Street Training: Because, You Know… SAFETY.

Roads are DANGEROUS, yo.

Over a million dogs are killed by cars in the U.S. each year, and cars are also one of the leading causes of death in children, with thousands being struck each year.

That’s why I always, always recommend street training your children and puppies.

I’m always surprised by how many people people DON’T street train.

Freedom is beautiful... except where it could end with a SPLAT

Freedom is beautiful… except where it could end with a SPLAT

Oh, I’m pretty sure every sane parent tells their kid not to run into the road, but I don’t think the rules are consistent, because they still seem to do it.

I see both dogs and small children joyously straying into the road on walks, while owners/parents panic (or don’t, which seems even stranger to me).

It’s worth the effort, trust me.

How To Street Train Your Puppy Toddler

Step 1: Setting The Rulescanstockphoto8065393

The rules to proper street training are simple:

  • Stop when you hit a curb.
  • Do not venture onto the road until given permission to do so.
  • A leash/hand must be held at all times.

The best time to start street training is the moment you get your puppy, and the moment your child begins to walk.

If they get in the habit of wandering into the road without consequences, breaking that habit will be much harder than if you just start them out right.

If your child has already picked up bad habits, don’t lose heart.

Start now!

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This is in no way safe

Undo what you can. This is life and death stuff we’re talking about!

To start, you tell your child that we must NEVER EVER walk onto the road without an adult.

For young toddlers who really are still toddling, I recommend that you insist they be picked up or in a stroller before they can venture onto the road.

That way you have full control over your child’s location in the street, and you also don’t have to take a tediously long walk through a mall parking lot with a child who insists on walking but moves at the rate of one inch per minute. For older small children, you should insist that they hold your hand.

Step 2: Stopping At Curbs

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This is the most vital rule. They must STOP at curbs, no matter what.

Even if a zombie-clown with a chain saw is chasing them, and there is a bucket of kittens waiting on the other side… THEY STOP AT THE CURB.

We introduce this as a game.

With dogs, this is very simple.

You lead the dog to the curb, and when he steps off into the road, you freak out. You tell him “No!” very sharply, yank him back up onto the side walk… and then you give him the chance to do it again.

Sometimes they screw this up several times in a row before they get wise and hesitate at the curb.

Then you praise them, give them treats, and generally convince them that this is the best thing they have ever done. Which, if you’re starting young enough, could very well be true.

They learn very quickly that if they put on the breaks when they hit a curb, they get praise and treats.

Within a few minutes you can have the dog stubbornly resisting as you yank on the leash, cajole, even toss balls and treats into the road, until he hears the magic command that allows him to step into the road.20131027-152158.jpg

With toddlers it is even easier, because even a one year old’s grasp of language is better than a dog’s so you can actually tell them what the rules are.

Take them to a curb you meet regularly – the edge of your driveway, perhaps, or the road you have to cross to get to the park – and tell them that you want to play the Stop game, which consists of them stopping at the curb (point out what the “curb” is).

Then practice walking toward the road again and again and saying “Stop!” in a happy voice when you hit the curb. If your child keeps walking, immediately say “no!”, pick her up and plunk her back on the sidewalk.

Then have the “we stop at roads” talk and let her try again.

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“Wow, when I stop here, you REALLY throw a party…”

If she stops on cue, praise her and do something fun, like tickle her or get her to do a high five.

Soon your child will be running full tilt for the road and then screeching to a halt yelling “Stop!” at the top of her lungs. Make a BIG fuss! Pick her up and swing her around, toss her in the air, whatever will get her giggling and thinking that stopping at the curb is the best thing since Elmo.

For bonus points, explain to your child that we never, ever go in the road EVEN IF A TOY ROLLS INTO THE ROAD.

Then demonstrate, telling your child you want to practice, and rolling a ball or toy car a few inches into the street. When you child inevitably goes after it, pick him up, plunk him back on the sidewalk, and practice again.

If necessary, demonstrate yourself, running eagerly toward the ball and then stopping when the ball goes into the street. Once your child can do this, go get the toy, give it back to the child and tell them how amazing he is.

Step 3: How To Cross The Road

kids crossing the road

In the case of both dogs and children, you should be the arbiter of when it is safe. Studies have shown that children as old as ten have trouble gauging the speed of oncoming traffic, so there’s no way your baby can do it.

Make this a simple obedience matter. You do not cross until I say so.

Then do it in a controlled manner.

For dogs, that means on-leash. There’s no reason for your dog to ever be off-leash when you are crossing a road.

Without knowing anything about where you live, I can place a safe bet that your legal off-leash dog areas do not have active roads with cars running through them.

Children are harder. I don’t approve of leashing children (more on that later) because we have these wonderful, prehensile things call HANDS.

Your child should be holding your hand when walking into the road.

This ensures that she will cross in a controlled manner and not wander in front of traffic, which is especially a risk in parking lots, where cars pop out from behind other cars with no warning.

If your arms are full of groceries or younger children, put a handle on yourself somewhere that your child can hold – a carabeener or a strap tied to your belt.

Tell your child that they can only cross the road when holding your hand/handle, and only when you announce that it is safe.

Step 4: CONSISTENCY

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Now, the most crucial part of this training – it makes for a fun fifteen minute game, but in order for it to be 100% effective you must always ALWAYS enforce this rule 100% of the time. EVERY member of the family must be on board, as well as any care takers.

A dog who is only SOMETIMES stopped when he steps into the road will still do it.

Only dogs who are corrected every single time learn to stop automatically.

And you want them to stop automatically, because it’ll be the one time you aren’t watching, the one time they run faster than you can, that will scare the ever living crap out of you.

The child must believe that the Road Rule is completely inviolate, which it should be, because SAFETY.

My own son is horrified when he sees small children in the road not holding an adult’s hand. That’s how it should be. Your child should see another child walking free and scream “Uh-oh! Him’s inna road all by himself! NO DO THAT!”

If your child so much as sets a toe on the road before you take her hand, correct her and BE SUPER SERIOUS ABOUT IT.

Sure, it may not seem like a big deal that your child stopped with one foot on and one foot off the curb, but toddlers love pushing boundaries, so next time it’ll be both feet and soon you’ll be chasing your toddler out into the road again.

…SPLAT.

The great thing about toddlers is that while they love pushing boundaries, they also love enforcing rules, so if everyone does a good job on this your child will likely insist on stopping at curbs and hollering at Grandma to “TAKE MY HAND!”

BUT, if only some members of the family enforce the rule, your child will learn that this rule applies only with certain people,

If your child goes into the road deliberately, then you should COMPLETELY OVERREACT.

This is one of the only instances where I will tell you that it is okay to TOTALLY WIG OUT, because, you know, SAFETY.

Scare them a teeny bit, because being hit by an SUV is much, much scarier, but that isn’t a learning experience so much as a final experience.

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If this happens on the way to a playground or some other fun destination then thank your lucky stars, because you have a great built-in consequencence.

TAKE YOUR CHILD HOME.

He will kick and scream and wail, but he probably won’t make that mistake twice.

Nothing sets the Road Rule into a child’s mind quite so clearly as losing a trip to the playground.

And if that seems cruel, remind yourself what COULD happen the next time your child runs into the road.

Given the choice, I’ll take the tantrum.

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