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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Saturday 27th of May 2017
So I'm a foster parent and we currently have a 5 year old African American boy staying with us. I know, "why is race relevant," right? Well, my dog is about 6 years old now. When we got her she was only about 1.5 years old and we picked her up from a rescue foster family. Apparently she'd been taken from an abusive home where children were also allowed to beat up on her. We were told the abusive family was African Americanand lived in an area with a prominent minority population. So, Latino, afro American, native American, etc. The Foster family she stayed with had children she liked, though, so we got her while I was pregnant with the intention of introducing her to a newborn she could grow with. It worked really well! She loves both my children and is very protective of them. But any time outside children come she becomes very wary and seems aggressive. We've corrected her behavior in the moment, but we always end up putting her in our bedroom or the garage because we don't want her to bite any children. She also shows increased aggression toward anyone with a dark complexion. Except for one person who's mixed, but we have no clue why she's never had a problem with him. Maybe it was just because hes super relaxed and when she first ever ran up to him, barking, he just stood there like "what's up dog?" I don't know. She bit my best friend who's mixed Latina, not hard, didn't break the skin. But she was scared of my dog and tried to reach out to touch her and ended up getting bit. So I don't know if she's associating skin tone with negative behavior and immediately becoming frightened and aggressive, or what. I'm really stumped. But now we have this sweet little boy staying with us, who's scared of dogs, and my dog is scared of him, and I have no clue how to get them used to one another. I've tried these tips but it's been 3 days and nothing has changed. Is there anything else I can do?? And is it possible for dogs to be afraid of particular ethnicities due to trauma? We love her to death. It kills me leaving her in the garage all the time and having to keep her on a leash in the house. BTW, she's a Husky/Australian Shepard mix. Not a small dog, probably a medium size dog.
Monday 29th of May 2017
Is she trained to wear a muzzle? That would be an option so you can have her around children safely and help her get used to them. I would look into the book cautious canine by Patricia McConnell because it goes over how to desensitize a dog to her fears. http://amzn.to/2s6YP53 It's a very simple book, not quite so simple to follow through on but very doable. Of course, hiring a professional trainer would be a good option too in this case to keep everyone safe. When aggression is involved it's best to have a professional there who can observe the dog and give the best advice.
Wednesday 16th of March 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.
Sunday 14th of February 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!
Sunday 14th of February 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.
Sunday 25th of May 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?
Sunday 25th of May 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?
Sunday 9th of March 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?
Monday 10th of March 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.