One of the reasons that you may not have heard from us every day this past week, is because we got to spend a wonderful week with our nephews! While their mama was out of town, the boys, who are 5 and almost 3, taught me all about race cars, trucks, and hide-and-seek. Let’s just say, we were busy! (On that note, please excuse the mess that was our house! I promise, things are more tidy now. Who knew how difficult it would be to keep up with 2 kids, 3 dogs, a cat, and a husband?!)
Georgia has only had a little bit of experience around children. In one of her previous foster homes, there was a young member of the family, and we have also had her around children occasionally. However, since we don’t have any “two-legged puppies” in our household, it can be hard to find the opportunity to expose her to youngsters. (I’m not sure it would go over well to ask strangers if we could borrow their kids to be our potential chew-toys. 😉 KIDDING, of course!) Regardless of all of that, we can gather a lot about her potential compatibility with a busy family, just from her everyday personality. In our home, Georgia is about as quiet as a lamb, so we were pretty confident that she would do well around children. She is not a hyper-active dog, and has basic manners in place, including polite behavior around food and toys. She is also an absolute cuddlebug, that craves human attention. She has no problems with her face, tummy, ears, feet, etc being played with or touched, and she rides well in the car. There are certainly no red-flags that come up with her behavior that would make her automatically unsuitable for family living.
Even more applicable, is the behavior she shows us when out and about. Of course, Georgia loves everyone she meets, so she is excited when passing adults. However, if she sees a miniature human (or tricycle motor, as Foster Dad lovingly refers to them!) she becomes a wriggling ball of puppy happiness, and tries her best to get closer. Somewhere in her life, she has had really great experiences with kids. We wanted to make sure that in her excitement to be around children, she would keep her licking and jumping at bay. To keep everyone safe and happy, we employed a shortened version of the procedure we outlined last week, for introducing the dogs.
Our first step was to set up the baby gates, so that Georgia could see the boys playing or running or jumping, without having access to unlimited licks-a-lot. During this time, she offered plenty of adorableness to reassure us that she would love to join in on the fun! Lots of bottom-wiggling, tail-wriggling, and all around happy body language. We began the training process by asking her to sit, and then lay down, and giving her treats when appropriate. This was followed by what some trainers refer to as ‘posturing.’ This is where you wait for your dog to offer the appropriate behavior (calmly laying down, in this case) without specifically requesting or commanding it, and then rewarding them for making the right ‘choice’. The method behind this procedure, is that it teaches the dogs to use their canine noggins to choose positive behaviors when faced with new situations, without always needing to look to you for guidance.
Once Georgia was consistently displaying calm body language at the gate when the boys were playing, it was time for the baby gates to come down. My next step was to keep Georgia on leash in the same room as the boys. While I was typing on the blog, to be honest, I kept her leash attached to me. She was not within reaching distance of the boys, and I had control of her if they chose to come near her. We repeated the above procedure, and I gave her treats or praise for sitting quietly. The boys eventually began approaching her, and I could easily use the leash to correct her if she tried to lick or got too excitable around them. She was rewarded for sitting quietly while they pet her, or laying beside them while they played. Eventually, we graduated with having Georgia loose, but with a leash still attached. This way, if her kisses got out of control, I was able to apply quick response, but still allow her to move freely around the room.
Obviously, the third and final step, was to allow Georgia to remain off-leash in the same room as myself and the boys. We started with a down-stay, a verbal command from me, where she had to stay laying in one spot while they played around her. Eventually, as her behavior was increasingly calm and quiet, I allowed her to wonder around the room while they played. It wasn’t long before they were laying on the floor together, or using her as the ‘mountain’ for their cars.
As she is with almost every situation we have faced with her, Georgia was a total rock star. Of course, you could attribute this to her stellar personality (duh!) or you could blame it on Foster Mom’s
skills luck. However, my personal reflection on Georgia’s success in all she does, is not just her attitude, but that we approach things very slowly, and constantly look to her for queues on when to proceed. We are careful to never set unrealistic expectations with our dogs, and always willing to slow down if things seem to be overwhelming them. I believe strongly that when dogs are approached as unique individuals, there is very little that cannot be achieved with most pups.
While corresponding with a potential adopter in regards to her young, active son, we came upon a topic that struck a nerve with me. I felt that it was something that was imperative to convey to Georgia’s audience, and particularly any other families that might be hoping to adopt our girl. While Georgia has a great personality, that should be a wonderful fit for any family, she is not a dog that comes with a ton of child experience. She has so many admirable qualities, but we are working on her licking and jumping. This should not disqualify her as a candidate for a family with children, but it just means that her adoptive family should be prepared to put in the effort it requires to make her a happy member of their household. Rescue dogs do not come as ‘insta-pets.’ Really, no dogs do. Sure, one perk of a foster dog, is that they have some basic training, and you are equipped with knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. However, every new family member deserves to be given understanding in the adjustment period, as well as a willingness to enhance their training.
In addition to that, as much as every parent adores their children, it is important that while being mindful of the child’s safety, it is also vital that we ‘protect’ the dog from the kids. If the child is playing too rough or is obviously overwhelming, they should be immediately corrected and removed. As ‘cute’ as it can be when a dog puts up with obnoxious behaviors from children, it is not fair to expect this out of our pups. While we might know that the kids are just trying to play, it can sometimes seem threatening to the dogs. Dogs should be rewarded for patient behavior, but not made to endure unnecessary poking, prodding, and/or riding. If the dog learns that the adults will ‘protect’ them from the kids, they will come to you if they are uncomfortable, rather than resorting to defending themselves by barking, growling, or biting – the only method of communication that they have! Furthermore, a dog should always be given a ‘safe’ place in the house, such as a private kennel or bed, where children are never permitted to play. This gives the dog a location that they can find peace if the children are overwhelming, rather than feeling obligated to defend themselves. Finally, it is just common sense to give a dog a private place, away from youngsters, to enjoy their meals and special treats.*It is important to consider safety anytime you are introducing a dog to children. Of course, Georgia is not a dog that has issues with guarding her food or toys, but it is important to take these factors into account when considering introductions. However, because she can be wary of other dogs, we were sure not to overwhelm anyone, and kept the dogs separate around the children. Also, particularly in our situation, when dealing with children that are not our own, at NO POINT were the children and Georgia unsupervised. When it is your own child, and a dog you have owned for many years, you may feel more comfortable leaving them unattended. Regardless, in our home, none of the dogs were in the same room as the boys unless I was right there to supervise. This is not because I have any reason to think that there would be an issue, but because I believe that this is the role of a responsible pet owner and child guardian.*
Dogs can be an incredibly special part of a family unit. For many of us, our favorite childhood memories often highlight a particular dog. Perhaps they were our pillow for late-night TV watching, our companion for outdoor adventures, or the willing friend while we dried our tears in their fur. Do you have a pet that is an integral part of your childrens’ lives, or of your own childhood? If so, were they added as a pup or an adult? How did you manage the introductions and adjustment? We’d love to hear you stories!
In the meantime, we are happy to report that Georgia has a few qualified, interested applicants, and we are very hopeful that among them will be someone who is a worthy match for her love and devotion. We fall more in love with her every day, and know she will make a perfect addition to the right family.