Q&A: Help! My dog is now barking at children!

teach-your-dog-to-sitI have a one year old boxer/red heeler mix named Abby. We’ve had her since she was three months old. At four months we started taking her to the dog park daily and she never showed any fear of adults or kids. As she got older, around 8 or 9 months, she started barking out the windows when people walked by, but nothing too severe. She is now a year old and we’ve recently moved. Her barking inside the house got much worse after moving, but with training it is slowly improving. Where she used to bark once or twice but then greet strangers at the door, we now make her go to her crate when someone knocks at the door because she is so insistent with her barking.

The real problem, though, is that she now barks at kids. A few times people have brought their kids to the dog park and Abby goes nuts. She won’t get too close to them, but runs a circle around them, barking so fast it becomes a howl, almost like she is baying at them. She never barks at adults or dogs outside our home, and inside the home she is never so amped up that I can’t get her attention with treats, but when she sees a kid, she won’t listen to commands or pay attention to treats. I know the obvious answer is to carefully desensitize her to kids over time, but we don’t have kids or know anyone who does. Having just moved, we hardly know anyone at all. She only rarely runs into kids when they come to the dog park. I’m afraid though that if she continues to go without socialization with kids, her fear will get worse and eventually turn into aggression. ~Lisa Taylor

This behavior could be partially due to your pup’s instincts. Australian Cattle Dogs (Red Heelers) are very energetic dogs, known to sometimes ‘nip’ at or try to herd family members in some direction. To several herding breeds, in fact, the line between children and small animals can sometimes blur a bit. Without observing, if I had to guess, I would say this might be impacting your little one’s behavior.

Others might say your dog may have developed some sort of anxiety related to children, but I would lean toward the above explanation a bit more.

As far as barking as strangers walk by or knock at your door, that is very natural behavior for many breeds, but especially one bred to herd with a known protective instinct. You mentioned ‘fear’; are you sure it is fear she has toward other children?
It’s impressive that you mentioned desensitization. That’s exactly what I would suggest, or at least slow socialization. So, you don’t have any relatives or friends with kids, but you could try:

Signing up for ‘obedience’ classes. I personally think they are better for building social skills than anything obedience related, but they do teach a few useful skills.

Talk to neighbors. Ask your neighbors to hand your dog a treat that you give them on your dog walks. This will help teach your pup strangers (or kids) aren’t a threat to fear.

Building Social Skills: I don’t know of any other way to adapt a dog to new situations, people, and kids without introducing and socializing them with kids. Socialization is actually one of the most important things you’ll ever train into any dog. It’s important to start this as early as possible! At one, your pup is nearing adulthood; you don’t have a lot of time left before this becomes a more difficult process. At most dog parks, there is an area for small dogs, and an area for larger dogs. You could try the small one so your dog is easier to get ahold of, and purchasing a harness with ‘don’t pet’ signed on it. For your walks, ‘Gentle Leaders’ are good training tools to discourage pulling.

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Junior Watson

Junior is the DogTrainingBasics.com resident "Top Dog". He enjoys walks in the park, chasing invisible cats, and of course... bacon strips!

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