The Fur and Feather Blog

Kids and Dogs – Setting Everyone up for Success

The relationship between kids and dogs isn’t always as easy as it seems!

Written by Ericka Kinsey, M.Ed., CPDT-KA, Family Paws Parent Educator

Your child and your dog: Lassie Goals

A child and a golden retriever run through a grassy field. They both look happy

Most of us have visions of our children happily romping in the backyard with a loving dog, one who follows them around and spends the night curled up in their bed. Many children love to hug, kiss, and cuddle with dogs. Some parents get a puppy with the intention that the puppy and their child can grow up together. So why doesn’t this idyllic scene always play out?

A failure to communicate

Humans and dogs are two very different species, sometimes the differences in communication and social interactions are significant enough to cause discomfort, fear, or even anger in a dog when someone breaches their comfort level – especially when that little human doesn’t “listen” to the dog’s signals to back off. For example, when humans greet loved ones, they hug and kiss – and children naturally want to do this to their furry friend, too. Unfortunately, to many dogs, a hug feels like restraint rather than love. Attempts to pull away are sometimes met with a tighter hug – leaving the dog feeling that the only way to escape is to make the human back off by growling or biting. Let’s be clear here: aggression is not a personality trait, it’s a tool that animals use to solve a problem. No one is to blame here – the child and dog were both only doing what they know.

Is it play, or is it something scarier?

Toddlers are always on the move – and they’re not always very coordinated. Remember how often your toddler fell when first learning to walk? Your dog does, especially if the toddler fell near (or worse, on) your dog. Older children love to yell and jump and run. While some dogs might become nervous, others will get excited and want to join in, and unfortunately, dogs play with their mouths. Once again, no one is at fault – the dog and the child are both only doing what they know – but rough play often leads to a tearful child and a dog in time-out.

How do we ensure our children and dogs interact safely while developing a healthy relationship?

  • Learn to read canine body language so you know when and how to modify the environment to keep your dog comfortable and your child safe.
  • Children mimic adults, so model appropriate behavior toward dogs so they learn safe interactions. If you wouldn’t want your child to do it to your dog, you shouldn’t do it either. NEVER allow your child to sit on your dog.
  • Attend our quarterly Kids and Dogs workshop with your child, where you will learn how to understand your dog’s communication along with games they can play together.
  • Use baby gates, exercise pens, or crates to separate dogs and young children when an adult can’t actively supervise.

Additional Resources

  • Check out the free resources on the Family Paws Parent Education website, including the interactive body language game.
  • Watch the video (no children, please) at Stop the 77.
  • Contact us if you have questions or would like support with a child and dog relationship, or if you are expecting and want strategies to help transition from “dog parents” to “parents with a dog!

FAQ: Rattlesnake Avoidance Training

What is rattlesnake avoidance training?

Around this time of year, the rattlesnake danger moves to the forefront of every Reno/Sparks dog owner’s mind, and people start asking us about my thoughts on rattlesnake avoidance training.  Our take on it is that it’s a good idea for some dogs, but you have to understand how it works, and what it does and doesn’t do, to decide if it’s right for your dog.

Rattlesnake avoidance training is done with a shock collar.  Basically, a professional teaches your dog to associate the presence of a snake with a painful shock. When done properly, the actual level of shock is set for each individual dog by the experienced trainer, since dogs will have different sensitivity levels. In order for this to be a long-lasting lesson, the shock must be at a high level – dogs do cry out, so you probably don’t want to watch. It doesn’t last long, though, and the professionals who do it in Northern Nevada seem to have extremely good timing, and get reliable results.  In general, the greatest danger in using a severe punishment to teach a dog is that they might associate the punishment with something other than what you’ve intended (such as the humans who are standing around when the shock happens). Reassuringly, I’ve never heard of a dog in Reno associating the shock in rattlesnake aversion training with anything other than the snake. We’ve never had to treat any behavioral concerns as a result of rattlesnake training specifically. (This is unlike other forms of e-collar training, or aversive training, the fallout of which we address frequently, unfortunately, especially in private training).

Occasionally we do hear of mild behavioral side effects, such as a fear of garden hoses, or the stethoscope in the vet’s office, or other snake-looking objects.

Does my dog need rattlesnake training?

So who should have this done? Here are some factors to consider: if your dog 1) lives, goes hiking, or camping, a lot in rattlesnake habitat and 2) is one of those super predatory dogs who sees something move in the bushes and immediately pounces on it (terriers, hunting dogs, mouse and lizard hunters everywhere, we’re looking at you!), you should consider rattlesnake avoidance training.

In our experience, dogs who aren’t predatory or terribly stimulated by movement will often leave snakes alone or take a wide path around them voluntarily.  I (Joanna) was once walking my three dogs when we encountered a bull snake in the road.  All three looked a little uneasy with it and gave it a wide berth on their own, and I’ve since heard stories of other dogs having the same instinctual reaction.  But, none of those dogs are the “predatory type.”

What would the trainer do?

Personally, I (Joanna) go hiking with my dogs (they’re non-predatory types who live with small animals at home), off leash, and they haven’t done rattlesnake training.  We have encountered snakes, and they generally walk right past them without engaging with them at all. The snakes either freeze, or move away from us.  My thought is, if one of my dogs were ever to be bit by snake, it would probably be because she stepped on it while running, and didn’t even know it was there.  And if she doesn’t know it’s there, how could she avoid it, even if he had learned to?

If your dog is bit by a rattlesnake, don’t panic. Not all bites actually inject venom (most don’t), and even if they were injected, the venom of our local species of rattlesnake (the Great Basin, or Western, Rattlesnake) isn’t necessarily going to be fatal to your dog. It’s most likely just going to be a very bad day. Calmly get them to the vet as quickly as possible and tell them what happened.

Ultimately, every dog is different, every lifestyle is different, and only you are in a position to make decisions about your dog’s safety and happiness. Reach out to us with any questions! While we do not offer rattlesnake avoidance training, we’re happy to answer any other questions you may have!

Spring Fling Sniff-n-Go!

Celebrate spring at Fur and Feather Works for a super fun sniff n’ go with 3 search areas! Each search can be modified to accommodate all skill, stamina, and experience levels – brand new and/or retired dogs are welcome! Dogs on primary only (food/toy) are also welcome – you’ll just run after the dogs hunting odor. You choose your level of coaching from the instructor – anywhere from heavily coached with known hide placement, to trial-style with no coaching, with unknown hides and a time limit. We’ll also have a sweet and attractive photo booth to pose your dog in front of!

We can’t wait for you to see our three, themed search areas!

Easter Bunny’s Leftovers (interior)
Easter Bunny’s Leftovers (exterior)
Baskets of Fun (buried)

The Details:

Where: Fur and Feather Works (9475 Double R Blvd. Ste 12)
When: Saturday, April 27, starting at 2:30 (exact arrival time will be assigned when you register)
Cost: $15/search area or $40 for all three!

Humans and dogs are encouraged to come in festive attire! Dogs must be familiar with searching in novel environments to participate.  All hides will be birch, unless your dog isn’t on odor yet. You’ll indicate when you sign up whether your dog will be searching for odor, or primary reward (food/toy). All are welcome!

Registration for this event is not closed.

Feel free to contact us with any questions!

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FAQ: Rattlesnake Avoidance Training

What is rattlesnake avoidance training? Around this time of year, the rattlesnake danger moves to the forefront of every Reno/Sparks dog owner’s mind, and people

Spring Fling Sniff-n-Go!

Celebrate spring at Fur and Feather Works for a super fun sniff n’ go with 3 search areas! Each search can be modified to accommodate