Your dog has growled at your child. Now what?

Beware the Rise of the TODDLER, excerpt Chapter Twelve, Please Don’t Bite the Baby

If your dog growls at your baby/toddler/or older child, there are a number of steps to take. Some are in the moment. And others are long term.

In the moment…
  • 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.

National Bite Prevention Week – Let’s prevent some of those 4.5 million annual bites

Luke Keria Morgan and Hank-2
Luke and the kids he loves.

It’s National Bite Prevention Week and that makes me reflect on why I wrote Please Don’t Bite the Baby, and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs.

I wrote Please Don’t Bite the Baby in the hopes that if every parent with kids and dogs read it, we would see a reduction in the annual 4.5 million dog bites in this country—about half of them to kids and almost 800,000 of them requiring medical attention.

  • Too often, the response from doctors, family, friends and even trainers is to advise the family to get rid of a biting dog.
  • Too many dogs who have made a bad choice around a child lose their lives every year or become relinquished to a shelter who then has the daunting task of rehoming a dog with a bite history.
  • Too much pain and sadness comes from assuming our dogs will react like humans and not understanding that no matter how much we love them, our dogs are dogs with all the ups and downs that goes with that.

We as their caretakers need to accept that any dog can bite.

  • If we understand our dog’s body language (even a little bit), we will be able see the dog signaling that the situation is building to his break point and then be able to prevent the eventual bite.
  • If we have trained decent basic skills, we can redirect our dog before a bite occurs.
  • If we have good management strategies in place, we can keep our dog out of a situation that may be just too much for her.
  • If we guide both our dogs and our kids as to how best to interact with one another, we can eliminate many of the reasons kids and dogs get into trouble with each other.

I would never recommend that any family keep a dog whom they have become afraid of, or is a danger to them or their guests. However, with a little training, management and guidance we can usually keep our dogs and our kids safe around each other and keep the family we hoped for together and happy.

Many of us have elements in our lives that may be considered dangerous for our children, like heating our home with a fireplace, or having a backyard swimming pool, or, as in our case, having a dog with a bite history living with a young boy (we also have the fireplace). In Please Don’t Bite the Baby, I broach this subject:

Exerpt feature image

People will often scratch their heads in amazement over what dog folk will go through for their dogs, asking, “Is that normal?”

But in everything, including dog ownership, there is no normal.

I thought about other professionals whose work might generate lifestyles that others don’t consider normal or safe. No one balks at police officers who keep their service weapons at home with small children. The officers are taught how to manage their guns by locking the guns and ammunition up separately. It is becoming more and more common for contractors and other tradespeople to sometimes bring their children onto a job site with all the dangers lurking there. Management and training keep these kids safe. As professionals, we accept these risks and realize we, as the parents, have to take steps to keep our children safe around these dangers. The police officer doesn’t quit her job when she has children—she gets a gun safe. The contractor doesn’t get rid of her business when she has to take care of children—she gets a hard hat for her child.

There is no such thing as normal across the board. There is only the individual normal that each of us creates, just as we create our families. In our home normal is a dog who 98 percent of the time is smart, funny, and affectionate but who, during the 2 percent, has to be managed and watched to prevent him from doing harm.

Because I live with a biting dog and a child, I know what levels of management, training and guidance it takes to maintain safety. I also know that although Pinball loves my son and visa versa, my husband and I will always be vigilant no matter how good Pinball is with my son, because all dogs can bite…

  • No matter who they are
  • No matter how long it’s been since their last bite, or that they’ve never bitten before
  • No matter how much we trust them and how much they love us. Because…

They are dogs who interact differently with the world around them and who are very often not listened to when they need help and are warning us in a fearful or stressful situation.

Pinball guarding a pair of scissors. Note the whale eye

To prevent bites we all need to…

  • Listen to our dog’s boy language.
  • Teach both dogs and kids simple things to do around each other like: teaching kids to be a tree and call for help, and teaching our dogs a simple lock-down sit or out-you-go command, and more.
  • And, never be afraid of managing your dog when having guests or events in your home. Your dog dose not need to be with your guests 100% of the time and will probably be more than happy to go into a separate room with a stuffed puzzle toy and relax when there is a lot of commotion in the home.

We human adults must be the responsible ones. We made the choice to bring a dog into our home. Rarely does a dog come knocking on our door saying, “I did a lot of research online, and yours is the home I want to live in.” We made a commitment to care for the animal we brought into our home and a large part of caring for anyone is making sure that we set them up for success.

Mommy guiding Indy petting a very happy Pinball. Photo credit, Auntie Jill

Please do yourself, your dog, and any kids in your home a favor and Train your dog, Manage the time and interactions between your dog and younger kids, and Guide them all to the best interactions you can.


It’s all worth it!

The Importance of Basic Commands

Basic skills build a foundation for communicating with and verbally managing your dog around your baby.

Trista and Pingall Hmdepot

In Please Don’t Bite the Baby, I write about how basic dog training commands are like standard staple ingredients that go into complicated recipes and meals.

Individually they are nice, but when put together they make something marvelous.

Basic skills build a foundation for communicating with and verbally managing your dog around your baby.
  • teaches your dog that the game or activity is over and there will be rewards for the first several weeks when- ever you say “all done.”
  • should be paid for exceedingly well for the first six months. Jackpot your dog when he gets to you, and when fading rewards, only reduced to intermittent rewards. Your dog should get a reward for come every now and then, forever.
  • your dog’s whole body is lying down; butt, hips, and elbows are touching floor.
Drop-it (some use give) –
  • your dog should drop items from their mouth on command. This should be one of the greatest games you ever play with your dog so she loves to give up things.
  • your dog will move forward to greet a person without jumping.
  • you can direct your dog away from anything, or anyone including your baby with a simple hand gesture.
  • your dog should not go toward, sniff, pick up, or bark at an object that you indicate. In short “don’t even think about it.”
  • your dog should get off of the counter, couch, you, your guests, or anything he is on. Do not use down. While human language works having one word mean different things in different contexts, dogs need each command to have one meaning.
  • your dog should relax on cue in a spot where you indicate. See details above.
  • your dog’s butt is on the floor. Don’t repeat your command. Sit is the most often repeated command. This repetition teaches your dog to sit on three or four commands, to ignore the command, or just cranks their energy up.
  • your dog is standing still on all four feet. This command allows us to wipe paws, do tick checks, and make sure our dog doesn’t think sit is just the beginning of down by allowing us to use stand between a sit and a down.
  • your dog is essentially frozen in place—like they are at military attention until you release them with the all-done command.
Wait –
  • is the equivalent of “hang on a second.” Your dog should literally pause for two to thirty seconds—it is a short break in your dog’s activity.

In Please Don’t Bite the Baby, and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs, I outline how to train each of these and when they are best applied to ensuring the safety of both baby and dog.

Pinball does many of these basic skills with the complication of my holding my son.

By using placement skills that essentially mean: come here, go there, don’t move, chill for awhile, greet politely, and others, we can control our dog’s behavior and help our dog understand what is expected in different situations.

Babies, Dogs, and Grandparents… 

By slowly integrating thei dog into this family, he didn’t make any mistakes with the grandkids and eventually was wonderful around them.

The dog, baby, and grandparent relationship can be complicated.

For example:

  • A dog lives with grandparents who babysit for their new granddaughter. But the dog is not sure about the new interloper, and barks at the baby. What do the grandparents and the parents do?
  • Or, a different dog 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.
  • And 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.
Grandparents, Bandit and two of the seven grandkids!
Grandparents, Bandit and two of the seven grandkids!
Regardless of the makeup of your grandparent-dog-baby relationship, 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 was the rescue dog who flew into the kid-crowded swimming pool his first day in his forever home. He was a wild child who did nothing in half measure. He loved tug, scratching his nail board, and his favorite trick – sitting on the step stool begging for eggs.

In spite of his larger-than-life ways, he learned to gently love his grandkids.

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. They (and their kids) were worried for their grandchildren, who visit often. After I met the dog, I was worried for everyone.

Bandit was an exuberant strong, hard playing dog with a hard mouth. 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, a gate across the stairs, and a fully fenced in backyard. He was slowly given more and more access to the house as his behaviors 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.

Months after we started working, it was time to introduce him to the grandchildren without physical management. However, the grandmother was always with the Bandit 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 the grandkids and the dog all enjoy swimming and playing fetch with the pool toys together.

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.