Case Study: The Child-Chasing Terrier

5 tips on what to do if your dog chases children and nips at them.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #117

I recently wrote about how to prevent dogs from biting kids. This time, I’ll tackle a related question from a Facebook fan.

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Helen has two children, aged 5 and 3, and a newly adopted dog, Wilbur. Wilbur’s about a year old, part Jack Russell Terrier and maybe part Whippet. Helen writes that when he and the kids are running around the yard, Wilbur “loves to chase them and jump on their backs, sometimes even nipping at their arms. Since he is off the leash he is impossible to catch and to reprimand.” He doesn’t respond when Helen tells him “No jumping.”

Excitable Dogs Often Chase Running Children

Chasing and nipping running children is pretty much what I’d expect from an excitable, untrained Jack/Whippet mix. And since the whole scenario is one big thrill for Wilbur, he probably can't even hear Helen’s reprimands. I mean that literally. Her attempts to chase him down only seem like part of the game. Last but not least, Wilbur speaks no English. If he’s aware of Helen at all when he’s so excited, he may register the displeasure in her tone, but I’ll bet he hasn’t a clue what the problem is. From his point of view, this is one excellent party.

Although Wilbur’s behavior is inappropriate, it seems to be playful. Also, he’s a small dog. If a large dog was chasing children as if they were rabbits or squirrels, and especially if he knocked them down from behind, I would immediately separate the dog from the kids and call a behavior specialist for help.

With that caution in mind, 5 Quick and Dirty Tips to keep your dog from playfully chasing and nipping the kids:

#1 – Give Your Dog Plenty of Exercise

I’d start by giving Wilbur at least an hour of off-leash running, trotting, and sniffing first thing every morning—but that would just about take the edge off. Maybe. Wilbur’s people will need to do more than give him physical exercise.

Chasing, nipping dogs need physical exercise, mental exercise, and training – and to be kept out of problem situations.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).