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How to socialize dog around kids/babies

Discussion in 'Boxers & Children' started by tmschult, Jun 27, 2013.

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  1. tmschult

    tmschult Boxer Booster

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    Hi BW-

    My husband and I are trying to start a family and we want Hank to be socialized with babies/toddlers/kids for when the time comes. The only problem is, there are no children in our family and none of our friends have kids yet. Every time I see a baby/toddler/child on a walk I want Hank to meet them to get some socialization but I can see that their parents are hesitant due to his size and his puppy energy (Actually, I'm a little hesitant too as I won't know how he'll react) but he always seems interested in the kids. Is it polite to ask the parents if their child can pet him? Our neighbor does have a toddler which Hank "plays" with through the fence but the toddler has always been afraid to pet Hank. Do you think that interaction is socialization enough?
     
  2. LILYLARUE

    LILYLARUE Boxer Insane

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    I would start slow and at a distance. Allow him to watch children interact, play, run, jump, scream and move fast. Try sitting at a park bench with him, treats in hand, near a playground. Each time he looks to them and then back at you treat and praise. He will learn that kids around is a positive thing. It's possible that a few kids may come close or want to pet him. Ask if they can stand 10 feet away, commanding him to sit and have the child toss treats to him saying "go find". You will get two beneifits from this.....1. the positive association with being near a child. 2. learning a technique to distract him from his excitement directed at the child. Thank the kid for helping with his training. If the child is calm, and willing to help more, ask them to walk back and forth in front of him, about 6 ft away, and tossing treats to him as they pass. You praise good boy. If he is too jumpy or lunging, the child is too close and should add a few feet away as she passes.

    If you can find out if there is a typically day for that child and parent to be there, ask, they may be willing to spend 5 minutes of helping you train. The child will also learn so much from this experience. I would however, wait several sessions, until your pup is calm and possibly in a sit as the child approaches to pet him. Ask them to just stand still, not looking or speaking to the pup, and even with her hands crossed on her chest to prevent excitment nipping. Let the pup explore the child without any movement from them. Then, praise and lead away from the child with lots of praising and treats. This will avoid the child from sudden movements or petting in uncomfortable spots which may cause a negative experience. You want to make things as comfortable and paced for the puppy.

    As time progresses, the excitement of seeing children will get less and the pup will associate the children with positive experiences and rewards. never push too fast and create a potential fearfulness of children. Don't allow high energy children to come pet him - nothing wrong with asking them to stay back as he is in training. Most parents will respect your proactivity - as most parents are just oblivious of the dangers of allowing their kids to approach strange dogs and often in very rude ways to the dog.

    With boxers, they are a people loving breed, especially with the babies/kids within their pack. Many boxers seem to become attached to the babies and won't leave their side, or even come get you if they sense something is wrong and the baby needs checked on. Give the pup credit for doing a beautiful job! Just one thing on the worrisome side - never leave your pup alone unwatched with any child, no matter the age. Baby's cries or childrens screams can set off a dog either with prey drive (prey screaming in pain) or with eliminating the pack member that is giving off cries that draw in predators. So being aware that dogs, no matter how domesticated, still act upon instincts and from fear or protective behaviors and children should never be alone with them. Children do not know warning signals of dogs, and the dog should never be set up to fail with a child involved.

    Taking into consideration training to desensitize them to running screaming kids, monitoring their interaction with children, and being proactive to anything can happen, boxers are one of the top child friendiest and protective breeds - another great attribute to their crazy personalities!
     
  3. TwoDogs

    TwoDogs Boxer Insane

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    Technically, what you will be doing isn't going to be "socialization" at all. In behaviorist terms that is something that can only be done during the dog's socialization phase. Some might consider this just a matter of semantics, but words have definitions for a reason and using the correct word can help us devise a plan of action for our dogs. The OP's question has been asked enough times by others that I think it warrants a thorough, detailed response about all the methods we can use to effect how our dogs react to stuff they encounter.

    SOCIALIZATION takes place during the developmental period of 3 to about 12-16 weeks of age. (Really it starts at birth but since the pups aren't very mobile and the eyes and ears aren't even open then, it what goes on in the early days has more to do with sensory stimulation and the mother-pup-littermates bond than with anything else.) This is the time when, if you were to compare them, the puppy's level of curiosity and willingness to explore things is at its highest while the level of fear and apprehension to things is at its lowest. It is the perfect time for the puppy to experience lots of people, places, objects and activities because it is during this period that the puppy is developing its ideas of what is "normal stuff" in its world. If the pup never encounters a certain type of people or thing during this time, the odds are extremely high that when the pup later encounters that thing that it will classify the thing as strange and unusual. To an animal, "strange and unusual" stuff is usually stuff that should be avoided, or chased off. This is why it is so critical that a pup experience a lot of stuff during this time and that it ALWAYS be in a really fun and positive way. Make sure your pup is exposed to kids--lots of them--but not necessarily all at once. Don't force the kids on the pup or the pup on the kids. Just let them interact in ways that teach the pup that humans come in small sizes, and these mini humans make strange noises, smell funny, and move erratically. Interactions should be at whatever level maintains a fun, relaxed and positive experience for the pup. For some pups that is just watching kids play, for some that is getting a treat from and being pet by a kid, and for others it might be snuggling in the lap of child or playing ball with a child.

    If you have an older pup or an adult dog who might not have had the benefit of good and proper socialization, don't despair. While you might have a harder and longer road than if the dog had a stronger foundation, there are plenty of things you can do to help your dog navigate its world comfortably and confidently. Depending on how a dog reacts to certain things, a handler's approach may include just one or many methods.

    Remember Pavlov? If a dog just has a neutral response or no response to a stimuli you can classically CONDITION a positive response by pairing that stimuli with things that make the dog happy. This is how dogs wind up loving the sight and sound of their food bowl. Initially their food bowl means nothing to a puppy but when the sight and sound of it is paired with food over and over again, eventually just the sight and sound alone elicit a happy, excited response. (You can condition a negative response to a food bowl just as easily if you were to instead throw it at the puppy.) So, if a dog didn't really have any response to children, you could pair the sight and sound of children with good things for the dog and the dog would eventually enjoy and look forward to the sight and sound of children.

    Say a dog already has a strong negative emotional and physiological reaction in response to some stimuli-- again let's use the sight of children as an example. A good handler would DESENSITIZE the dog to children by exposing that dog to gradually increasing intensities of versions of children starting with the least intense version so that the dog no longer experiences the negative emotional reaction to children. This might mean that the handler sits with the dog at the park day after day watching children play. First they sit 50 feet away, then 49 feet away, then 48 feet away, etc. Or it could mean that they sit 20 feet away from children playing calmly in a sandbox, then they sit 20 feet away from children walking around, then they sit 20 feet away from children running around, then 20 feet away from children running and yelling, then 20 feet from children running, yelling, and waving their arms. It might mean they sit with the dog near 1 child also sitting, then 2 children, then 3 children, etc. It is a process that deliberately exposes a dog to increasing levels of the stimuli to lessen the dog's reaction to that stimuli.

    HABITUATION is really similar to desensitization in that it also lessens the dog's reaction to a stimuli. In the case of habituation though, it is a natural process whereby repeated exposure to something causes the dog to learn that the stimuli is meaningless. This usually happens with stuff in the dog's environment that doesn't change much or increase in intensity. An example would be a dog learning that the sound of the air conditioner cycling on and off is meaningless background noise. Eventually the dog doesn't even notice it anymore. A dog can habituate to sounds quite easily. Expectant parents can buy CDs with sounds of babies babbling, squawking, cooing, and crying to play over and over again so the dog learns that these sounds are meaningless and to ignore them.

    A program of COUNTERCONDITIONING is usually used along with desensitization in dogs who exhibit and unwanted response to stimuli. This refers to the process of replacing the dogs response to a stimuli with a different response to the same stimuli. This would be the case if you changed a dogs fearful response to children into a happy response to children. You do this by pairing the exposure to the children with things that elicit the new (wanted) response. Every time a child comes into view you feed a dog wonderful bits of chicken. Provided the chicken makes the dog happy, over time the sight of children will make the dog just as happy as the chicken does. Think of it as "classical conditioning done to counter an emotional response". So now the handler is sitting with the dog 50 feet from children at play (desensitizing) while they are feeding wonderful chicken bits to the dog (counterconditioning).

    So decide what your dogs response is to "X" and then pick the method or methods to change and improve that response.

    For the OP, some things that you might want to include in your program might be:

    Sounds of babies and children
    Sounds and sights of baby equipment (strollers, baby swings, rolling toys, etc.)
    Crawling children
    People/kids with staggering, erratic and unusual gaits
    Being handled all over (for if the baby ever accidentally is allowed too close to the dog)
    Things being dropped nearby (kids are forever dropping things)
    People walking by while the dog is eating
    Learning to trade valued objects for treats
     
  4. tmschult

    tmschult Boxer Booster

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    Thank you

    Thank you very much for that detailed and helpful response. I feel as though I have all of the information I need to start this journey. Hopefully others can benefit from this post as well.
     
  5. Brindlegirly

    Brindlegirly Boxer Booster

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    Fast forward to when you bring your baby home: Send your husband home before you and the baby come home from the hospital with a blanket with the baby's sent on it. Helps a lot! I did that with my babies and my boxer laid on it, like he just knew.
     
  6. johann

    johann Boxer Insane

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    We had a 4 year old boxer when we had our son. What helped us the most was Johann having a strong obedience command foundation. Teaching him to not jump and learning "leave it" and "to your bed" where priceless.

    I found that it was easier for Johann to adjust to the baby because he started as a blob that didn't move and cried a lot, to a rolling baby, crawling, and now all over the place toddler (who drops food for him a lot). We made sure to always treat/reward calm behavior at first and make sure that Johann got one on one attention when baby was napping or after bedtime.

    A great place to start desensitizing your dog would be a park or playground. Start far away and move closer as he remains calm and comfortable. I've found that people are more likely to approach Johann when he is laying down calmly and I am clearly praising him for good behavior.

    Also, this may be premature, but start reading up on how to teach kids to treat dogs. I had a post a while ago that TwoDogs had a great response to. Part of why Johann is so tolerant and good is because we don't let our son crawl on him, pull on his ears, etc.
     
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