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Shy dog and kids?

910 Views 6 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  big_dog7777
I would like some advice on working with a GSD and small kids. I've had my Kenya almost a year. When I first got her she was a little skittish of a totally new environment and particularly leery of men. We've worked really hard on this and she is now a totally different dog. We did not push her at first; gave her time and space to come out of her shell and tried not to be too overbearing with affection too soon. She will always be a one-person dog that prefers women, but the "men" problem isn't really an issue anymore. Now she will greet strangers, she is very well-mannered and reliable in public, she will approach men on her own with her tail wagging. I've taken her so many places to work on her trusting me (and me trusting her) and to meet tons of new people. Besides her titles, she has passed the CGC three times, passed the Therapy Dog Int'l eval, passed training and an eval for a local therapy group, and will hopefully pass the TT in a few weeks. She is not dog or human aggressive at all (never has been as far as I know) and she is not scared of any noises or anything like that. We did a gun fire test at our SchH club and to prepare for other tests I've done stuff with my trainer like having "strangers" do weird approaches, grab at her, open an umbrella in her face, etc. She has no issues with any of these kinds of things. She used to jump at strange noises, but through a lot of work I can drop a bucket of rocks at her feet, open an umbrella in her face, etc. Mostly I've worked on ignoring/not coddling any nervous response while making positive associations with these weird experiences (giving treats and praise during gun fire, initially having men ignore her and treat her whenever she initiated contact, letting her play little games with me when the umbrella opens, etc). Now she's pretty unflappable!

The issue is that we haven't really worked with small children. It's not an "issue" I guess but I don't want it to become one. My youngest cousin is 4th grade so I don't really know any little kids (like ages 2-5). We meet plenty of adults in public, but not really any toddlers. I want her to be as well-rounded as possible.

We live in a duplex and on the other side is a little boy thats 3-ish. Tonight I had my dogs out and I was grooming Coke. The boy asked if he could pet the dog and I said yes. He came over and pet Coke. Coke loves everyone, always has. He has no confidence issues with people so that went fine, and I was squatting next to Coke and holding his collar (mostly to prevent Coke from licking the kid's face). Kenya was lying off to the side. The little boy started to go towards her. I stayed very close and I could see Kenya was nervous b/c this little boy approaches almost like he's scared of the dog, then he reaches high above the dog's head and tries to pet the top of the head. I could see Kenya's mouth close, lips start to curl, and her eyes get big so I said, "Don't pet that one, she's grumpy right now and doesn't want you to pet her" and he came back to Coke. When he turned to come back, Kenya did one of her little air snaps. She hasn't done that in a loooooooong time (I don't think she's done that since my FIL stupidly ran up to her and tried to hug her, this was while we were still working on the "men" issue several months ago). She did NOT bite the boy, she just curls her lip and does a little snap in the air. Of course I was close and paying attention so I had told the boy she was grumpy before she got too scared and he left her alone, didn't even notice that Kenya was tense and immediately left her alone as I asked. I commanded Kenya to go lie down by the back door.

It seemed like the way the boy approached, b/c he was so small and more cautious, is what made her nervous. Also he did the reaching up over the head thing, which she has never really taken to. If anything still upsets her, it's that. I use her to teach people how to pet a dog (when people ask to pet her I have them rub her chest or scratch her butt). After the boy played fetch with Coke for a while I took the dogs inside and fed Kenya treats while I pretended to do weird reaches directly over her head, but of course she couldn't care less about it when I am Her Person. Again, she did not growl, bark, bite, lunge at the child, or turn and run away. She tensed up, I took the kid back to Coke (who I was holding the entire time), she snapped at the air as he left, and I asked her to go lay by the backdoor while I showed the boy how to pet a dog (rubbing the chest, scratching the butt, NOT reaching over the head). Watching her get that tense look on her face is pretty much what I used to see when a man tried to approach and we've successfully dealt with that to the point where a man can fire a gun at her from 6 feet away and she won't flinch. I'm just not sure how to work on this because we rarely see a child that age and I don't expect anyone to be volunteering their toddler, lol!

I think the boy's approach and the reaching over the head was a big part of her being tense, but I'd rather prepare her for that than have to always be on the lookout for a loose toddler. Most older kids and adults have enough sense not to do that and act more natural in their approach, but you just never know and I want her to be OK with all sorts of weird stuff.

So how do you guys work on socialization around little kids? Where do I find a lot of little kids?
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Lies, I had a few problems with Gracie and kids in the past. They are small and move differenly/more quickly than adults and that freaks them out when they aren't used to being around them. The problem I had with Gracie is that kids want to run and scream (gracie's mom doesn't care for this either...) and she feels the need to herd them. Of course in the process she knocks them down. No biting but it scares the little ones!

So we started going to the park where there are lots of little kids running and screaming and just being kids. We stood far enough away that she could hear and see them but the kids wouldn't be running near her. We played the "Look at that!" game (you've seen us do this in class?) for awhile and then I just let her watch them, treating anytime she would look away from them and to me. That was it for the initial sessions. Then we moved closer and closer after I felt she was more comfortable with the kid activity.

She will now let kids pet her but it doesn't matter if it is a kid or adult, she doesn't like strangers coming over top of her. She never has and probably never will. So when kids ask, I always make sure I tell them it's ok to pet but that she prefers to be petted on the side of her body or neck. Half the time the kid doesn't listen and still goes over her head but she will just back away.

I would start by going to a park were kids are just to get her used to seeing them. She trusts you and doing the whole "see? nothing to be concerned about" game, she'll catch on quickly. Just look at all you've done with the men issue!

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mikko acts fearful of kids that approach him fearfully- its like he feeds off of their reaction- and becomes afraid himself. he has been doing much better with kids lately, and it seems to have really helped that he spent a whole day with my bf's niece and nephews. now out in public, i only let kids who are confident around him pet him. i also like to get his attention every so often and give him treats. if they tense up i direct his attention to me immediately, so he cannot sense their fear. he is also much more comfortable when he has something to do- so i tell them to make him sit- or their usual favorite- high five and give him a treat. this is rewarding for mikko- and provides a positive experience.

now as far as where to find kids- i find that my dog does better in large crowds- as opposed to one on one. he'll let anyone pet him when there are distractions around. we take him to various festivals, parades, etc. and there will always be at least one kid that wants to pet him. i have to watch very carefully though and redirect before he gets nervous- that way it stays positive- so very short "training" sessions with the kids- a quick high five, a pat on the head, and on we go.
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You know I have found the same thing, that the larger the crowd, the better it is for Kenya. I guess if she has any fear or worry, it gets divided among the people, lol! There's a "pack" of kids that lives about 10 houses away and we walk past there 2-3 times a day. Usually I bring treats and let them treat the dogs. That has helped her a lot with kids in general, but I think the youngest one is 6.

I don't plan to let the neighbor kid near her again, just not worth the chance and I don't like that he acts afraid of her even though he wants to pet her. Luckily he has always ignored her until today. He knows Coke plays fetch and he likes to "frow da stick" for me.

I'll have to check local events and see what we can do. A parade is a good idea. July 4th, hmmmm....

You are right, the short interactions are better. That is what we did with the "men" issue, just said "hi, bye!" to show her men were neutral and now she will interact with them indefinitely.
I personally like to work this one on one, one child and one dog. I do everything possible to put the dog/puppy (ideally puppy, and I start this as young as possible) in the right frame of mind by providing as much exercise as possible and then feeding once she has cooled down. Then I want a loose short leash with me stroking the dog slowly using long smooth movement and a happy calm voice saying "easy". I want the child to mimic my hand movement petting her chest, neck and side of her face avoiding the top of her head. For relaxed submissive behavior from the dog I give treats (provided food drive does not amp her up, if it does I just use praise) and praise with slow words "fiiiiinnnne, yeeeeessss." Then I repeat as often as possible. My goal is to condition her to react with calm submissive behavior to young children.
John do you find they do better with you touching them? In our therapy class we were taught that if other people are touching the dog, we should be beside them touching them too.

Last night, Kenya was about 5 feet away, off leash. So when the little boy approached I was not touching her, but watching very carefully and called the boy back when I saw her tense up.

Maybe she would have been more relaxed if I was next to her?

I'll have to find another child. I showed the boy how to rub the chest, but he was still trying to reach over Coke's head. He's too young to understand and I don't want to risk him upsetting her more.

She has been good with kids. The first week I got her she put her head in my cousin's lap and got brushed. She also had to do this thing for the TDI test where kids took her lead and then she had to sit and "listen" to a little girl reading a book. There's just something about the way this boy approached...but I hope to show her it's OK even if people don't approach nicely.
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I have found that it helps provided I am calm and touching the dog/puppy properly (slow long strokes calm and fast petting or "banging" amps them up). I practice this early and often with my dogs as part of the cradling or "into my arms" obedience command that Bernhard Flinks uses. It is absolutely amazing how positive soothing energy and touching can calm a dog down.

In my opinion these types of things are worked on and learned in stages, first with the handler showing proper interaction while shaping and conditioning behavior leading to eventual interaction off leash.
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