Chapter 12 – Beware the Rise of the TODDLER

Growling is a warning dogs give. It allows us as parents to manage the situation so our dogs and kids can live safely together. Here are some tips.

Your dog has growled. Now what?

  • The first thing is to use a preconditioned escape route to get the dog out, or employ one of the increase distance commands like go sniff, touch, or come to put space between your dog and your child.
  • Secure the dog in another room, behind a gate, or in a crate.
  • Take a breath and console your child if need be.
  • Assess. Your dog growling at your child is a wake-up call that lets let you know your dog has a problem with some- thing. It is time to figure out what that is and ask if it can be safely fixed.

Here are a few questions to help determine what made your dog growl.

»  Is your baby new to the home and a totally new experience for your dog?
»  Was your child reaching for your dog when the dog was asleep?
»  Could your dog be in pain because of a long hike, a misstep when jumping, age, or other factors?

It is easy for us not to be aware when our dogs are in pain. Typically, we become aware of their pain only when it is so bad that it inhibits their movement, like limping, or they begin to vocalize, like whining. At that point, they are in a great deal of pain.


»  Was your toddler chasing the dog into a corner where he felt trapped?
»  Was the child simply petting the dog and then the petting turned into fur grabbing, ear tugging, pinching, or eye poking?
»  Was your child trying to hug or hugging your dog?

Dogs are not comfortable with most people hugging them. The act of putting front legs around another dog and holding
on is not a polite or safe thing to do in the dog’s world, so when a human does it, it is pretty scary for them. Many dogs get used to it from their favorite person but not the “outsiders” in their lives, and until your child has earned your dog’s trust, he or she will be one of the outsiders.


»  Did your dog have a bone or another resource and thought the child was too close?

Once we know what caused the dog to growl, we can begin to manage future situations. In some cases, that means teaching the child what is appropriate to do around and to the dog. In other cases, it will mean managing the dog so he is in another room when your child is in a more rambunctious play mood or when your dog has a resource that is important to him. And sometimes, it will be desensitizing and counter-conditioning the dog to the child because your dog is afraid of or doesn’t like kids.

But I want my toddler to be able to do anything to the dog,” is like saying, “I want my toddler to play safely in the street without my having to worry about cars.”

A study by the Institute of Transportation Engineers has shown us that children develop adult skills slowly and not all at once. A young child who seems mature and tells you that he or she understands to look both ways will still not be able to safely judge the gaps between cars or the actual distance of a vehicle. I am waiting and hoping for similar research into a young child’s ability to read dog body language and accurately judge the dog’s safety. But for now, I suggest we take the same precautions we do to protect small children in traffic and apply them to children and dogs.

There are times and places when playing in the street is fun and safe. There are ages that are better suited to judge that. Until then, as we are waiting for the perfect combination of a safe street and good judgment, we need to manage and guide our children. We need to view the growl from a dog as we would the honk of a horn from a driver letting us know our child is in harm’s way.

Babies, Dogs, and Grandparents… 

If anyone asks me what the dog, baby, and grandparent relationship is like, the answer is, “complicated.”

For example:

  • Let’s say a dog lives with grandparents who babysit for their new granddaughter, but, the dog is not sure about the new interloper, and the grandparents don’t know what to do when their dog barks at the baby.
  • Or maybe we are talking about a different dog who lives with grandparents who babysit for their new grandson and this dog loves the grandson and always wants to be where the baby is. However, the boy’s parents don’t want the dog around their son.
  • Or we might have a dog who lives with mother, father and baby, but the grandparents never liked this dog, and now they have to deal with the dog whenever they are visiting and babysitting.

The permutations are endless but, regardless of the makeup of your grandparent-dog-baby relationship, the issue of keeping the baby and dog safe around each other is as important as if it were the parent-dog-baby relationship.

Bandit doing his favorite trick!

Bandit the rescue dog who flew into the kid-crowded swimming pool his first day in his forever home, gently loved his kids in spite of his wild ways and loved doing his favorite trick on the step stool begging for eggs!

An Excerpt from Please Don’t Bite the Baby:

Two of my favorite clients brought home a rambunctious and mouthy ten-month-old rescued Shepherd mix, and were worried for their grandchildren, who visit often. After I met the dog, I was worried for them and their grandchildren.

He was strong with a hard mouth, and I was bruised more than a few times when working with him. They had great management in place for him—an exercise pen that contained him completely in a gated kitchen. He was slowly given more and more access to the house as his behavior improved and he settled into the home. At first when the kids were visiting he was in maximum containment—in the pen in the gated kitchen.

Grandparents, Bandit and two of the seven grandkids!
Grandparents, Bandit and two of the seven grandkids!

Months after we started working, I said it was time to introduce him to the grandchildren without physical management, although the grandmother was always with the dog when he was interacting with the kids. By slowly integrating him into this family, he didn’t make any mistakes with the kids and eventually was wonderful around them. In fact, he lights up for the kids as he does for no one else. (They tell me he does the same thing when he sees me, but I bought his love with treats, unlike the kids, whom he just loves.) They have made such wonderful progress with this dog that during the summer when their pool is open, the grandkids and the dog all enjoy swimming and playing fetch with the pool toys. Even so, when the kids are there for extended stays, the grandmother limits their time with the dog to give him a break and is always present whenever the grandkids and dog interact.