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.
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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