Guest Michelle Stern shares tips for balancing life with kids and dog
Parenting is hard enough without all of the guilt that we put on ourselves. Add a dog to the mix and we might just fall into a pit of despair. But it doesn’t have to be that way. While dogs do add to the family workload, they can also bring so much joy. And let’s admit it… The dog is ALWAYS happy to see us, which isn’t the case with the kids. Because the dog is so loving, we can sometimes feel like we aren’t doing enough to enrich their lives. But with these simple suggestions, you can cross “Guilt” off your list and feel like a better pooch parent.
Sometimes with kids in the house, it can feel like complete chaos. The doorbell rings, friends are coming and going, there are mad dashes to sports practices, and then there is meal-prep time. What on earth are you supposed to do with your dog or puppy during these busy and unpredictable times? Instead of simply putting them outside in the yard, there are some simple ways in which your dogs can be part of the action.
- Set up safe-zones in the house for either your dog or your young kids by using a series of exercise pens, baby gates, or play yard panels. By using pens to contain your dog, they can be safely “stored” and yet still be near the family at the same time, preventing loneliness.
- While the dog is safely contained, give him something fun to do. Use frozen Kongs (http://poochparenting.
net/how-to-fill-a-kong-dogs/ – effective June 1) or food dispensing toys. Most dogs couldn’t be happier than when they are eating – and especially when they get to use their brain at the same time. These types of toys keep the mind busy and provide an immediate reward, which is a win-win! Safety tip: make sure that the kids let the dog eat in peace. Some dogs don’t want company while they are eating.
Spending time with your dog doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Occasionally, even a trip in the car with you to drop off or pick up the kids at school can provide the dog with lots of stimulation. Social dogs might even enjoy engaging with some of the people they might see in the process. It goes without saying (but for safety reasons, I’ll mention it anyway!) that it’s never safe to leave a dog in the car on a warm day. The car heats up exponentially and can become unsafe faster than you might imagine!
If you or the kids are up for more of an engaging activity with the dog, here are some fun ideas
- Play with bubbles! Dogs who like to chase often love to jump up and bite at bubbles. Just make sure little bodies and faces don’t get in the way.
- Play doggie ping-pong. This is a simple game that requires two or more people, both armed with a pocketful of treats. Start on opposite sides of the same room. One person calls the dog and gives him a treat when he arrives. Then, the other person calls the dog and also rewards him with a treat. Slowly, move farther apart, eventually with the people being in different rooms or areas of the house. Reward the dog with a treat and lots of praise every time he comes when called. This builds the bond between the players and the dog and is also excellent practice for coming when called.
- Build an obstacle course in the house. Start simple, asking the dog to step over the broom handle on the floor. Eventually, you can set up a complex layout using chairs, pool noodles, tables, hula hoops and more. You can even create a tunnel by draping a sheet over some furniture. This game is great fun for both kids and dogs. If the dog starts to get too excited, it’s a great idea to take a break.
- Take a dog training class with the whole family over summer vacation! There is nothing like better manners, all around!
Sometimes, the dog just needs to spend some time outside. But instead of simply giving him the freedom of the entire yard, set up your dog for success.
- If you are unhappy with the dog digging up your yard or chewing your irrigation system, set up a covered pen or play area in a part of the yard where he can’t do any damage…or at least where you can limit it. Make sure he has water at all times.
- If you have a dog who LOVES to dig, consider giving him digging-approved zone, such as a kiddie pool filled with sand. You can bury dog treats or special toys in this zone, giving the dog lots of incentive to dig here, and not somewhere less desirable.
- Dogs are REALLY GOOD at sniffing. Take advantage of this by sprinkling a portion of his breakfast or dinner on the lawn and let him find all of the kibbles. This might take as long as 30 minutes, and their brain will need a rest when they are done!
Michelle Stern is an educator with 16 years of experience teaching humans. Now, she is a dog trainer and behavior consultant, specializing in helping families with kids and dogs. You can find her at Pooch Parenting: www.poochparenting.net and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @PoochParenting.