What To Do If Your Dog Growls at Your Kids?
Has your pup ever growled at you or your kids? What did you do? Many unknowing pet owners will punish their dogs for growling at them, thinking that they will learn their lesson and not growl again. This could be one of the more dangerous mistakes I see. Growling is good. Growling is natural. Growling is your dog giving you a warning that he is uncomfortable and needs his space.
The Most Important Rule About Growling Is: NEVER PUNISH A GROWL!!!
Punishing or scolding the dog will not change the dog’s emotional state or feelings towards your child, in fact, it may even make it worse. He will still feel anxious or fearful around your child but he may now be afraid to give his warning for fear of punishment. By inhibiting the warning growl, next time the dog may go right to a snap or even worse a bite.
In the dog training world, we often relate punishing a dog growling to the use of a smoke detector. A smoke detector is there to give you a warning that there is a fire. If you take the batteries out of a smoke dictator, you don’t get that warning and all of a sudden you are in trouble.
Punishing a dog’s growl is just like taking the batteries out of a smoke detector, you’re in trouble before you know it because you never got a warning.
So What Should You Do Instead?
A trip to the Veterinarian is always a good step to take in cases where a dog growls, particularly if the growling has started all of the sudden. It is important to make sure he is not growling because he is sick or in pain and your child’s rough play or high energy is not what he needs at the time. If you have gone to the vet and your dog health is in check then it is time to put additional measures into action.
So What Should You Do Instead?
First and most important DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CHILD UNSUPERVISED around the dog. This really goes for any young child with any dog, but it is especially important if the dog has ever growled or showed any other signs of stress around your children.
So what if you are supervising your child around the dog and the dog does growl?
If your child is close enough to you, pick the child up and remove the child from the vicinity of the dog.
If your child is old enough, make sure they understand that a growl is a way of the dog telling them they need space and if the dog does growl at them they should avoid eye contact, and slowly and calmly walk away, and let you know what happened.
Train your dog to have an excellent recall. This will give you the ability to call the dog to you and diffuse the situation immediately. Teaching your dog how to ‘place’ is another great option to prevent the situation from escalating.
Understand what caused the dog to growl. Was it because the kids were playing too roughly? Were they trying to take the dog’s favorite toy from them? Were they near the dog while he was eating? By understanding what caused the dog to growl, you can prevent the situation from happening again and keep everyone safe. That way the growling is not reinforced because the behavior simply isn’t happening.
Teach your kids to respect the dog’s space. That means keeping their distance when the dog is eating, sleeping, chewing, or being confined. If you have the space, set up a kid-free zone for the dog so they have a place they can go to where they know they will not be bothered.
Contact a trainer who works in behavior modification. Don’t try to attempt this alone. It is easy for an owner who is not educated in dog behavior to reinforce the growling behavior without knowing it. A good trainer will be able to assess the situation and come up with a plan that includes desensitization and counter-conditioning.
Remember These Important Things
Do not assume that just because the dog has never bitten in the past that he won’t in the future. As dogs get older, they can get less tolerant.
Don’t think that because the dog is a Golden Retriever or a Labrador Retriever they will not bite. Even the most friendly, well-trained dog can be pushed into situations where they feel the need to protect themselves.
Teaching both your kids and your dog how to appropriately and politely interact with each other will lead to a relationship based on trust and will result in a happy household for all.
Check out these other great resources to ensure your kids practice Responsible Pet Ownership and Pet Safety with your family dog and others: