My female Newfoundland (4yrs old) has started lunging at small children when we are on vacation. She (and my other newf) are walked every day, mostly off-leash, but on-leash at least once a week. Whilst away on vacation twice this year she has lunged and jumped up at small children under 10. She has not snapped and doesn't land on them, but this is totally out of character for her. We do not shout at her or smack her but firmly say 'no'. She seems to know that her behaviour is unwarranted and appears out of sorts for a while after. Last year a young boy jumped out behind her and startled her enough that she barked at him then ran to me. That is the only trigger that I can think of. She is fine in her usual walking areas and parks at home.
Though not clearly stated, I think your question is: What causes my dog to lunge at small children when I take her on walks while vacationing? The part of your story that jumps out at me is this:
She seems to know that her behaviour is unwarranted and appears out of sorts for a while after. Last year a young boy jumped out behind her and startled her enough that she barked at him then ran to me.
She does not know that her behaviour is unwarranted; it's not. Your dog was badly frightened. In your dog's mind, the children of that place are dangerous creatures. The lunging is an act of self-preservation. Afterwards she cowers because she hates when you scold her.
Why does she only lunge at children at your vacation spot and not at home?
Since the scare occurred with a child at your vacation spot, your dog now associates that location with scary children. Back home the children are not scary, but here in this strange place they are. You will have to take measures to keep everyone, dog as well as kids, feeling safe.
I come from the perspective of dog psychology and training as taught by Cesar Milan in the Dog Whisperer TV series, since that is how I eventually got control of my problem rescue dog ten years ago. Your dog is four years old now, meaning she was three years old when that young boy startled her by jumping at her from behind. Since you don't mention otherwise, I understand your dog was previously well-behaved and did not lunge at children.
Analyzing the Incident
Having established that, here's my analysis:
- That young boy jumping out from behind your young dog startled her badly. She ran to you for comfort and protection. She no longer trusts children of that size.
- She does not know that her lunging behaviour is "unwarranted" when you tell her "no." She lunges either out of fear or to protect herself or both. Thus, when you tell her no, she thinks that you disprove of her attempts at protecting herself. Believing her owner won't protect her puts her out of sorts.
It is not clear exactly what you expect in an answer. Thus, I will assume you want a suggestion on how to prevent this lunging at children when walking your dog on vacation.
Keeping Everyone Safe
Given the apparent root of the problem, my suggestion is to make your dog feel safe and secure on these walks.
For your Dog: Be a Protective Owner
To do this, keep her on a leash and at your side. Keep her away from children and do not let them come near to, or pet, the dog. Since she feels unsafe on vacation only, there is no need to do this at home except for areas requiring dogs to be on-leash.
Re Children: Be Friendly but Firm
I realize keeping children from petting your dog may feel awkward for you, especially if you want a friendly public image among other vacationers. Here's what I did, since my dog was never safe with children and very picky with strangers in general. Leash laws required me to have her on a leash at all times but even so, I'd hold my dog close, even putting my own body between it and the child if necessary, and warn people that "My dog doesn't like kids." If it was adults, I'd say, "My dog doesn't like strangers." The message was clear: I like you but my dog is skittish. For everyone's safety, stay out of reach of my dog.
It worked for me.
I lived beside an elementary school and near a park. I encountered children on a regular basis when walking my dog. The above strategy worked well. No one got hurt. Nor did I alienate neighbours. People understand that dogs can be vicious animals. Children need to be taught this. If acquaintances remind you that "Last year your dog seemed okay," you can inform them that "something happened" so that "she is more skittish" and you "don't want to take any chances."
Hopefully, that will eliminate the lunging and at the same time preserve your relationships with your friends and neighbours.