Conditioning Dogs To Accept Children

Children and dogs should go together but people must understand that a certain amount of conditioning is involved before a dog can understand that those fast moving, small creatures with inappropriate handling skills are actually safe to be around. Let’s look at the dog’s perspective on children for a moment. Imagine being a dog for a moment and suddenly this small creature runs full speed towards you, eye level with outstretched arms, hands waving with a high pitched voice! Yikes! Now imagine that you are not only a dog but you are tethered and cannot escape this little invasive being! Yikes again!
Some dogs, depending on their early social skills may be completely unscathed by the little creatures assault on their fur, neck or tail but others, if not previously socialized may not take the invasive movements too kindly. Since a child is generally at eye level to a dog, a dog could perceive that fixed eye contact from that small being as a threatening gesture and that may become a big YIKES!
So what does one do to prepare their dogs for the little creature invasions that could happen at any time? It’s called child proofing or child conditioning. It is not difficult and can be done whenever your dog sees a child, whether the child is playing at the park or walking towards your dog. When your dog notices a child give your dog a treat, when a child approaches your dog and if your dog takes treats gently, ask the child if he/she would like to give the dog a cookie.
When we pair food with the stimuli we create or paint a positive picture in the dog’s mind of the event at hand. Give your dog a cookie each and every time that a child is present and before you know it, your dog will begin wagging his/her tail whenever he/she sees a child.
Now, obviously, there are always two sides to every story and that said there are some dogs who simply do not appreciate the company of children. If this is the case with your dog, don’t put your dog in a bad situation or try to correct your dog to try to make your dog enjoy the company of children. If you feel that your dog may act or react in a negative manner when a child is approaching, simply pull a cookie out of your pocket, say your dog’s name, show him the cookie and turn around and away from the approaching situation. By working with your dog in this manner, it allows your dog to gain space between him/her and the approaching child, which in turn reduces the likelihood of reactive behavior in your dog. And yes, it’s alright to warn approaching children to NOT approach your dog as you walk away. You are your dog’s advocate when you are out in public and it’s your responsibility to keep your dog and children safe at all times.
As for young pups, they should be conditioned early in life to children and have many enjoyable opportunities while in the presence of children. Good, structured puppy kindergarten classes will focus part of their content on child proofing your puppy. If you already own an older dog and are preparing to have a baby there are free public programs available to you like Dogs and Storks which teach expectant parents how to handle the new baby and the existing dog so that everything goes smoothly when the newborn comes home.