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Our puppy is now 9 months old and doing sooooo much better than he was previously.

But then just to test him, we have two young kids, 6 and 8 who are staying with us for an indeterminate period. Long story, and kind of beside the point. The point is, suddenly there's a six year old who really wants to love the dog. And the dog wants to be left alone. The kids are good about boundaries and following directions. They make him love letters ("I love you dog!") and leave them in the dogs area so he will know they love him even if he doesn't want to be touched. But they really want contact with him and Bear won't even take a treat from them.

The really challenging thing is that he's so nervous around them that he won't pee on walks. I have to bring the kids on walks because I can't leave them alone in the house (too young!) but then he doesn't urinate and then he winds up having accidents inside.

Are there good ways to help my dog get comfortable with these fast moving little people?

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    I like the idea of having the kids write "love letters" to the dog! Maybe they can include a small treat with the note and give them to the dog personally? You might also want to check out "Look-at-that" (LAT) training which could be helpful in this scenario. – jeffaudio Aug 7 '14 at 17:00
  • If the love letters are to mean anything, have the kids rub them all over** their bodies and clothes. Maybe even attach it to a piece of laundry they wore the day before like a tshirt. – jeremy Aug 8 '14 at 15:31
  • What breed? I have never met a lab that did not like kids. – paparazzo Jul 5 '17 at 19:20
  • He's a rescue. Mixed breed, but I think his fear stems more from past experiences than breed characteristics. – Amanda Jul 5 '17 at 23:23
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This answer is too late for you, but maybe it helps someone else.

I would recommend a completely different strategy.

1. At the beginning don't let the children try to pet the dog

Every dog is different. And not every dog wants to be hugged or petted so much. Children are often loud, fast and chaotic and mostly have no understanding of personal space. They want to tell the dog that they love him and don't understand that maybe the dog does not like this kind of loving. So the main thing is to teach the children to respect the personal space of the dog. Maybe you can touch and pet your dog, because the dog trusts you. If he is afraid of a children, every physical contact will be uncomfortable for the dog. He will never like it, until he trust the children. So before the children are allowed to pet the dog, the dog has to learn to relax in the presence of the children.

2. Don't let the children touch the dogs area

or leaving something there. The dog is afraid of the children. And now he comes to his personal area, the place where he normally feels very safe, and he can smell, that the children were there. The dog thinks that the children want to take his personal area for their own purpose. They don't respect him. He is much more afraid than before.

3. Show the dog that the children give him the space he needs

You have to show the dog, that the children respect you and him. Let him see, that there is no need for being afraid. That means, if the children arrive at your house, they can say hello to the dog, but they are not allowed to approach him. They don't touch him. It is good, when the dog is in the same room, so he can watch you and the children. Create an area where he is "safe" and no children will go into this area, but where he can see you. Order the dog to lie down and then ignore the dog and live your life with the children. Play and talk with them.

4. Show him, that walking with children is fine

After a while (it can take minutes, but sometimes it takes days) you can see that the dog can relax even if the children are in the same room. You can now try to take the children with you when you go for a walk with your dog. At the beginning he will still be afraid and not relaxed, because they are moving and may be closer to him. Tell the children to ignore the dog and be relatively calm or, if they want to run and play, stay away form the dog. If you have to go for a walk and you have to take the children with you, even when he does not relax, yet, tell the children not to go nearer to the dog than 1 meter. And then, after half an hour or an hour, when you feel that he must urinate but can't, tell them to make a 50 meters foot race. They have to start 3 meters in front of you and the dog, have to run AWAY form you and the dog and when they finished, they have to wait for you and the dog. Don't allow them to run back, the dog will be afraid. But I'll bet that the dog will use the time of the race and the absence of the children to urinate.

5. Show the dog that the presence of children means food and fun If the dog can be relaxed on a walk and urinate even if they are close to him, it is now time to teach him that children are positive. The children can now try to contact the dog (Maybe the dog already tried to contact them. Wonderful. Hopefully they didn't freak out and were excited - that would frighten him again - but reacted calmly and like nothing special has happened). Give the children some treats and they have to throw it on the ground near to the dog. Than, if the dog does not take it, let it where it is and do something else with the children. Ignore the dog. He will come after a while and take the treat, but usually in a moment where nobody watch him. If you see that, don't react to it (don't be excited or praise the dog), but you can now make another try. Let the children throw some treats. If he takes it immediately, they can throw to a nearer distance, so the dog has to move. If not, ignore... the same as before. If he stands directly in front of the children, they can place the treats on their hands. And they can wait that he eats the treats directly from their hands. If he does so, don't let them petting him. He still may not like that.

6. Teach the dog that children can pet him

First of all, the dog may be a dog, who never will love when children hug him very much and pet him all the time. You and the children have to respect that. But maybe you can teach the dog to accept a little petting and maybe he can learn that it feels good, if they tickle him a bit. The children have to be very calm. They can hold a treat in their hand, but have the hand closed so that the dog can't reach it. Maybe he will sniffle and try to get it. The children now can try to pet him with the other hand very softly and calmly. If he is afraid and runs away or is shocked, tell the children to stop trying to touch him, until he is as relaxed as before. Otherwise the children can open the hand with the treat and give it to the dog.

Some last words for working with very active children and scared dogs:

Most children will understand your orders to stay away from the dog, if you explain it to them. Tell them that the dog is very afraid and that he can't understand love letters, hugs or petting. Explain that they would be afraid, too if some strange humans, which are much bigger than they are and who are loud and wild, try to hug them. They will understand and most of the children will respect that. But children are often impatient. If you recognize that, try to show them how much better it is now in comparison to the first times.

But don't lie to them. If you see that the dog does not like petting, hugging and fast moving children at all and that he can barely relax if they are in the same room, even after weeks, tell them. Tell them that he is not a puppet or a teddy bear and that they will never can do this. Explain them that this is not their fault and that they are wonderful and beloved children, but that this dog is too frightened. They may be sad, but that is better than an always terrified dog who may bite one day, if he can't handle the petting anymore.

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  • This actually reflects most of our strategy. We have lots of conversations with kids about personal space -- usually they immediately start taking about ppl who pet/pat/hug them without permission. Usually they know feeling like a spectacle, so they even grasp not wanting to be looked at. Treats are offered without eye contact or expectation. He can take it and retreat. And the dog kind of enforces rules about rumpus indoors -- as soon as we see him shift gears even a little the rumpus has to move outside or stop. – Amanda Jul 5 '17 at 16:44
  • I didn't realize that I never accepted an answer to this question, but this is a pretty accurate description of where we settled. Patience is hard, but it has been great to sit down with children and talk to them about how sometimes someone is so so so cute and all you want to do is kiss him and hug him, but if he doesn't want hugs and kisses, you have to respect his space. It inevitably turns into conversations about consent and our own bodies, too. – Amanda Jul 5 '17 at 23:38
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Maybe you can teach your children how to attract the dog towards them. The child can feed him everyday, give him some treat if he behaves properly. You can make the dog feel better in company with children.

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I'm a first time dog owner, so my experience is limited, but I find that everything is easier when the dog is a little bit on the tired side. I suggest you do the following to help him get accustomed to the kids:

Take the dog out for a really long walk or a run, may be play fetch, or whatever you can do to get him tired. If you can't get someone to take care of the kids may be you can hire a dog walker and explain to him that you need the dog to really exercise? Then after he comes back home he will be thirsty, give him time to drink some water and let him go to his favourite place to rest. As long as he's not possessive of his sleeping place this is a great time to take the kids over and let them pet the dog. If he exercised enough I'm pretty sure he won't mind and he will soon learn that the kids only want to be friendly. As the kids sound very well behaved I think this approach will definitely work, or at least will give them some time to enjoy the dog :) After doing this for a few days they can start trying to approach him whenever he's calmed and bring him treats. Most dogs love kids even though they might be afraid of them if they are not used to being around them, so I think he just needs some time and patience and it will work out fine.

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