I have a problem that I need to solve before it gets more serious!
My 19 month old Newfoundland has learned to bark at children- which is a BIG problem given he is a BIG dog and I can imagine this would be very scary for kids- not to mention their parents!
I don't have children of my own so he doesn't get too much exposure to them, except for the kids we see out walking and my only friend who has children. When he was younger he was fine with them, but now he is obviously quite traumatized by them.
I think it all started when two kids- on separate occasions- came right up to him and 'woof woofed' in his face. Once when I had him sitting with me at the bakery- and a young kid stood about a meter away from him and decided to loudly start 'woofing' at him. He paused for a moment then barked back (a big deep bark being such a big dog). The other time was when I had him tied up while I ducked into a shop and a kid- about 7 or 8 ran straight up to his face and woof woofed at him. Again he paused then barked back. Both times he was wagging his tail whilst barking and, whilst I don't believe he was being aggressive, he was clearly anxious and excited.
Now, more often than not when we walk small children and even prams, he will bark and get anxious. He always wags his tail and does a playful bounce whilst barking, but I am very aware of how scary he must look to a non-dog person. Of course this gets me some killer stares and I am constantly apologizing profusely and trying to explain he's young and being playful (which more often than not falls on deaf ears!)
I can now no longer take him with me to cafes or the shops (mainly cause every person with kids thinks how neat it would be to see their kids cuddle such a big 'bear dog') because I am frightened he will either instill a lifelong fear of dogs in a child, or a parent will accuse me of putting their child at risk by having an 'aggressive' dog.
I took him today to my friends house to try and work with him around her kids but it was no use. I had him in the car with the window open and as soon as I pulled up the kids came running out straight to the car and he barked his head off. He calmed down and I had the four year old quietly walk up to the window and say hello without patting him which he was fine with. I rewarded him with some treats and lots of pats. Then I let the four year old pat him while I was patting him and he also seemed fine- until she squealed with delight over his fluffy coat, which made him start barking again. I then had him outside while myself and the kids were inside, looking at him through a full length window. He was fine until they got really close (at face height) or squealed- which made him bark again.
Other things I have tried include:
-teaching him a 'look at me in the face' cue so when we're walking past children he is distracted- successful
- rewarding him with treats when we are near children and he is not barking- pretty successful
-avoiding children coming and patting him by trying to explain the situation to their parents
It is a difficult thing to work on given the recent dog attacks in the media and the amount of attention my dog draws for being so big and fluffy, which usually works two ways:
1. parents don't restrain their kids to running right up and cuddling the 'bear', or
2. I am seen as a terrible, negligent person for having such a large children-killing machine
It has been suggested to me that I get him an 'in training' vest like the guide dogs or 'do not touch' (I can no longer tie him up anywhere because not even adults can restrain themselves from going up and trying to cuddle him- I have even had a group of 20 people surround him and all pat him simultaneously) but will that only reaffirm people's thoughts that he is an aggressive dog or draw even more attention to him?
Does anyone else have any suggestions on what I can do to break the barking at children habit?