my kid has no chill about my dog. help?
May 28, 2020 8:21 PM   Subscribe

My kid loves my dog more than anything in the world, so whenever she sees him she screeches his name at the top of her lungs incessantly, or follows him around, or any number of things to just be constantly in his face. not so enthusiastic. I need to manage this and I don't know how. More inside.

Kid is nearly 8. Dog is a 2 year old Boston Terrier. He is not aggressive toward her AT ALL.

Okay so she's very loud (in general), and she has a hard time with personal space, and she just really really really loves the dang dog. The dog does like her. They play outside together just fine, she helps me walk him daily, that sort of thing. When she is quiet and calm, he often chooses to sit with her to watch a movie or whatever. But then she starts fussing with his collar or trying to kiss his nose and he will go hide in his crate or in another room. At first our only rules were that she couldn't hug him or put her face near his face, and that gets her a time out or him put in the crate for a bit, or both. But the general annoying him or being loud, i figured his getting up and leaving was the punishment for her more than anything and she'd work it out.

The new doggy behavior concern, though, is that he's suddenly afraid to set a paw in the upstairs of our house and is terrified of my bed specifically. He has slept with me in bed every night for two years, but it's also a place where he interacts a lot with the kiddo. He has started to spend most evenings in his crate instead of with our family. During the day he's been eating, drinking, and interacting with our other dogs and all the humans pretty normally, which is why I think it could be related to her exuberance level. (on the other hand, his weirdness is happening at night when she's usually in bed so it could also be something completely different).

I'm calling the vet tomorrow, but in the meantime I'm realizing that in this Brave New World they are cooped up together all the time and maybe he's acting out? And regardless of the cause for his anxiety now, I'd like to get her to improve her behavior so we can all be more relaxed.

Long story long, my question is how to teach her to be more chill around the dog. Again, we're not concerned about safety. He is remarkably patient with her and good about removing himself if he feels uncomfortable. We remind her constantly to be quieter and more still, to stop fussing with him when he does sit by her, etc. We have talked about introverts vs extroverts and about trying to match his energy level. Sometimes he is running around playing and that is when we can shout and jump and be Big Energy! I know she gets it, but, like, then the dog walks into the room and she gets so so excited.

Any helpful strategies you can suggest? Words I can say to help her understand that he doesn't spend more time with her because she's annoying him? But not that exactly, I don't want to break her heart.
posted by cheese to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My immediate thought is also for dog training but “train the new behavior.” So rather than “don’t shout” could the new thing to be “whisper the dogs name” whenever you’re excited to see them? Or go get the dogs favorite toy to offer? Rather than focusing on what you want to stop, what do you want to have happen instead.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:29 PM on May 28, 2020 [25 favorites]

Yep- always pattern the desired behaviour.

Role play with her: quietly saying his name, sitting down with him, touching gently, whispering, standing still. Physically rehearse the desired movements and vocal volume, so her muscles commit the new pattern to memory.

Give her a rhyme: “When I see my dog, I stand still like a log!” Etc.

Then praise her and point out the dog’s body language cues that show how much the dog likes it. “Look how he calmed down! He’s standing still and his ears are relaxed. He’s smiling not barking! That’s a happy doggie. He feels so calm and safe around you- you’re such a good dog owner!”

Boast about how well she did to another adult in her earshot: “Today Annie whispered Tucker’s name and stood so still with him and he loved it! It was so cute! Yeah she’s great with animals, she’s gentle and calm around them so they feel safe with her!”

Don’t say what NOT to do- always say, demonstrate, and then practice what TO do.

This works quite well from toddlerhood to adulthood, for all manner of behaviours.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:35 PM on May 28, 2020 [38 favorites]

In addition to the above I think you need to lay down the law a bit. What she's doing is dangerous, basically. If she does that to another dog she could get bitten in the face very easily, a bigger animal could kill her. You let her act this way because your particular dog hasn't bitten her and it's easier for you to lock the dog up than control the kid. Would you let her run into traffic repeatedly because one of your neighbors successfully swerved to avoid her every day? No. Would you ask the neighbor to take another road? No. Adopt that mindset when teaching your kids how to act around animals. Please. Your kid is going to be out in the world without you very soon and respecting animals is within her skill set. Being kind to them and treating them as the sentient beings they are, not as toys, is something you need to model for her. Don't put the dog away in it's cage when you're tired of managing their interactions, teach your kid to control herself and hold her accountable when she doesn't. Not the poor dog.

At the very least you owe it to your dog. If he's that afraid she's probably hurt him physically.
posted by fshgrl at 8:49 PM on May 28, 2020 [76 favorites]

Are you very sure this is new behavior for your dog?

Every summer, as soon as we hit an 85 degree day, my dog straight up refuses to spend evening time with me. Acts fearful when I come near, avoids me. He's 8, this is our 7th start of summer, and still I forget and get my feelings hurt and worry that he's sick or something every year. And then I realize how hot it is, and remember that he socially distances himself when it's hot. (I think the evening thing might be because he usually sleeps in bed with me but can't hop up himself, so I have to lift him into bed. I think he tries to avoid a situation where I can put him in my bed, but that's just a theory.)

Every autumn at the break of the first cold front he returns to his normal please let me share your pillow self.
posted by phunniemee at 9:27 PM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm realizing that in this Brave New World they are cooped up together all the time and maybe he's acting out?

Well he’s certainly acting a new way. I’m not sure it’s inappropriate though. From what you’ve written it sounds like he’s used to having a certain amount of time alone every day so reclaiming that in his crate at night doesn’t seem pathological.

My pup and I have had to negotiate similar waters over the last two months, but a week ago we were able to return to our old schedule and lo and behold she is back to her good old self.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:46 PM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Words I can say to help her understand that he doesn't spend more time with her because she's annoying him? But not that exactly, I don't want to break her heart.

A seven-almost-eight year old child has the resilience to hear that she's accidentally causing pain to the creature she loves without having her heart broken, and if she doesn't, she needs desperately to be helped towards gaining it. Because what is actually heartbreaking is realizing years too late to do any good that your memories of wonderful romping and playing were memories of stress and fear to the dog you thought loved it. You owe it to her to spare her that.

I think your kid is tougher than you think, just because the average kid is, and a wide variety of sensitivities to correction fall into the average range. She doesn't sound far outside of normal; she just sounds like nobody ever taught her basic rules of interacting with animals, and now the family pet is suffering for it.

She is right at the age of reason. talk to her like she can understand you, and talk to her like she cares about the dog. Tell her how dogs work. Since she does care about the dog, she will not just need but want to know this. Nothing you explain to us here should scar a kid if said to them in language they understand (and "annoyed" is probably pretty understandable even if "overstimulated" is too complex.) Heartbreak comes not from knowledge of true things, but from doing harm. She doesn't want to do harm, so give her the information she badly needs.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:20 PM on May 28, 2020 [54 favorites]

Would it help to make an analogy to friends and how she might feel if she had a friend that was always really excited and wanting to be with her all the time even when she didn't feel like it. Kids that age can think about social relationships and how to be fair and recognise other people's feelings by relating them to their own experience. If she sees that the dog has its own personality and feelings she may understand better how to relate to it.

caveat: I'm not a dog person but I do have kids
posted by crocomancer at 1:55 AM on May 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

From the question on the front page, I was expecting the kid to be two or three years old - an 8-year-old would usually be capable of understanding how not to harm a dog. Assuming she doesn't have additional needs that would make this difficult, you need to explain gently how to interact with the dog, as others have said.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:01 AM on May 29, 2020 [11 favorites]

I have a six year old daughter who loves our dogs but even so, every now and again I have to remind her to be gentle because even though my dogs tolerate it, doesn’t mean they like it. My conversation goes something like this,
“Oh, poor *dogs name*. He’s only a little puppy and you’re very big. Do you think you would like it if a giant person grabbed your leg and pulled you like that? It would hurt wouldn’t it? Well it hurts him too, he just can’t tell you. Let’s give him a treat, say sorry and remember to be gentle.”
posted by Jubey at 2:09 AM on May 29, 2020

Yeah, our kid can be like this too. What has worked is doing all the below at the same time:
1. Instant time outs for any clearly defined undesirable behaviour.
2. Lots of positive reinforcement for any good interactions, including a sticker chart with randomly given stickers when we catch him being really gentle.
3. Ignoring practice - the opportunity to earn a sticker if he can, say, sit with me on the rug and do a puzzle and ignore the cats.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:18 AM on May 29, 2020

Response by poster: OP here--i won't threadsit, but I have one quick perhaps helpful clarification. The problem is not that she's like this with ALL dogs, because she's not. We have two other dogs in the house and many other dogs in our lives that she acts completely appropriately with. She's a Montessori kid so I've encouraged her to do research on dog body language and dog behavior. She's come to training classes with me. I'm quite sure her rational logic brain is clear on what is appropriate dog behavior with the vast majority of dogs. We're on top of physically seperating her and correcting overtly dangerous behavior.

My question is more about the kid, who is 7 and really excited about her dog in a way that is hard for her to manage. I want to help her recognize her own Big Feels about her own perfect, wonderful, endlessly exciting dog and bring all that energy down to a level that works for everyone.
posted by cheese at 4:56 AM on May 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on having a Boston! They are really funny dogs because they seem incredibly chill with humans, but when they get overloaded, they're DONE. It's almost like they are part dog and part cat. Well, I don't need to tell you. I think it's something though that you could put more in terms of the kind of dog he is and less about what she is like. He may get more peculiar about interacting as he gets older too. I've had more people say to me, "We had a Boston, he hated us."

Lots of good suggestions but you might also want to quantify the amount of time your doggy gets to spend not interacting and beyond that, quiet interacting. Have a budget for interacting. (And of course, a hard no on things that can get you or the dog hurt.)
posted by BibiRose at 5:24 AM on May 29, 2020

It's 100% okay to tell her that the dog is choosing not to be around her because her behavior annoys the dog. I mean, we tell our 7-year-old that he's annoying us on the regular.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:26 AM on May 29, 2020 [29 favorites]

Best answer: How's she with other stuff she finds Super Exciting? Are there strategies you already successfully use that could transfer over? Or what kind of language do her teachers use, even if maybe she doesn't get so exuberant at school and it usually applies more to other kids? Montessori generally has some really nice coaching about centering oneself and also behaving appropriately with each type of work, and "interacting with a pet" could very much be understood as a work.

Kind of along those lines, would a stuffed animal (maybe even another Boston Terrier -- I bet there are some nicely realistic ones) be helpful for physically fussing over/grooming while the actual dog gets to chill nearby? "Look how cute Stuffy You is! You could wear little bows too if you wanted!" that kind of thing. Or drawing pictures of the same, or coloring in doggy coloring pages, etc. -- something that outsources both the physical fiddling and gets at whatever specific desire/need she has.

I'm also thinking maybe add in some bodily autonomy talk to your introvert/extravert framing. The dog gets to choose what's right for him and his body, and needs to be enthusiastically participating in whatever's going on. I get that she's already good on theoretical dog interactions, but perhaps, in that context, "is he playing with me?" might be something she can internalize to help move her "should I keep trying to play with him?" setting from "YES!!!" to "MAYBE!"
posted by teremala at 5:28 AM on May 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have a daughter who is also not great at controlling her emotions - but 8 years old is old enough to hear the straight truth. Kiddo, you're scaring the dog and you need to knock it off. Model expectations. If you keep it up, expect consequence X.
posted by gnutron at 5:49 AM on May 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

Words I can say to help her understand that he doesn't spend more time with her because she's annoying him? But not that exactly, I don't want to break her heart.

I was a little rough with our family cat as a child, and complained often that the cat preferred others in the household to me. My mom showed me how the cat liked to be held and petted a few times. I was not very receptive at first. Eventually, my mom gently explained that the cat preferred others because of my behavior. I felt bad at first (there were tears) but this message got through to me and I immediately changed my behavior and had a very close relationship with the cat afterwards.

Something like "You enjoy hanging out with [Dog], right? You would get to do that more if you treated [Dog] more gently. Here's what he likes..." should work. But there is no reason this should break your kid's heart.

He is not aggressive toward her AT ALL... Again, we're not concerned about safety.

Respectfully, this is a mistake. Even the sweetest, gentlest dog can snap and injure someone.* It is critically important to teach children appropriate behaviors around dogs for this reason. Anything less is irresponsible to both dog and kid.

I say this as a self-professed Crazy Dog Lady. I adore dogs, and think the dog-human relationship is incredibly valuable. But respecting that relationship means understanding that it comes with some (manageable, hopefully small, but nonetheless real) risks.

* My husband and I learned that our sweet-as-pie lab was feeling unwell when he bit my husband. He had no previous bite history, went for my husband's hand without warning, and had been acting healthy/normal until that moment.
posted by shb at 6:30 AM on May 29, 2020 [14 favorites]

Your clarification was helpful. Could she find something intensive to do with the dog that involves one on one time in a structured manner? I'm thinking along the lines of getting a book of (safe, appropriate) tricks that she could teach him over time. Maybe clicker training? So she gets to have really special time with this one dog, but she actually has to channel her energy into something productive/appropriate to do with him.

I like the stuffed animal idea too.
posted by CiaoMela at 8:26 AM on May 29, 2020

My 9-year old is high-energy, high-touch (he was blind for half a year and developed a high need for feeling things) and...he and a cat found each other in November. With being home without friends, this led to some similar behaviour (and our cat Hue is a goofball trickster cat who also encourages bad behaviour by seeking out my child to play with him.)

I did hurt my son's feelings a few times at the start of our lockdown, because he was throwing a lot of energy at the cat, picking him up, putting hats on him, building him forts and trying to keep him in them, and some loud greetings. None of this was okay. There were tears, and I didn't like it, because I know his intentions were caring. But making an environment that's upsetting to the cat is not responsible. And for my kid, learning how serious that is I believe protects him both in becoming a respectful human being and also that he will know his own body autonomy and safe space is important, even if it hurts people's feelings. So I guess my first thing is that it really is okay to hurt her feelings, if it is simple truth-telling. "Dogs have very sensitive hearing, for him when you shriek like that it's like an air siren!"

Also...for my particular kid, we have to burn off his energy every day on lockdown. We go for a morning mandatory walk (sounds like you do with the dog!) he does online fitness classes, and I organize at least one sensory activity (Rainbow loom, air-dry clay, playdough, Lego, building mobiles, etc.) every day. If your daughter is used to Montessori and is suddenly home that may be one of her big issues because our Montessori, anyway, was very hands-on. Some other tasks that help are sorting and counting coins, gardening, etc.

All of these things help my son engage his truly thoughtful personality in modifying his behaviour.
We're weeks down the road and he's adjusted and today is re-sisal-ing the scratching post. All is well.

For some more ideas for alternatives - maybe encourage her to create dog appropriate activities - could your dog enjoy a dog-show like training run in the backyard? Could she teach the dog tricks? - followed by "nap time" for the dog where she leaves him alone. In other words maybe help her structure her enthuasism.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:04 AM on May 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Could be an injury making the stairs hard if he's not going up for other reasons besides bed time as well. Could well be trying to avoid interacting with kiddo on the bed. Another thing to consider is the weather is getting warmer, our dog now sleeps on the floor not snuggled up between my legs like he did all winter, it could be as simple as it's cooler as less bodies downstairs.

You don't have to break her heart to tell her the dog needs some space. Just say dog is having some quiet time right now, say he's tired (it's mostly the truth) if he's in his crate suggest giving him a nice treat, say a kong with treats in or putting him in his crate or in his bed for a rest. Saying something meaningful for you guys, for my family it would be night night, which is how we tell the dogs it's bed/rest time & then shutting the door to symbolize to kiddo it's the dogs resting time and that she leaves him alone.

She then becomes part of the dog having space ritual, the dog isn't abandoning her, she's helping him get his space because she loves him and he's tired. Make it a routine & it will help build the idea that dog needs some space & give the dog some space so win win all around.

Also get her into clicker training or just basic training with the dog. Give her a way to channel her wanting to do something with the dog into something the dog will enjoy. There are lots of good videos on clicker training & training dogs out there on YouTube, it will also give you something to do during lock down & tire out the dogs brains.

Oh and maybe promote her to having a special job only she does with the dog. She's the official dog lead holder on walks, she is responsible for feeding him etc. Give her other ways to show her love that make her feel special to the dog, that the dog will like. Let her buy him some special super high value treats that only she gives him once a day when he's having time out. Make dog cookies together etc. Channel her love for the dog into other errr channels.
posted by wwax at 9:28 AM on May 29, 2020

Is there a reason you can't tell her that she is not allowed to interact with the dog because her behavior is inappropriate and causing the dog distress? She clearly understands appropriate behavior when handling other dogs so this should make sense to her.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:40 AM on May 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I am not that knowledgeable about dogs, but I do know the feeling of “I can’t control my reaction to X.” Here’s what I would say to your daughter:
You are so excited to see Doggie and your reaction is really big and loud to Doggie. I see that this makes Doggie (describe behavior/reaction). I think he is scared. We can practice having a quieter greeting with Doggie. What are some quieter ways you can show you are excited?”

I would also emphasize that she will forget and be loud. That’s ok. It’s practice, not an immediate change. When that happens the two of you can make a plan. Let her know that she CAN stop, right then in the moment and say “woah whoops too loud, I want to try again.”
posted by CMcG at 10:28 AM on May 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't have a solution, just wanted to say hi - nearly same here! We have a 7 yr old Montessori kid who simply cannot stop engaging with our 2 yr old dog when they are near each other. Dog is awesome, but he's giant (a Ridgeback) and is still a puppy who can easily get overexcited by the crazy 7 yr old talking in a squeaking voice and the dog starts treating the kid like another puppy. We're working from home right now and have gates up b/c dog needs his space and the kid was playing with his remote control car too closely. We've also taken him to training which has maybe helped, but they are not allowed to be alone together.

So I don't have a solution, but the one thing that has been a little helpful is when we remind him that he's scaring the dog or else that the dog really needs a break. He loves him and can kind of hear that and understand that he needs to tone it down. I mean we say it many times a day, but it can help.
posted by jdl at 10:32 AM on May 29, 2020

I want to help her recognize her own Big Feels about her own perfect, wonderful, endlessly exciting dog and bring all that energy down to a level that works for everyone.

Along with the positive reinforcement and reminders mentioned, would creative expression help your kid? Dog is great, that's not in dispute; dog can be the star of portraits, adventure stories, comic strips, and epic song cycles, all of which allow for exploration/celebration of her enthusiasm without swamping the dog. After some of that energy is sorted, dog can be read to, and serenaded, and have his opinion solicited for the single-subject art gallery.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:00 PM on May 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Cartoonist Lili Chin has done a whole lot of delightful illustrations ecpkaing dog behavior, like this one featuring her dog Boogie the Boston Terrier. I think those might help your kid "read" your dog better.
posted by emjaybee at 12:07 PM on May 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We read through these answers, at least some of them, together today, and marked ones that we're already doing or want to try. Then we spent part of her "recess" out in the yard throwing balls for the dogs, which is a thing we generally avoid because it gets the retriever so wound up. But today we did it, kiddo screamed with delight while all three maniacs wore themselves out, and then she was happy to do something else for a while while they rest. I challenged her to only whisper the dog's name all day and promised her a treat of her choice if she was successful. I'm also planning to put her in charge of stuffing Kongs and handing them out for some daily quiet time.

Also, she already has a stuffed Boston with the same name as our actual dog, purchased for the express purpose of hugging--she knows she is not to hug the real dog. That has been effective in stopping that bad behavior. The dog is the star of most of her artwork and comics and stories for school, so we are channeling that a lot too. She also has a couple of dog-related jobs, like feeding everybody and putting everybody in their crates at mealtimes, so we'll think about what else we can add to that list.

Thanks to all who offered suggestions.
posted by cheese at 1:43 PM on May 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I haven’t read this kids book in YEARS, but “Duncan And Delores” by Barbara Samuels is basically about this scenario. You might check it out to see if it’s relevant/helpful!
posted by girlalex at 9:07 PM on May 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

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