As a dog-man for most of my years, I do not recall ever being intimidated by dogs as a child nor in my adult life. I have at times been very prudent around dogs I did not know but never fearful. But I do understand that many people fear dogs having had a negative experience at some point. With dogs that are not well-socialized, being in contact with lots of people can be stressful for the animal and lead to unpredictable behavior also. Introducing unfamiliar adults and dogs together often takes a dog-person’s patience even when setting clear expectations with your guest. Even well-behaved dogs may get territorial or possessive over toys or other items at times. Dogs are also susceptible to fear. This may occur when someone unfamiliar approaches, or an action catches the animal by surprise. Certain breeds are high-strung. Others are very comfortable with young children. Also, dogs sense fear and it may trigger an instinctive response. Even in the presence of calm animals, for a toddler, the sheer size of your dog may give the little person some natural hesitation. As a parent, grandparent, or supervising adult, it becomes your responsibility to monitor both closely – and to take proper precautions.
When we began introducing our grandson to Dexter and Comet, Zander was quite small. With Comet a part of our family for four years and Dexter since he was a pup, I was more concerned about their size intimidating Zander than behavior unknowns. We established boundaries for the dogs when we were babysitting the toddler in our home. Excluding them from the “toddler’s room” made a “safe” space for Zander. More to mitigate dog hair, dust and biscuit crumbs, we would place a clean blanket in the living room as a place for Zander to play; the dogs had to stay back. For the last year or so, we would model for Zander phrases, such as “Dexter, no!” or “Comet, go!”, and point them to move away while in the boy’s presence. Both dogs were obedient and would turn away from following him in the hallway or getting too close to him playing in the living room. Now as our grandson is on the cusp of turning three, he is much more comfortable around them, and clearly gives the dogs the same commands he has heard and seen effective.
“Comet, go!” To their credit, each know to back away. They give the child space as he runs about. The result of good training, even with gentle dogs, builds confidence in children that they can be cautious but not fearful of dogs they encounter. The rest of lessons, regarding dog instinctive behavior, human common sense, attitudes and responsibility with pets are lessons that will be presented as the boy matures.