Growling at children

Posted by slrcsfoley
Oct 15, 2007
Hi, I've just joined. Hope it OK to post my consultation question here.
4 weeks ago, a 7 year old female toy poodle came into our lives. She'd escaped from her previous home and, after some discussion and a week's trial, we decided to keep her. She came from a family with 2 young girls under 5, and her owner assured me that she was always great with the kids. I have 3 kids - a boy (9), a girl (7) and a boy (4). All was well the first week, she was really friendly with all of us, then she developed some signs of a false pregnancy, and started growling at my boys. The pregnancy symptoms have subsided, but the growling is still going on. She has never growled at my daughter, only my sons, particularly my 4 year old son. She also growls occasionally at other children who go to stroke her. She seems to love new people, but as soon as the visitors have been here a while, she growls at them if they approach her. I end up putting her away in another room.
I'd like to understand what is going on for her. When my 4 year old approaches her, her head & tail go down, and she growls. When we are at the park having a picnic, she barks and growls at anyone coming near us, but her head & tail is up then. She barks & growls in the evening when she hears noises, but never in the night when she's alone. She often, but not always, growls at other kids who come to pet her when she is up in my daughter's arms. She frequently seeks out me, my husband or my daughter for cuddles, sometimes goes to my 9 year old son when he invites her, and avoids my 4 year old whenever she can. He feeds her, and she's even growled then. I don't understand whether it's fear or dominance growling. We're working on obedience (she knew only a few commands), doing the stuff in the alpha dog book, and she is getting more exercise than she used to get. I just can't work her out at all.
Please help, I'm beginning to regret taking her in.
Many thanks in anticipation.
Posted by MartyEd
Dec 18, 2007
Hi there Slrcsfoley,

Thanks for the email regarding your 7 year old Toy Poodle that seems to have a penchant for growling at children. As you probably already realize, this is not a common problem dog owners face, which is probably why you have had trouble finding programs that cover this subject! Because it isn’t covered in a book does not however mean your Toy Poodle can’t be trained out of this behavior. It isn’t covered in our book because if we included EVERY possible behavioral problem a dog may have, the book would be never ending. This is the reason we have consultations available to our customers and I’m glad to see that you have found this service was available to you as part of purchasing the book, so we can help you cover uncovered material! Training of your Toy Poodle is definitely possible, however it will definitely take time, particularly in this case since you adopted her and you don’t know the exact reasons as to why this may have begun. You do however have her age on your side, and younger dogs are comparatively easier to train than their older counterparts.

For starters in this case, you need to have better control over your dog such that if something untoward happens when a visitor is around (be they young or old) you can instantly get her attention and stop her from attempting whatever she is attempting. I would encourage you, your husband and your children, to read the bonus book "Secrets to becoming the Alpha Dog" that was included as part of our package. This book will give you a good understanding of the hierarchical nature and behavior of your dog. Follow the tips in this book as much as possible and you should begin to see good results after a couple of weeks.

If you treat your dog as an equal it may well see it as an opportunity to challenge your position. For example, be aware that allowing your dog onto the couch, bed, etc will give it the leeway that it needs to be able to challenge your position as the alpha dog in the relationship. This behavior change may occur quite gradually, without you even noticing it, until your dog starts showing aggressive tendencies when you try to move it!

You should reprimand your dog for unacceptable behavior, no matter what that behavior is. If you do not reprimand your dog’s poor behavior then it will feel that it has the right to behave that way and it will take much longer to correct the behavior. What I recommend you do, is the next time your dog acts poorly and exhibits dominant tendencies (growling), throw a heavy blanket over your dog and be sure to reprimand it. DO NOT yell, as this has no effect on the dominant dog. Growl instead, use a guttural growl like " AAHHH!" instead of "No!", as this makes a sharper sound then "No" (If done correctly it may hurt your throat a little).

Please undertake the following techniques to reinforce your status as alpha dog

If you come across your dog while she is sleeping or lying on the floor then you can reinforce your position as alpha dog by making her move so that you can pass by.
Generally I do not recommend people give their dogs bones as this encourages the aggression, because in the wild the alpha dog would be the only one to have the privilege of chewing the bones. The reason your dog growls at you when you approach it with a bone is because it believes that it has the right to the bone and is trying to discipline you for challenging your dog for its dominant role.
Make sure that you always go through doorways first. A good method to reinforce your position as alpha dog is to walk your dog around the house on the leash, making your dog wait while you walk through doorways first.
At mealtimes make sure that your dog or dogs eat after all of the humans have.
Do not feed your dog tidbits or let it pester you at the table. Save the morsels and tidbits for training sessions instead.
Do not greet your dog straightaway when you arrive home. Make it wait until you are ready and then call it to you.
When your dog wants to go outside for a walk, make it sit and wait until you are ready to go.
When you give a command make sure that you are in a position to enforce the action that you require from your dog, especially in the initial stages of Alpha Dog training. Also, use the Alarm-No-Command technique as described in the Alpha Dog bonus book to reprimand your dog if it does not obey your command.
It is vitally important that your dog has good all-round obedience skills. Regular training sessions are key to improving your dog's obedience responses and keeping it used to answering your commands. Concentrate on the sit and stay, down and stay, heel and wait commands.
Do not inadvertently reinforce poor behavior from your dog. You must be consistent in your attitude to your dog. For example, if your dog is allowed to jump on you when you are playing with it but is not allowed to jump up at any other time then how is it meant to know the difference?

By following the above techniques for a month or two, you should find that you begin to have much better control over your dog. This ultimately will make training her to behave around children a lot easier. Once this training has been undertaken, you should reinforce general obedience training (even though you may perceive her to be very obedient at the moment). This will get her further tuned into listening to your every command and reacting quicker to them. Using small bits of food as a reward generally speeds up the process here if used correctly.

The basis of fixing this problem revolves around these first two things. Your dog needs to know that it is at the bottom of the pack, and you also need to have better control over her. Both of these things will help here. It is also important for your dog that she be well exercised, especially at her age. If she is bored and restless, this may actually start to frustrate her, which will possibly lead to more aggressive behavior.

I am of course quite concerned about the behavior of your dog towards children, particularly if you are planning on adopting a child yourself. It could be that she will be very loving towards another “pack member”, however this is a big risk to take on a dog with a history of aggression towards toddlers. The ideal method to help curb this problem, will involve inviting willing friends or family members that can help out around. If you are confident that your Toy Poodle won’t ACTUALLY bite any of them then proceed without worry, otherwise if you have any doubt, you should purchase an appropriate (small) sized muzzle and put this on the dog before starting. This method is very risky, so please proceed with caution and at your own discretion. It involves basically getting family members or friends with young children that are willing to trust your handling of the dog to prevent any spontaneous situations. I definitely recommend only trying this method after you have followed the alpha techniques and gone through basic obedience training again for a while. You will also be using a lead and if you think it necessary, or to give yourself more confidence with her around children, a muzzle. The child needs to be old enough and not totally frightened of dogs to begin with as this will only make matters worse. If all of these things fit together and you and a friend and their child are all willing to try it here is what to do:

• Get an adult friend and their young child to come and visit (make sure that they both know what is happening and the child realizes what could possibly happen. If they are not confident around dogs, they should not be doing this as it could worsen their confidence and your dog could well pick this up anyway).
• As your friend knocks on the door or rings the doorbell, make your dog sit and give it a treat. Then put your dog’s collar on and take it to either a crate or a secure room. If your dog is too much of a handful at even this stage then you will have to put your dog away before your visitor gets to the door.
• Sit your friend and their child down in a room that is not often use by your dog. Give friend and their child some treats so that they can give them to your dog.
• Go to your dog and make it sit. Put a halter or muzzle on as well as the lead. Get your dog to heel then take it into the room that your friend and their child is in. Make sure that the child does not give any eye contact to the dog. Act as happy as you can while petting your dog.
• If your dog growls or disobeys your commands at ANY TIME then squirt it with water or shake a pebble filled can to startle it. Have the water pistol or can in your dogs view at all times.
• Make your dog sit quite a long way from your guest, perhaps in the doorway of the room. When your dog is calm get it to heel and move it closer, then get your dog to sit again. Praise your dog when it sits and heels properly.
• When your dog is calm and you have moved it and made it sit within 5 feet of the guest then get the guest to give your dog a treat. Make sure that the guest does not look your dog in the eyes.

It will then be a matter of getting children your dog has chased in the past to have the courage to come back again and help train your dog. Maybe if you explain to the child and their parent that she will be well handled, with a muzzle and lead (if necessary – this is up to you), and that you would be doing yourself and her a great favor to help her learn what is right and what is wrong, they might be more keen?!

Best of luck with the training, please let us know how you get on. I hope this advice has been helpful for you. Remember to take care with the training, particularly if children are to be involved.

Kind Regards,

Mark Edwards
SitStayFetch Team