Monday, November 1, 2010

What to do when your puppy growls at a child

Jenn and Jet have been on the move! Every day they are going places to expose Jet to more children. You see, we had our own little drama over Halloween when she got really freaked out and barked and lunged at a little girl with face paint on. So, our little pup is going to playgrounds, soccer fields, supermarket parking lots and anywhere that kids of different ages might be out and about.
Jet is learning that kids can run and laugh and play and that she doesn't have to chase them, herd them or bark. This is great practice for puppies to do from the time you bring them home (even more important if you don't have kids and/or if you have a herding breed).

This brings up some questions about what you should do if your puppy barks or growls at a child?

1. First off, don't scold the puppy for vocalizing. Growling and barking are communication and a proper social signal. It is the puppy's way of saying there is something really uncomfortable going on. Puppies that are punished for growling can become dogs that revert to more serious behaviors to cope with discomfort or fear.
2. Create some distance. Get the puppy out of the situation that is making him uncomfortable. Move away, leave the room, get to place where your pup can calm down and feel safe.
3. Teach the puppy that children are super good and that good things happen when kids are around. Have some super high value treats and teach the pup that calm, settled behavior around kids gets big rewards.
4. Don't ever leave your puppy unsupervised with children (even your own). Most bites happen when children and dogs are left alone together.

Here's the deal, at first, kids can seem like little aliens. They sound different, they move different and they are closer to the ground. Kids don't have the same impulse control as adults (much like puppies) and they sometimes grab, pull or poke us. Puppies have to get used to these differences and children need to learn to be gentle with animals. It's the human adult's responsibility to always supervise interactions between dogs and kids. For example, does this dog look comfortable?
He looks very worried to me about being hugged, stiff body, closed mouth. Hugging is something you humans like to do, but it can feel invasive and creepy to a dog. Most dogs learn to tolerate these behaviors from humans, but humans should still pay attention to their dog and their comfort level. If you ask me, the human taking the picture needs to spend a little more time gauging the dog's comfort level.

And if you are concerned about your pup's behavior around kids, seek help from a professional dog trainer that uses reward based techniques and can counsel you on how to keep your human/dog family safe and sound through APDT or CCPDT.

For more information about how to help your puppy and children learn how to live together safely, check out these resources:

Living With Kids and Dogs Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar

Happy Kids, Happy Dogs by Barbara Shummenfang

1 comment:

carolyn said...

Thanks for writing on this subject -- the kids and dogs issue is often challenging! As waiting parents, we worked hard to socialize our dog to children, eventually figuring out that while this was valuable, the more important step for us was to learn to manage the interactions, and that it is more important to manage the children. This is very much like work we learned in CGC and in the therapy animal program. Since my dog doesn't like new children so children, I tell them that she has an earache or a toothache and doesn't want to be petted; that is easier than trying to get them to do it so she will be comfortable. There are dogs who welcome new children, and they can be the dog ambassadors. Also, the family paws company in Cary has very good training on managing in-family interactions when there is a new child living in the home, again how to be proactive, read the dog's comfort level, and have easy 'outs' to make everyone comfortable. It's just key to learn to tell people in a nice way to give the dog space. people are harder than dogs! thanks again, carolyn