Child Aggressive Dog – Is Socialization Possible?
I have a two year old male cocker spaniel that amongst other things is child aggressive.
When he was a puppy he had extreme anxiety around strangers as a puppy. Someone would approach to pet him and he would scream like he was injured. He is now better but still very cautious and isn’t the type of dog that will just go up to a stranger. Once he knows them, he will get very excited to see them.
He still has some disconcerting behaviour that I would definitely like to learn how to control. If someone walks near the car he growls and snarls. I often go to my mothers in the country. To get there we have to go through customs into the states. He behaves this way towards the customs officers. They take in stride, but sometimes they try to give him a treat but it doesn’t help.
Second problem is that he hates young kids, is very watchful of them and you can tell by his body language that he is on edge. A week ago he bit my nephew without breaking the skin. I am young and would like to start a family in the next few years. I want him to be a part of that. I love him so much. In all other areas he is so well behaved and loyal.
Can he be re-socialized to like children? I just don’t want this to be a thing we can’t conquer.
I share your dog’s border anxiety. Whether driving or flying, well before reaching customs I inexplicably get nervous and when it’s my turn my sense of humour loses all of its common sense. The last time I was “patted down”, I blurted out, “Thank you for such a wonderful time. Now that you know me so well I hope you’ll have the decency to call me later.” The customs officer did not offer me a treat. Next time I will give your dog’s aggressive snarly approach a try and see if that earns me a treat.
Offering your dog a treat when he’s so thoroughly immersed in a heightened state of what is probably fear won’t have any impact whatsoever. Training never works in that type of situation. There is no good behaviour to reward and discipline will only make it worse. For any hope of benefit, any attempt at training, whether at the border or around children has to wait until your dog’s fear is dialed way back.
Before you worry about any of that you should first focus elsewhere. Whether the border or children the first thing you have to work on when your dog isn’t in a heightened state of fear is his heightened perception of “Stay, Come, Heel” and in this case, “Quiet”. This is so you can give him an “instead of behaviour” to do as you progress up his fear ladder which brings me to the second step. Pin point where the fear begins and start there. Don’t proceed until your dog will in his “quasi-state” of fear still, “Stay, Come, Heel” and “Quiet” and happily accept a treat, toy or a cuddle. The third step is immersion. To have any chance of working your dog is going to need to be flooded with great experiences and you may find you’re going to be a little short on parents willing to use their kids as guinea pigs.
In theory it can work, in real life it’s pretty hard. I have more on the topic in a video-cast which you can find here: www.askthedogguy/dogstoolvideos