Many dogs bark at children, but their barking issue is never addressed or it's addressed late only once the barking progresses to more worrisome behaviors such as growling and baring teeth. This can be due to ignorance, lack of time, resources or money to work on fixing the issue. If your dog barks at children, please play it safe and enlist the help of professional to help you out.
A Matter of Poor Socialization
Most puppy owners welcome their new puppies into their homes between the ages of 8 and 10 weeks. At this point, most pups have received at least two sets of booster shots and likely have two more to go.
Veterinarians often emphasize the importance of protecting puppies during these vulnerable times by not exposing them to others dogs (and taking them to places other dogs frequent) until fully vaccinated. This often leads to puppy owners keeping their pups secluded in their homes.
Coincidentally though, during this critical time, puppies are undergoing a sensitive period during which they are becoming more easily accustomed to all sorts of people, animals and situations.
If you miss socializing your puppy during this window of opportunity (which closes around the pup's 12th-14th week) your pup will be well past this optimal socialization period and a fear/mistrust of people and other dogs may have already set in.
A lack of proper socialization during a puppy's critical window of socialization can therefore prompt fear-induced behaviors directed towards children which may lead to barking, growling and even biting.
A Negative Experience
While it's true that socializing puppies towards children during their critical socialization period can help "prime" them, it's important to recognize that a negative experience may cancel out all your hard work.
It's therefore important protecting your dog from any negative encounters. Avoid children teasing your dog when he's behind a fence and don't put him into the situation where your neighbor's boisterous children chase him around and your dog is forced to go hide under a table to avoid them.
Also, consider that even innocent-looking behaviors carried out by children may be perceived as intimidating by dogs. For instance, consider that many dogs may not like being hugged and kissed by children or they might like having children faces so close to them.
Many dogs also dislike having children around when they are sleeping, eating, playing with a toy or are not feeling too well.
Barking is therefore a distance-increasing behavior which tells the child something along the terms of: "I am not comfortable with you doing this or coming this close, please leave me alone."
You therefore need to be your dog's advocate paying close attention to what children do to your dog and stepping in ideally before your dog has a chance of showing evident signs that he's getting uncomfortable such as barking.
Did you know? Most bites are inflicted on children the dog knows and boys are more likely to be bitten than girls, with the most common victims being children aged 5 to 9 years old and bites on the head and neck being more common. Dogs who are more likely to bite are often those who spend a good deal of time alone in a backyard or chained up.
A Matter of Frustration
As mentioned, there is barking and barking in dogs. Some dogs bark to increase distance, because they are not comfortable with certain people, dogs or children, others instead will bark because they want to be closer, only that they can't.
In this case, a dog's barking at children can be triggered by frustration. The dog may want to join a child who is running or maybe playing with a ball, but if he cannot due to being indoors, on a leash or behind a barrier, he may bark to vent his frustration.
In general, these frustrated dogs are friendly and happy to interact with children when they are off leash and free to interact. These dogs have associated being around children with fun and are eager to join in.
However, not all dogs are created equally, so it's not always about having fun with them. Some dogs may bark because they are too overstimulated or perhaps they want to steal the child's ball.
In some herding breeds, watching children run around may trigger their herding instincts causing them to bark if they cannot chase them and control their movements. Once off leash, these dogs may chase and even attempt to nip children.
"Many herding dogs who end up in shelters are surrendered for biting children or other animals the same way they might bite uncontrollable livestock." ~Dawn Antoniak-Mitchell, Teach your herding breed to be a great companion.
Watch the Context
Barking is a dog's way of expressing himself. Indeed, there are many different types of barking in dogs. Dogs may therefore bark for many reasons and it often helps looking at the context in which the barking occurs in order to understand them better.
Does your dog bark at children if they come near him while he's eating or while he's playing with a toy? In this case, it's possible your dog is resource guarding and telling the child to move away. Caution is needed in these dogs as their barking can be warning of an impending bite.
Does your dog bark at children when they are walking by your home or yard? In this case, there may be an element of territoriality/fear and your dog may be barking to send them away. However, it can also be a sign of frustration due to the barrier preventing him from going to meet them.
Does your dog bark at children when they run around and play? In this case your dog may not be comfortable with them playing in such boisterous ways or his herding instincts may be kicking in. Be careful.
Some dogs may bark at children or other people or dogs when they come close to a person the dog perceives as valuable. This form of protective behavior can pose a danger to those approaching.
Has your dog never barked at children and now is barking out of the blue? In this case, you may have to consider changes in his life. Perhaps the COVID19 lockdown has played a number on his socialization skills or maybe a recent move or some changes in life have made him more reactive. Perhaps, he's not feeling too well too which can lower a dog's tolerance of certain things.
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs may bark at children for many different reasons. Not always the underlying reason is clear-cut as we would want. Because there are several possible reasons at play and barking may be a warning signaling a possibility for a future bite, your best bet is to consult with a dog behavior professional for direct guidance. In the meanwhile, here are just some general tips for dogs who bark at children.
- Compile a list of circumstances that have caused your dog to bark at children in the past. Think of each event carefully and jolt down the circumstances that may have led to the barking. Was the child running and playing? Was your dog in the car? Did the barking happen when the child got too close to you?
- Prevent rehearsal of the problem behavior through management. Management therefore entails preventing your dog from practicing the undesirable behavior. If you therefore notice a trend in your dog's barking, avoid exposing your dog to the same situation in the future. For example, if your dog barks at children playing in front of your home, prevent access to windows and doors so that your dog doesn't feel compelled to bark. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Consult with a dog behavior professional using force-free behavior modification for safety and correct implementation. Describe the triggers you have noticed. The specialist will provide a plan based on the circumstances that evoke your dog's barking. For example, if your dog barks at the sight of children on walks due to fear or lack of socialization, the "look at that" exercise applied contextually to children may come handy. The goal is to create positive associations at the sight of children.
- It also helps to eventually train some type of “response substitution” where you ask your dog to perform an alternate behavior such as sit and look at you, when a child who elicits a fear response is approaching, followed by a treat. This encourages your dog to look at you for instructions rather than reacting while also creating a positive association.
- Use a basket muzzle if you are afraid your dog may harm children. Children may pop out of nowhere sometimes approaching your dog from behind and petting, this can be a recipe for a bite. A muzzle can have you covered.
- Finally, never leave children alone with a dog, not even for a moment and no matter what. Make sure you teach kids how to to be respectful of your dog's space, and ensure your dog has a safe place to retreat. When you cannot actively supervise, have your dog in an area where there is a physical barrier such as a baby gate between dog and children (make sure kids don't stick their hands or fingers through!)