Helping a dog get used to kids

Foster dog Cosmo and I have a lot in common.

We don’t like crowds or loud noises. We’d prefer to stay home most of the time. We’re not into meeting new people. We’re shy.

We both show zero appreciation for people’s kids.

But like me, Cosmo is learning to tolerate kids. He doesn’t have to like them, but he does have to tolerate them.

We happen to live on the edge of a park filled with soccer fields. These fields are popular practice spots for middle school soccer and football teams. Sometimes a large crowd gathers to watch the kids play a game. And nearly every night from late August through October, the kids meet there for football practice.

So whenever I can, I’ve been taking Cosmo out around this time. We circle once around the field, watching the kids run around, yell, tackle each other and throw things.

Cosmo generally reacts well to kids when they approach him slowly and talk quietly. But when a random kid comes charging up to us on a walk, his typical reaction is to growl or to stand with a very forward posture – ears and tail straight up. Despite the growling, I usually have to add, “No, you can’t pet this dog.”

So when we head out to walk by the mini football players, Cosmo is learning to associate good things with kids. This is because Cosmo loves going for walks.

Other than food, going for a walk is the highlight of Cosmo’s existence. I usually don’t bring food along on these walks. If I’m holding a treat he gets a bit nutty and forgets where we are. He tunes out everything around us.

Treats are a good way to distract Cosmo at times, but distracting him is not my goal for these walks. I don’t want Cosmo to tune out the kids. I want him to see the kids and accept the situation for what it is. I want him to realize that kids are no big deal. They might be loud and obnoxious, but they are a part of life and they are no big deal.

Cosmo has never once growled at the football players or the younger siblings stuck hanging around. He has never barked at them, either. He will relax and sit and stay while I pet him and tell him how good he is.

Last night we went on a group walk (Josh and Ace even joined us!), and we passed all kinds of kids. Cosmo didn’t react at all. So we are making some progress!

I can think of a few old men who are stuck in their ways, but not Cosmo! 🙂

Anything a dog loves such as food, walks, a toy or another dog are all useful when helping that dog overcome a fear. Let me know if you have any specific examples!

Cosmo is an American Eskimo up for adoption with 4 Luv of Dog Rescue.

Here are some tips for helping a dog who is scared of kids.

Cosmo the American Eskimo dog up for adoption in Fargo

16 thoughts on “Helping a dog get used to kids”

  1. I have the same problem but reversed. My humans don’t have any kids so I don’t get a lot of practice with human pups – but I love children and they generally want to play with me because I look so friendly. But once they come up to me they sometimes hesitate, or change their mind and just look at me instead of petting me – and I get impatient and bark to encourage them. When their parents hear my loud bark they get scared and pull the children away.

    My human generally tries to show the kids how to greet a boisterous puppy as she wants me to get used to children, but its difficult when you’re meeting children who are really not used to dealing with dogs (screaming, jumping around flapping their arms & generally looking and sounding like squeaky toys). I’m slowly learning to be more patient though and my human is getting quicker at getting down to the kids level to ‘translate’ dog/kid language 🙂

    Well done Cosmo for doing so well!

  2. Our renters have thankfully had children so we are getting both the girls and the dogs used to them. Slowly working on them getting both dogs to sit and shake. They get a little scared because both dogs are large but otherwise they seem to love them!

    I took Belle to work last week by herself and I had a gentleman with a baby in a carrier, I asked him if I could allow Belle to sniff, he said yes and she sniffed and then I called her to walk by so it was a great neutral meeting!!! We are hoping to have kids sometime and want both dogs to do well with him or her.

  3. It really is so awesome of you not to give up on these dogs. All of the hard work you put into getting them back to a life they can really enjoy. I’ve always said that I hope to come back as a dog in my next life, cause Diesel has it so good. But when I think of all the dogs that are abused, left for dead, trained to fight, or just simply ignored by a family with too much else going on, it really breaks my heart. Diesel is just as much a part of my family as anyone else is. And I am grateful to have such a wonderful pet. Thank you again for not giving up on these dogs and working with them so that they too can be a wonderful pet for someone.

    Diesel Stomping

  4. I love kids, but some of my adult neighbors are afraid of me. So while I get out in the mornings, I don’t go near where the kids wait for buses. A sad compromise but we feel it’s for the best.

  5. Taking your walks around football practice sounds like a great strategy. I will be interested to hear whether he can transfer his new football field skills to other areas of life where kids are running around?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for your comment! It seems to be helping. That and just getting him out for lots of walks in the neighborhood where there are lots of kids running around.

  6. My dogs aren’t around kids that much either and that’s probably not a good thing. Once in a while a kid will run up to us when we’re out walking and I can tell this makes the dogs nervous/excited, but there has never been a problem. I should probably expose them to kids more often. Good advice here and it sounds like what you’re doing is working quite well. Cosmo is so lucky to have you as his foster “mom.”

  7. I really appreciate your “articles” on dogs that are afraid of children, thank you! I am wondering how to go about helping our foster dog (we are new to fostering but not new to dog owning) over come his fears when we have children in the home. We have 12 and 14yr old boys. They of course can be loud and busy but they are also aware of the dog’s issues and are willing to help work on it. This foster is fixated on them though, eyes always watching them or for them. Even when they aren’t in the house you can sometimes see him looking for them towards their bedrooms. He won’t eat at his bowl unless he can watch out for their movements. Food doesn’t work as a distracter. He loves walks so we will keep working on those but he is always more aware of them than anything else. He is curious of them ans will sniff towards them, he has taken treats from them. He has also recieves the occasional touch but perhaps those have been allowed before he was ready? The biggest heavy is that the doggy and the kids LIVE here. We can’t just go visit and limit his contact slowly and it’s really tough to ask our kids not to be kids and live in thier home. I see way too many dogs that need homes also have the alert attached “better suited for homes without kids or small kids”. Breaks my heart as I suspect these dogs if they could just believe us would have a blast running and romping with them! Have you a strategy/ideas we can follow that might be more condusive to a home with kids in it? Any more ideas that come to mind would be welcomed!Thanks!

  8. Just got a 6 month old GSP yesturday. He was fine yesturday with my 6 yrbokd daughter. But this morning he seems afraid of her. Gets skittish when she’s around hides in a corner won’t even play if she’s around!

  9. I just told her to ignore her she will come around eventually. Have to mention just got her from a breeder who said she was raised with 2 kids around her but I’m not sure what their relationship was like. Feel bad for my daughter she wants to play with her so bad 🙁

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