A family adopted a six-month-old puppy who was anxious and afraid. When she was introduced to the family’s young cousins (four-years and eleven-months — TODDLERS) she seemed curious but then barked and lunged at them when they made any sudden movements. Toddlers and dogs are not always safe together.
The family tried to ‘firmly correct’ their dog’s behavior, but it didn’t work.
Correcting the dog will NOT teach the dog the right thing to do. Nor will it teach the dog to love the child, it will probably do the opposite.
It is not uncommon for a rescue dog to have no positive experiences with small children. Even dogs who have had good experiences with kids, will still be triggered by the movements of a toddler.
Regardless of new-rescue-dog or dog you’ve had for years, all toddlers and dogs need to be supervised and taught how to be safe around each other. For some dogs this is a quick lesson but for others with fears and anxiety, this can move at a slower pace.
This process will include desensitization and counterconditioning when a dog already has some anxiety around children, or good socialization when a dog is simply unfamiliar with small children.
Please Don’t Bite the Baby and Please Don’t Chase the Dog, excerpt pages 187 – 188
What is it about toddlers that gets to so many dogs? This question should be asked more often. But because many people feel their good dog can or should withstand anything their child has to throw at her (literally and figuratively), the question is not asked, and without questions there can be no help in the form of answers.
I knew even before having a toddler that they are bundles of energy with quick, unsteady bursts of movement. The literature about toddlers is filled with buzzwords that should scare the dick- ens out of anyone approaching this milestone: defiance, pitching fits, tantrums, and getting into everything. From the dog’s perspective many, if not all, of those can be difficult to process.
Quick, unsteady movements are triggers for your dog’s predatory or flight instincts.
Dogs have been honed by nature to react to quick movements for survival. Such movements signal that their dinner awaits. Your dog may not be looking at your toddler as a prey animal, but they are still programmed to chase anything that moves quickly and erratically. Think squirrels, bunnies, and even darting deer, and then ask if your toddler’s play movements resemble any of these animals. In this stage your toddler is triggering a very primal instinct in your dog. Some dogs learn not to chase the child, but they are in the minority. Most homes with toddlers and dogs report multiple nippings of ankles, pants legs, and hands as children move through the house.
So, what can you do?
Teach your dog to love your child.
While you are training, keep them separated by baby gates to prevent mistakes. When your dog is watching your child, your dog will get some great treats, toys, etc., so they make the association that when the child appears, they all have fun!
Don’t let you child grab at or run towards the dog – this can scare your dog and they will then have to choose how to respond to that fear. Fight is one of the first choices a dog can make when afraid.
Train your dog to know an escape route so you can quickly and easily send them out of the way of the toddler.
Teach your dog how to settle near your child and PAY your dog WELL for all the little zany things your child might do.
If you take your time and do this right, your dog and baby can grow old together safely.