March 5, 2024

Pawsitive Partners: Fun and Effective Dog Training Tips for Kids

Having your kids join in your pup's training is a great way to get your kids involved and teach them how to interact with your pup. Depending on the child's age and experience there are several different training games from obstacle course all the way up to training for the Junior Open Agility World Championships!

Two children training their dog

Can Kids Train Dogs?

Of course! Whether you’re working on general life skills, tricks, or competition training, there is so much that kids can do with dogs. While kids can participate in most types of competition events, there are sometimes youth-specific opportunities such as those through 4-H, recognitions at national events, or even opportunities for international competition, such as the American Kennel Club sending a team to the Junior Open Agility World Championships

What kids can do may be adjusted by the child’s skills, attention, and experience, as well as, the dog's own experience and learning style.

Kids should not do training projects with dogs who have a history of unfriendly behavior towards people. Consult a professional as needed. 

How to Help Young Kids Train Dogs

Young kids typically can’t easily teach new behaviors but can have dogs do known behaviors or help support training activities. Often training games help build the relationship between the dog and child and teach dogs they can listen to the children’s signals.

Use a Baby Gate

Very young kids benefit from more simple activities and very heavy guidance. One good activity is to set up a baby gate. Have the dog on one side and the child on the other. The child can ask the dog for a task the dog already knows. The adult can cue the dog again if needed. Then the child can toss a treat over the gate. The gate prevents the dog from stealing treats or jumping on the child. An adult prompting can help the dog if the dog doesn’t understand the child’s cues.

Obstacle Course Game for Kids and Dogs

Another great activity is to have younger kids help make an easy obstacle course. It could include having the dog step over a low broomstick, zig-zag between chairs, step onto a dog bed, go around a box, then step on a low step stool. After creating the course, the child can guide the dog through the course with a trail of treats and strong adult support. One great thing about this game is that kids sometimes spend longer building the courses than doing the training game!

Distraction Game for Kids and Dogs

A third activity is for an adult to have the dog walk from one spot to another or do a sit/down stay. This is for dogs who already know how to walk or stay. We have resources if you need help with your walking, and if you want a beginning stay activity. The adult can have the dog on leash and be the one with the treats.

Instruct your child to move from one spot to another at a distance. It could be parallel to your walking path or on a path about 5’ from where your dog is staying. You can set this up like a “Simon Says” game. Ask your child to walk from one point to another. If your dog stays, they get a treat. Then ask your child to skip back to their starting spot. If your dog stays, they gets a treat. Your child can add spins into the walking, arm movement, noises, crawling, or props. The opportunities are endless! If a challenge is too much and your dog gets up, your child can move further away or return to less distracting motions.

Training Skills for Older Youth

Trick Training

Tricks are a great training activity for kids and dogs. There aren’t “rules,” there’s room for creativity, and we can play to the dog’s and child’s strengths. Easy tricks might be spinning in a circle, having the dog touch his nose to a hand, or getting into a box. 

More complex tricks might be teaching a dog to weave between legs, bring back props, or circle the child. You can find many library books on trick training. 

If your child is having fun - the American Kennel Club has a junior handler national trick dog competition. It is done by video - so you can participate from anywhere!

Agility Training

You may have access to agility classes locally or play training games in your backyard. Safety is essential; keep obstacles low and use rewards rather than tugging the leash to get behaviors. 

You can read about basic agility training here for some additional ideas. 

Skill Training

Older youth can help with general life skills such as “sit,” “lie down,” “stay,” “come,” door manners, and walking. If your child is smaller and your dog is larger, an adult should hold the leash for safety. Provide supervision throughout the sessions and as much or little support as your child may need. 

Kids often have good timing, great creativity, and wonderful observation skills. These can help them be excellent at training no matter what goals they set.

Additional Resources for Kids and Dogs

Here are a few great resources for parents, grandparents, or adults who help kids and dogs interact.

  • - This website is focused on baby and toddler resources and helping dogs to be safe and successful in these homes.
  • - Here are some resources for babies and toddlers on dog skills, supervision strategies, and additional considerations for this age group. 
  • - This website has videos and songs specifically meant for younger kids. Apologies to the adults - you may have enough of the songs after 30 seconds! The underlying messages are very good. 
  • And - we’re here for you! We can help you and your child with training for fun or skills. Our instructors have experience working with families and youth for everyday and competition training for various goals.