While we love to think of dogs and kids going together like pits and cherries, some dogs just aren't comfortable with children. You might notice a side-eyed look from your dog, or they might go out of their way to avoid children around them. Kids can be scary for your pup. Knowing the warning signs of discomfort is important to keep everyone safe and comfortable, and so you can address this behavior early.
Signs Dogs Are Uncomfortable Around Kids
First off, make sure you are closely monitoring and controlling your dog if you are unsure how they'll handle being around kids. This is equally important if it is your dog's first time meeting any children, or if they're showing any signs of uncertainty around children. There are a few signs you should look out for when your dog is around your kids.
Pay close attention to your dog's body language when they are around children. Some of these indicators are probably going to be hard to notice if you aren't looking for them. Signs your dog is uncomfortable may include:
- stiffening of their body
- Barking a lot
- Yawning excessively
- Tucking their tail between their legs
- Licking their lips excessively
- Looking away from kids
- Shying away from kids, or turning their body away
- Shaking their body like they're getting water off
Most of these signs don't indicate your dog is likely to act out - at least, not yet - but mainly that they are uncomfortable. However, every dog is different, so be 100% sure your dog is safe around kids before assuming they are trustworthy. If you are concerned your dog is uncomfortable around kids, separate your dog and remove them from the situation.
Serious Signs to Watch For
Your biggest concern is keeping any children who meet your dog safe. This means you need to pay close attention to any indications your dog might become aggressive. Even one of these behaviors is a red flag. Some or all of these behaviors can precede snapping, biting, or physical contact that can leave children seriously injured.
If your dog growls around kids, do not punish them or discourage them. This is your dog's first warning sign that something is wrong. They're telling you, or your child, they aren't comfortable. If you punish their growl, they may not bother to growl next time. Remove your dog from the situation and address their underlying behavioral issues.
If you punish your dog for growling, you have significantly increased the risk your dog will bite without warning in the future.
2. Whale Eye
It sounds odd, but if you see your dog giving "whale eye" - or a sideways glance where you can clearly see the whites of their eyes - they're giving you a strong signal they are uncomfortable in a situation. This is a warning your dog is afraid and may strike out if they think they're threatened.
3. Pinned Ears
Watch your dog's ears. If they lay their ears flat agains their head, your dog may be signaling they are feeling threatened.
4. Extremely Rigid
Pay attention to your dog's body. If they suddenly become very rigid - like a stiff board - something is wrong. Assume they are extremely uncomfortable and keep them away from kids.
This is an immediate sign your dog is acting aggressively. Do not allow them to stay around any children if they lunge at them.
6. Baring Teeth
Your dog is clearly very upset if they are baring their teeth at all. Take their warning for what it is, and do not allow them to interact with children.
7. Muzzle Punching
A dog who is becoming aggressive may literally hit a person or pet with the end of their nose. They may not open their mouths, but this is still a sign of aggression.
If your dog opens their mouth - even if it appears to be gentle - and they put it on someone else, assume they are being aggressive as they try to control the person or animal they are mouthing.
Dogs Who Don't Like Babies
Some dogs have a difficult time acclimating to a new baby in the house. This is sometimes due to lack of socialization, but it could also be due to fear, jealousy, or simply being protective or territorial about you. It's important to recognize the signs of your dog being uncomfortable with babies to prevent stress or accidental injury. These approaches may help:
- Introduce your dog to babies slowly: If possible, introduce your dog to scents and sounds before your new baby is born. If you didn't do this, you can still acclimate your dog to the new smells and sounds by placing your baby's blanket nearby and letting your dog listen from a distance.
- Supervised interaction: You should never leave your dog alone with a baby. Babies, especially once they're old enough to crawl and grab, may accidentally harm your dog, causing one or both to be injured.
- Reward good behavior: Reinforce positive behaviors from your dog around the baby with treats, praise, and affection. This will help your dog associate the baby with positive experiences.
- Maintain routines: Keep your dog's daily routines as consistent as possible, including feeding, walking, and playtime. This will help prevent feelings of jealousy or neglect.
- Monitor body language: Pay attention to your dog's body language when they're around the baby. If you notice any signs of stress, fear, or aggression, take immediate action to remove your dog from the situation and address the issue.
Why Some Dogs Don't Like Children
Some dogs may have a harder time acclimating to children than others for multiple reasons:
- Improper socialization: Dogs who have not been exposed to children during their critical socialization period may be fearful or anxious around them. This lack of exposure can lead to stress.
- Negative experiences: If a dog has had negative experiences with children in the past, such as being teased, chased, or accidentally hurt, they may develop a fear or aversion to children.
- Inconsistent behavior: Children can be unpredictable and make erratic movements, loud noises, and sudden outbursts. These behaviors can be confusing and stressful for dogs.
- Sensitivity to noise: Some dogs are sensitive to loud noises and may feel overwhelmed or anxious by the loud sounds children tend to make.
- Physical discomfort: The possibility of an energetic child accidentally hurting a dog with a medical condition such as arthritis or chronic pain may make them feel threatened.
If your dog displays signs they do not like children, do not risk bringing them around kids. First, consult with your veterinarian and a certified canine behaviorist to figure out how to address the issue.
Before diving deep into how to address the behavior, it's important to recognize when your dog shouldn't be around children at all without a professional present. If your dog is aggressive or extremely anxious around children, this could lead to your child getting bit. Never force your dog to interact with kids.
More than 50% of dog bites involve children.
Addressing the Issue
If your dog only shows minor signs of discomfort around children - and no signs of aggression - you may be able to address this behavior yourself. Here's how:
- Remind kids to be respectful: Before you introduce your dog to children, give them a little pep talk and let them know they need to be very calm around your dog to help your dog relax.
- One at a time: Only allow one child to meet your dog at a time, at least at first. This keeps things more controllable, and it's easier to ensure one child understands how to behave around your pup.
- Slow introductions: Monitor your dog closely and allow the child to be in the same room in a controlled setting. The initial visits should be very calm, short, and positive, gradually increasing in time and frequency as you notice your dog becoming more comfortable.
- Positive reinforcement training: Rewarding your dog for calm behavior while they're around your child can help them associate positive experiences with children.
- Provide personal space: Do not allow your child to approach your dog when their food or the dog's food is involved. They should also avoid approaching your dog while they're sleeping or anxious.
Give Your Dog a Resting Place
Giving your dog a place where they feel safe is a surefire way to make them feel better. Usually this is a crate, but it can also be a room or a closet. Choose an area in your house that is away from loud noises and a lot of people. The living room, for example, isn't the best choice. Instead, allow them to stay in your bedroom or guest room, where there's peace and quiet.
Contact a Canine Behaviorist
Don't be afraid to get a hold of a canine behaviorist if you don't feel equipped to handle this type of behavior. It's better to be safe than sorry. And they might have ways of training that you haven't thought of.