Book Review – Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind. A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos, by Colleen Pelar

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Joan Orr M.Sc.

Living with Kids and Dogs … Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar is a must-read for parents who have kids and dogs or are contemplating acquiring a dog. Colleen gives practical advice that considers the needs of kids, dogs and parents. This goes far beyond the usual “supervise and control” mantra and gives workable approaches that empower the parent to advocate for both the kids and the dog.

The book is themed around the three keys to success, which are (in order of importance): relationship, management and training. Positive reinforcement techniques are described for helping to build a strong relationship between the dog and the family using various games and training exercises. Common sense management suggestions are made to help parents think of ways to prevent problems. For example, stealing from the counter can be prevented by putting food away. Training comes more easily when there is a strong foundation of mutual respect between the dog and the kids and when a household is well managed. Colleen advocates using positive methods with kids and dog and never resorting to punishment.

Topics covered in the book include, deciding to get a dog, choosing a dog, bite prevention, spotting serious behavior issues, essential equipment, babies and toddlers, preschoolers, elementary schoolers, teenagers and saying goodbye. A unique and very useful component of this book is the “Words for the Weary” section at the end of each chapter. This recognizes that sometimes a parent is just too busy to sit down and read or reread a whole book chapter and so the highlights are conveniently presented.

There are too many clever and original ideas in the book to list them all here, but a few examples illustrate the types of activities described. There is the “dog in the rope” game, where the kids click and treat the dog for lying calmly within a rope circle to keep him from interfering with their games – such a better way to use a rope than to tie the dog up! Another great technique is the double leash to prevent jumping. Two leashes are attached to the dog and the parent steps on one to prevent the dog from jumping while holding the other in the regular way. This stops the dog from jumping while preventing the handler from yanking the dog back with the leash. Don’t punish your dog for growling – this is surprising advice to most parents. Colleen explains this and many other dog behavior concepts that are important for parents to understand.

As a mother of teenagers and a professional dog trainer, Colleen Pelar has lived it all and she tells it like it is with humor, compassion and practicality. This book is highly recommended!

Joan Orr is member of the Karen Pryor Clickertraining Clicker Expo faculty and a member of the Advisory Committee to the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior . She is the producer of the award winning Clicker Puppy training DVD (, co-creator of the board game Doggone Crazy! and co-author of the book Getting Started: Clicking with Your Rabbit ( Joan is also the president and co-founder of Doggone Safe, a non-profit organization dedicated to dog bite prevention through education ( and co-founder of TAGteach International a company that promotes marker-based positive reinforcement in the teaching and coaching of humans (

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