An aggressive dog is a serious problem, and particularly so if that aggression is directed towards children. This is possibly the most serious dog problem a human can encounter, and not something to take lightly. Or take on independently, or take to the Internet for that matter. In this Q&A, I address someone who is dealing with an Australian Shepherd who is lunging at children.

Question: My dog is aggressive towards children – what do I do?

I have an Australian shepherd who is 2 years old now and he loves people but is terrified of dogs. Lately he has been showing aggression to children. He’s nipping, snarling and even lunging at kids who try to pet or play with him. He’s NEVER shown this kind of aggression before and I don’t know what to do. Is it because he isn’t fixed? I need help. If this problem isn’t foxed soon I could get complaints or he could hurt a kid: my worst fear. Please give me your opinions.

My response: seek immediate professional assistance*

I’m sorry to hear that you are experiencing this serious issue: if your dog is aggressive towards children you are dealing with the most serious issue possible. The key to gradually stopping this behavior is to figure out the cause of it (most likely fear, possibly developing from the fear with dogs).

The first thing I would do is take your dog to the vet ASAP to have a thorough check up to eliminate any health issue. Some dogs act out because of pain or illness, so if this is the case it needs to be addressed.

Your vet will be able to speak about neutering. There is some connection between neutering and behavior, but it doesn’t guarantee “stopping” aggression. It’s actually quite unlikely neutering will eliminate a problem that is established and growing like this – even if it decreases somewhat you will definitely need to address this with a trainer assuming the aggression isn’t due to an injury or illness.

I would also speak to your vet about a safe and appropriate muzzle to have your dog wear until the behavior is addressed. There are serious legal liabilities for you having a dog who has these known issues (even unknown ones), and obviously you also do not want anyone to be hurt. Please, your #1 priority is to keep your dog away from children and other dogs and muzzled because you have a known nipper and lunger.

If your dog is healthy, then I absolutely without a doubt urge you to work with a professional trainer/behaviorist to sort out the route of this issue, and devise an action plan to address it. You are dealing with a serious problem, and it would need to be addressed with a professional that has experience in addressing these things. Even after working on the issue, know that life going forward may involve not having your dog meet children… and this is OK. My dog is simply nervous around strange humans (especially children), and I do not let them interact directly – this is a life-long plan. It’s much better than risking a bite. But a behaviorist can hopefully help you get to a point where your dog is not as dangerous, and that’s worth every penny and minute of effort.

* Please note that I am not a professional veterinarian or trainer/behaviorist. I am simply a behavior and training nerd who has studied a lot, writes on the Internet, and works with her own dogs. Advice on the Internet from anyone does not equal professional guidance – please seek someone with professional experience and certifications that you can work with in-person.

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Great advice not to take any chances with kids. Haley used to be a little nervous around kids and it was frustrating when strangers would approach with kids and allow their kids to run far ahead of them and approach us while squealing and waving their arms. I hate to be rude, but I realized that I just have to step in front of Haley when that happens so she doesn’t feel accosted. Even though I’m trying to protect their kids, I’m amazed at how many parents don’t seem to understand why I won’t let their screaming kids pet Haley.

  • Lindsay Stordahl

    Great advice! I’m thankful Ace is naturally good with kids (I definitely didn’t train him or do any special socializing around kids). It still shocks me when parents allow their very young children, like 2-year-old, to run right up to my dog. The parents see a “black Lab” and they assume he is friendly. Not a good assumption to make about any dog!