“Mrs. Peak! Why does your dog hate me?” The boy, about ten or eleven at the time, lived several houses up the street. Yes, one of my dogs had serious issues with this child. My other dogs avoided him. The sad thing was two of my dogs took part in many child-focused dog safety programs and career days. These two adored working with children. So why did one of my dogs go into a frenzy when this boy or his cousins were near? Why did my other dogs move away from him? My dogs did not hate him, they feared him.
The months this boy lived up the street were a nightmare. He and his cousins caused trouble for many people. They thought nothing wrong with going into yards to play on swing sets, even if it meant climbing fences. They would be found at the opposite end of the street, jumping on a trampoline when the home owners were gone. They would go into side yards to play around and on vehicles that belonged to others. They would be seen on top of cars and vans. A kindergartener was often found almost half a mile away from home with a toddler walking along streets that could get busy. They would pick flowers and vegetables from gardens. The oldest boy was the ringleader of the pack.
Now, before these kids moved in, here is the set up we had and still have for our yard and how we manage the dogs.
Our yard has a six foot privacy fence with No Trespassing signs. Our dogs only are allowed in the back yard and only when people are home and awake. The only way to get to the fence is by trespassing through our side yard, maybe forty feet, to get to the back fence. Alternatively the kids would have to climb their back fence and come through the county easement between the back yards of our street that borders a main street. This meant going through thorn buses and poison ivy. And yes, sometimes they would do this. More often they would climb the fence dividing their yard and a neighbor’s, cut through that yard and climb the neighbor’s fence into the next yard and come to my yard. And yes, many of us watched them do this.
Our yard is divided into four fenced sections. This way we can confine the dogs to one section of the yard while we have a gate leading outside the yard open. We have a large play area, an area for the pool, an area for the deck, and an area we can use as a dog kennel if needed. All are four foot fenced within the six foot fence. Finally, the dogs are not outside unless there is someone responsible home or awake. Nor are they outside all day. They love to be outside and will often demand to go out. But they are not outside dogs by any means.
We take care to keep our dogs safe and confined. So why did my dogs fear this child? Let’s look at what the child would do.
Several times a week I would see this boy and his young cousins in my side yard. Rocks and sticks would be thrown at the dogs. They would kick the fence and hoist themselves up to the top and harass my dogs. I could not go to the bathroom for risk of the kids coming after the dogs while I was occupied. I would have to bring them in even for those few minutes. As soon as the boy and his cousins saw my dogs outside, they would bee-line to my yard. I had to sit and watch the side yard where the kids trespass to get to the back yard. Even If my dogs were inside I had to watch for these kids. Why? Well the oldest said his mother said he could use our pool whenever he wanted because we had one and he did not. I spoke to one of the women living there and said he was not allowed to be in my yard or in my pool at any point. It was not their decision whether or not they had access to my yard. But back to the beginning when they all moved in and the fun started.
I was nice at first. I would stop the kids and ask if they wanted me to get a dog and they could visit. But they had to give me certain behaviors and not trespass. At first my dogs were OK with the kids. Then the kids saw the pool and started to escalate with the dogs and their trespassing in my yard. After a couple weeks or so, I became a bit of a banshee.
When the kids realized how closely my side yard was monitored, they started coming through neighboring yards to get to my fence when the neighbors were at work. This meant climbing fences (between 3 – 4 feet high) to trespass through other properties and coming through two yards. At one point another neighbor also had a small pool or large hot tub. This was one of the yards they would trespass through. They would come into the neighboring yard, find lawn chairs, ladders, etc. and climb my fence to harass the dogs.
There were numerous times we would be doing yard work and the kids would walk right through the gate to look at the pool and tease the dogs. Yes, we were outside, we were in the yard and the kids did this in front of us. Nothing we did or said to the kids (nice words to flat out yelling) or informing the adults at the house what was going on stopped the kids.
Eventually I did what other neighbors did: called the police. I was sick of having to bring my dogs inside when they wanted to be out. I was worried what my liability would be of one of the kids fell over the fence and was bitten. What if one fell into the pool? The mother of the oldest boy said he could not swim at all. He insisted he could go into a pool. The police checked my set up and said we exceeded what was required for safety in the county on all fronts. Our yard had previously passed county inspections for the pool and fence. The inspector was very pleased with the care we had taken for safety. We had the yard marked “No Trespassing.” Add in talking to the other grown-ups, if anything happened, the police would not hold us liable. Then they went up the street to talk to the adults at that house – yet again. Yes, this house had been visited numerous times before I made my first call.
Sadly it took numerous police visits after various neighbors called officers to get the grown-ups to respond. By the end of the fall, the oldest cousin and his mother moved, followed a few years later by the rest. Once he left, the issues greatly eased up. Back to the boy’s question: “Why does your dog hate me?”
No matter what I did to remedy the situation, the boy did not stop. He encouraged the younger ones to cause trouble in the community. My dogs love being outside when the weather is good. Active dogs relegated to inside as much as they had to be due to the kids does not make for happy dogs. Even if I was out playing with the dogs, the kids would come over the top of the fence. If we were doing yard work, the boy would saunter in; go to where the dogs were confined and yup… They would tease, throw things at the dogs, swing sticks at them and harass us while on walks. You tell me why my dogs feared this boy and his cousins.
Dog owners, observe your dogs, secure your yard, use good fences. Do not hesitate to stop children from annoying your dogs. Do not leave your dogs outside when no one is home or awake to intervene. It is amazing even when you are around how fast kids with an agenda can cause trouble. I used to manage outside time around when the older kids were at school – but summer did not give that luxury. I have watched dogs in neighborhoods where I have lived develop severe aggressions towards children when owners failed to work to protect their dogs and manage the environment and when other parents allowed their kids to cause trouble.
Luckily the damage done those months was not lasting. Not all dog owners will be so lucky. Some dogs may have lifelong fears of children. Please, if a dog really fears a child, maybe there is a reason.
Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.