Have you ever wondered why dogs will chase and/or bite at children? I have my take on the subject. When analyzing what a dog thinks about children, I rely on what are the perceptions of the dog. Initially, dog’s use their nose to process what is in front of them. As for the smells emitted by a baby, a younger or an older child, the National Institute of Health states that the pleasantness of a baby fades with age as the hormonal content begins to change and grow as the child matures. So when a child meets a dog, depending on the hormonal changes the dog may smell, some clues are given, the dog processes how this particular child feels about it. Infants generally smell good to humans and probably good to dogs too. They are devoid of a lot of hormonal activity and most likely the dogs are mainly curious about the newborn more than anything else. Getting dogs used to newborns is a different topic.
Dogs process a wide variety of smells which tell them if humans are happy (serotonin and other endorphins) fearful (cortisol and epinephrine) as well as a host of other emotions. In any case, the dog should be allowed to smell the child first, in a calm and non-threatening environment. Treats, quiet, and nonthreatening gestures will also help keep things calm. Of course, children are generally excited to meet a dog, so that might begin raising the excitability factor. Make sure the child is not overly afraid and wants to meet the dog. Otherwise, the increased stress level of the child will put the dog on guard because fear is usually met with the fight or flight response. We should also think about what the dog is hearing. Children have quicker little heartbeats and quicker breathing, which also may push up the excitability factor. And last straw is the quick movements, running and screaming emitted by a child, which all mean “play” for the dog, especially a puppy. It should also be noted that play is a form of acting prey drive impulses, so often time the stare, the run, and then the bite constitute a form of play for the dog.
So what to do about it? First I recommend a talk with the children, maybe to encourage them to use slower movements and softer voices which will help. You can suggest that they can be trainers or junior trainers for the puppy or dog. This might helps kids confidence and esteem when they meet the dog. We should discourage excessive staring at the dog. Excessive staring can be intimidating to a dog, and even act as a sign of aggression, so children (and adults) should keep it to a minimum. Looks and glances are good. We want a comfortable environment for the humans and the dogs. We should also think about rewarding your dog for calm behavior. Keep the children supervised and close to you while giving treats and even consider letting the kids give treats to engender the relationship. Toys nor too much treating should be utilized until the children have established some sort of leadership relationship with the dog. Children love dogs and if they love dogs, they’ll love training. Children and adults love to train a dog that will respond to a cue. Having children around a dog is always a challenge, but with the proper supervision and training, it can be fun for adults, children, and the dogs.