Every few years, when we get a new puppy or adopt an adult dog or have a foster dog spend some time with us, I have to dog-proof our home and learn some new tricks about interacting with particular dogs. You might think that I would have dog-proofing down by now, but each dog has been attracted to different items or has done things it didn’t occur to the other dogs to try. Our current “new dog” is Kibo, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel we’re fostering until he is adopted.
One of the first things Kibo taught me was to put away my shoes and to close doors. None of our other dogs has been a chewer, but Kibo likes to examine things with his mouth in the fervent hope that they will be edible. He has gone into the closet to chew on my leather sandals (caught before he did any damage) and explored the walk-in shower. There he found and carried away a plastic razor, which, fortunately, he abandoned in the hallway instead of swallowing. He is also fond of a tiny, gold papier-mâché box. He hasn’t chewed it up or swallowed it, which he could easily do, but he likes to take it off the side table and lie with it. It’s now out of reach, too.
Despite his short stature, Kibo tries hard to be a countertop surfer. We’ve learned not to hold or place food at any height where he could jump up and reach it. Our other dogs are also highly food-oriented, but they wouldn’t dream of snatching food out of our hands. Kibo does more than dream it – he tries it. I always push the chair in if I get up from the table because I can tell that the idea of jumping onto it to get at the food is running through his mind.
If you are living with a Kibo of your own, here are some tips to keep your belongings safe, your house in one piece and your dog out of trouble.
• Use a crate. When you cannot supervise your dog, even if it’s just for a few minutes, put him in the crate to prevent any misbehavior. Kibo hangs out in his crate on his own and he’s happy to go into it when asked because he knows he will get a treat.
• Tether your dog. That means he is leashed at your side at all times. This is a great way to learn the signals a new dog or puppy gives when he needs to go potty. It keeps him under your watchful eye so he can’t get into mischief and helps build a bond between you.
• Get down at dog’s-eye level to see what might attract the dog’s attention. Electrical cords, small trash containers and dangling dish towels all can pose threats. Bundle cords and encase them in tough plastic covers, put trash containers out of reach, and keep dish towels in drawers if your dog is attracted to them. Chair and table legs often look good to chew. Coat them with Bitter Apple spray to deter taste-testing (try it first in an inconspicuous area to make sure it doesn’t damage the finish). Make sure no sharp edges or choking hazards are within a dog’s reach.
• Most important, never underestimate the intelligence and inventiveness of dogs. They can learn to open doors, climb up on counters and desks using other pieces of furniture as launch pads, and crawl under or wiggle into places you’ve never imagined they would go. Be smart and put away or block access to valuable, fragile or dangerous items and secure cabinets with childproof locks.
When I look back on the happiest times of my childhood, almost all of my favorite memories involve my dog Scooter. Besides being a playmate, he helped me in other ways. I was shy, and Scooter helped me to open up and gave me a way to relate to other people.
For kids, a dog is someone to bond with and talk to who is always there and can be a trustworthy confidant. Caring for a dog teaches empathy and helps build responsibility. With supervision, a young child like your 6-year-old can put fresh water in a dog’s dish, wash the food dish after the dog eats, and help put away the dog food. Older children can learn to brush the dog, measure out food at mealtime and take the dog for walks.
Pets also have health benefits. I think kids with dogs are more likely to get up off the couch and get some exercise, and studies show that children with early exposure to dogs have a decreased risk of developing allergies, asthma and eczema.
At every age, children are constantly going through changes, including going to school and learning how to deal with people. Some come from broken families and go back and forth between their parents’ homes. For any child, a dog or other pet can be a constant in their lives.
With my own daughter, our two pugs provide consistency. No matter what else is going on with her or whatever challenges she is facing, she always has her dogs. They bring her comfort and stability.