You’ve always wanted to raise a dog and kids together, but what happens if your dog is afraid of them?
Using a process known as desensitization, you may be able to make it happen. This involves the gradual introduction of your dog to your kids, and rewarding him/her every time he/she remains calm.
While the training is going on, it is very important to manage your environment so they are not left alone together. Your dog also needs a space of his own to retreat to, where no kids are allowed.
Why are Dogs Afraid of Kids?
• Kids aren’t the gentlest around dogs, especially when they’re really young. They pull tails, grab fur and stick their fingers in their face. Some dogs are tolerant, others anxious or fearful which can manifest as aggression by snapping, growling and even biting.
• As puppies they were not socialised with children, and never learned to be comfortable around them. Now when they’re older and in their company, it can be stressful or scary. If you or someone you know has a puppy or younger dog, this article is an interesting read – “Why is Puppy Socialization Important?“
• A puppy not used to being touched, can have a negative reaction to both children and adults. Whether you have a puppy in your home or just an older dog, try and gently play with his ears, touch his paws, very lightly pull on his tail, and look in his mouth. Practice often but keep sessions short, you don’t want to annoy him. Get other members of your household and even friends to do this as well. Being handled will make visits to the vet and groomer a lot more pleasant too. Please note: if your old dog has been with you most or all of his life, this exercise may work because he’s comfortable with you. If you adopted a dog 7+ you’ll have to take this very slowly, and you may only get so far. A rescue dog’s past isn’t usually known, so keep that in mind.
Tips to Ensure Dogs and Children Live Together Safely
Although we’re talking specifically about old dogs in this article, the tips can help dogs of all ages.
For your children’s safety, it’s important they follow the rules you set out regarding interaction with the family dog. If they’re too young to understand, you need to supervise them when they’re together, and keep them separate when you can’t
- No taking the dog’s toy, especially if they’re playing with it
- No taking a bone or any food from the dog if they’re eating it
- If your dog is hurt or not feeling well, the kids cannot approach him
- Do not wake the dog if he’s sleeping
- If your dog is deaf and/or blind, they should not go up to them and try and play
- Don’t let your child climb on the dog, pull his ears or in any way tease or bother him
A space of his own
Since your dog is a little bit (or a lot!) afraid of kids, it’s only fair he has a safe place of his own to escape to, no children allowed! In addition to the bed he probably already has in a high traffic area in your home, how about a second one behind the couch, in the laundry room or even a crate kept open with a cover for privacy?
Supervise at all times
Dogs and small children should never be left alone together, especially if your dog isn’t feeling well, has mobility issues or anxiety.
Never force interaction
The way to help your dog overcome fear of children is not to force him to stand there while the object he fears approaches. It’s not a nice thing to do, and it’s dangerous. Fear causes aggression and if your dog can’t flee from what he fears, he may fight to protect himself from that perceived danger or threat.
How to Desensitize Your Dog to Children
Teaching your dog to be comfortable around children should be a very gradual process, initially with some distance between them and over time they can be brought closer together.
The various methods are not listed in any particular order, but merely to provide you with options.
NOTE: There is no timeline when it comes to training, it takes as long as it takes. Rushing doesn’t help, in fact it can set your training back.
Method One – A Trip to the Park
Take your dog to the park, keep him on a leash and have a pouch full of treats for easy access to rewards. It’s a good opportunity for him to see kids laughing, running around and being their naturally loud and boisterous selves. Allowing him to watch from a distance and giving him treats while he remains calm, is a great way to introduce him to children. The more you expose him in that manner, the more used to them he will get.
Over time bring your dog closer and closer to them, giving him treats as long as he remains calm around them.
Method Two – Handling
A dog not used to being handled will find vets, groomers and children hard to deal with.
With your dog next to you and a pouch full of treats, rub his ears, play with his tail, give him a gentle nudge, play with his paws… giving him treats as you’re doing this. Keep each session short, maybe just a minute or so to start. If at any time your dog tries to back away or seems annoyed, you’re too rough or doing it for too long so dial it back.
This doesn’t mean she will love being treated this way by your kids, but it may make her less reactive.
Method Three – Mimic the Moves of a Baby
If your baby isn’t crawling yet, this is a great exercise to get your dog used to a small being making his way towards him, in a completely different way than he’s used to. It’s as simple as crawling towards your dog, and when she looks at you give her a treat. Have everyone living in the household do the same, and maybe you can get visitors to participate as well.
Method Four – Practice Walking by Children
This exercise is going to take place outside in a big backyard or quiet area of the park, and you’re going to need the help of some well-behaved children. It doesn’t matter if they belong to you, friends or neighbors, just as long as they’re not afraid of dogs.
Your dog will be on a leash and you’ll give the kid treats your dog loves!!
The exercise is simple:
• Bobby (that’s what I’m calling the kid so I don’t keep calling him the kid!!) will walk towards you and your dog
• While your dog is watching him, Bobby will toss a treat in his direction and keep walking
• Let your dog eat the treat then you both carry on walking
• The point of this exercise is to teach your dog that good things happen (delicious treats!!) when he’s in the presence of a child.
It is as simple as that!!
The question is, how far apart do Bobby and the dog have to be?
Let’s say your dog is fine around children as long as they’re at least 2 feet away. Great, so have Bobby start at 3 or even 4 feet away just to be sure. Keep each practice session to about 5-10 minutes, and do it every day.
You are working towards closing the gap so they can walk right by each other without your dog being afraid.
How you’ll make this happen
After each training session you will determine, based on your dog’s reaction during that session, whether you need to practice more at this distance or you’re ready for Bobby to move an inch or two closer the next time.
NOTE: This can take weeks or even months.
What if Your Dog Just Can’t Handle Being with Kids?
It’s possible no matter what you try and how long you try for, your 7+ year old dog will still be cautious or afraid around kids. That’s fine, it will just be up to all the adults in the home to manage the environment, and that does not mean locking your dog away and no longer being part of the family.
I’m sure you’ve noticed the distance a child has to be in order for your dog to be comfortable. You’ll have to make sure they keep that distance to avoid stressing your dog out. You never know, over time things may change and he’ll be more comfortable. Another thing that may help is some natural anxiety relief, a list of which you’ll find in this article – “How to Calm Dog Anxiety Naturally: 22 Easy Ways“
I’m a dog trainer offering a senior dog care support service to help you address health & wellness concerns and training issues. Sessions are held via Zoom, and I offer a FREE 15 minute no obligation chat to discuss what’s going on and how I can help. To learn more and to get in touch email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website.