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Dallas has a fear of kids, usually those under the age of 8. And I totally know why. It's justified. When he was just a few months old, a few kids (even after telling them to walk up slowly and not squeal), ran up to him and were squealing, doing the usual kid thing. Unfortunately, now he's really not happy when kids come near him. He does a lot of barking and growling and doesn't want to be anywhere near them.

 

I never force him to go near the kids and always take him out of that situation when we come across kids on walks or if they pass by our house while he's in the front garden, but I am still concerned that one day somehow he'll get into a situation where he'll bite a child. Do you guys have any advice for what I can do to help him not be scared? He's 7 months old now.

 

We have a neighbor whose granddaughter LOVES dogs. The granddaughter is about 6 or 7 and met Dallas when we brought him home but we haven't seen her in a few months until yesterday. Understandably, Dallas is scared of her, too, even though he met her when he was about 10 weeks old. I was wondering if maybe having her walk by without looking at him (at a distance and while Dallas is on the leash) and having her simultaneously throw bits of chicken towards Dallas might help? We'd do it a few times a day every day and it is with the permission of her parents. As Dallas gets more comfortable, we'll shorten the distance between the two of them and eventually work up to her possibly being able to pet him, all dependent on Dallas and how he acts. I just don't want to put her in harm's way or put Dallas under distress. I was thinking if Dallas is on his leash and she is walking by with enough distance between them it would keep both of them safe and also not push Dallas into being uncomfortable.

 

Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Would this actually help Dallas overcome his fear of children? I'm happy to do whatever we need to help not be scared. Again, any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!

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That's actually a process we've used in rescue with very fearful dogs. It's basically a desensitization method.

 

Rather than having the child walk by, having her sit quietly on the floor would probably be less intimidating for Dallas. What we did was sit in a circle (obviously you can't do that with just one child), sitting with our sides toward the dogs and not actually facing them, not looking at them and just toss treats into the middle of the circle. Eventually as the dogs got more comfortable with taking the treats, we'd toss them just a bit closer to a person. We did this for short periods at first, gradually lengthening them a bit as the dogs began to settle in and not be quite so afraid.

 

As long as you do this slowly, start from enough of a distance that he's not freaking out and allow him to progress at is own pace, I think it's a good plan. Not making eye contact and not trying to push things faster than he's willing to go are both important components of this process, so it's important the child is capable of adhering to both. She'll want to look at Dallas -- that was probably the hardest part for us too -- but maybe practice having her learn to use her peripheral vision to sneak a peek before reintroducing her to Dallas would be helpful. And probably having an adult sit with her and doing the same things she's doing, again both for her safety and also because it'll probably not elicit as much fear from Dallas, would be wise.

 

Also best to do this in as large an area as possible so that Dallas doesn't feel trapped.

 

Another thing you can do is to offer some calming signals like yawning, sneezing or scratching at the ground. Having the child do some of these, especially averting her face even further, will be helpful too. Look into Turid Rugass's excellent work on this. Her book On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals is a must-own for any dog owner IMO.

 

As you anticipated, do make sure Dallas is on a leash that you're holding and never relax your own attention to maintaining a firm grip and to his reactions, most importantly for the child's safety but also for Dallas's comfort as well. Keep sessions very short at first and be sure to be aware of any stress signals he's throwing out. It might be a good idea to make sure you're familiar with some of the more subtle ones that be easily missed, such as whale eye, panting or tongue flicks. WDJ has some good info: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_8/features/Detecting-Your-Dogs-Stress-Signals_20326-1.html

 

Wishing you all the best with helping Dallas through this.

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At no point use food to bait the dog closer to the child/call him in. The reward coming from you, or being thrown by the kid in a direction not directly at the dog, or designed to lure him closer, yes, but don't try to call him in.


In a lot of dogs, if they really want that treat, they'll get close to get it. But if they've been lured in by the desire for the food, they're now WAY closer than they're comfortable with. So they're afraid again and in bite range. Not good.

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^^ Good point.

 

I wasn't advocating that but also didn't think to spell it out. What we were actually doing in the exercise I mentioned above was tossing the treat away from us, not trying to lure the dog in closer.

 

All you're trying to do here is to change the emotional response Dallas is having to being around the child. Just the association between the child being present and yummy treats appearing is meant to create a new, positive association to replace the earlier one that evokes fear.

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It worked for my dog.

 

Torque (now 10 1/2 years) would pull like crazy to get away from any young child he saw when we were in a public place (Lowe's, Petsmart, etc.) He wanted out of there! Or he would crawl and hide behind my legs. He was probably about 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 years old in this 'fear' stage.

 

Over a period of 12-18 months, whenever I saw a young child (probably less that 7 or 8 years) eyeing Torque, I would tell him/her that my dog was afraid of them, and then I would ask the mother if she minded if her child threw a few treats at him. And then I would thank them and walk away.

 

I didn't think about it after a while because we just didn't see many kids, but one day when he was about 5, he seemed to want to go and greet some kids so I let him after I gave the kids some treats to give him. It progressed from there to the point that he is now embarrassingly ingratiating when he sees kids. He pulls on the leash and scoots his butt towards them while sitting. Once he reaches them, he flops over on his back for belly rubs. One day, he must have had 5 or 6 little kids rubbing on him. He was loving it.

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Thanks everyone!! This is giving me hope. I was worried maybe he just wouldn't get used to kids/okay with kids, but I think we can get him at least okay with them, if not loving them! :)

 

The neighbor's granddaughter will be coming over a few times next week to start the process. We'll keep each session short and sweet. And yes, good point on drawing him in! We won't be giving treats to try and get him to come in, but we're going to throw treats just so he learns to associate kids with something nice.

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