Dog scared of children

A dog does not have to be abused or traumatized by kids in order to be afraid of them. It could be that the dog simply has not been around kids enough and therefore sees them as loud, unpredictable and confusing.

It’s always a good idea to socialize your dog by introducing her to as many different places, people, animals, noises and experiences as possible. If a dog is fearful of children, chances are she has not been around them enough to build up trust.

It’s natural for dogs to love kids. Kids are fun! They love to do things dogs love to do like swim, play in the mud, run, yell, throw toys and wrestle.

It’s sad when a dog is afraid of children because she is missing out on so many opportunities and friendships. On the other hands, kids are loud and they move differently than adults. Dogs aren’t always sure what to do around kids.

Tips for safely introducing a fearful dog to children:

1. Ask children to ignore the dog.

It works well to tell kids that the dog is “in training” and they can help by not looking at the dog, touching the dog or talking to the dog. Ask the kids to be quiet and to move slowly.

2. Do not coddle the dog.

Telling the dog “It’s OK. It’s OK” will only convince the dog there is something to be afraid of. Instead, ignore unwanted behavior and act like kids are no big deal.

3. Correct aggressive behavior.Dog scared of children black lab mix Ace

Do not tolerate any growling, biting, barking or lunging from your dog, regardless of her size. Any dog can be dangerous. It’s not cute when a Yorkie snaps at people.

I typically ignore unwanted behavior unless it turns into aggression. If a dog is growling or barking, I correct her by snapping my fingers or saying “Hey!” and moving into her space. This is usually all a dog needs to realize the behavior is unwanted. You can also try popping the leash or redirecting the dog’s attention.

Also make sure to watch for the warning signs of aggression and to correct this behavior before it escalates. Watch for a stiff body position, raised lips or tail and staring.

4. Don’t let the dog hide behind you.

If your dog hides between your legs or behind you, move. If the dog keeps following you around, then keep moving. Don’t allow it to seek comfort from you. The dog needs to learn there is nothing to be afraid of. If you let your dog seek security from you, you are telling her she has a reason to be afraid.

5. Don’t allow the dog to stand in your lap.

Allowing your dog to sit in your lap gives her more power. She will be more likely to act aggressive because she will try to protect or guard you. Instead, the dog should learn to “deal” with the kids on her own. If your dog climbs into your lap, push her off or get up and move away.

6. Introduce the dog to as many children as possible.

You won’t fix the problem by avoiding it. If your dog is afraid of bikes, she needs to be around more bikes. If she is afraid of men, she needs to be around more men. If she is afraid of dogs, she needs to socialize with more dogs. It is the same with children.

Here is a post I wrote about introducing my foster dog to kids.

7. Invite kids to your house (in a non-creepy way).

If your friends have kids, invite them over to play. Make sure you are always supervising.

8. Walk by playgrounds with your dog.

This is a good way to expose your dog to more kids because you can set the distance yourself. You can stay several yards away, or you can walk right up to the kids, depending on your dog’s comfort level. Just be aware that there’s a good chance a large group of kids could come running up to you screaming, “Puppy!!!” Remember to tell the kids that your dog is in training and not to touch her.

9. Use something your dog loves as a reward.

If your dog love walks, then ask kids to walk her. If she loves a certain toy, encourage kids to play with her using that toy. If she loves a certain treat, then have the kids offer her some goodies. The point is to show your dog that kids are fun using positive reinforcement training.

Just be careful that you are not rewarding the dog when she is acting insecure or aggressive. Only give her walks, treats and toys when she is showing good behavior.

10. Work in small steps and quit when the dog is overwhelmed.

Two or three minutes around children might be enough for your dog at first. Slowly increase that time to five and then 10 minutes and then a half-hour. If your dog shows signs of extreme stress such as heavy panting or extreme aggression, don’t feel bad about giving up for the day and trying again later. Don’t rush it.

What are some other ways to help a dog overcome her fear of children?

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  1. Apryl DeLancey on August 19, 2009

    Ha! Gus LOVES kids! He is especially fond of kids in strollers. I suspect the latter is because they generally have crumbs of some sort on or around them. Every time we see babies and toddlers he gets so excited!

    He does have a limit, though. After 6 or so hours with my niece hanging all over him he will come to me with that “get me out of here” look and lean on me until we leave.

  2. Lindsay Stordahl on August 19, 2009

    Ace loves kids too! I think because they give him attention. Plus they are willing to throw a ball for him. That’s so cute about Gus and the crumbs! Hahahaha!

  3. Apryl DeLancey on August 19, 2009

    Yeah, once a woman happily let Gus eat all of the blueberry muffin that her 2 year old had on and around her in her stroller before I realized what happened. Gus was stoked and the toddler found it wildly amusing.

  4. Lindsay Stordahl on August 19, 2009

    haha! that’s very cute!

  5. Maggie on August 20, 2009

    My sister had a baby just last week. At the hospital, during the prenatal/Lamaze classes, they actually offered a session called Bow Wow and Baby to help expectant parents prep their pups for the new baby. Steps included playing baby sounds (loud cries), setting boundaries (like staying out of the nursery), and practicing walking the dogs and stroller before the baby arrives. I was excited to see the hospital being proactive to help parents who might feel a little worried!

  6. Lindsay Stordahl on August 20, 2009

    That’s really great! So much can be prevented if parents work with the dog before the baby even arrives.

  7. Ty Brown on August 23, 2009

    These are really spot on tips. Can’t agree more with the idea of not coddling or sheltering this type of fear and behavior.

  8. Lindsay Stordahl on August 23, 2009

    I’m always glad when I hear you agree! Small dogs are more likely to be aggressive than big dogs because their owners unintentionally create and nurture these kinds of behaviors.

  9. Biggie-Z on August 23, 2009

    Once again, I am in total agreement! the “coddling” actually functions as a reward for the very behavior you’re trying to stop. One of Biggie’s dog cousins, Benji, is especially bad that way. He barks and barks at Biggie and just bothers him constantly (luckily Biggie ignores him), until one of his humans picks him and goes, “Benji, stop barking!” but they say it in a cooing voice, as they are holding him and petting him. As a result, now any time Benji sees Biggie he runs up and barks and barks until someone picks him up.

    Another tip for the dog that is so afraid of kids that letting them approach might be too much:

    Just let the kid and dog be in the room together, and if the dog is standing calmly and not acting fearful, praise and treat. Repeat until dog can tolerate kid in the same room.

    slowly allow the kid to get closer, treating the dog all the while. Don’t even let the kid get close enough to touch the dog, hold the leash or make eye contact with the dog until the dog associates presence of kids = good.

    then add in 1 thing at a time, e.g. kid holds leash – dog gets treat, etc.

    Luckily Biggie generally loves kids and it is more about managing our anxiety level (if strangers’ kids approach us) so we don’t give him the wrong signals. Our experience with Li’l WTF last summer didn’t help.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl on August 23, 2009

    Thank you for adding those great tips. Those are excellent ideas.

  11. Marie on August 24, 2009

    Most of my dogs are fine with kids, even though my husband and I don’t have any of our own. However, Raven has never liked kids and it’s not due to lack of effort on our part to expose her to them. At agility demos I usually have the kids take some treats and interact with her asking her to do her tricks for them and then have them reward her when she is acting appropriately. Unfortunately, I’m sure that kids are never something that she’ll trust and we still get the occasional barking at them. 🙁

    On a good note, both of the new girls, Layla and Dare like kids and do great around them.

  12. Lindsay Stordahl on August 24, 2009

    Good idea about the kids at agility for Raven. She doesn’t have to like them but at least she can be around them.

    I’m so jealous that you and Cindy both have new puppies. I’m glad Dare likes kids, cuz I’m sure she attracts them!

  13. Nicole on April 3, 2010

    I have had a Shiba mutt for a year that we adopted as a pup before getting to interact with her, assured by the rescue that they would take her back if there was a problem. (Didn’t happen.) She hates kids…and we have three boys! She’ll occasionally let the older ones rub her belly, but growls if they get too close, growls and snaps at kids in the park (despite MANY socialization walks around and in the playground) and I think we have just given up. We’re looking for a new home for her, and having a hard time. I don’t know what she went through before we had her, but she is NEVER going to be relaxed and comfortable around our kids or anyone else’s–and she’s a bite waiting to happen. I feel like we’re stuck with her—because who else will want her?

  14. Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 5, 2010

    I believe this dog can be rehabilitated to appreciate children. At the same time, I completely understand why you have given up and why you want to find her a new home for the sake of your children. I do not blame you one bit.

    There are plenty of dog owners out there without children who could provide this dog a loving home. As long as you take part in finding her a new home where she will be safe and loved, you have done nothing wrong. Focus on all her good qualities. There is someone out there for her, I promise.

  15. Jacki on December 5, 2010

    My husband and I have a 1 year old lab “pup” (that we have had from 6 weeks of age) who is very unsettled around children (barks at them, tries to hide behind us, etc.). Isn’t it ironic to have a lab uncertain of children? My husband and I do not have any kids yet but hope to be able to try to get pregnant in the next year or so, however, our lab’s behavior makes us anxious to approach this new stage in life. We live in the heart of a city so the dog is always being walked around people (including kids), but we do not frequently have visitors to get him use to children in his territory. How can we SAFELY expose him to and work with him around kids to ease both him and us? Additionally, his “anxiety” overall seemed to heighten after having his neutered about 1 month ago and having complications for a few weeks following. How do you help a pet overcome a traumatic experience and the hormonal change from the neuter?

  16. Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 5, 2010

    I would introduce him to kids very, very slowly. Make sure not to coddle your dog at all, because that will actually reward him for being fearful. Just act like it’s completely normal to see a child (which it is anyway).

    Purposely walk by kids on walks and reward your dog any time he is calm. Walk by playgrounds, schools, etc. Invite any of your friends or family members over who have kids and tell the kids to be as calm as they can and not to look at, talk to or touch your dog. You might have to have some kind of reward ready for the kids that they can have after they have helped you train your dog. It’s so hard for kids to ignore dogs!

    It will probably be too much for your dog at this point to have the kids pet him, but reward him just for being calm with the kids in the same room. Then you can slowly progress from there. If your dog tries to hide behind you, just walk away from him. If he keeps following you and hiding between your legs, just keep moving. He needs to learn to deal with the situation.

    Also, remember to work in short sessions. You don’t want your dog to become to overwhelmed or stressed. And you don’t want to put him into a position where he’s so scared he wants to bite.

    I’m not sure how the neutering and the complications would directly cause him to be more anxious and fearful. It could be that you felt sorry for him after his surgery and kept doting on him and coddling him. This could unintentionally encourage his weak/anxious behaviors.

    Don’t hesitate to find a behaviorist or trainer in your area to work with you so that your dog is feeling comfortable and confident around kids and babies before you have a baby of your own. It would be worth the money if it means your dog and your future children will be safer and happier.

  17. amanda star on December 9, 2010

    I need help FAST. I babysit and my newest dog Casey all of a sudden seems terrified of the kids. He was my grandmas dog and she past away in September so I took him in. At first he loved the kids, but out of the blue he started hiding in his cage or in my room and when I check on him he is trembling so hard. My heart is breaking because i have no idea how to he/p him. I have kids here 13 hrs a day, 5 days a week, he is literally spending his life terrified. Any one have any ideas what I can do?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 9, 2010

      I’m sure he’s feeling very overwhelmed from such a change in his environment. The most important thing you can do is make sure not to praise him for his fearfulness by saying things like “It’s OK. It’s OK.” This reinforces and encourages the fearfulness.

      Tell the kids to completely ignore the dog (as hard as that is!). Tell them he is scared and they can help him by not talking to him, touching him or looking at him. Reward the kids for using quiet voices and for moving slowly and not throwing things.

      It’s OK to allow Casey to have his alone time in his kennel when he’s feeling overwhelmed, but remove him from his kennel for a few minutes here and there and encourage him to come out of his shell and deal with the children. Reward any calm behavior he displays.

  18. Dawn on January 6, 2011

    We always have german shephards in our family and on December 4, 2010 our two year old Rachel was hit by a car. She was a wonderful family dog and it was hard to keep her away from the kids she was always with them, If I could not find my kids on our 40 acre plot I would call Rachel and she lead me right to them. My husband (without me knowing), went on a whim and purchased a 14 week old GSD and she was not socialized with kids. Our new dog Layla is very afraid of my two kids, she shakes when around them she has even had dirrhea when around them for too long. I refuse to keep a dog that will always be scared of my kids. Is there any hope my new dog?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 7, 2011

      There is hope, but she may never LOVE to be around kids. Instead, with time, she can learn to tolerate them. Do not rush her. Be very patient. Practice some of the ideas mentioned in this post. The main thing is to show her that kids can be fun to hang around. Have them give her her absolute favorite treats (hotdogs? chicken?). And teach the kids not to make eye contact and not to pet her. Also try to get them to be still and quiet around her. Explain how they can help her with her “training.” Slowly keep introducing her to more kids and more people in general. Take her to places like PetSmart and PetCo. Enroll her in an obedience class. Seek out places to visit where there are kids. Just get her out socializing at her own pace.

  19. bob on February 1, 2011

    teach your kids not make EYE CONTACT with the dog??? Tell YOUR kids to be still and quiet around a DOG?? If you have any doubt about your dog being ok with YOUR CHILDREN……get rid of the fucking dog….enough said

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 1, 2011

      Sounds like you shouldn’t have a dog. A lot of people are willing to make it work without threatening the safety of the dog or the child.

    • LOL on March 24, 2016

      I will get rid of my kids

  20. Chelsea on February 15, 2011

    We have a 3-year old lab who is extremely scared of our toddler. We have had the lab since she was a pup so she grew up while my son was growing up. My son is very active and loves to run around. When our dog is around him, she will growl at him and then run out of the room. She has never bit him, yet. The weird thing is that she will let him give her a treat, but that’s about it. She just acts like she is scared to death of him.

    Since my son isn’t even two yet, I can’t tell him to ignore the dog because he won’t understand yet. We’ve tried having him give the dog treats (like mentioned earlier) or her favorite toy, but she just takes the treat and runs. She knows she is bad when she growls because she looks at us like she’s done something wrong. We’ve tried scolding her, yelling at her, ignoring her, etc. and nothing seems to be helping. What should we try next?

  21. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 16, 2011

    Well, don’t scold her for growling. Dogs growl as a warning that they are stressed and do not want their limits pushed any further. Dogs that are corrected for growling learn not to growl and instead go right to a snap or a bite.

    At the same time, you don’t want to reward her for growling by removing her from the situation (which is what she wants, I assume).

    Look for small ways to stretch her comfort zone every day, but do let her retreat to her kennel or another room when she has clearly had enough. Take her for walks with your son in the stroller so she gets used to walking as a “pack.” Keep her on a leash and have her lie down next to you and your son while you sit on the couch watching a movie. Reward her any time she is calm. Give her the absolute yummiest treats whenever she is relaxed around your son. Help her associate positive experiences with your son by including him in all of her favorite things to do, whether it’s playing fetch, going to the park, riding in the car, getting brushed, etc.

    I really like the idea of keeping her leashed and near you and your son because then you are always there to supervise and she can’t run away. I realize you have your hands full keeping track of an almost 2-year-old and a fearful dog, but if you can do this for an hour each day, I think it could help. Keep your pockets stocked with her favorite goodies, like pieces of chicken or hotdogs. Also, do you have any kind of baby gates set up? Depending on how your house is designed, maybe you could arrange the gates so she has to be near your son, yet he can’t get to her and she can’t get to him. And if you use a kennel, you could use that to your advantage by letting her chill out in there sometimes while in a room with your son running around and you supervising, of course.

    I imagine that scolding and yelling at her around your son have increased her fear and stress of doing something wrong. She is already scared of his fast movements and loud sounds. I imagine he screams and throws things a lot 🙂 So try to do less correcting and more re-directing or ignoring.

    If you have concerns for the safety of your child, please contact a trainer in your area who can help you out. It would be well worth the money and time. You don’t want to take any chances.

    • Chelsea on February 17, 2011

      Thank you so much for responding back to me. I never thought of keeping her on a leash while in the room with my son, nor have I thought of putting her kennel in the same room and just letting him run around. We will definitely be trying those to see if they help. She is a good dog and I am not concerned for my son’s safety, but we just don’t want it to get to the point where we are concerned. Especially since we will have another baby to add to the mix in late August. Again, thank you for your help!

  22. Sarah on March 16, 2011

    I have a 15 week old border collie mix (I rescued her when she was 7 weeks old) and she is absolutely wonderful, top of her class in obedience training and loves to play with the other dogs in the house and at the dog park.

    She was fine with kids for the first few weeks at Petsmart, but the last three weeks she has been absolutely terrified of kids when they try to pet her. She can watch them or go up to them but as soon as they notice her and show an interest, no matter how calm or excited, she starts shaking and leans against me, and when I move away she’ll crouch as far as she can and urinate when they try to pet her.

    How can I get her to be okay with them petting her again? She can watch them and go up to them. She’s so cute all the kids want to pet her too.

  23. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 16, 2011

    Is she OK with adults?

    I would just slowly keep introducing her to more kids. Have them give her treats and her favorite toys. Encourage the kids not to be too noisy or too excited. Keep taking her out and about to places like PetSmart. And make sure you don’t act any differently around kids. Don’t anticipate anything bad. Picture in your mind that your dog loves kids, and that will help her.

  24. Rosie Salmon on April 12, 2011

    Try the Sounds Soothing CD at – it is a disc of baby noises and children playing and has a great booklet with training advice

  25. Claire Banks on July 27, 2011

    I have a four year old golden cocker spaniel. I have boys who she has now become to tolerate. She does let them stroke and cuddle her but when their friends come round or my grand children she will bark and growl. Do you have any advice.

  26. Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 27, 2011

    I like the comment on this post from Biggie Z.

    If the dog can tolerate being in the same room as the child, praise and treat. Then progress to the child standing or sitting next to the dog. Then holding the leash. Then touching the dog’s back. Then petting the dog’s back. Then touching the dog’s head, and so on.

    I am fostering a dog right now who will growl at kids. The key is to slowly stretch his limits without pushing him too far. When he is under stress, he will growl and snap. But he responds well to treats.

    If your grandchildren are running around and yelling, that might make your dog nervous, so do your best to keep them still and quiet around her and provide her with a safe, quiet place to retreat to.

  27. Lana on August 14, 2011

    Ronin, my dog, is afraid of my 6 month old baby. I say afraid, but I guess he’s more uneasy. He just wants to get away from him whenever I try to introduce the two. I’m getting concerned now because the baby is taking more interest in the dog. I’ll try the treat idea and some small doses of time together. Ronin has never really liked kids, I think because they make him nervous with the noise and activity but the baby really isn’t moving fast or even very loud. I wonder if he senses how important the baby is and is scared to interact for fear of doing anything wrong.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 14, 2011

      What does your dog like to do most? Use that to help him relate something positive with your baby.

      If he love walks, then walk them together. There are lots of training collars that will eliminate his pulling if he’s hard to manage while pushing a stroller. If he loves food, then feed him treats when he’s lying calmly next to you and the baby. You may need to use a highly valued treat like chicken or hotdogs. If he loves squeaky toys, then use that.

      And understand that not all dogs like kids. So if you can at least get him to be calm and to tolerate the baby, maybe that is all you will be able to do. I don’t like kids myself! But I can tolerate them 🙂

  28. Michelle on November 23, 2011

    My dog, Shelby is scared of my grand-daughter who is one. The baby has touched her foot two times by accident and Shelby does not like that. She growled, so I moved her to another room. I won’t allow them together in the same room alone. Since the baby started moving, Shelby’s fear has gotten worse. She paces and scoots around so the baby can not get near her. Most of the time, I put her outside or in another room. Now, even in another room, if Shelby can hear the baby, she tries to crawl into a corner and hide. Shelby is a rescue and does have other fears. I’m nervous now too and I know Shelby senses that and feeds off it. If I’m nervous, there must be something to be nervous about. I am so scared she will nip that I have been keeping them separated. Do you have any tips how I can handle this situation? Any help would be greatly appreciated.


    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 24, 2011

      Do the best you can not to be stressed out and nervous, but of course keep your granddaughter safe. Also accept that your dog may never like your granddaughter, but hopefully she can learn that the baby will not hurt her. Try to do some things that your dog loves when you have the baby around. If your dog loves walks, then could you walk her while you push the stroller? Could you feed your dog a special treat when the baby is around? I would slowly build your dog’s confidence by rewarding her when she is around the baby, but also give her some time to retreat to her “safe” area when she seems too stressed.

      Is your dog scared of the noises your granddaughter makes? Or is it her movements? Or the way she smells? Try keeping a piece of your granddaughter’s clothing around after she goes home to help your dog get used to the smell. You could also play recordings of her or other babies crying and screaming so that when your granddaughter does visit, the sounds she makes are not so shocking to your dog.

      Does your dog feel safe in her kennel? You could try having her in her kennel but right next to you and the baby. Give her a special treat when she is in there, or give her tiny bits of highly valued treats every few minutes. Use something like chicken or hot dogs, something she can’t resist.

      You could also try a product such as the Thundershirt. It will not totally take away your dog’s anxiety, but sometimes this product does help a bit in addition to other training methods. The Thundershirt is basically a jacket that fits snugly around the dog, giving her a “swaddled” feeling.

  29. Jill Hurley on February 26, 2012

    I have a 9 year old Shih Tzu, Brownie. He is an excellent, well-behaved dog. He loves people but is afraid of my 5 month old nephew, Jack. Brownie and I have been with Jack ever since he was born. I stay at my sister and brother-in-law’s from Sunday to Tuesday every week and always bring Brownie with me. (We were at their house even more often when my sister was dealing with PPD.) Brownie loves my sister (Jess) and brother-in-law (Keith), their house, and their neighborhood. We knew he would be jealous of the new baby, especially when I hold Jack, but I wasn’t expecting him to be so scared. (There are no other babies in the family, nor do I have friends with babies.) If I take Jack into his room to change his diaper or let him play on his activity mat, Brownie will often follow and lay in the room but at a good distance from Jack. (I always make sure I acknowledge Brownie so he doesn’t think I have forgotten him because Jack is around. Jess and Keith acknowledge Brownie too.) My sister and I have taken walks with Brownie and Jack–me walking Brownie, Jess pushing Jack in the stroller. Jack is now at the age where he has become aware of Brownie’s existence and is very excited whenever Brownie walks into the room or walks by him. Jack can’t crawl or walk yet, so Brownie is not afraid of Jack coming at him (though I think he will be when Jack does start crawling). Brownie will not look at Jack; he turns his head if Jack is in front of him. When I hold Brownie close to Jack, Brownie shakes. I have gradually let Jack “pet” Brownie a few times, holding Jack’s hand so he does not grab or try to bring Brownie’s fur to his mouth (like he does with everything else). Brownie has improved since the first time Jack “pet” him, but he is still very fearful. Jack wants very much to be close to Brownie, and we would all love for them to be friends. I feel that Brownie is interested, since he always comes into whatever room we are in with Jack. (However, if Brownie wants to lay in the hallway or somewhere else to be alone, I let him have his space.) I am trying so hard to be patient and help Brownie adapt to a world with a baby in it, but it has been 5 months, and I am wondering if Brownie will ever stop being afraid? What else can I do? (Jack is not old enough yet to give Brownie treats; he would try to eat them himself.) Thanks.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 26, 2012

      What is Brownie’s favorite thing to do? I would somehow use that to your advantage. If he loves a certain toy, play with that and Brownie only when Jack is around. If he loves certain treats, give those to him only when Jack is around. If he lives for mealtimes, then during your stays with your sister, only feed Brownie when Jack is around.

      Other than that, just keep being patient. Maybe lie on the floor with Jack and Brownie more often. Or take something of Jack’s home with you so Brownie can get used to his smell a bit more.

      Understand they may never be friends, and realize how lucky you are that Brownie has never shown fear aggression.

      • Jill Hurley on March 2, 2012

        Thank you for the advice and especially for not suggesting that I take Brownie out of the picture because he is going to bite Jack, as others have told me. (Brownie is NOT like that.) I will try those things. What if Brownie’s favorite thing to do is sleep?? Ha ha.

        • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 4, 2012

          It doesn’t sound like Brownie will bite Jack, but you still have to be careful not to put Brownie in a position where he would feel threatened. Any dog can bite, as you know.

          Do you allow Brownie on your bed? I normally don’t encourage people to do that, but what if you had some cuddle time on the bed with Brownie and Jack at the same time?

  30. Liz on February 27, 2012

    My 2 year old boxer/beagle mix Maggie is terrified of children. She was given to me at 6 weeks old (NO idea what sort of condition she was in before I got her) by a co-worker. She never really interacted with children as a puppy. She is completely fine around adults and other dogs. Friends LOVE how cuddly and friendly she is. Last summer I noticed she was barking and growling at little children (it was a fearful bark, like she was saying “get away from me i dont like you”). Recently I moved into a neighborhood with TONS of little kids. When I take her on walks, if she sees any little kid (even across the street) she starts to whine and growl. Just today a couple kids were playing basketball and their ball rolled towards us and before I could tell the little boy not to run up he did and Maggie let out a very aggressive bark.
    I tried to sort of “desensitize” her with friend’s children by having them sit calmly and hold treats out in their hands. She will approach them and take the treat but will immediately run off. Not that children are in my absolute near future, she is only 2, and I’m worried that I may have to get rid of her when I have children. Most websites say just to keep her away from children, but I want her to interact with them! Is it a lost cause or do you have any other advice?? THANKS!!!

    • Liz on February 27, 2012

      Oh one other note… Maggie LOVES babies. Ive had her around a few babies and she whines a little but she wags her tail and sniffs/licks them. I understand kids are a lot more unpredictable than babies (obviously) but its just frustrating!

      • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 4, 2012

        The answer is somewhere in the middle. I don’t know that she will ever be comfortable around kids or that she will ever be able to safely interact with them. However, you can still work to help desensitize her somewhat. She should be able to at least tolerate being around kids. It will always be up to you to prevent kids from approaching her or petting her. My foster dog Cosmo was scared of kids and would snap and growl at them. Here is a post I wrote about trying to desensitize him. I would never trust him around kids, but I still wanted to slowly stretch his limits:

  31. Jolene on May 26, 2013

    We rescued a 1.5 year old GSP mix named Maddie, she is spayed and looks very well cared for. When I spoke with the former owner I let her know up front that we have a 5 month old puppy and 7 Children she assured me that Maddie does well with other dogs and children. My children have always been around dogs, mine and others. They have always been taught to respect but also to love dogs. Maddie does really well with the older kids especially my 12 yr old girl, but is unsure and pretty confused about the younger bunch. (2,3,6,8) She can tolerate being in the same room as them and will retreat to her crate if she needs to. I am just concerned with her eventually fear biting one of the littles if say they were to come around a corner that she was not expecting. She can be happy in the room and if one of the younger kids comes in she will dead stop in her tracks and back away with a confused(?) look on her face. She does better when she is in her kennel and the girls are around and I do praise her for her good behavior around the kids. Any other suggestions? We really are falling in love with this girl, but as always the kids come first. Thanks so much.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 26, 2013

      How long have you had Maddie? I wonder if she will come around in a few weeks. I think you are doing the right thing by taking it slowly and encouraging her to be in the same room while also allowing her to retreat to her crate as needed.

      Is there a local trainer you could hire to observe her and offer any tips?

      Personally, I would keep slowly trying to increase her comfort level by very slowly pushing her limits and helping her associate positive things with the young children.

      Will the rescue group or previous owners take her back if it doesn’t work out?

  32. Tricia on June 14, 2013

    Thanks for the great tips. I have a 7 month old german shep mix that is afraid of children. It’s my fault bc I live in the country and have no kids around. When she does see a child, she barks. I get the feeling she doesn’t know what they are – like small bundles of energy. I don’t want her to be afraid of them, so I will implement some of your suggestions.

  33. V on March 7, 2014

    LOVE this article, reassures me that it can be done! We adopted a 3yo dog and she just tolerates kids, but I am hopeful she’ll open up and enjoy kids. With some of your tips here 🙂 it’s only been a wk and the dogs, who btw was kept outside her whole life is house trained, leash trained and she’s also stopped flinching around kids , she even gave my daughter a tail wag today

  34. V on March 8, 2014

    Since I have this opportunity maybe I could get some advice too, the dog we adopted is 3yo very friendly with me but she is avoidant of my 7yo daughter, the dog came from a home with a 3-4yo girl I was told the dog got along great with the little girl. But the wants nothing to do with my daughter, I tried putting my daughters hand on the dog with the dog laying facing away from her in bed, (while my daughter was sleeping) and even that was too much the dog wanted to leave right away. The dog shows a lot of stress behaviors with my daughter. We’ve only had her for a week now but with the amount of progress the dogs made with me I would’ve thought she would’ve had some kind of progress with my daughter but nothing

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 9, 2014

      Maybe she just needs some more time. The dog could be a little nervous/anxious still and maybe just isn’t ready to accept affection from your daughter. I would just take it really slowly and try to encourage your daughter to just hang out around the dog without petting/holding the dog for now (as hard as that is!).

      You could have your daughter be the one to feed the dog while you’re there to supervise. She could also come along on walks or whatever it is the dog loves to do. Also have your daughter toss treats to the dog without forcing a physical interaction.

      Just some thoughts, based on what little info I have. You could always consult with a trainer in your area just to get some ideas. Maybe he/she would notice something about the dog you’re just not able to see since you live with the dog.

      Best of luck!

  35. Erin on March 9, 2014

    Is it okay to have a dog that merely “tolerates” the presence of children but never really wants to interact with them? How do you manage that as a parent in a busy household that includes a preschooler, an infant, and a dog who is nervous around the kids? Our dog has growled and snapped at our kids – including our baby – and we are currently looking for a new home for her. We love her, but I feel it isn’t realistic to keep a dog in the house who needs to be completely separated from young kids at all times. As vigilant as we are about management, management can easily fail. I’d love for ER to remain with us, she’s wonderful in many ways. But I worry that having a dog who only “tolerates” kids is a recipe for disaster when you have children in the home. Am I wrong?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 10, 2014

      It’s so hard to say without knowing the dog. I trust that you are making the right decision. Sure, there are some people who safely manage a “tolerant” dog and the children, but there is always going to be some risk. My own parents chose not to keep their spaniel when I was 3 and my brother was a baby because she was aggressive towards us. I totally understand their position.

      If you want another opinion or if you have a lot of doubt or questions, I highly encourage you to seek out the help of a trainer in your area. I wish you weren’t in such a tough situation. I know it must be very hard.

  36. Emma on May 25, 2014

    Our 2 year old rescue of 2 weeks seemed fine with the 7 and 9 year old but then after a week started barking and growling when they enter the house and slinks around them them terrified as if he doesn’t recognise them at all or remember the kindness and comfortable times he has experienced with them. It makes me very nervous which no doubt he picks up on. I like the idea of putting their clothes in his crate as he seems very preocupied with sniffing them after these episodes as if to try and work out who they are again and yet my husband whom he sees less than he sees the kids he immediately recognises and greets at the door. I am having him on the leash around the kids now … is that a good idea? He is VERY fearful of strangers and I don’t know if that will ever change but I need to trust him with the kids. He is an adorable dog in other respects and seems to enjoy hanging out with the family and kids in the sitting room or bedroom. It is really confusing and highly stressful. Any explanation for why he seems to forget who they are when they enter the house?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 25, 2014

      Hi Emma. I don’t know that the dog is necessarily “forgetting” who the kids are, but it may be something with the initial energy or surprise factor when they come through the door. Does the dog tend to act more afraid when the kids are a little noisier/more excited/moving quickly, etc.? Or is it all the time?

      If you can swing it, I would consider hiring a trainer to come observe the dog and give you some tips. Since there are kids involved, I definitely don’t want anyone to get bitten.

      In the meantime, I think you are wise to keep the dog on a leash and to try to slowly increase the dog’s comfort level around the kids. You don’t want to force it, but take your time and try to set them up for positive experiences together.

      What does the dog love to do most? Eat? Go for walks? Is there a way you could include the kids during these things? Maybe a family walk together?

  37. Kelly on February 14, 2016

    Hi Lindsay,
    I’m not sure if this post is still open but I wanted to try and reach out in the event that it is.
    I have a 6 month old labradoodle, Benson who is a DREAM!! I brought him home at 9 wks of age and it was almost as if I immediately had a fully trained 2 year old sweet boy! He is calm and gentle; does not chew or get into anything that’s not his; sleeps on our bed throughout the night and has not needed a nighttime potty outing since he was about 12-14 wks old!! He’s amazing!
    That said, he does not do well with kids 🙁 I thought I was doing a good job socializing him as he literally goes everywhere with me – to work, shopping, friends houses etc – but I guess I didn’t spend enough time with him when he was younger specifically around kids. We have a daughter but she’s 22 and away at college – and when she’s home, all of friends are around but they’re 22 as well so he just doesn’t have kids that are in his life regularly.
    I carry his favorite treats with me either in my purse or pockets and whenever we come across a child/kid who wants to pet him I always ask them to crouch down to Benson’s level and to slowly hand him some treats. Benson does great when taking the treats but then he often stiffens up, growls slightly (he’s not at all aggressive!) and tries hiding behind me. That’s when I always tell the kids that they did a great job and that Benson is just having a grumpy day.
    Is it too late to get him involved in some sort of socialization training? I feel as though I’m doing all I can personally and that I need help from someone who really knows how to work with dogs that have these types of fears. I often wonder if it’s because he’s SO attached to me (we also have two Yorkies but they both picked my husband as their favorite human so I brought Benson home with the specific intention of him being my buddy – he’s climbing all over me as I’m typing this because he knows it’s late and he’s waiting for me to take him out to run around with the Yorkies in the yard!)
    Thank you in advance for your reply and for any suggestions you might have in addition to all of the wonderful ones you’ve offered up to others already.
    Have a wonderful day!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 14, 2016

      Are you sure it’s just kids he shows fear around? Is he good with strange adults who want to pet him?

      One thing that helps is to avoid having the kid crouch down right at his eye level head on. It’s better to have them approach from the side, hold the treats and if Benson chooses, he can sniff the child and take the treats. So, I would instruct the child not to pet him but just to be there. And then really shower Benson with highly valued treats just for being around the kid (hot dogs, string cheese! whatever he loves).

      As he seems more comfortable, then possible have them reach out and see if he wants to sniff. Don’t have them pet him for quite some time until he’s showing interest. I would hate for him to snap at a child and set everything back and of course I don’t want anyone to get hurt.

      Just brainstorming.

  38. Natalie on March 16, 2016

    Hi! I have a one year old Australian shepherd/blue healer mix named Lorri. We have had her since birth and she is great with my three children who are 5,8,and 15. We constantly have people over along with other kids and she does great with them. Except for my friends two kids who are 5 and 2. They have never been alone with her as I make sure I am around with her when we have guests. But from day one of her meeting them, she is TERRIFIED of these two kids. She barks, growls, raises her fur, and urinates everywhere. They aren’t loud children. It makes me nervous because they are around often and Lorri tries to put herself between the kids and I to protect me. I am stumped because she does not do this with other kids.