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Having children with a guardy anxious dog


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Hey all, little bit of a background about me. (Some of you may remember me from the postivily board. i was a regular poster there years ago. good to see JudyN still kicking around!)

I have a 10-year-old rat terrier named Bax that came from a puppy mill. he's overcome so many obstacles and I'm so proud of him. he currently works as a therapy dog at the local nursing home coming in on weekends to say hi to the residents and get treats and pets.

That being said he's still a very anxious, shy, guardy kind of dog. the primary resources he guards are crinkly bags (opening crisps is always a struggle) and he guards me from my fiance. he displays this guarding behavior by charging, barking, growling, and jumping though he may have even nipped my niece when she was crinkling a bag.

I'm concerned because we're looking to grow our family in a year or two and rat terriers can live extremely long lives (he still acts like a complete puppy and is showing no signs of slowing down) so I may hypothetically have a toddler wandering around at some point and I'd like to work on managing his guarding behaviors now before there's a hypothetical child involved.

things we've tried so far:

to decrease the guarding of me my fiance has stepped up to be more involved in his care feeding him most of his meals and treats and taking over a lot of the walks. we have seen some improvement here where my fiance can now cuddle with me on the couch with only mild curiosity from Bax. Bax still is Very Present And Concerned however and hovers close and tries to get in between us.

crisps we've just dodged entirely by rarely opening them when he's in the room. my fiance prefers to open them when Bax is locked upstairs with me. my fiance unfortunately tends to reinforce to Bax that bag crinkling means High Value Food by giving Bax crisps whenever he opens a bag. (potato crisps are Bax's highest-value treat and he would sell his soul for a single crumb).

I'm less looking for direct answers to these questions and more looking for success (and failure) Stories of how y'all have managed to bring kids into a house with a guardy dog.
How lovely to see you again, Shalista, and it's good to hear that Bax is doing well.

I must admit I get a little twitchy round guardy dogs and children, as Jasper was - well - a little extreme at times. How is Bax with young children in general?

I'm unclear about the crisp bags - you say he guards them, but it sounds as if he reacts in general to them, not (just) when he has one but when someone else has one. So I'm not quite sure what is going on there - you wouldn't expect a dog to react to something they like, and dogs don't generally react when someone has something they would like.

The more relaxed you can get Bax to be in general, the better. Also, think about how you could keep him and a baby/toddler separate - create a safe, secure place for Bax, e.g. a room, a cubby hole or a crate, where he is happy to spend quality downtime or chew on a bone/Kong.

I'm sure others with more experience than me will chip in.
How is Bax with young children in general?
In a word? excitable. he gets very jumpy and over stimulated and then the kids freak out because he's so jumpy and overstimulated. he hasn't bit anyone yet but it's not to pleasant for anyone.

I'm unclear about the crisp bags - you say he guards them, but it sounds as if he reacts in general to them, not (just) when he has one but when someone else has one. So I'm not quite sure what is going on there - you wouldn't expect a dog to react to something they like, and dogs don't generally react when someone has something they would like.

maybe I'm reading him wrong then? it could just be being over excited and wanting to get the treat. the behavior he presents when he goes for the person with the crisp bag is quite frightening for children, I know that. i have a nine year old niece and a 11 year old nephew and they both were quite scared of bax because of his reaction to them carrying around food at near bax height and rustling bags in his presence. its mostly him charging in at high speeds and then jumping for them and the bag. which if you are a short 9 year old puts him basically at face height when he jumps.

i feel bad because I know how hard it is for him. he's a very high energy breed and most of the time I can keep him calm but in the presence of high value foods or when he feels like I'm being threatened he gets so excited and stressed and i worry he'd do something to a toddler.

I've done a lot of positive reinforcement training with him using the crisps as treats to reward overcoming his fearful behaviors but i'd NEVER use food as a reward to calm him down. it just makes him waaaayyyy more amped up. and no other means of reinforcement seem to have much impact on him.

I'm tempted to try a four-on-the-floor policy when snacks are present but i feel that may be counterproductive if he KNOWS snacks being around means he gets a treat, even if its just for rewarding four on the floor.

he's a very intense high strung lil guy and the presence, or possibility, of crisps, just amps him up to 11.
I think the lack of replies show that you're in a difficult position :( You know Bax best, and you know all the efforts you've made over the year to get him to be as well adjusted as he is now (all things are relative ;)). I do hope that you find a solution that works for you and keeps any little ones safe.
I didn't reply before because you won't be happy with what I have to say, so I paused before saying it.

You will never change this little dog's character, you cannot change his interpretation of danger and how HE feels. He will need always to be kept apart from children and also adults who might want to grab or fuss him when he is saying he doesn't want it. When your child has friends round, he will need to be shut away from them somewhere they can't "accidentally" let him out or else tease him through the barrier/door/gate/whatever. Everyone in the house at all times must be reliable in always making sure he is confined away from these kind of threats because to him they ARE threats. It's a big commitment. I wish you well with whatever you decide.
I was the same as know what your boy is like so to me children would be a no all the time he is in your life ...that may not be what you want to hear but it is the reality..

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