I recently acquired a 2-year-old female Italian mastiff. She is a great dog, acts great around the adults, but something freaks her out when someone is on the floor. She is great with our 8-year-old grandson but nervous of the 1-year-old who spends a lot of time on the floor, she sometimes abruptly butts him with her nose, it scares me, she licks him when he is up on my lap. Any pointers?
Until a dog has proven itself resilient to all a child has to offer it needs to be watched like a hawk. What some people don’t realize is that some dogs make distinctions in humans depending on whether, how frequently and the context they were exposed to various ages of humans between the ages of 3 – 12 weeks of age.
It seems to have a lot to do with the way people move about. This means dogs that are okay with an adult human female may be wary around adult human males. In your situation, this means your dog may be comfortable with children in one phase of mobility development but not another.
Children transition from immobile to crawling to toddling to turbo-toddling to eight year old males (get bitten by more dogs than any other age group). You can also even see reactivity to adult humans that are unsteady on their feet.
A dog can be perfectly normal around one subset but not another. Most dogs try to avoid, but with children this eventually proves impossible.
Sometimes the dog can suppress it’s anxiety sufficiently for them to continue to live in the household with the child that makes them uncomfortable. However, this has more to adapt to the individual as a peculiar pack member. It does not extend to similarly aged children that come to visit. So, it’s important to not interpret a dog’s acceptance of a household child with children.
If the dog was imprinted during its 3 – 12 weeks of age critical socialization period on the next stage of a child’s mobility development, they might relax once the child enters that phase. They may not however if the child has been a constant anxiety trigger.
Even if we could reliably predict (and we cannot) that the dog will relax once the next phase kicks in; it is no small task to keep a child safe during these lengthy periods between one development period in a child and the following. Trying to make it work is often just not worth the risk as there’s only so much left over of a person at the end of the day.
If your dog isn’t comfortable and the child is a visitor then keep them separated by securely containing the dog while the child is visiting. If the child is a frequent visitor, you have to be extraordinarily vigilant. Sometimes, you think the dog is contained, and someone unwittingly releases the dog.
Two factors to consider if the child or similar children in and even around the home are going to be a reality. The first is in my opinion, all human children are more important than any dog, so if the dog isn’t reliable around children, it needs to be permanently removed, one way or another from that environment.
The second is that even if you think you can reduce the risk to children to zero, but they are going to be a constant in the dog’s life, that’s a lot of day to day stress for the dog to cope. As hard as it may be for any loving dog owner, it may be in the dog’s mental health best interest to be permanently removed from the constant contact environment.