Child Student Teacher & Canine Pupil

children and dog

Last in a series

When anybody feels trapped and panicked there’s an adrenaline surge that can trigger fight or flight, and maybe a bite. Avoid the whole debacle. Dogs who aren’t happy with guests should hang out some other place. Put a nervous pupster in another room prior to the arrival of visitors so she can relax away from the action until those alien creatures depart. Everybody’s boundaries should be respected, including nonhuman members of the group.

I was a fortunate 4 year old; Buster the Boston terrier could have inflicted a severe facial injury. The resulting abrasion bled slightly, which of course caused great parental alarm. I could have gotten rabies or tetanus or been permanently disfigured!!! Instead there was a lesson: compassion for a small dog who did not speak a human language. His brain’s synapses were firing fast as I invaded his under-the-card table hideout. He could have tried to run past me to escape but excitatory neurochemicals flooded his prefrontal cortex – the cognitive, decision making part of his brain. Logic was lost. The little guy just freaked-out and lashed-out to drive the threat away. It was not his fault.

Children can learn to set a dog up to succeed. You’ll make it fun by teaching them a game they can share with a nervous Nellie. Their 4-legged subordinate will be delighted to earn food and, if everybody’s calm, a bit of petting from their young leader. A budding dog trainer can be the boss of somebody else.

Adult and child will each wear their very own personal treat bags. Yours will be well-stocked with bits of cheese or hot dog but the kiddo’s should hold only one snack at-a-time. Stick a couple of pieces of duct tape on the floor where those pint-sized feet will park and then have the dog sit 8-10 feet in front. Standing hip-to-hip with your protégé, hold a treat and say, “Buster, Come!” Make it easy for the canine student to relax by squatting with your side turned and not staring directly at him. After he happily races to you to snag the treat you will leave your awe-struck child with her toes still on the tape while you return that pupster to his place. Then give your student teacher one treat for her moment in the limelight. She can call her dog and reinforce with food and remain in place while you return her pupil to his place for another round. It’s OK if the payoff takes a few tries; patience is another valuable lesson.

Buster the Boston did OK in the end. His family kept him out of the reach of children during our visits. But even dogs who are happy campers with all humans great and small should be carefully supervised with youngsters. There is so much that pets can help us pass along to the next generation about treating others well: Respect personal space, let sleeping dogs lie, and don’t steal their food.
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.