Time to Talk: Applying the Puppy Blueprint in a Toddler’s World

Puppy and Toddler: Nine Teaching Tips

The Puppy learns through play as it helps sharpen the senses and develop problem solving skills- just like toddlers.

I bought a 4 month old puppy last month. It’s been a lot of years since even my grandchildren have been “puppies” and I’m working to reacquaint myself with the motivations of my new dog, Cricket. Luckily, I’m also working with toddlers lately in my practice. I’m finding that I can use many of the same guidelines when teaching both.

Obviously, children have many more cognitive skills than dogs, but I’ve found that some general guidelines apply to both toddlers and puppies!

1. A puppy and a toddler learn through play. It’s their “job” to use all their senses to develop fine and gross motor skills, social skills, and problem solving skills. As disruptive as that can be for time schedules and efficiency, learning happens in play. Toddlers are experiencing most things for the first time. So allow time for these rich moments of exploration. (Last night, during potty time outside, Cricket discovered fireflies!) Also, all activities should be fun so they will want to do it again. Repetition is how they learn deeply. It’s up to the adults to keep activities safe and fun.

2. Speaking of repetition, both toddlers and puppies learn vocabulary from daily routines. Teach vocabulary every day in the same setting using the same words. Include the new words in your verbal praise (“Nice talking!” “Good sit!”).

3. Most puppies and toddlers haven’t developed any sense of danger. You must teach them to come to you at a time when they’re calm. Then if they’re in danger they can use the learned routine. Also this brings up the beauty of attending events Hilltown Families highlights each week since they’re all kid friendly!

4. Parents and teachers should follow the child’s or the puppy’s lead. If a puppy is biting, don’t shout. Give them a replacement for your skin! Keep chew toys handy. If a toddler wants to pull out pots and pans, give them a child drawer of plastic containers or toy cooking utensils to play with.

5. Don’t get into power struggles, stay cool. A toddler and a puppy feel powerless a lot of the time. Defying authority feels good to them. My puppy likes to take off with my slippers. If I go after her, she thinks we’re playing and I’m in trouble. If I shout, “drop it,” that makes the game even more fun. If I distract her with her fleece bear, she’ll go for the bear. Luckily, toddlers and puppies can only pay attention to one task for a few minutes and are easily distracted. Confronting a toddler gets nothing accomplished except to make you feel both feel bad.

6. Give choices when you can. Most of the time, there’s no choice, so take advantage when there is. You have control of what you offer, but they feel empowered.

7. Reinforce good behavior. For a puppy, healthy treats and verbal praise work wonders. For toddlers, we can use a preferred food, verbal praise, or a motivating activity or toy.

8. Set up a place for time outs. When a toddler or puppy are out of control they need someone to bring them to a calming down spot. This is not punishment. This is what they want. My puppy will walk right into her crate once directed. She wants to feel calmer.

9. Speaking of out of control, both toddlers and puppies need to run off lots of energy so they’ll sleep well at night. There’s nothing worse than having an energetic puppy or toddler at the end of the day when their adults are exhausted. Wear them out during the day! For my pup, hanging out with another puppy is the ticket!

When I keep all this in mind, I find I am a more successful teacher for my toddlers, their parents, and also for my new puppy!


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com


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