So, I've had Casey since she was six weeks old and looked like this. She was originally "just a foster" but come on. I don't know any dog lover that can raise and potty train a six week old (six pound!) puppy and then give it up to someone else. And so Casey became my "firstborn." I had just gotten involved in pit bull rescue at that point, and since Casey was my first dog, I read voraciously on what to expect, what I should do, how I could train her. I knew that some pit bulls are just dog aggressive. That it just kicks in at a certain age and there was nothing I could do. But I also read that the more I exposed Casey to different people and scenarios, the better she would be at handling new situations when she got older.
So that's what I did. Every time I was walking Casey and I came across another dog owner, I would ask, "Friendly?" If the answer was yes, I would say, "Can they meet?" Casey met big dogs, little dogs, loud dogs, quiet dogs. She met women and men of all ages. She was around bicycles on the Monon, she was around cats (Laney), I fed her out of different bowls in different places. We went on car rides to all sorts of different parks and she's been going to doggie daycare since she was six months old.
But through all of that, I never realized one area that Casey didn't get any experience at all - children.
Looking back, it's not surprising. I didn't have any children. Most of my friends didn't have any children (yet.) I lived in an apartment complex that didn't have many families, and those that were in the complex were not usual associates of mine. Casey just....never met any children.
Fast forward to today. Kids scare the bejeezus out of Casey. Seriously. They terrify her. There seems to be an age range of about 5-18 where she wants absolutely nothing to do with kids. I have no idea why, but I don't really want to push it. When I had Blue, he was a good buffer for neighborhood kids who wanted to "pet the doggie." Each time I spoke to a neighborhood child, I would tell them how to "meet" a dog, and have them extend their hand for sniffing. Once they passed the sniff test, they could pet the dog. (Casey doesn't even go for the sniff test. She hides behind me.) Running full out towards my dogs is expressly (expressly) forbidden. Like, I'll get between them and the dogs.
Now that Blue's gone, it's a bit more challenging. Yesterday, for example, I met a nice lady in my neighborhood who also had a pit bull. She had several children in her yard, and once she found out that I volunteer quite a bit with pit bulls, she had several questions about training, behavior, etc. They were all questions that I wanted to answer....but she had a 6 or 7 year old son.
In my experience, the little boys are the most difficult to keep away from Casey. I'm not sure if they're just being "brave" or if they all really believe that they will be the ONE CHILD that my dog will like. I told him several times that my dog was not friendly and he should not pet her. His mom understood and told him the same thing. And yet, every time she and I got into conversation, I would see him inching towards Casey....who was keeping one wary eye on him. Several times he made a sudden movement just to see Casey jump. Each time his mother would call him back with a reprimand. And the cycle would repeat. Eventually I just excused myself from the situation and continued on my walk. I just figured that I would speak to the mother later sans dog.
It's both perplexing and worrisome. I mean, I've spoken to some who believe that dogs pick up on their owners feelings. And it's true, I'm guarded around strangers, and I'm no fan of children....but I love LOVE my friend's children, and that seems to make no difference to Casey. If I touch or hug a stranger that enters my home, it immediately seems to signal to Casey that there is no danger, but no change in my behavior towards children makes a difference.
And so I'm not quite sure how to proceed. There are only a couple of situations where I feel uncomfortable when Casey is around. For example, we'll go to Mutt Strutt next weekend with no reservations....even with children around, I know Casey will be fine with the other dogs and people, the children will just have to pet the other dogs. We won't walk near families with children. Besides, if Casey saw a child she would just avoid them. It's the children who run up to her that scare me. Children who don't listen and run up to her to be specific. When we're on our walks, Casey has been known to veer off course to sniff perfect strangers and then return to me. No problems. Strollers? No problems. But kids? Problem. Lots of kids? Big problem.
So we avoid situations where several children will be present. But I still worry. How much more careful can I be? How many times can I tell children not to come near my dog? I would feel horrible putting a muzzle on my dog, but if kids aren't going to listen, I would much rather do that than deal with a fear-bite situation. I guess yesterday was the first time I reached the end of where I control the situation, and it just worried me. Children who don't listen worry me. And I'm just not sure how much more I can do to make the situation easier both on kids and on my dog. Any suggestions?