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Friday, May 30, 2014

Dog Afraid of Children

From the mail bag: My dog is afraid of kids. She will stick extremely close to me and recently, while my niece was playing in the house (jumping and thumping on the floor) my dog went up and barked at her. It was a single bark. But before that incident she seemed fine. Let my niece pet her, licked her, her tail was wagging, ears alert but content. I don't know what made her bark at my niece but I worry it could cause huge problems later. May I have some advice and tips to help stop bad behavior around kids before it gets to be a problem?

I'm sorry that your dog is having problems.  Fear of kids can be quite common. Children move about in weird ways, they make high pitched sounds.  Although fear of children can be normal, it's a very serious issue.  Children don't understand the importance of giving a dog space. Children's skin is very soft and easily injured if a dog were to snap.  And the height of children can often put their face at teeth level.

The most important thing is to keep our fearful pups far away from children.  That means absolutely no child visitors. If you must have visitors, maintain a double barrier between dogs and kids at all times and watch the kids closely to make sure they don't breach those barriers. A double barrier might mean that the dog goes in a crate behind a locked door. That way if one barrier is breached, there is another barrier.

When away from home, pet parents much watch for kids. Make sure they don't run up to touch or hug your pups. See more on avoidance here: If avoidance fails and you see a child racing towards your pup, it's fine if you tell the kids firmly - "No!" and get your dog away quickly.

The second most important thing is to never ever punish (no yelling, jabbing, yanking, startling, etc..) your dog for growling, snapping, etc.. Here is why: If you make a mistake and let a child get too close, calmly step in between your dog and the child, then calmly move your dog away.

Once the dog is safe from all kids, you can look into hiring a skilled, force free trainer. It's important to hire someone who understands counter conditioning and desensitization. Someone who will keep your pup well below threshold. Someone who will not flood nor punish.

A good trainer would also assess if other things need to be addressed before counter conditioning and desensitization could be addressed. Such as whether or not your dog is nervous in general and how to address that.
A good trainer can also help teach your dog how to relax alone in a room or crate if children must visit.
We should also work on stress reduction: 

If sticking by you is an issue, I recommend the book Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs.
There is a section on helping a dogs by starting with in-view confinement.
I strongly recommend absolutely no petting from children.  I also recommend no petting from strangers either.  Just because a dog "allows" or "lets" doesn't mean that the dog enjoys petting. And a wagging tail is about arousal (good or bad). A wagging tail can sometimes mean "back off".
And we should be aware of "trigger stacking. A dog might  put up with something for while but then "explode":

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