Have you been a dog parent first, and after years of being a small unit you have a baby or have a child visit, and your dog barks at the child?
Meanwhile, your dog has always, only, been friendly towards people.
Does it disappoint you?
Do not be, dogs have limited ways of communicating and their barking at children shows they may be scared.
It can manifest through aggression or they may be excited or want to herd the children like sheep if they have previous experience with little animals.
Why Bark At Children?
Reasons for this reaction vary:
- Not being exposed to children early enough
- Not being used to them
- Having a previous bad experience at the hands of a child that left a lasting impression
- Reacting to a situation around the children
Dogs can display their anxiety, stress, excitement, or fear in different ways, so it is best to monitor them when they are in new situations.
What To Do If Your Dog Barks At Children
If you know children are going to be a part of your future, either yours or family or friends, you will have to do some things to make sure your dog and children get along well at least.
And at most, nothing escalates.
1. Socialize early
One of the main reasons dogs have a fear of children is, not being familiar with them.
If you have puppies, they should be exposed to children early enough, so they learn how to socialize with them.
It is said the peak time is between 8 – 12 weeks of age when a puppy is most social.
2. Take precautions
For both your dog and the child’s sake do not leave them alone together, especially for the first few times.
When your dog is getting used to children it is best to keep an eye on him to make sure he is still calm and relaxed; not being triggered and is not showing any signs of nerves or stress.
The children, may not understand why poking is not okay.
Any activity that can make the dog uncomfortable can end up with him displaying aggression, and both getting hurt.
Also, if a dog has shown he is anxious in front of children, forcing him to interact with the child is a recipe for disaster.
Never force a dog or a child to interact.
3. Provide a safe space
Dogs, like humans, need their safe space. A quiet corner where they can retreat to and hopefully keep out of trouble.
Like you would an introverted human, leave them alone and have any guests, children included, leave them alone.
Encroaching in their space and forcing them to interact can stress them out and force them to react negatively.
4. Establish rules
Children should have rules when interacting with dogs, so they know what is okay and not okay.
They may not know when it is not okay to approach a dog.
They would need to be taught how to stroke a dog gently, not take its toys and not disturb a dog when it is sleeping or eating.
Essentially, they should be supervised with every interaction with dogs.
5. Train your dog
If your dog has displayed aggression due to fear of children, it is best to slowly make them comfortable around children and not force them into full interaction so soon.
The process is described as desensitization — a dog is shown children from a distance repeatedly, closing the distance over time and positively reinforcing good response, while not punishing any aggression as that would confuse the dog.
You can always get a behavioral trainer to help you with this if it is too much for you.
This has been shown to be effective in getting dogs to remove themselves from stressful situations.
Or condition them not to react to normal situations they may see as threatening.
Conditioning can have you using a phrase to get dogs to go to a different room.
Stay there till you let them out, stop reacting to certain situations with the help of deterrents, or come to you instead of reacting like he used to.
7. Keep him leashed till he is trained
Till your dog stops reacting by barking at children, they will not feel safe around him.
And if he is unleashed, he may chase or nip at children.
So if outdoors, it is best to keep him on a leash and wait till no children are around before he can run free.
If you live in a neighborhood with children running around and playing, it is important not to let your dog loose.
It can escalate to even your neighbors not allowing their children out, complaining, or calling animal control.
Inside your home, before children enter, it would be best to lock your dog in a separate room till they are gone.
Do not take your dog to visit anyone with children as well.
It is a lot to do and your dog would be missing out on a lot of freedom, so training would be an ideal option.
8. Tire him out
If your dog is used to children already, but still barks at them, it may be out of excitement at a new child and wanting to interact with them.
If you have a heads-up on the arrival of a child, you could play with your dog beforehand or get him involved in an activity that would tire him out.
He would be too tired to bark at a child.
9. Be Patient
When training a dog to be comfortable around children, it would take some time, so patience is key.
It might also help to know your dog may never accept kids; be okay with that outcome and put measures in place so your dog is never made to feel uncomfortable.
And if it is down to your breed of dog being a barker or a herder, it would be hard to change.
If you have a pup you might be able to make a child lover out of him/her.
As an adult, there is still hope but always remember even if your pet and the child are more than acquainted never leave them unsupervised.
Let us know how these tips work out for you.