Let’s face it : some dogs chase kids. While very few of them are actually being mean or vicious, it goes without saying that this behavior is a frightening one for everyone involved. Even if a dog is simply trying to play, children often do not understand that and can easily become scared. Let’s not forget about the parents who are usually terrified by watching a dog chase their child.
Fortunately, there are some things pet parents can do to correct this behavior in dogs. It all begins with identifying the problem.
Understanding the Roots
By far, the number one reason that dogs chase children is a sense of playfulness. When children run and yell, dogs become excited and chase them in an attempt to join in the fun. Unfortunately, kids often become scared by the dog’s harmless, although ill-executed, intentions.
Another reason dogs might chase kids is the dog’s innate prey drive. Some breeds, such as heelers and Border Collies, are bred to chase things that run; this often extends to children. Although these dogs typically do not want to hurt a child, they cannot help but run when the child runs – attempting to “herd” or organize the children. The first thing that a pet parent should do in this situation is consult a qualified professional.
Putting an End to the Behavior
There are several ways to help a dog who chases children in your household learn to stop the behavior. It comes down, in equal parts, to training both the dog and the child. Here is how to begin:
- Supervise the Duo: In order to start breaking a dog’s behavior, you need to be consistent and, because of this, it is important that you supervise the child and the dog at all times. This allows you to catch chasing behavior and nip it in the bud.
- Set Some House Rules: Children should be able to play without being chased and dogs should be able to rest in a quiet place while rowdy outdoor play happens. Make an understanding with your children that they are allowed to play with the dog but, should they begin running outdoors, the dog must be controlled or guided inside. This protects both the child and the dog and avoids inadvertently reinforcing negative behavior.
- Include Kids in the Training: When you are working on teaching your dog not to chase children, get the kids involved as well. When kids understand that the dog is not allowed to chase them, they are more likely to help you put an end to the behavior on their own accord. Teach children important commands like “no” and “stay.”
- Train the Dog: If your dog chases kids, it is likely that she is a little rusty on the “come,” “leave it” or “stay” commands, so it is important to work on these things. Many dogs can be called off with these commands once they fully understand their meanings. Other dogs require more control, but it is important to start with mastering simple commands and work your way up to different tactics.
If You Don't Have Kids of Your Own
Every dog must be taught child-friendly behavior, even if you don't usually have children in your household. If your dog has mastered the basic sit-stay commands, you can begin teaching her to control her impulses, such as running after children. Engage your dog in rambunctious play with a tug toy so that she gets excited. Mimic a child's energetic play by running around and jumping up and down. After a few seconds, stop suddenly and tell your pup to "Drop it". Praise her when she lets go of the toy and then command her to sit. Offer her gentle praise and count to three, then begin playing with her again. If she learns to change quickly from wild play to sitting still, she should be able to obey your commands to "Sit" and "Leave it" when she gets excited by children.
A group obedience class is another great place to teach this, because your pooch will have to learn to ignore all the other dogs and to obey you. Once you think your dog has the hang of it, you can begin getting the children of your friends and family involved, but always in a controlled environment. Don't leave them unsupervised and keep your dog on a leash until you are confident she has learnt to play nicely. When your pooch is around children, your role should be that of the lifeguard at a pool.
Although it may seem like a fun game at first, it is never a good idea for dogs to chase children. Inadvertent bites may happen or the child may develop a long-standing fear of dogs. In order to avoid both of these things, it is important for pet parents to do everything they can to nip the behavior in the bud before it becomes ingrained and difficult to eradicate.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian