Submitted by Lisa A.Yackel, PHR, CVPM
Hospital Administrator at Case Veterinary Hospital
At our house wrestling with the kids has been part of our play, especially when our son was little. He seemed to love the tickling and the rolling around the floor. Our grandson actually giggles so much that he gets the hiccups and we have to call a time out. Oftentimes there are several of us playing on the floor and having a great time and the dogs, if they are anywhere around, want to be included in the fun.
When the dogs become part of the mix, extra precaution has to be taken to not allow them to get over excited and rambunctious. Playing rough is not unusual for dogs, especially young puppies and younger dogs. When they exercise their normal play patterns with children, things can get out of hand and the child may be the recipient of an accidental nip or a body slam. This cycle can confuse the dog if he doesnât understand why he was yelled at for playing and it also can become a little frightening for the child.
Teach your child to enforce limits by reacting with a sharp âNOâ when the dog gets too jumpy or mouthy. Immediately have the child turn his/her back to the dog until the dog settles down. In our family, these small âtime outsâ worked well for the dogs and sometimes the humans. Even without the dogs, the play can sometimes get a little out of hand. âSomeone is going to get hurtâ was a phrase we heard often when the activity got a little frenzied.
Teaching your child the difference between play and aggression is also helpful. A dog that is playing will be relaxed, have his tail wagging and look like he is having fun. An aggressive dogâs demeanor is often rigid and tense and he may be doing some vocalization in the form of growling versus happy âyippingâ noises. Caution your child about screaming, running, flailing his arms, or starring at the dog when the dogs become agitated or stiff. Turning and walking away slowly is the best way for the situation to de-escalate. Monitoring your pet, especially as a young pup will help you evaluate whether rough playing can be tolerated. At an early age, I taught our dogs the command âthat is enoughâ. If we were playing with a tug rope for example or âI am going to catch you âtype game, they would get over excited and a little more forceful than I would like to see. At that point, I would casually stop the interaction, use the phraseâ that is enoughâ, and walk away. If they calmed down, I would call them over and give praise for their good behavior. Visiting children in our home soon learned the rules and loved to play with our dogs because they felt safe.
Dogs and children are great playmates. Make sure you encourage that relationship by ensuring that it stays a safe one. Both for the pet (cats and kittens can be taught in the same way) and for the child. Happy rough-housing!