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Expert Interview: Should Children Help Train the Family Dog?

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Should Children Help Train the Family Dog

Should children help train the family dogShould children help train the family dog? This is a question that many pet owners ask themselves. Some are nervous that the dog will not listen to the child, while others are concerned that the dog will be too much for the child to handle. Honestly, letting your child help train the family dog will be better for both of them, and it will make things easier for you too! 

This week I was able to speak with Melissa Shamblott, co-founder of Dog Camp for KIDS!TMShe spoke with me about the importance of allowing your child to work with your dog. There are many benefits for both the dog and the child, which is exactly what her camp is focused on.

The 4-day summer camp for kids accepts children from 5-13-years-old. The children are broken into age groups with separate groupings for 5 to 8-year-olds and 9 to 13-year-olds. There is also an Advanced Camp option for ages 8-13 who have prior dog camp experience.

Every day the children practice obedience control and dog safety. They get to participate in a fun dog sport and make a dog-related craft. The children learn new things about the canine species throughout the week, which helps them to better understand their pet. Each week they are visited by guest speakers to learn about jobs with dogs and working dogs as well.

RELATED: Do Your Kids Know How to Be Around Dogs?

So Should Children Help Train the Family Dog?

Should Children Help Train the Family Dog
Photo: Melissa Shamblott

It actually turns out that Melissa and I have a lot in common. We both earned degrees in elementary education. We loved our work with children, but felt terrible about leaving our dogs at home by themselves all day.

I decided to become a writer and stay home with my dogs and my children during the day. Melissa decided to combine her two loves into a wonderful idea for a kids summer camp program that would also involve their canine companions. What a great idea!

It all started more than 8 years ago when Melissa and her husband decided it was time to get their first family dog. They worked with a dog trainer named Maureen Haggerty, and Melissa ended up staying in touch with her over the years.

Haggerty eventually purchased a large plot of land that she had hoped to turn into some kind of sport park. She knew that Melissa had a passion for children, and as the project continued to develop the pair realized they may be able to work together to create something amazing for kids and dogs.

Of course, dogs that come to camp must be well socialized with children and other dogs. Not every family has a dog that fits that bill, and some children really love dogs but their family isn’t allowed to have one for one reason or another. These children can still participate in Dog Camp for KIDS!TM.

Staff members bring their dogs to camp too, so they can partner up with kids who don’t have a dog or whose dog is not socialized enough to come to camp. The dogs that do come to camp also need to have some previous training. Parents cannot just drop their kids off with a brand new puppy and expect the dog to come home completely trained.

Melissa told me that the first thing she realized about dogs and children is the connection that they make and the strong bond that grows between the two so quickly. Dogs have a way of understanding what a child needs. They play with them when they are feeling energetic and they’ll snuggle them when the child is feeling down.

Dogs don’t have the ability to judge us, and that is something that so many children struggle with in their daily lives.

Children feel judged by their parents, their teachers and their peers. Everything they do is scrutinized and they are always being corrected for doing things the wrong way. Dogs don’t do that.

Kids can be themselves around a dog, and the dog is going to love them unconditionally no matter what. Of course, we love them unconditionally too, but sometimes it is harder for a child to realize that. If you have or are currently raising your dog around children, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

RELATED: Ten Best Books for Dog Owners with Kids

Should Children Help Train the Family Dog
Photo: Melissa Shamblott

This camp helps children learn to understand dogs and how they communicate. They learn dog obedience, dog walking and even a bit about scenting. They learn what a dog needs to have a healthy and happy life.

One of the most common questions that parents ask when thinking about adopting a family dog is “Which breeds are the best with children?” Melissa doesn’t think about it like that. She believes that more parents should be asking “Which traits should I be looking for in a dog that is going to be around my children?”

The most popular family dog is the Labrador retriever. Although labs are known for being good with children, that doesn’t mean that all labs enjoy being around children. Likewise, German Shepherds are known more for their protection skills, but some shepherds are also very loving and patient family dogs.

Melissa says that the traits that you should be looking for include:

  • friendly disposition
  • even, predictable temperament
  • easy-going
  • playful

She says that looking for a pet with these traits is much more important than finding a dog that looks cute or choosing a family dog based on breed alone. Melissa also told me that they often see dogs at camp that are not a good match for the child. The dog is not interested in the children or in participating in the activities at camp.

Some dogs do not enjoy being around young children, but they love playing with older kids.

Unfortunately, this can easily lead to a dog becoming frustrated and aggravated with your child. It can also lead to children getting angry and frustrated with the dog. Neither of these are a good outcome. When adopting a family dog, make sure the canine is a good match for everyone in your family – it may take some time to find just the right dog for you.

Should Children Help Train the Family Dog
Photo: Melissa Shamblott

We definitely took the long road to get here, but to answer my initial question – yes, children should definitely be involved in training the family dog. Not only is it fun and interesting for both of them, it’s also going to be a benefit for you in the long run.

Often, when adults train a dog they forget that there are children in their home that will need to give the dog commands at one time or another. If the dog is only trained by an adult, he will see the adult as the pack leader and begin to think that the children are his peers.

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You don’t want that. You want your dog to listen to your children too. If you allow your children to help with the training process, the dog will begin to understand that he needs to listen to all the humans in the family – both big and small.

Dog Camp for KIDS!TM is a very unique program, but if there is something like this available in your area, it will certainly be a wonderful opportunity for your dog and your child. Some dog trainers will work specifically with families, and they may be a great option for you as well.

There are a lot of resources out there to help you learn to train your dog with your child. Dog training should definitely be a family effort, and it will certainly pay off in the long run. Check out your local library for some great dog training books or do some in-depth research online.

I need to take this time to thank Melissa Shamblott for taking the time to speak with me. It was wonderful to hear about Dog Camp for KIDS!TM, and I was surprised to find out that we have a lot in common. Don’t forget to check out their website for more information. If you’ve got any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below, and don’t forget to let me know if you enjoyed the interview!