Dealing with a Fearful Dog

We adopted a 1-year-old pointer a few months ago. Bart snapped at me the first day when I was petting him.  A couple days later, he did it again. I wanted to get rid of him then and there, since I was due to have our first child in a couple months.  But my husband wanted to give Bart a chance, so I agreed that he could stay if the behavior changed.

Nothing changed.  My husband isn’t interested in dog training. Bart has snapped at him too, when he tries to kiss the dog’s face.

Today Bart snapped at me when I tried to get a thorn out of his paw.  Clearly this dog is still fearful.
Our son is now one month old.  I am terrified that something will happen when our son is a toddler and gets into Bart’s personal space, which is bound to happen.

I have tried working with the dog myself, but my husband seems to undo all my efforts.  He won’t discuss getting rid of Bart or training tactics with me.  He says that when Bart bites our son, he will shoot the dog—which is totally stupid and too late for everyone.

Any advice about how I can persuade him that this is a dangerous situation? ~ Tamara

Your dog needs help. He’s not going to get better on his own. Dogs grow into—not out of—aggression if they aren’t given the training and support they need.

As you said, it’s short-sighted and unfair to blame (or shoot!) the dog for acting out of fear when he hasn’t been given the help he needs. As a starting point, I’d recommend reading Nicole Wilde’s book,Help for Your Fearful Dog.

Babies and toddlers can be scary to dogs. They move very differently from adults, and they have no ability to read a dog’s body language. Once they start to crawl, they are quick and eager to investigate. Your dog will be very uncomfortable with your son making a beeline toward him.

Your dog has shown the ability to warn without causing injury, which is good. However, your son won’t recognize any warning signals and is years from being able to be consistently kind and fair to a dog. So your son and dog are going to have lots of miscommunications, and the risk for a bite is high. (And 77% of dog bites to children are on the face, so we really can’t wait for the first bite before doing something.)

Giving your dog the training and support he needs will require a committed and consistent effort from both you and your husband. If you think that you two don’t have the time and energy to work with your dog, then truly the kindest thing for everyone is for you to find him a new home that does not include children.  Then your son will be safe, and the dog will be interacting with adults, who have a fair shot of understanding canine stress signals and warnings to avoid exacerbating his fear.

I’m really sorry, I wish there were an easy answer for you, but there is not.  I hope you and your husband can find a solution that is right for all four of you.

About the Author

Living with kids and dogs is a lot of work! But when things are going well, a dog can be your child's best friend. That experience is a wonderful gift for any child and well worth the effort involved. Got a question? Let's talk!

%d bloggers like this: