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If there ever was a win-win combination, kids and high energy breeds of dogs would have to be at the top of the list. The natural energy and activity level of most children is ideal for dogs that like to be on the go. Kids also tend to enjoy playing with the dog, involving them in everything they do, which again is positive for both the child and the pet. High energy breeds of dogs often seem to have a natural affinity for children, however this doesn't mean that special and specific training doesn't need to occur.
One of the major concerns with children and high energy breeds of dogs is that these dogs are typically dominant types of temperaments. This means that in a wild dog pack, these would be the dogs that would want to be the leaders or the alpha dogs. Dominant temperament is not a bad thing in dogs, but it does pose some challenges for children interacting and working with these pets.
The first major problem is that children, especially younger kids, are generally not included in dog training exercises. Usually an adult, either Mom, Dad or an older brother or sister is going to train the dog. When this happens with a dominant temperament dog such as a German Shepherd Dog or an Australian Cattle Dog, the dog sees the trainer as the alpha leader. This concept that the human is the leader doesn't generalize to all family members, it is specific to that human. The dog then tests or learns by experience what family members behave like the leader, which develops in the dog's mind whom he or she has to listen to.
Since most young children aren't consistent in their interactions with the dog or puppy they typically aren't going to be seen as alpha leaders in the dog's mind. This leaves the door open for the dog to become dominant when playing with the kids. When this happens the dog may begin to attempt to control what is going on, snapping or growling at the child over toys, ignoring the child's commands or even attempting to herd or move the kids where the dog wants to go. Children often become frightened and rather worried about this aggressive behavior, which may lead to them disengaging from play with the dog. Not only is this a bad thing for the dog, but it may also start to form an incorrect opinion about dogs in the child's mind.
Parents can correct and prevent this problem by working with children during training of the puppy and dog. Although the adult is going to actually complete the training, the child should then be encouraged, with adult supervision, to take the dog through the commands. Like any type of training the parent needs to be supportive and positive in working with both the child and the dog. For some parents this is a challenge, and so dog training classes for kids and their pets can be a terrific idea. Usually these classes are very small and taught by dog trainers that are also great with kids. The information in the classes typically includes homework about different aspects of dog care, learning how to groom the dog and even basic dog first aid. Children often gain a great deal of confidence and personal esteem in these classes and may even become interested in showing and competing with the dog in various types of events.
Another concern with high energy dogs is their relatively rambunctious personal greeting style. Some breeds such as the Labrador, Weimaraner, Boxer and Pointers are often are natural jumpers, placing their front feet on the person's chest or body in an effort to give a warm greeting. The problem is that for children this often places the full weight of the dog on the child, simply pushing them over. Younger children can easily become injured and even permanently frightened of dogs if this occurs. It is essential that before the child is allowed to play with the dog unsupervised that he or she is fully in control and will sit on the child's command. The dog should also be taught to sit to greet people, which will prevent this whole issue from occurring.
Young children may also have a different type of problem with the high energy herding breeds, and most of this group fall into that category. Australian Cattle Dogs, Border Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Shepherds, Corgis and the Kelpies are all natural herders or heelers, dogs that are trained to move livestock by nipping at the heels of animals. They will often used these natural behaviors on children in an attempt to get the kids all going where the dog thinks they should be.
The problem with this behavior is often when the dogs are young the adults and kids in the family may think this is rather cute and adorable. When the dog gets a bit bigger and starts to really nip, this is not only annoying but it is dangerous and very painful. Once these herding breeds are encouraged to develop their natural instincts is to going to be much more difficult to curb them. Working with a trainer or using a few simple corrections at the first sign of any heeling or nipping behavior is all that it takes. Many owners that see their herding dogs developing these natural instincts without training get their dogs into training where they can fully and correctly develop these traits.
Kids should be encouraged to learn about their dog and to spend as much time as possible in exercising, playing with, grooming and just interacting with their pet. With the right training, supervision and support from the parents a high energy breed and children can be a terrific combination, especially in a family that enjoys being active in the outdoors. These high energy dogs are often great for camping, hiking and swimming, making them true companion pets for kids.
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