Dogs who chase children need to be assessed by an experienced Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) or certified behaviorist. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these qualified professionals in your area. Your dog may be attempting to play with children when she chases them, or she may be attempting to harm children. The latter situation is a serious problem—but playful dogs can pose significant risks to children, too. Even if they have no intention of harming children, they may get caught up in the excitement of the chase and nip at children or knock them down.
Some dogs switch from play to predatory aggression when a frightened child runs away from them. A child’s high-pitched screaming can also trigger a predatory reaction. On rare occasions, children have been seriously injured and killed while trying to run away from predatory dogs. This video shows an example of a dog who is clearly frightened when faced with a child, but when the child runs past the dog, she switches to a chase-and-bite response. As you can see, this could easily escalate into a serious situation for the child and for the dog.
Resolving any type of behavior problem directed toward children can be especially problematic because you must train your dog with children nearby in order to make progress. This can be a risky proposition with some dogs. You must take ALL necessary precautions to ensure no one will be frightened or injured. If you suspect your dog could behave aggressively around children, DO NOT implement the following treatment recommendations. You should consult with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) who has extensive experience successfully treating canine aggression. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these qualified professionals in your area. If you decide to hire a CPDT because you can’t find a local behaviorist, make sure that she or he has specialized training and extensive experience successfully treating dogs that chase children, since these skills aren’t required for CPDT certification.
If your dog or puppy shows any interest in chasing after children, teach her to associate children with good things that come from you. As soon as you see your dog looking at a child, call her name, praise her and give her really delicious treats when she turns toward you. If she doesn’t pay attention when you say her name, wiggle a treat right in front of her nose and lure her head around toward you. When she looks at you, give her the treat. Continue to do this each and every time your dog is around a child until she automatically looks at you in anticipation of treats whenever she sees children.
If you have a puppy, take every opportunity to socialize her with children. Socialization is the best way to prevent behavior problems later in your dog’s life. Seek out dog-friendly children and arrange for them to give your puppy treats and toss toys for her. One or two kids at a time is best—too many can overwhelm and frighten a puppy. Prevent children from surrounding and mobbing your puppy. Allow her to move away from children if she’s a bit uncertain. Permit her to get close to them on her own terms, as she feels more comfortable. If your puppy looks afraid (perhaps tucking her tail, crouching low, licking her lips, or trying to avoid children or backing away from them), please see our article, Fear of Children.
Even if your dog just tries to chase children from within your fenced yard, it’s imperative that you discourage this behavior. It can cause her to develop territorial behavior and general misbehavior around children. As soon as your dog starts chasing, interrupt her immediately by saying her name, clapping sharply, if necessary, and telling her “No!” Then bring her inside the house. To prevent this behavior from happening again, you can put up a stockade-style privacy fence or attach tarps to your existing fence so that your dog can’t see children and get overexcited or agitated. You should also avoid leaving your dog alone in the yard. It’s never a good idea to leave a dog unsupervised outside for longer than 15 to 20 minutes—even if she’s in a fenced area. In addition to discouraging and preventing your dog’s chasing behavior, it’s important to give her plenty of acceptable things to do instead. Provide daily exercise and enrichment for your dog so that she’s less motivated to chase children out of pure boredom and excess energy. Please see our articles, Enriching Your Dog’s Life and Exercise for Dogs, for lots of great ways to give your dog the mental and physical stimulation she needs.
What to Do About the Problem
- Keep your dog contained in a secure kennel or fenced yard so that she can’t chase children.
- Always walk your dog on leash to ensure that she never has the opportunity to chase and frighten children.
- Teach your dog a really reliable recall so you can call her whenever you need to. Please see our article, Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called, for detailed information about how to accomplish this. To be successful, you’ll need to start your dog’s training away from areas where she might see children so that she can focus on learning and not get overly excited and distracted. Only when your dog is extremely reliable at coming when called should you “test” her around children. Even then, you must do so with your dog on a long line (a 15- to 40-foot training leash) in case she decides to run after a child. It‘s nearly impossible to call a dog off once she’s in pursuit of something or someone. Be prepared to devote a substantial amount of training time and effort to make your dog’s recall reliable. Don’t hesitate to find a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area for help with this training. Please realize that your dog will still be motivated to chase children—even after you teach her to come when called. It will be your responsibility to detect potentially problematic situations early enough to call your off dog before she takes off after a child.
What NOT to Do
- Do not purposely expose your dog to children as you physically beat her. This is inhumane and highly unlikely to change your dog’s behavior. In fact, she will likely become more suspicious of children and may escalate to aggressive behavior. At best, your dog might refrain from chasing children when you’re nearby, but she won’t learn not do to it when you’re not around.
- Do not purposely let your dog take off after a child and then allow her to hit the end of a leash or long line at a dead run. This could cause severe damage to her neck and vertebrae. It’s also unlikely to serve as a deterrent to your dog. In fact, she will likely become more suspicious of children and may escalate to aggressive behavior.