While kids and dogs are often best friends, some dogs may fear children. These dogs might have had a bad experience with a child or simply never been around children before. Regardless of the circumstance, dogs that fear children can easily become aggressive nipping or biting if they feel pressured or pursued by a child.
Fortunately, there are many things pet parents can do to help mitigate their pup’s fear of children.
Where the Fear Comes From
When dealing with a dog that is afraid of children, it is wise to remember that there is probably a very good reason for his fears. Imagine having a child at eye level that wants to pull your ears, climb on your back, yell in your face, and chase you around the house. This is a common reality for dogs. While children mean well and are certainly not trying to frighten dogs, this is an overwhelming interaction for your four-legged companion. That said, dogs might be afraid of children because they expect rough handling or an intense interaction from them.
Additionally, dogs may fear children because they were not adequately socialized and, as such, have never been exposed to kids at a young age. Adult dogs generally have a difficult time adapting to children and are more likely to have a better reaction if they were well socialized as puppies.
Helping Your Dog Overcome the Fear
When working with a dog that fears children, it is important to be empathetic with him and to take it very slowly in order to ensure his and the child’s safety. With that in mind, consult these tips for overcoming fear of children:
- Allow the dog to set the pace: Dogs don’t react well to being pushed into any situation, and forcing them to interact with children before they are ready will only lead to aggression and more fear. That said, allow the dog to set the pace in all interactions with children. Don’t ever pursue a pup that runs away or force a dog to confront a child that he fears. This will backfire and make the pup more afraid and less willing in the future.
- Don’t punish the dog: Dogs associate punishment with a negative experience, and rightfully so. When you are working to break the pup’s fear of children, it is especially important that the dog not be punished for his fear. Be patient, calm and steady when confronting the dog with children. This will produce far better results than punishment.
- Don’t incorporate food: While it may seem like having a child feed the dog treats is a great way to produce positive associations and mitigate his fear, this is likely to fail. Dogs may become defensive over food, resulting in nips or bites to the child, which may harm the child and actually make the dog more fearful. Leave food out of the equation until you’re far away from children, and for when you want to reward the dog for a job well done.
- Desensitize the dog: Desensitization training is one of the best ways to help your dog overcome his fear of children. Contact a certified animal behaviorist to help you undertake this training, as it can be complex and difficult.
Fear of children can be quite common in dogs and even one bad experience can create a phobia that will be difficult to erase. The main thing is to understand the importance of giving your dog space. If the behavior persists, enlist the help of a professional trainer who understands desensitization and has experience dealing with fearful dogs.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian.