Loki has always been very skittish around children. To him, they are the biggest threat to his life. He's never had a traumatic experience, but everything about them shoots off warning bells in his mind:

Their high energy level, their high-pitched voices, their unpredictable movements, their running around at all speeds and in all directions, their clumsy hands, and their uncoordinated movements.

From the first day that we brought Loki home, we have wanted to get him used to children, because we hope to have our own someday. And yet, despite our intentions and hopes, this proved to be a rather difficult task.

At the first sight or sound of children, Loki tenses up and begins barking furiously at them, desperately trying to tell them to back off. Because his intense barking usually made the kids even more scared, I tended to walk in a different direction and away from the children. Attempts to correct his barking were always futile.

The problem was that as Loki grew older and as the months passed, he hardly ever got the chance to learn that children were not dangerous. We did have a few rare occasions when a girl (it was always a girl, never a boy) behaved in such a calm and unintimidating way that Loki stopped barking and sniffed her. However, these occasions were rare and Loki wasn't really learning that children were not dangerous.

In the past week, I've taken a much more proactive approach in combating this problem. I only wish I did this earlier in his life. I take him out for a walk sometime between 4:30 and 7 pm. The timing ensures that there will be some children playing around our apartment complex. Sometimes I try to get him to sit and not bark at a distance. I try to get him used to their sounds and movements at a distance. Invariably, they become interested in petting him. Typically, when that happens, Loki jumps on to all fours, backs up, and starts his warning barks. Depending on the intensity of Loki's protest, I tell the kids to leave us alone or to approach us very slowly. I give them all treats to offer him. I instruct them to put their hand on the ground and not to shove their hand in his face. Loki stops his barking when the treats come out. I've now done this exercise a total of 4 times with improvement each time. So far, I've told the kids not to pet him, as he is still very skittish around them. But he is more and more willing to take treats from them and is more curious about them. Today, he sniffed their toes, sniffed their shoes, and even licked one child's leg. The kids seem to really love feeding him treats even if they cannot pet him. Still, he is even skittish when I try to pet him in that situation, so obviously, he's not ready for them to do so yet.

I wish I used more treats earlier in his life in dealing with children. I used to wait until he calmed down first around children. Well, that just about never happened, so we always just walked away. And even during the rare occasions when he was calm around a girl, I didn't use any treats. I now wish I did. But regardless of the past, I'm pretty happy with his progress so far, and hopefully he will learn that children are not life-threatening.


Robin said...

Walk him "coincidently" on a tight leash past a school about 2:30 /3:00 or whenever is the typical school exit time. On a very tight leash. Every day to desensitive him.

Also, recruit a couple of smart children who are willing to hold his very favorite treats and teach him to do what they say: to sit, to lie down etc. And after they reward him with treats allow the kids to cuddle him gently.

Vi said...

Thanks for your suggestion!

I don't actually know any children; otherwise I would have recruited them long ago.

But it seems that I am able to bump into a few regulars by the apartment playground. Loki is eager to see them; he's started flapping his ears and wagging his tail today. But he still backs away, barks, and is very skittish about being touched at all.

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