Scaredy Pups: Getting Along with Kids Wednesday 11 April 2018 @ 08:46
As part of our series on dealing with dogs who suffer from phobias, our last post discussed how you might go about helping your dog with their fear of other dogs. This is a real issue for some dogs and their owners, who might have uncomfortable run-ins with other dogs on a daily basis. Other fears your dog might struggle with can include:
We plan on covering all of these fears over the course of the series, but for now we’re going to talk about what you might do if your dog is afraid of children.
We all know and love those photographs of children playing and cuddling with their favourite doggy companions. There are thousands of these photos, and hundreds of films and books imagining what these playful pairs might get up to. You may be surprised or disappointed, then, to hear that dogs who are afraid of children aren’t all that uncommon.
A dog’s fear of children makes sense when you think about how they tend to communicate with the world around them. Dogs can’t use words like humans can, so they communicate through sounds and body language. A dog who is used to living with adult humans will be accustomed to the sounds and movements they make. Children speak in a higher pitch to adults. Their steps are unsteady and faster. Their movements can be jerky and unexpected. It’s entirely possible that a child might hurt a dog by accident, or even fall and land on them. When compared to an adult, children and babies could very well appear to be part of a different species entirely.
What might be even more upsetting for a dog is that the presence of a child can also alter the behaviour of the adults around them, making even the most trusted human suddenly unreliable.
How can I tell if my dog’s afraid of children?
Indicators that your child is afraid of children are much the same as those exhibited with any fear. The signs below are indicative of extreme stress and your dog should be removed from the stressful situation if they are exhibiting these signs around children. The behaviours a scared dog might show around children can include…
… attempting to hide or escape;
… shutting down or going stiff when children are nearby;
… showing teeth (lip-lifting) and snarling;
… biting or nipping (especially when trapped);
… lunging or yapping;
… lowering of head, increased eye contact;
… shaking, rolling over or recoiling.
In some cases, these behaviours can be fairly subtle so if you think your dog might be afraid of children, watch them carefully!
How can I help my dog recover from their fear of children?
If your dog’s fear is of children who visit your home, you need to manage this situation. Begin by identifying an area in your house where your dog can go and where you can prevent children from entering. For example, you may have a room where you can close the door, or set up a baby gate. Make sure children are supervised at all times, as you can’t always trust kids not to open a door or try to touch something through a gate.
Begin training by having children you can trust to behave calmly walk past at a safe distance from your dog while providing your dog’s favourite treats. Your dog should be kept on a leash for safety, but should eventually come to associate the presence of children with good things.
If your dog’s fear is an issue when children are present outside the home, try avoiding parks and schools where kids might be playing.
Always keep socialization fun!
As we’ve mentioned in many of our Phobia Series posts, flooding isn’t generally the best technique when it comes to training your dog out of fearing something. If you want your pup to enjoy something, you need to make sure their experiences of that thing are relaxed and enjoyable. Make sure your dog knows that you appreciate it when they gently check a child out, but don’t force them to do this until all parties are ready.
For example, if their fear of children causes them to act timidly, you can help your dog by getting some quiet, calm children to just sit quietly and spend time making sure your pup is happy and safe. Socializing your dog doesn’t need to involve throwing them in at the deep end with a crowd of noisy kids. Don’t exhaust your dog by forcing them to process sounds and sensations that are scary.
Start by introducing children one at a time, not all at once.
Are your kids animal-friendly?
In some cases, the issue might not be with your dog at all. It could be the children who are the issue. It can be pretty difficult to find children who are actually good with animals, especially when they’re very young. Animal-handling skills aren’t generally something that comes naturally to a kid. It’s something that has to be learned, so they won’t always get it right the first time.
Relatively few children will happily sit still, watch another child pet a dog without getting jealous and piling in, stay calm and respectful, pay attention to where a dog actually likes to be pet or take care to pet gently. If your kid isn’t instantly perfect at handling a dog, try learning what works together. This can be a great bonding opportunity for you, your child and your dog.
Scaredy Pups: Helping Your Dog Make Friends Monday 26 March 2018 @ 08:38
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about how you might go about helping your dog deal with some of their fears. Our last post talked about one of the stranger fears you might encounter when you live with a dog: The Fear of Stairs. This issue can really get in the way of living a normal home life with your dog, but thankfully in most cases, it can be dealt with through some training. Other examples of common doggy fears include:
We hope to discuss all of these fears in time, but this week we’re going to focus on The Fear of Other Dogs.
It’s not unusual for a dog to feel nervous around other dogs every now and then. There are probably some humans out there that make you feel nervous yourself. This only becomes a real problem if it becomes an everyday occurrence for your dog, in which case you’ll need to become proactive in helping with your pup’s fear. Understanding the source of your dog’s fear will help you deal with it, and can be vital in allowing your dog to be happy and healthy.
Your dog’s fear of other dogs will affect both of you. It can turn a simple activity like walking the dog into a stressful event. Some owners find themselves timing their walks or altering their routes to avoid other walkers, but there will always be a sense of dread just in case someone else has had the same idea. These actions can also prevent your dog from having any opportunity to socialize, which can make their fear even worse.
Fear as a Result of Trauma
If your dog is easily spooked, a series of these negative and scary experiences can easily cause the development of a phobia. For example, this could happen to a small-breed dog or young pup if they encounter larger dogs who want to play in a manner that could be harmful to a dog of smaller stature. Over time, your dog could come to associate larger dogs with danger and may bark, snarl or behave aggressively towards any they come across.
It should be noted that while small dogs are used as an example above, it’s very much possible for similar things to happen to larger dogs. Similarly, while the other dogs in the example are just playing rough, trauma can also occur as a result of genuine, aggressive attacks from other dogs.
For some dogs, this fear might be because they’ve experienced something traumatic in their past which is having an impact on their behaviour. In some cases, it might occur because of insufficient socialization, making meeting unfamiliar dogs a new and terrifying experience. In certain situations, it might be simply that your dog is submissive by nature, and this display of fear is their way of accepting the other dog’s dominance.
Small Dogs: Know Your Safe Breeds
While there are loads of great ways to improve your dog’s ability to interact with other dogs safely, dogs of smaller breeds may always have a fear of some breeds. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that your dog has certain limitations, and understanding that their fear, at least to them, is fully justifiable. For example, a small or toy breed dog may begin to feel comfortable around other small and toy breeds, and even medium breeds, but large breeds may simply be too large.
Similarly, your dog may learn how to read signals and become comfortable interacting with dogs who are being openly friendly but may not develop the confidence to approach dogs who aren’t sending these signals. This is fine, and may just prevent further traumatic experiences.
How Do I Tell if My Dog is Experiencing Anxiety?
In almost every case, anxiety is rooted in fear. As with humans, anxiety in dogs can exist anywhere between mild fear and utter panic. Generally, this will result in your dog taking on either a defensive or offensive position.
Signs that your dog is panicking include:
- Excessive barking;
- Active effort to escape;
Ongoing anxiety can also lead to nervous symptoms such as biting and licking themselves or diarrhoea. Dogs who are only experiencing mild fear may show some of the following signs:
- Cowering or shrinking away;
- Vague attempts at escaping;
- Lower activity;
In all cases, your chances of success will be highest if you get to start young. If you have a new puppy, ensure that they’re fully vaccinated and then start socializing with as many dogs as you can (making sure this is in a controlled, secure environment). If you’re still in the planning stages of getting a puppy, be sure to talk to the shelter, store or breeder about how the pup has been socialized with littermates and other dogs.
If your dog is older and has missed this key socialization stage, you’re going to need to begin rehabilitation in gradual, gentle steps. Whatever you do, don’t force them to face their fear before they’re ready. This can be a traumatic experience and will only make your dog’s fear even worse. One of the strongest items in your toolbox is a technique known as desensitization. This involves introducing your dog to their trigger - in this case, other dogs - in a slow, systematic way. The idea is to allow them to learn over time that other dogs aren’t actually that scary.
Dogs are a common and much-loved pet, and as a result, they’re pretty much everywhere. This means there’s a very high chance you and your dog will bump into a strange dog without having time to prepare first. Try to ready yourself by training your dog to respond to a “let’s go” command or something similar, so you can both remove yourselves from the situation with minimal anxiety.
For many dogs, picking them up will only stress them out further, so it’s best for your dog to be able to follow you on foot. One way is to start with your dog on a leash somewhere you won’t bump into strange dogs, such as your own house. Begin walking, but suddenly change direction and encourage them to follow you using a happy voice and/or gestures.
Each time your dog follows you successfully, reward them enthusiastically with toys, food or whatever else they love the most. Once this is going smoothly at home, you can start doing it when you’re out and about.