This month we welcome the lovely Debby Lucken from Pocodogs. In this article Debby looks at the transition back to school for the nation’s kids, and how they can keep their connection with the family dog by being involved in important aspects of the dog’s life. There are also som great tips to build that bond and keep everyone safe.
My daughter Molly is 9 years old and soon she’ll be in Year 5. Normally, after a whole summer of having her around, I skip my way to school; wish her the most wonderful day; hug the teachers I have missed so much and hi-5 the other parents as we all taste our freedom after such long time. However, this year, things are very different: the start of school is bitter-sweet and, frankly, scares me a lot too. Molly’s worried about going back and, amongst other things, she said she’ll miss hanging out with our two dogs Winnie, the Golden Retriever, and Wilco, the Pug.
Over lockdown and the months that followed, Molly’s been working with me more than ever: she’s been actively helping me training Winnie new tricks; she’s been filming for our Youtube Channel and Facebook page; she’s even briefly appeared on ITV with both our dogs.
While I was home-schooling her, the dogs were a constant help. She would gather her thoughts while playing with them and often came up with some amazing answers to academic questions right after interacting with the dogs for a bit. We also often joked about Wilco being the Headmaster of our little school!
The dogs have been an essential part of our mental well-being throughout this pandemic and I know Molly will be missing them dearly while at school. And I am sure she will not be the only child to feel that way.
As a mother this worries me a lot, and what also worries me is how Molly is going to be when school finishes for the day. I am sure her emotions will be all over the place. She will be excited to see the dogs; happy to be home again; anxious about going back to school the next day; eager to chat a lot and move around, after a whole day sitting still and behaving at school. I am sure most parents will relate to that.
And, as a dog-mother, I am concerned that all that energy will be too overwhelming for our dogs. And you should too. So, what can we do to help both kids and dogs?
Why not giving the children something to do FOR the dog, which can be done before and/or after school? By giving the kids some responsibilities, they will grow their confidence; they will feel empowered and know that they are still a big part of their dog’s life, even when they can’t be there in person. Please, bear in mind to never leave children under the age of 10 unsupervised with a dog!
Here are some examples, along with some helpful tips for you and your children:
Food – 2 or 3 times per day
Some information on food: After stopping to feed from their mum, puppies eat 4 times a day; then as they grow up, they will eat 3 times a day. Around 5 to 6 months, they’ll start needing less food and only eat 2 times a day. Normally breakfast and dinner.
Responsibility: Your child could feed the dog his dinner (and breakfast too, if you have any time before the school run). You could also ask them to wash (and rinse properly) the dog bowl.
Extra activity: Be A Chef – Get the children to choose what your dog is going to have for his meals. They could get creative, and design a menu for their dog, respecting the kind of diet he is on. For example, if your dog is on raw food, the children could choose the flavour of the meat and which vegetables to add to it and when to add some eggs and coconut oil. If they are on dry food, the children could still decide on the flavour (if possible) and what fresh food can be added to the dry one.
Fresh water – 2 times a day, or more
Some information for your children: Water is extremely important for us and our dogs, because it helps to keep our body working properly and keep it healthy.
Responsibility: Make sure your dog has fresh water all the time. To be safe, change his water twice a day, before you go to school and after you come back. Remember to give the bowl a wash once a day, and to rinse it well before filling it up with fresh water for your dog.
At first your puppy will need to go to the toilet very often. Possibly every 30 or 45 minutes. Make sure you take your puppy out to the toilet regularly. Stay with him the whole time. When you’re out with him, don’t play or talk to your puppy, or he might forget to go to the toilet, because you are so much more fun. After your puppy has finished his business, have a little treat ready to give him. Tell him what a good doggy he is!
Responsibility: A toilet diary can help you to know how often your dog needs the toilet, so you and your family can be ready to take him out on time. In the toilet diary make sure to include: time (so you know what time your dog goes to the toilet and you can then see how often he needs to go); what has he done (a wee or a poo?); where he’s done it (inside or outside – and does he have a favourite spot)? Once you have kept a diary for a few days, you’ll be able to tell how long he can go without needing a wee, which can also be different at different time of the day. So, set up an alarm to be reminded it’s time to take your dog out for his business.
We all love cuddles, but not all the time. Dogs enjoy being with us and sometimes they love cuddles with us too, but how can we tell if they want us to pet them or not?
Game: The 3-seconds rule – give your dog a cuddle only using one hand for 3 seconds (count to 3) and then move your hand away. If your dog moves away, he’s telling you he’s not in the mood for cuddles. If your dog stays, or moves closer to you, then he’s up for more attention from you. However, don’t overdo it! When petting a dog, whether is your dog or not, make sure to pet them with one hand and to let him know he can move away, if he wants to. If you hold him to you, he might not like that and will not enjoy being with you.
The Language of Dogs: Dogs have a language of their own and they use their body to communicate with us and other animals. Learn to understand what your dog is telling you. For example, did you know that when a dog yawn it doesn’t necessarily mean he is tired? A dog might yawn when he feels uncomfortable or when he’s not sure about what’s happening around him.
And have you ever noticed your dog quickly licking his lips? That’s very often a way to telling us that he’s stressed out, so we need to change what we are doing.
It is recommended to walk a puppy for no more than 5 minutes for each month of his life (so, if he’s 3 months old, he can only walk 15 minutes per day, no more than twice a day). This is because he is still developing and walking too much can be damaging to his body. If you have an old dog or a dog who is recovering from an operation, be mindful of his body condition and make sure to listen to your vet on recommendations in regards to the amount of exercise he should be having.
Responsibility: If you walk to and from school, taking your dog can make the walk part of his daily exercise. Make sure you are ready on time to leave the house with your dog, because he’ll want to make a few ‘sniff-stops’ on the way. If you drive to and from school, ask your parent or carer to park a little further away, so you all can walk the dog to the school gates and back. If this option is also not possible, safe your doggy-walk for after school and weekends.
Getting the kids to train with the dog create a great bond; it helps the dog to see the kids as someone to respond to and not only as someone to play crazy games with.
Children can be great trainers for dogs! From basic manners to fun tricks, they can do it all!
Look into some local, kids-friendly dog training classes; and make sure the trainer is a positive, force-free one.
In principle, short sessions of training are the best! 3 to 5 minutes per session, 3 times a day. – Make it fun, fun, fun!!
Grooming: Taking care of your dog is wonderfully rewarding for both you and your furry friend. It can make you bond even more!
Responsibility: This activity to do with your dog is especially helpful for dogs who don’t like to be brushed or groomed. You can use pet-friendly wet wipes or Pet Remedy wet wipes (they come in lovely pouches) and use the wet wipe to stroke your dog like you normally would (don’t forget the 3-seconds rule game!). That way you can clean your dog a bit; if using Pet Remedy wipes you can help your dog feel calmer and happier, and you get to cuddle your doggy too!
More responsibility: Brush your dog a little every day (using a soft brush for puppies and old dogs is safer; while a normal brush for adult dogs, with no skin conditions, would be fine). Clean his ears delicately with some wet cotton wool (put some water on a bit of cotton wool, squeeze the water out, and use the cotton wool to gently clean your dog’s ears); and, with new fresh wet cotton wool, clean his eyes too. If your dog doesn’t like you cleaning him, leave this responsibility to a grown up, as it would be safer.
I hope these activities can help your kids feel involved in the dog’s life and can help your dog start a new routine positively and in harmony with a new school year!
Debby is the founder of Pocodogs and specialises in helping families with kids to train and raise their dogs to be great family companions. She is a fully qualified dog trainer with the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers and dog behaviourist with the International School of Canine Psychology. Based in Poole, Dorset, Debby is the founder of KAD (Kids Around Dogs), which is a branch of Pocodogs and specialises in helping families with children training and raising their dogs positively, to become wonderful family dogs.
If you would like more ideas to involve your children in your dog’s life, get in touch with Pocodogs and KAD Kids Around Dogs at: www.pocodogs.co.uk