
    • Held in context to your body, and;
      In context to the space that you occupy while still and while in-motion;
  • Breathing;
  • Scent; and yes, sorry folks;
  • Extra sensory perception.
The best method to teach a puppy or dog not to bit is by using the method that a well adjusted dog uses...which is the method that I use. 
It is also important to understand that if a puppy is behaving in a very physical manner - jumping on you, biting your clothes, your hair etc. and you become equally physical in your response you will only make your puppy's behaviour more intense...for the reasons stated directly above and in the 'note text' located further below. So if your...

Puppy Bites A Child

The puppy is not bad, it simply needs to be taught the right way from the get-go not to bite. And it should be noted that just because a puppy breaks skin does not mean that the puppy intended to do harm...sometimes a nail gets caught or a tooth and accidentally opens up a small wound. If you have not learned how to be an effective communicator you will turn an innocent situation into one that promotes unwanted excitement, fear and aggression. To understand more read:

Additional Assistance

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld 

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Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

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I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats