Are high energy dogs potentially dangerous to your baby or toddler? That’s a great questions and the answer is yes. Here are some ways you can mitigate the hazards of a rambunctious dog.
The Primary Dangers Of High Energy Dogs
Morgan: So, the question for this week, Mike, is: what if I have a high energy dog? Could she be dangerous for my child?
Mike: Well, definitely. You know, if your dog is very high energy, we need to do a number of things.
Obviously one danger is – depending on how old the child is – if the child has started to walk, she can get knocked over and bang her head on something, because the dog is rambunctious and a little bit out of control.
And it’s not that the dog would, obviously, intentionally bite the kid, or doing anything to intentionally hurt the child – but over-exuberance and so forth is obviously an issue, and can lead to knocked-over babies and injuries.
So, What Can We Do?
So, the primary way to deal with that is to make sure that your dog gets ample exercise.
There’s an old saying in dog training: tired dogs are good dogs. And that’s definitely true – and it’s especially true in a situation like that.
So, if you’ve got a 2-year-old field lab that’s just a go-machine all the time, obviously we need to monitor all interactions with the child and the dog at all times – but we also need to take it upon ourselves to make sure that the dog is exercised and worn out as much as possible before interacting with the child.
Or at least, that the dog is sufficiently worn out that she can be calm, and respond to instructions, and exercise some impulse control, and be aware of the fact that there’s a vulnerable little kid there.
So, that’s pretty much the only way to deal with that – you have to make sure your dog gets adequate levels of exercise daily.
Let’s say you’ve been out working, you haven’t had a chance to get the dog out – but then go in the back yard with the dog for 20 minutes and throw the ball.
Or whatever it is that the dog likes: play some tug-of-war, go for a run. Whatever it is that is going to drain some energy out of your dog – go and do that before you start having intimate interactions with the child.
Or, if the child’s a little older, before having the child wandering around the apartment or house with the dog loose. So, that would be the main advice on that.
A Question Of Size
Morgan: We were recently on vacation, and we were visiting a friend. And they have a pit-bull – super sweet.
But the dog is a live wire. This dog has so much energy – and she’s probably 80 pounds. She’s heavy.
And you know, I’m 170 pounds, an adult male – and just running, she could completely take me out at the knees. And when I walk in the door, her tail wags so hard that it hurts when it hits you.
So, I can’t imagine that dog in a house with a little kid, because she would just destroy the kid. So, that’s what I think of when you talk about a high energy dog, and the dangers.
Mike: Well, it’s a real issue. I know dogs like that – they’re just so powerful. They’re good-natured, but they don’t recognize their strength. And even their wagging tail can put bruises on you.
Morgan: Yes, totally.
Mike: Some of these guys, like you said, can take you out at the knees – a dog that’s running across the room to go after something she’s interested in, and just slams into you, because she has no body self-awareness.
A dog like that is just like a wrecking ball. And that is a big issue if you’ve got a little kid, for all the obvious reasons.
So then, what I said just doubly applies. And in that situation the dog obviously needs to have good obedience training, so it can do sit-downs and stays.
And it might even need to be on a leash, even after exercise, so that the parents can manage the situation. There definitely needs to be extra care taken to manage that.
Engaging With Older Children
Now, if the child is an infant or a toddler, there’s only so much you can have the child do to engage athletically with the dog.
But if your child is 5, or 6, or 7, they can start throwing the ball for the dog and engaging with the dog, in a way that allows the dog to exert some athleticism without being dangerous.
Even teaching it some agility, obstacles, things like that – that’s very helpful. But that, really, only would apply with a kid that’s a little bit older.
But with 8-month-, 9-month-old kids that are just crawling, and then kids that are at a year and 2 or 3 months, starting to walk, one has to be very careful.
A Sneaky Trick For Time-Pressured Parents
Mike: It’s just occurred to me, another trick I learned a long time ago for parents who have limited time, who basically only have time to take their dog for a walk around the block, or play a little ball in the back yard.
A trick I learned a long time ago is: get a doggy backpack for the dog, and fill it either with kitty litter or water bottles, and weigh the dog down and power-walk around the block. You’ll drain more energy out of the dog – it takes a lot of work to walk with that weight.
Morgan: For real? Wow!
Mike: Yes – it’s a neat little trick that allows you to get more energy out of the dog without adding extra time.
So, something has to be done to bleed energy out of the dog – and in a context that’s away from the kid.
Then, only bring the dog around when it’s calmed down a little bit, and with good obedience control. Obviously, obedience training is key, and even having the dog on a leash.
And then, telling the dog exactly how to behave. Sit down! Stay! Not just leaving it up to the dog’s impulses, but actually telling the dog what it is that we need her to do.
Creating Consistent Associations
Mike: And doing it consistently, and over time.
For example, with a toddler or a very young kid just starting walking: if every time that child shows up, we ask the dog to sit down, and stay, and be calm, then over time the dog will learn to associate that behavior with the presence of the child, and start offering it naturally.
That takes quite a bit of repetition and persistence. And obviously, you can reward with food – you can do a lot of food reward stuff.
In fact, we’d want to try and avoid any corrections in the presence of the child, if possible. So, you want to reward the calm behavior with nice treats, and lots of petting and loving and so forth.
And if the dog hasn’t learned those things well, they should be taught in a separate context – especially if there might be the need to do a few corrections here and there.
Obviously, the emphasis, always, is on positive reinforcement – but some dogs need to be corrected here and there. But if that’s the training space the dog is still at, that should be done in a separate context, and definitely not near the child.
Morgan: And that’s because you don’t want the dog to have negative associations with the presence of the child, is that right?
Mike: Exactly right.
Even The Most Loving Dogs Can Be A Risk
Morgan: So, it also seems like you made it clear in the beginning that this isn’t really about the dog’s character, per se. You could have a very loving dog, and this could still be an issue. It’s not about whether or not the dog’s loving or not, as in the case with this pit-bull.
Mike: Oh, not at all. The dog you described is a perfect example, and there are lots of dogs like that.
And it’s not just pits: it’s high-energy Labs, it’s Labradoodles – all kinds of dogs.
So, most of the time, with the kind of thing you’re describing, it will be dogs that are generally quite friendly and, overall, harmless. They just can’t help it – they’re not trained, they don’t know it.
Every Dog Is Different
Morgan: Yes, totally. That’s very interesting. So, do you have any other tricks, or any other thoughts, on how – to use your terms – to bleed the energy from the dog?
Mike: Well, there’s a million different ways, obviously. But every dog’s a little different – so you’ve got to find what’s going to be the thing for your dog.
Some dogs like to have a lot of power for short bursts – so a 10-minute game of tug-of-war and fetch in the back yard might do it, or a power walk around the block with a backpack on. Or some people tether dogs to bikes, and ride around that way.
Every dog’s different. If you have a beach nearby, let him run around with a bunch of other dogs for 20 or 30 minutes. Whatever it is – but we need to get the energy out.
It’s a lot more challenging to train the dog to be calm when we haven’t done our bit to make sure that the dog has had ample exercise. And there’s just no way around that – that’s just one of the burdens of parenting, if you’ve got a dog like that in the house.
Morgan: Got it. Alright, that’s great. So, everyone, you heard it here: a good dog is a tired dog. And, Mike, thank you for joining us, this is great. Any last comments before we wrap it up?
Mike: Yes – it’s a tired dog is a good dog [laughter]. Not a good dog is a tired dog. I mean, I guess it works both ways – but it’s just a saying.
Morgan: It works both ways [laughter]. This is like calculus, suddenly – or advanced logic.
Mike: Exactly! Dog logic.
Morgan: So also, everyone: if you want to learn more about how to prepare your dog for your baby – if you’re pregnant and you have a little one on the way, or if you have a little one and you’re getting a new dog, or if your little one is just starting to walk – Mike has developed an in-depth course that really addresses a lot of the issues that you’re going to face.
It’s called the Good Dog, Happy Baby course.
If you sign up for Mike’s email list, you’ll get a pretty steep discount on the course for the first week. I encourage you to sign up. Mike, anything you want to say about that, before we close?
Mike: Well, just what I always say, which is that I spent a year and a half developing that course, precisely with people in mind who are facing this situation of preparing a dog for the arrival of the baby.
And the first module is about how to prepare a dog for child-like handling, which is really important – because even in the context of rambunctious dogs, if they’re not trained to endure child-like handling without responding by completely spazzing out and wanting to play, this is something we have to deal with.
So, that’s the first module. And then the second module is helping people who have dogs that are a little shy around kids in general. So, these are big triggers that end up forcing people, sometimes, to rehome their dogs.
Morgan: In the next episode, we are going to cover the question: my dog is a spoiled Alpha dog – what should I do? So, tune in for that question next week.
>> Listen to the previous episode: What should you do if your dog has separation anxiety?