dog around children

Discussion in 'General Dog Training' started by jennyw, Jan 5, 2011.

  1. jennyw Well-Known Member

    I would really like some advice on how to teach Jessie how to behave around small children to make sure everything goes well when she does spend time around them. She has had very little experience being around children since we adopted her but we do get occasional visits from my friend with my goddaughter who is nearly three. Everything I find on the internet tells how the child should behave but I want to know how to teach Jess how to be good around the squeaky, bouncy child! It doesn't help that my friends are very nervous with the child around dogs which then makes me nervous and so whenever Jess goes to sniff the little girl they get very tense and I feel I need to call Jess away.
    Is it good for Jess to go near and sniff her to figure out who she is and also is it a good idea for the child to give Jess treats and give Jess a command like sit? Of course I would never leave them together alone but it seems to me that if Jess knows that the little one is someone she needs to listen to and obey to get rewards from then she is more likely to respect her.
    Any tips on how to get the best out of Jess with this, what behaviour to praise and also what to look out for in case she isn't comfortable around the little one. Many thanks!!

  2. jackienmutts Honored Member

    Hi Jenny - I hope things are going well with you and Jess! I'm happy to say that the 2 Germ Sheps I have now are wonderful with kids, but my previous GSD was not. When I adopted her at 15 mos old, she'd just as soon eat the kid and ask questions later. One wrong move and she went ballistic. It was scary. We worked hard and long with a great trainer. He had us spend *literally* hours upon hours upon hours (for weeks and weeks and weeks - she was a really hard case), sitting in a park near where the kids play, and just letting her watch them. For a long time, she'd stay standing, she couldn't even sit. Gradually, she sat, and finally I knew we had made real progress when we could go to the park, I'd find a bench, sit down, and she'd lie down and relax. Of course, I'd never let anyone touch her or get near her - that way, no pressure. It then moved on to where I found a child in our neighborhood and started working with them, set something up, and would have them approach very slowly, with treats, always petting under the chin or on the chest or back - only good things happened when kids were around. She grew to absolutely love kids and would seek them out. Going to the park and getting pets from kids ended up being a real treat! (I barely believed it myself - miracles do happen!!)

    Perhaps (not knowing what your weather is like) you could find a playground or park and do some relaxation work with Jess, getting her totally comfortable around lots of movement - kids running, playing, screaming, etc. When it's obvious she's just not caring if kids are darting anywhere (or if she's like that now), find someone you could work with - a friend, or even a friend of a friend (someone with a child, preferably an older child to start out with), a neighbor, etc, and go slowly, use treats, watch Jess' body language, have the child always softly pet the chest, back, under the neck - never the face or top of the head. Do watch kids, cuz that's just the first place they go for - they always pet dogs on the top of the head. Teach kids (any kids) that dogs just don't like that (cuz some don't - and with strange dogs, best not to go there). You also give Jess treats and tell her what a good girl she is, if she's standing there politely accepting the pets of the child. If at any time you see her tense up, then end up and remove her. As with the other desensitization work you were doing, she'll trust (and thank you) that you won't push her too far, and will be grateful you took the pressure off her. If she's enjoying herself, she'll appreciate her new-found friend and will want more (as my girl discovered).

    As for your friends, and their tensing and getting nervous - there's nothing you can do about that. Are they afraid of dogs? It sounds like they may be. Explain that yes, it's good to always be vigilant around kids and dogs. It's just common sense. But to get very nervous can actually bring on unwanted behavior - the dog might react negatively to the tension. If they act like that every time they come over, I'd say put up a baby gate and keep Jess separated (for everyone's peace of mind). Jess won't get any bad vibes she'll associate with kids (every time a kid comes around, people freak out - kids must be bad). If they can be calm and work with their child and Jess - have them keep their little girl calm (she's old enough to learn to pet the doggie quietly, and you can give her a treat), you give the commands to Jess and she can treat, make it a two-some, the two of your very close together, working with Jess, maybe asking Jess to lie down - does she like belly rubs? Try sitting quietly doing belly or back rubs while Jess lays on the floor - maybe small increments, then give Jess a break - til everyone gets comfortable (over time). Don't rush your friends, or Jess - just let the relationship happen when it's ready. Let Jess get used to kids on her own time, and let your friends get used to the idea that their little girl will meet dogs in this world, and she needs to learn how to do it (for her own safety).

    Just read your post again - about sniffing your friend's girl? Keep in mind, Jess' nose is very very powerful. Jess doesn't need to be right up on her to get a really good smell, she can accomplish that from a little ways away, or she can smell someplace the child has just walked, etc (or a sweater or something she just wore in) if you want to give her a really good sniff. I think that would make your friends way too nervous right now.

    I hope some of this helped. I'm sure someone else will chime in, maybe TxCwg? Good luck!
  3. jennyw Well-Known Member

    Hi Jackie, thank you for your advice. Jess is trying her best and we have our good and bad days still bless her. Santa brought me Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell and Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt so we are busy trying to put those strategies into practice! But we are planning to visit a good positive behaviourist who was recommended by a friend of a friend.
    Your advice makes a lot of sense, because Jessie doesn't come across kids regularly it needs to happen slowly. The little girl is very squeaky and noisy and so I wil work on getting Jess used to those kiddy sounds. Hopefully I can also get my friends to understand that they don't need to be scared, just careful and observant and that the little one needs to be calm in order to be allowed to pet Jess, which she is desperate to do so it is vital that she learns to do it correctly.
    Thank you for your help!
  4. jackienmutts Honored Member

    Jenny, it sounds like you're on the right track with Jess - just go slow, keep up the work you're doing with her, and I think you guys are gonna be just fine. It sounds to me like you're working so hard with her and have such a good relationship going, that you're going to figure all this out. You're probably doing way more right than you even know! I'd say Santa did a pretty good job - congrats on the great books for Christmas! Both are really good, full of terrific info. Lots of wonderful exercises in Control Unleashed, and I love everything by Patricia McConnell. The training center we attend hosted one of her seminars a year or so ago and I was fortunate enough to attend (and actually met her) - I felt like I was in the presence of royalty!! :dogbiggrin: She's so informative (and funny!) - and just makes so much 'real life' sense. The visit to the + behaviorist should also prove to be so worthwhile, if it's anything like the experience I had. Before you go, be sure to write down lots of thoughts and/or questions you have and issues you want to discuss so you don't forget anything. I hope you find it as beneficial as I did - keep us posted.

    Approach your friends calmly, really let them think about what you're saying as far as their daughter learning to meet, pet and be with dogs. She's going to meet dogs at some point, and it's better for her to learn to do it properly, than do what scares me to death - just see a dog and run up to it. Lots of dogs don't like that, and bites happen that way. It would be so good for her at her age to learn now how to act around a dog - to be quiet, and polite, to pet softly on the back or the chest, to always ask first to pet a dog, then let the dog sniff your hand for a second before just jamming that hand any old place and petting away. If she learns proper dog-greeting manners now *with your dog*, it may keep anything bad from happening in the future, rather than putting her in a bad predicament one day in the future when they're not around (or when she's run on ahead at a park or ?) and she sees a dog she wants to pet - and the outcome may not be desirable. If they want no part of it, it's their decision and choice - then you just keep Jess away from her via babygate.

    Not sure what your schedule is (nor what the weather is), but if you could stand outside a school when it's letting out (but far enough away that there's not pressure on Jess), she could see lots of kids pouring out, listen to the noise (cuz kids getting out of school are pretty happy!), etc - you could let her watch and treat. Noisy kids = yummy treats. That might be an option for some training sessions - and if they go well, gradually get her closer to the kids, then finally close enough that maybe someone might say "can I pet your dog?" ... and that, of course, is up to you (and Jess). Just a thought.
  5. jennyw Well-Known Member

    Thanks again Jackie, I agree with you about Patricia McConnell, she's my absolute heroine at the moment, she makes so much sense and her balance between science and theory and the emotion that comes with dog owning is brilliant. I wish I could fly Jess over for a session with her!
    I'm going to try to get Jess around kids more like you suggest, I work in a primary school myself so obviously I don't finish until the kids are gone but we do have a daycare centre nearby and also a kids playpark so we will hopefully be able to spend some time near there and she can listen to them and watch all their erratic movements!
    I really feel it's important to get Jess relaxed around children. Growing up with the dogs we had when I was little and remembering how safe and loved I felt around them, I really want to feel I can trust Jess like that. I just hope I can get my friends to understand the situation and co operate for their sake as well as mine. Here's hoping!
  6. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    Sorry, been really sick since Christmas so I have literally done nothing but rest. My immune system is shot! Had the flu, got over it and got strep throat, got over it(with a shot), and got a stomach bug which I'm now on meds for. No breaks, just been sick non-stop. Ugh.

    Anyway, very little to add, just personal experiences; Jackie's tips are all great.
    Mudflap fortunately loooooves kiddos; I really didn't have to do anything at all with her. With Zekers however, at home he's crazy over-excited about kids, so I've had to do a lot of work on self-control and laying down for kids. In public, everyone of any age is scary. So I just try to control every situation as much as possible. With adults, I give them a tennis ball so he knows they're okay, but I don't do that with kids because I want him to be calm. So I just make sure the kid pets him under the chin, and as soon as we're done he gets lots of tennis ball time so he starts to understand that being good with kids gets him his favorite thing in the world. If I get bombarded with lots of kids, I leave the situation. He would never react aggressively, but it would just be too much for him, so I don't even try at this point if I get rushed by more than 2 kids. He's not anywhere near ready for that so I just keep him "safe."

    One thing to keep in mind: until you're sure she can handle lots of kids, try to see a potentially bad situation before it happens. If you're at a park and see a bunch of kids watching Jess, or pointing at her and talking to their parents(probably asking to go pet her), make yourself unavailable. Leave for a while or something so Jess doesn't get ambushed.

    One of the exercises I used with an English Setter I worked with last year was to have an adult holding him on a leash while a child approached him. He was a jumper, but regardless the point of this exercise was really for him to remain calm while a child came up to him. We started out with the child walking and Deuce sitting at his handler's side. If he broke his sit, the child turned around and walked away. We repeated the exercise until he would sit still and the child could pet him. If the kid started to pet him and Deuce broke his sit, the child turned around again and walked away. (Basically, if you aren't calm, your friend leaves. If you are calm, you get attention.) Deuce did really well with this and even started lying down when the kid approached him(yay! Lots of treats for this.). When he was perfect with the kid walking towards him, we had the kid jog towards him. Repeat until he was perfect again. Then the kid ran at him. Repeat until perfect. Then run, wave arms, yell annoying kid things, etc. Basically, act like a normal kid that wants to pet the dog. We broke this up over about a week or so with the owner's children(3 kids), and then attempted it with other kids. Worked really well and he became very calm around kids of various ages.

    Good luck!!! Hope you and Jess are doing well. :)
  7. jennyw Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your advice, much appreciated as usual! Jess is trying hard and making some progress with her issues but I'm looking forward to working with the positive behaviourist I've contacted. Time to hunt out some children to help me! Thanks again both of you :)

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