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Dear Mr. Wade;

In July I adopted a 5 year old chihuahua that was being given away because the previous owner’s children “terrorized” the dog (her words, not mine) and the poor dog was constantly having to hide from the kids.  It took close to 2 weeks before the dog was comfortable being handled by ME but now she’s by my side all the time and great with me.

My problem is I’m having trouble getting her socialized with other people. No one but me can pick her up or hold her or take her out, etc.  She allows herself to be petted as long as she’s right with me, otherwise no one has even a chance of petting her.  She absolutely adores our 2 month old grandson and allows our 2 year old granddaughter to pet her and even tolerates having her sit in her doggy bed with her but the older grandkids are right up there with other adults.  I’m afraid I may have to let her go if I can’t get her socialized as I’m now having some health issues that may result in a short hospital stay and if I can’t get her to the point where she will allow someone else to at the minimum take care of her needs I may have to give her up which I really don’t want to do as I adore her and she adores me. -M.W

Dear M.W.,

You’re in a couple of pickles for sure. Maybe a whole jar. If other people were absent from her early critical socialization period, acclimatizing her to people in general will have limited success. That doesn’t mean you can’t reduce her agitation but it’s important to not confuse tolerating people with “happy about” being around other people.

The fact that she came around to you isn’t necessarily evidence that she is capable of the same for people in general, let alone the frenetic activity of children. I’ve seen many of these cases and I think dogs like this learn to accept and love one or more members of its immediate human family from a need to be part of a pack and that they’re bonding to their pack and not humans per se.

Your situation is further complicated in that she’s had such a black background regarding children. She not likely ever going to bond to them reliably on any level and at her size who can blame her. That doesn’t mean you can’t teach her some skills to cope better and also manage her time around the kids. Don’t let your guard down around the two toddlers either. There is a significant chance that once they mature to the stage in life where they behave like older children of her experience her attitude will change.

Every time I cover this sort of topic a few dog lovers write me and say, “Why didn’t you just tell them to teach the children how to behave around the dog?” Fourty years of child safety around dog programs and the statistics say that reality gets in the way. Not because children aren’t smart enough to learn, but because an 8 year old boy or girl can’t stop being 8, not to mention there’s only so much of a parent to go around. So I think it’s a false hope and know in most cases it’s better to see if the dog can be changed. Another thing is that even if a chihuahua were ecstatic around children it’s a pretty fragile breed to have around basketballs bouncing, leaping from chair to chair, pillow fights etc.

There are a lot of things that you can do to improve this dog’s life, more then I could attempt to address and so contact with a good trainer experienced on working one on one with this sort of thing is a good start at determining the dog’s potential. I hope it works out.


-John Wade the Dog Trainer 

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