While your dog’s fear of children may seem like a minor inconvenience, especially if you do not have kids in your household, it can actually be quite dangerous if not addressed. Chances are your dog will interact with children in some capacity throughout his life – whether that be on walks, at daycare, or eventually in your home.
If your dog is fearful of children, he may perceive them as a threat to his safety which in turn can cause even the most docile dog to act out. It is best to address the fear head on with your pet so he can overcome it gradually.
What Causes Dogs to Fear Children?
Before you address your dog’s fear of children it may be helpful to understand the root cause of his fear. It is generally accepted that a dog’s fear of children is the result of one of two things: lack of socialization or a negative experience.
Lack of Socialization
If your dog was never introduced to children as a puppy, he may be fearful of them as an adult. When meeting children for the first time as an adult, your dog may find the unfamiliar size, smells, noises, and movements of a child extremely frightening. He simply doesn’t know what to expect or if the child is a threat.
Children, especially young ones, have a tendency to play a little more roughly than a dog would prefer. A child may pull a dog’s tail, grab handfuls of fur, steal their toys, tease, or poke a dog’s eyes. While this may all be unintentional and not malicious on the part of the child, a dog does not know that. Some dogs may develop a fear of children after only one bad experience while others may tolerate several poor experiences before a phobia is instilled.
How Can You Help?
Naturally, you will want to help your dog overcome this fear and become more comfortable around children. This is in the best interest of your dog and the children he may come into contact with in the future. But where do you start? In fact, there are several things you can do to help minimize your dog’s fear and gradually move past it:
- Prevent the Fear: The best solution is prevention. If you have a new puppy, begin socializing him with children as soon as you bring him home. Of course, all interactions should be supervised by you and the child’s parent while keeping the environment positive and upbeat. It is common for people to get dogs prior to having children and they may become shocked when the dog growls or snaps at a new infant or toddler. This can be a heartbreaking situation for the dog owner and the dog. Despite how calm and docile the dog was previously, he is now a risk for the child. Early socialization can help eliminate this problem altogether.
- Make a Safe Zone: If, however, your dog is already an adult, you can help make him more comfortable. Try providing your dog with a quiet safe zone he can retreat to when children visit your home. For crate trained dogs, that is the perfect spot for hiding. Be sure not to let children near the dog’s safe zone, whether or not he is currently hiding. This will help ease your dog’s fear or anxiety knowing he has a place to retreat when he feels overwhelmed.
- Don’t Force It: Many owners will try to make their dog stand still as a child approaches, but this can quickly become a mistake. If a fearful dog is pushed too far he may show aggression, lashing out at the children and anyone else in the vicinity. If your dog seems uneasy, allow him to escape.
- Desensitize Your Dog: The desensitization process will allow you to slowly and gradually introduce your dog to children, focusing on making him more comfortable in the situation. Because a fearful dog can become aggressive, it is important to handle desensitization very carefully. The process starts by tossing your dog a treat or two when he sees a child from a distance. Then over the course of several days, maybe even weeks or months depending on the severity of your dog’s fear, you will close the distance between your dog and the child, being sure to give him treats throughout the process.
As you work with your dog, be patient and sensitive while always supervising your dog’s visits with children. Never punish him for being fearful of a child or it could exacerbate the problem. In extreme cases, it may be useful to work with a dog trainer or behaviorist to help overcome the fear.