8-week old puppies are (generally) pretty easy – just focus on potty training and socialization, and you’re fine. But then your puppy turns 4 or 5 months old, and your perfect angel is GONE!
Teenage dogs can be a ton of work. My friend Sue Brown has an excellent course on surviving Juvenile Delinquent Dogs that you’ll probably find helpful!
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re tackling the problem of puppies (or teenage dogs) that can’t stop tackling kids. Our reader asked,
“My 5 month old German Shepherd/Husky mix is constantly chasing my 6 year old sister whether we are inside and outside trying to jump up and try to grab her arms or legs.”
– Sincerely, Tackle Footpup
If your puppy or dog isn’t great with kids, check out these other resources from Journey Dog Training:
- Keeping Kids Safe and Dogs Happy (Self-Study course)
- My Child is Scared of My Jumpy, Bitey Puppy – Now What?
- My Puppy Bites Kids: What Do I Do?
- Six Easy Ways to Keep Kids Safe Around Dogs
- What Do I Do When My Dog Is Aggressive Towards Children?
Will My Puppy Grow Out of This?
Maybe. But probably not without help. While a three-year-old dog is less likely to be a crazy mess as your five-month-old, this behavior won’t improve without intervention.
Your puppy might mellow out in a few years. But if she’s spent years practicing this hobby and learning that tackling kids is fun, she’s not likely to cut it out just because she’s a bit older.
Should I Punish My Dog for Tackling Kids?
Instead of focusing on punishing your pup and showing her what she did wrong, let’s focus on why she’s doing the behavior: what’s happening before she tackles kids that causes the tackle? What happens during and after the “attack” that might make her want to come back for more?
Odds are, you’re just dealing with an exuberant puppy who thinks this is a VERY FUN GAME!
Rather than punishing the fun out of your pup, we’ll teach her how to interact appropriately (rewarding her for that) and how to get her rough-housing in without hurting kids.
In fact, punishing your puppy for being rude to kids can seriously backfire. I’ve met a LOT of dogs whose playful tackling of kids turned into true aggression thanks to punishment in training.
That said, if you need to startle your puppy in order to “rescue” a child, that’s ok. Just use that as a learning experience and don’t let it happen again. (We talk about this concept in our articles, “Management in Dog Training” and “What You Do After You Say No Is What Matters.”)
How Do I Stop My Puppy From Tackling Kids?
As I said before, this game is terribly fun for your puppy – just not so much for the kids. Here’s how I’d approach it:
- Use a tethering system or exercise pen so that the puppy can’t get to the kids.
- When you are supervising directly (not watching TV in the next room or washing dishes with your back turned – eyes on kids!), you can have the puppy drag a 2- to 6- foot leash on a back-clip harness. If the puppy gets riled up, you can gently remove her with the leash, then put her away with a stuffed Kong or other chewie.
- Instruct the children to give the puppy space, not wave their arms or scream, and to move quietly and calmly. The more exciting they are, the harder this is! If the children can’t behave nicely around the puppy (and the puppy can’t behave nicely around the children), then they should be separated!
- Exercise the puppy thoroughly. I like using flirt poles – that lets the puppy really jump, bite, and grab at things in an appropriate way. This helps meet your puppy’s needs to play without sacrificing your kid’s sleeves!
- Teach the puppy hand targets and relaxation training. You can use hand targets to call the puppy away and send the puppy to his mat for a snack when he’s getting riled up.
- Use treat scatters when in doubt. You or your kids can toss pieces of super-tasty treats (I use boiled chicken breast) to the puppy to interrupt bad behavior. This isn’t exactly training – it’s more of a “oh crap, let’s stop this NOW” strategy. But you can use it!
Let us know what tips worked best for you and your kids!
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, and as a private dog trainer. When not working on Journey Dog Training, Kayla works at Working Dogs for Conservation. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her dog Barley.