New Puppy Growls and Snaps!

My kids and I just got a Border Terrier puppy. She is only 10 weeks old, and she doesn’t like to be picked up. Sometimes she growls and snaps at us!
The breeder told me to “show the dog who is boss” by pinning her to the ground and growling back at her. I tried to do it, but she was like a greased pig–wiggling around and snapping at me. I know my kids couldn’t do it.
What should we do? ~ Ann

I’m so glad you asked because I do not agree with your breeder’s advice. It’s quite likely your puppy will decide that people are scary and a good offense is the best defense.

Instead teach her to accept and enjoy being touched. Sit on the floor in a quiet area with a small bowl of treats nearby. Gently touch her paw with one hand and give a treat with the other. Work on touching her all over and making it a fun game. Do frequent short sessions with each of your kids, and soon your puppy will enjoy having people touch her.

One safety note: Kids should not pick up and carry dogs. That can be very frightening to a dog. Many dogs learn that wiggling and snapping are a quick ticket to the floor, and we really don’t want your dog rehearsing aggression toward your kids. Adults should be the only ones to carry a dog–for both the dog’s safety and the children’s.

Your family will also enjoy Victoria Schade’s DVD, “New Puppy! Now What?” It’s full of information to get you off to a great start. If you continue to have problems handling your puppy, please ask a trainer to help sooner rather than later.

Shy Dog Reacts to Kids Changing Clothes

I have a really sweet dog who can be shy when she first meets people. She’s good with my kids and their friends if we do nice introductions at the door. I ask the kids to stand still and let her sniff their hands. She usually comes over to check them out and then is fine with them being in the house.
But when we have a sleepover, she sometimes barks at them after they change into their pajamas! Why does she do that? What could be scary about pajamas? ~ Kathleen

It’s not so much that she’s reacting to pajamas, but that she’s reacting to change. Shy dogs tend to be very attuned to their environment and immediately notice when things change. Because shy dogs tend to worry, they often respond to something new as if it were something bad.

When you have kids stay over, keep her near you while they go change and then have them come back over for a quick reintroduction. It sounds like she just needs your support to help her understand that, although their clothing changed, the kids remain the same. This will be much easier for her if you take the time to do introductions once again.

Dog Exhibiting Predatory Behavior Towards Baby

My son and his wife just had a baby. Their dachshund seems obsessed with him. She’s spent the last week barking her head off. Whenever he makes any noise, she charges over to investigate. They tried to put him in a playpen, but she races around it barking and biting at the mesh. Then she begins leaping up to get into it!
When they carry the baby around, she’s jumping up to try to reach him. Once she even grabbed the foot of his sleeper. It’s kind of scary.
She’s always been somewhat hyper, but this seems extreme. Does she think the baby is a squeaky toy? How long will it take before she gets used to the baby? ~ Michael

Please call a dog trainer today! While every dog will need some time to adjust to having a baby in the house, some of what you are describing sounds more like predatory behavior than simply a dog being thrown off by a new baby in the house.

It is rare to have serious kid-and-dog issues in the first six months. Given that the baby has been home a week and the dog is still showing such strong interest in him, I think it would be wise to bring a professional in to help your son and daughter-in-law decide how best to manage their new baby and their dog.

If the trainer feels that the dog is looking at the baby like prey–and dachshunds were bred to hunt badger–I think the dog should be rehomed immediately. While training can create incredible changes in behavior, predation is hard wired and difficult to change. It’s simply not safe to put a child at risk while working with the dog.

Dog Killed a Neighbor’s Cat! Are my Kids in Danger?

Last week my dog killed a neighbor’s cat in our yard. I knew he liked to chase cats and squirrels, but I never thought he would catch or hurt one. He just picked it up and shook it. It was over in the blink of an eye, and he didn’t even seem to care. Now I’m worried that he might hurt one of my kids. Does he know the difference? ~ Sheila

I think all dogs should be prevented from chasing kids, but that said, it’s unlikely that your dog would cause serious injury to a child in the same way he went after the cat. Since your dog lives with children, he’s used to the sounds and movements they make in play.

With the cat, he probably shifted into “predatory drift” in which chasing a small animal triggered an instinctual “chase, bite, shake, kill” sequence. This rarely happens unless the fleeing animal is significantly smaller than the dog. Since kids are far larger than cats (and most dogs!), the risk is much lower.

Make sure that you are always supervising when your dog is outside to prevent him from harming another cat, and if you still have concerns, ask a dog trainer to assess your dog.

Teaching a Child’s Friend about Interacting with Dogs

My dog is great with most kids, but she gets too excited with one of my daughter’s friends. Ashley, 9, seems to do everything wrong. When my dog tries to sniff her, she starts jumping around and shrieking, “It tickles! It tickles!” I ask her to not to run in my home, but she’ll dart past the dog as fast as she can. My dog is friendly and outgoing, so Ashley’s behavior makes her even more interested. Ashley’s a nice girl, but I really dislike having her over. How can I make this easier? ~ Pam

Ashley sounds both interested and nervous about dogs. Does she visit often? If she comes regularly, commit to fixing the problem. Start with a toy dog and have Ashley practice standing still and extended her hand for the dog to sniff. Act out different scenarios with the toy dog being calm, jumpy, and even disinterested. Talk with Ashley about how she should respond in each of these cases.

Then use a baby gate to separate your dog from Ashley and have Ashley ask your dog to sit. She can toss treats to the dog for complying. Once Ashley understands that she can communicate with your dog, she’ll be less fearful. Go slow and praise Ashley for every proper interaction.

If she doesn’t come often, it may be easier for you to give your dog a chew bone and keep her away from the girls. Tell Ashley that the dog has earned a special treat and can’t visit with her while she’s eating it. Then either keep the dog at your side or put her in a locked bedroom to give her some peace and quiet.

Either way, we need to prevent the dog from chasing and riling up Ashley; neither one is learning the right things in those interactions. To a less kid-friendly dog, Ashley’s behavior could be alarming, so it’s very important that someone teach her how to safely interact with dogs.

Aspiring Veterinarian or Dog Trainer?

My 13-year-old daughter is crazy about dogs. She says she’d like to be a veterinarian or a dog trainer. What suggestions do you have for her? ~ Marina

Those are both great career choices. The best thing for her to do now is to get involved in some dog-related activities. Training a dog to do agility, rally-o, or tricks will teach her a lot about dog training and behavior. Most trainers will allow her to take a class with your dog as long as you attend with her. If possible, sit a distance away from her and let her work on her own. If your dog enjoys training and interacting with new people, your daughter may want to train the dog to be a therapy dog and take him to nursing homes and hospitals.

To be a vet, she’ll need excellent grades, particularly in math and science as well as good communication skills. Dog trainers do not need a college degree–though many have one–but the field still requires a lot of independent study of behavior and learning theory.

Introducing your daughter to dog lovers in a variety of careers–groomers, shelter/rescue workers, trainers, veterinarians, veterinary assistants, pet sitters, dog daycare providers–can help her decide what best fits her interests.

When she’s a bit older, perhaps she can do an apprenticeship to learn more about a given job. There are lots of career and volunteer opportunities open to someone who loves dogs. I’m sure she’ll find something that’s right for her.

Dealing with the Fallout of a Bite

My dog bit the babysitter last week! We always put Molly in our bedroom when we go out. I’m not sure why Amelia went in there, but Molly bit her on the thigh. Amelia had a big bruise on her leg.
I’m embarrassed, anxious, and a little angry too. We love Molly. She’s never bitten anyone before, but she has growled a few times at strangers. That’s why we always put her in the bedroom when we have a sitter.
Now Amelia’s mom is telling everyone that we have a dangerous dog. What should I do? ~ Nicole

Dog trainers often say, “Sooner or later, management fails.” That’s why I recommend doubling up on any management technique. Instead of leaving Molly just in the bedroom, put her in your bathroom and lock both the bathroom door and the bedroom door.

That way if a sitter goes into your bedroom (which is now harder since she has to unlock the door), she still won’t encounter Molly.

Talk with Amelia about what happened. While it is certainly not okay that Molly bit Amelia, someone old enough to babysit is also old enough to understand that she should not go into an off-limits room. Find out why she did. The answer could be perfectly innocent; for example, one of your kids might have left a special bedtime toy in your room.

I don’t think you need to get rid of your dog, but you do need to develop much safer management techniques–and possibly hire a different sitter.

Helping Dogs Adjust to a Baby

We are expecting a baby in a few months. I’m a little worried about how well our two dogs will adjust, but my husband says everything will be fine. What do you suggest I do to get ready and to stop worrying? ~ Elena

A new baby causes many changes in a household, so it’s great that you are thinking about ways to help your dogs with the transition. Sign up for a group obedience class that you and your husband can attend with the dogs. Seeing how the dogs behave around a variety of distractions–and every group class is full of distractions!–will help you to pinpoint behaviors to focus on. Having dogs that will walk nicely on a leash and sit and stay for a few minutes will be a big help when you are busy with the baby.

Start thinking about ways you can provide physical and mental exercise for the dogs in the weeks following your baby’s arrival. Your dogs will need extra outlets for their energy during this busy time, and without advance planning, you may find that they don’t get the exercise they need. Ask your friends and neighbors if they can either help exercise your dogs or perhaps watch the baby so that you can take the dogs for a long walk.

Spend some time with your dogs around children. Are they comfortable with the kids’ behavior? Do they worry about loud noises or abrupt movements? If you aren’t sure how your dogs would act around kids, talk to a dog trainer to get some training suggestions that are specifically tailored to your dogs’ needs.

Be aware that most dogs do fine for the first six months. If there are going to be problems, you’ll most likely see them when your baby begins to crawl. So keep an eye on your dogs’ behavior and watch for changes as your baby achieves each mobility milestone.

Dog is Overprotective of Baby

Our baby is 3 weeks old, and Daisy has decided it is her job to protect him from visitors. If I am holding the baby and a visitor comes close to see him, she runs over and barks. When the baby is in the bassinette, she won’t let the visitor get close to the baby.

How can I stop this? People are afraid when she does this, and I can’t deal with her and the baby at the same time. She is very gentle with the baby. I need some help! ~ Kathy

When you can’t work with Daisy, put her in another room when guests are over so that she does not rehearse the behavior, which will only make it harder to change.

At first you’ll need someone Daisy is comfortable with to help with the baby while you teach Daisy that guests = good things for her. For example, your mom could hold the baby, while you give Daisy treats as a guest enters and leaves the room. When the guest is visible, treats are being offered to Daisy. When the guest is out of sight, no treats.

We want Daisy to not only tolerate a guest approaching the baby, but to be thrilled about it. Depending on how social and treat motivated she is, this could take time. Go through the counter-conditioning process slowly so that the dog is truly comfortable before increasing the challenge. Behavior deteriorates under stress, so we want Daisy to be really, really comfortable about guests around your son.

Watch Daisy for signs of stress, both when guests are over and when it’s just you and your son. Keep your training sessions short. You may want to have a trainer come over and do a session or two with you to help you get started.

Try making a treat rattle: Take a 20-ounce soda bottle and cut a few holes in the bottom. Fill the bottle with treats or kibble, cap it, and lay it where you can reach it easily. When a guest is over, hold the bottle by the neck and “spray” treats on the floor. There are four benefits to a treat rattle: you don’t have to get up, there is than one treat to hunt for, Daisy will start associating guests with a sprinkle of treats, and you’ll have enough treats to use it several times before refilling.

Dog who Resource Guards – Dangerous for Kids?

We are fostering a dog that we have considered adopting. He growls if I walk by when he has a rawhide. We are working with him on exchanges, and so far that is going well. From what I read in your book, he probably wouldn’t be the best match with kids. We are really bummed! He doesn’t growl over his food or toys, but he growls if I try to take a rawhide or napkin from him. If we work on this, do you still think he shouldn’t be with a family that may have kids in the next few years? ~ Lowell

It is incredibly hard to manage all the interactions between a child and a dog who guards resources and, if you make a mistake, your child may be bitten.

You already know that your dog guards rawhide and napkins. But kids bring many other things dogs may find valuable: dirty diapers, food-stained clothing, crayons, and more. Dogs decide what they value, and it’s often not something that we would expect.

As sad as it is, I would not adopt your foster dog if you expect to have children in his lifetime.

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