How to Help a Little Dog Get Over a Big Fear of Kids

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 9, 2018

For this Santa Monica dog training session we taught 4 year-old Jack Russell mix Lucy (left) how to feel better about children and help 8 year-old Havanese Louie stop pulling on the leash.

Being uneasy around children is a dog behavior problem that is pretty common. This is almost always the result of a dog who was not socialized around children while they are in their Critical Socialization Period C.S.P. This is why its so important to socialize a young puppy (under 3 months) around things they will be exposed to later on in life.

To help Lucy with this problem, I showed her guardian how to use counterconditioning to help a dog feel comfortable around children.

The key is to go slow, so slow that it almost becomes boring being around kids. That is the whole point. If you use this technique with a dog who is above threshold (reacting), it will not work. You have to reward and reinforce the dog while its completely calm.

Now it will take some practice before Lucy is going to get over a fear of children, but based on how she did with the child of her brother who was visiting, the future looks bright.

Being scared of children is often the reason for a dog to act aggressively with them. Its often the more insecure dog who are the most reactive. The aggressive behavior is the dog’s attempt to get the child to back away. That is why offering a high value treat through counterconditioning is so effective. You are countering the dog’s current perception with a better, positive one.

Frankly I was more concerned with Louie’s resource guarding problem. His guardian arrived home halfway through the session, right as we were going to work on an exercise that is best done with only one dog. In the process of taking Louie for a walk, he nipped his guardian, drawing blood.

When I discussed the reasons this was happening, I learned that one member of the family absolutely refused to incorporate any rules or structure when it came to Louie. This person believed the dog enjoyed not having any rules (who wouldn’t) or unwanted behaviors.

While we often think a dog likes or dislikes things, as a dog behaviorist I have found that this is usually a case of the human projecting their emotions onto the dog.

Resource guarding can be a dangerous problem for the exact reason I witnessed. When a dog is in a resource guarding state, it will absolutely bite you if you try to take the item or invade the space they are guarding.

I started to offer suggestions on how to fix the problem, but the guardian waved me off halfway through explaining the other family member’s refusal to change. I hope that that guardian will ponder this experience and change their opinion on how to interact with the dog. I have helped hundreds of dogs stop resource guarding, but can only show the way. If a member of the family refuses to change, its going to be difficult to stop this unwanted behavior.

Now that there are grandchildren in the picture, this can become a problem with them very easily as Louie appeared to be resource guarding a location in the living room. If one of the children wanders into that location while Louie is in a guarding mood, it could become a bad situation quickly. I made sure to let the guardian know Id be ready, willing and able to help stop Louie’s resource guarding problem – all the have to do is ask.

In the mean time, I shared a tip that will help the guardian have more control of Louie on walks using a Martingale collar and special twist of the leash. I almost never film this dog behavior training tip, so today is your lucky day. Click on the video icon below to find out how to use a Martingale to stop a dog from pulling on the leash.

When the guardian and Louie got back from their walk, she said the leash collar setup stopped Louie from pulling with a big smile. Now if we can get that other family member on board, we can put a stop to Louie’s resource guarding and make him close to a perfect dog.

After sharing some additional tips and secrets, it was time to wrap up the session. I handed my camera to Lucy’s guardian so she could film me doing her Roadmap to Success video summarizing all the dog behavior secrets I shared with her during this in home dog training session.

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