Whether you have children of your own or you come in regular contact with children outside your home, it's important that your dog become socialized to deal appropriately with small humans. Children can often be rambunctious, loud and unpredictable, and a dog who is not used to this behavior can become fearful or even aggressive. Proper training can help your dog feel comfortable with any age group.
Obedience train your dog if you have not already done so. A dog who understands and responds consistently to your commands will be controllable in just about any social situation. A well-trained dog will be easier to introduce to children because you'll be able to direct him to sit or lie down rather than jump and run around. Train on your own or utilize obedience training classes at your local community center or pet supply store.
Acclimate Your Dog
Get your dog used to potential child behaviors like rough play, fur-pulling and hugging. Do these things to your dog on your own to help him build a tolerance, and reward him accordingly when he doesn’t bite, bark or growl. Even though you ultimately want to protect your dog against abusive children, acclimating him to these potential actions will teach your dog how to keep his cool around kids.
You don't want to get your dog accustomed to children by suddenly bringing him to a crowded playground. Rather, slowly introduce him by employing the help of children of friends or family members. Plan in advance how the children will interact with your dog. For example, you may leash your dog and introduce him to the child who offers him a treat, pets him gently and eventually works up to playing with him. Use calm children for this process or your dog could be frightened.
Once your dog is comfortable around a few carefully selected children, expand his horizons by taking him for a walk in the park and encourage interested children to pet your pup or say hello. Make the interaction brief and maintain leash control of your dog at all times. Reward your dog with treats every time he has a positive interaction with a child to reinforce the idea that children are equated with good things.
Protect Your Pup
One reason dogs are sometimes afraid of children is because they may inadvertently hurt the dog or play too roughly. Very young children, like toddlers, may pull your dog’s tail or yell in his ears. Protect your pup from aggressive behavior, even if it is unintentional. For example, if a child grabs at your dog aggressively, remove your dog and tell the child, “That hurts him, you have to stop.” This approach also helps your dog understand that you'll protect him.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.