Lab Aggression Toward Children
Reader Question on How to Teach Dog Not to Attack Visiting Children and Behavioral Suggestions from Our Editor
Reader Question: Why does my Lab attack children?
We own a loving 18 month old, spaded male Labrador and a 8 year old spaded Dachshund female dog.
Myself, my wife and our 7 year old daughter try and spend as much time as possible with 'Seuntjie' our dog. We have never been attacked or felt any aggression from 'Seuntjie' but when my daughter has friends over on a play date 'Seuntjie' attacked them and seems very aggressive. Is he just jealous of the attention that our daughter is now giving to her friends?
Editor Suggestions for Behavioral Modification of Dog Attacking Children
It's concerning to hear about 'Seuntjie's' aggressive behavior towards children. There can be several reasons why a typically loving dog might behave this way, and it's essential to address it promptly to ensure everyone's safety.
1. Resource Guarding or Protective Behavior:
'Seuntjie' may perceive your daughter's friends as a threat to the resources he values, such as attention, food, or space. He could also be displaying protective behavior over your daughter, especially if he's not used to sharing her with others.
Action: It's critical to manage these interactions closely. When children visit, 'Seuntjie' should be introduced to them slowly and in a controlled manner. Start with short, supervised visits and keep him on a leash if necessary. Positive reinforcement training can help; reward 'Seuntjie' for calm behavior around new people. If the behavior persists or escalates, consult with a professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist who can observe 'Seuntjie's' behavior and provide tailored advice.
2. Overstimulation or Anxiety:
Children can be unpredictable and move in ways that might overstimulate or scare a dog, leading to an aggressive response.
Action: Create a quiet, safe space for 'Seuntjie' to retreat to when he feels overwhelmed. Teach visiting children how to interact with him appropriately, such as not approaching him too quickly and avoiding direct eye contact at first. Monitor his body language for signs of stress or anxiety.
Dogs can feel jealous, and if 'Seuntjie' feels that he's losing attention due to the presence of your daughter's friends, he might react negatively.
Action: Ensure 'Seuntjie' receives attention and affection even when there are visitors, so he doesn't feel neglected. You can also engage him with toys or treats to keep him occupied while your daughter is with her friends.
Regarding point 1, here are some additional behavior modification tips:
Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning:
Gradually expose 'Seuntjie' to the situations that trigger his aggression in a controlled way. Pair the presence of children with something positive, like his favorite treats or a game he enjoys. Start with children at a distance where he is comfortable and slowly decrease the distance as
he becomes more relaxed.
Strengthen 'Seuntjie's' basic obedience skills like 'sit', 'stay', 'come', and 'leave it'. Reliable obedience can help you manage and redirect his behavior in challenging situations.
Set Clear Boundaries:
Establish rules and boundaries for 'Seuntjie' and be consistent with them. If he knows his limits, he's less likely to exhibit undesirable behavior.
Avoid punishing 'Seuntjie' for aggressive behavior as it can increase fear and anxiety, potentially making the aggression worse. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement for good behavior.
Have 'Seuntjie' on a leash and ask the children to approach slowly, allowing 'Seuntjie' to sniff them. Reward him for calm behavior and slowly build up the time spent with the children.
Teach 'Go to Place' Command:
Train 'Seuntjie' to go to a specific place, like his bed or a mat, on command. This gives him a safe spot to observe and relax while still feeling included. Over time, this can become a refuge for him when he feels overwhelmed.
Focus and Attention Exercises:
Teach 'Seuntjie' to focus on you even in distracting environments. Practice at home first and then gradually introduce environments where children are present but not interacting with him.
Use of Baby Gates or Crates:
Having physical barriers such as baby gates can provide 'Seuntjie' with a safe space while still allowing him to see and hear what's going on, reducing the likelihood of feeling isolated or overprotective.
If 'Seuntjie' is not well-socialized with children outside of your family, consider controlled socialization sessions with calm, dog-savvy children who can follow instructions not to overwhelm him.
If these strategies don't lead to improvement, it might be time for a professional assessment from a certified animal behaviorist or a dog trainer experienced in dealing with aggression issues.
Remember, any form of aggression should be taken seriously, and it's better to err on the side of caution. Avoid putting 'Seuntjie' in situations that trigger his aggression until you can get professional help. Children's safety is paramount, and they may not always understand how to behave around dogs, which can inadvertently provoke a negative response.
If the problem doesn't improve, or if you're unsure how to manage the behavior, please seek help from a professional. A qualified animal behaviorist can assess 'Seuntjie' and provide a behavior modification program. They can also help you understand any warning signs and teach you how to respond if he shows aggression. It's also wise to ensure 'Seuntjie' gets plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation, which can help reduce anxiety and improve overall behavior.
Your love and concern for 'Seuntjie' are clear, and with the right guidance, I'm confident you can work through these issues.
Please take care, and don't hesitate to reach out if you need further assistance.
Editor and Publisher
Dog Health Guide