When Dogs Growl at Children

One of the most common reasons dogs get sent to shelters, or worse, put down, is for their behavior with children.  Dogs and children – it is a 2 way street.  Yes, dogs need to understand how to behave with children, yet many parents neglect teaching their children how to behave with the dog—and the dog ends up on the short end of the stick.

Angry Chihuahua growling, 2 years old, in front of white backgro

Dogs growl for many reasons. Last month I had a dog training lesson with a client whose 3 year old dog,  would  growl at her 7 year old child.  As I began to evaluate the relationship between the owner, the dog and the child, I began to discover that there was not much structure in the dog’s life.  The dog had not been taught any obedience commands and free feeding seemed to be the order of the day.  This lack of structure for the dog had heightened the dog’s anxiety.

Throughout  the lesson there were continuous loud vocal reprimands from the mother to the child about the child’s unrulyness.  When a parent frequently scolds a child in front of the dog, the dog can begin to get very uncomfortable and anxious when the child approaches.  If the  mother scolds the dog using the same emotional energy,  the child then learns to interact with the dog the same way as the mother and again the dog growls and the cycle is reinforced.

Here are comparative behaviors between what the child will do to the dog and the possible dog’s reaction:

Child pulls ears, tail hair, sticks fingers in ears or eyes, hits with hands or objects, scolds and punishes.  The dog’s response can be:  growling, snapping, biting, submissive wetting in pups.

Child teases with toys, food, stares at dog, wrestles to the point of anger or rage.  The dog’s response can be:  biting and viciousness

Child encourages aggressesiveness towards outsiders and/or other dogs.  The dog’s response can be biting, viciousness, chasing, dog-fighting, cat killing, bird killing, escaping, barking.

Child teases dog with tidbits of food.  The dog’s response can be begging, over-protectiveness of food, food stealing.

Child plays tug-of-war with dog.  The dog’s response can be biting, stealing things, chewing.

Child screams and runs.  The dog’s response can be biting, jumping chasing (especially in the herding breeds such as border collies, australian shepherds etc.)

The child is constantly unruly.  The dog’s response is to mimic and also be unruly.

Child does inter-child fighting.  The dog’s response can be aggressiveness, biting, over excitability.

Child pets the dog too much.  The dog’s response can be mounting, aggressiveness, males urinating in house, biting other children.

It is up to us, as responsible dogs owners, to make sure we are not setting our dogs up to fail, because we fail to teach our children.

It makes sense to me.  What do you think?


12 replies
  1. Client Care
    Client Care says:

    Food is a very high value item for a dog. If you have not taught your dog that he must “earn” the things he wants from you then, depending on if he’s on the bossy side’ he will simple “take” the high value item. If you have not engaged in any training with your dog then he only knows how to act like a dog and in his world this works. I would also look very very closely at how your daughter interacts with your dog as it’s always a 2 way street. I would hire an experienced POSITIVE dog trainer ( 10+ yrs experience) to come to your home and work with your entire family and your dog. The combination of Kids and Dogs is NOT an easy combination more times than not. And it is a 2 ways street.

  2. Harley’s mom
    Harley’s mom says:

    We rescued a small dog. We believe it is a shih poo. He is approximately 3 years old. We were told he had been to 4 different homes within a short period of time and that one of the first homes had small children who were not nice to him. We got him home and my husband and I groomed him ourselves. He was so good. He is housebroke so we have no problems there. The one big problem is he has tried to bite my 9 y/o daughter. It seems it is only when there is food involved. He will sleep with her, let her take him for walks and play with her with no problems. My daughter loves him so much but she is starting to get scared when around him. Could it be that the dog is having “flashbacks” to something bad that happened with prior children? Is there any way for us to break him of this behavior? Any suggestions would be great as my we do not want to take home back to the shelter.

  3. Kriatina Martin
    Kriatina Martin says:

    I have two dogs that have randomly started barking at my 13 year old son. Is it possible they are reacting to hormone changes of him going through puberty?

  4. Heather Warde
    Heather Warde says:

    My 5 year old rescue greyhound has started growling at my 11 year old daughter It’s generally when I’m not around, when the dog is on my daughters bed and on the couch and my daughter says she is giving the dog a kiss when it’s asleep.
    My daughter can be very fussy with the dog and she has an excitable nature
    I’ve advised my daughter to stay calm around the dog and not fuss her when she’s asleep. Also to keep treats in her room and when she pets the dog to reward the it

  5. client care
    client care says:

    I would seriously consider a positive reinforcement trainer minimum 10 yrs experience. Your dog may be sensing something from your daughter that makes him uncomfortable, it can be a multitude of things that you’re not aware of. Sometimes having a “new set of eyes” on behavior can be life changing. Go to apdt.com to find a trainer

  6. Holly Marie Dawson
    Holly Marie Dawson says:

    My dog is almost 3 years old I have four kids and all of a sudden he grows at my 8 year old every time she walks into a room. I have taught my kids to be good to animals. It came out of no where I have been trying to work with him on this behavior. He only does it to the one child.

  7. Info
    Info says:

    Krystal: one thing that jumped out at me is you said ” I removed her from the couch and had her lay down and gave her spme scolding before sending her to bed” Your “correction” was light years too late. If your dog has issues when you allow her in your space simply make it a rule she is NOT in your space. Some dogs don’t do well with understanding boundaries that you consistenly let them bridge then scold when they do. NO harsh corrections at all. She is not being disrespectful, she is being a dog who is getting very mixed messages from you. If you have not taught her the behavior you want and praise her for giving that to you and instead just scold her for giving you unwanted behavior it will not work.

  8. Krysal
    Krysal says:

    We got our dog 3 months before my second child was born. She was 3 months old at the time and when we got her (from a family with two year old twins amd a senior dog) she was great with kids but the good pretty much stopped there. She was taken from her mum too soon and has zero dog social skills, and wasn’t ever taken on walks. I thought only 3 months wasn’t enough to make a lasting impression on her behavior, but 2 years later and she’s still a wild card on walks, she doesn’t actually enjoy them at all sonwe seldom take her. She likes her yard and that’s about it. She loves being indoors, and she prefers to spend most of the day lounging in her kennel. She eats on a normal schedule, and plays vigorously, and she’s always been good with the kids and they with her. She has her own toy box and bed beside the couch, but she isn’t allowed on the couch or our own bed without invitation and is kenneld when unsupervised (which isn’t often because I’m a sahm). She has typical annoyances when eating, but my issue is tonight she invited herself onto the couch and growled at my toddler. I removed her from the couch and had her lay down and gave her spme scolding before sending her to bed. She’s never done this before though. I’m sure just removing same level privileges would put a stop to anything further, but we’ve been working so hard to get to the point where she can sit with us on the couch or sleep with us at night, it seems every time we give her leeway, she takes liberties. This is the first growl at one of my children, but she’s always needed stern guidance for being unruly and disrespectful. So this escalation is concering and makes me think she simply isn’t a dog that had that extra with us.

  9. Jim
    Jim says:

    Lisa: Since you petty much have no idea of the dog’s history you have to start with where you are now. I strongly suggest you hire a good professional dog trainer who does behavior. If you’re going to invest time in helping this dog be a great member of your family, then start off right, with good, positive information instead of just grabbing advice from all over the internet and making it harder on your dog and you. Good training for your dog AND you will Last A Lifetime

  10. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    We just brought home a rescue dog who seems to be very sensitive to noise. My children were playing (loudly)in a separate room, the dog was with me in the kitchen, in his crate. He left the crate and ran to the other room to growl at the kids. Just to clarify, they were not at all in the same room. This has happened 3 times. I’m not sure if the volume of the kids is just too much for the dog. He also appears anxious to other loud sounds, such as a cabinet slamming or if something is dropped, but has only growled at the children. I don’t want to wait until there is an incident, is this something we can work on with the dog without hiring a behavior specialist?

  11. Ncole
    Ncole says:

    I agree i just tryed to help out a family wth a 2 1/2 yr old boxer that was raised with a 4 yr old girl and teen age boys. the father n teenagers roughed her up so much she didnt know the difference between loving on her and fightng/playing. i was raised with the breed so i know what you can and cant do for the most part with them and when we got her home she would growl everytime my kids would start to love, hug, or pet on her. so we got after her quick and she did fine for days then one day snapped and bit my 3 yr old! now i know she was not picking on the dog in anyway and the dog gave no signs before she bit! we sent her back to the home she came from as my husband would not allow her to stay and for me to keep working with her. The home she came from they never told her no, let her get up on furniture, and jump up and played reallly rough with her. My question is…. is there help for this girl or have they ruined her? i feel like i gave up on her but we couldnt take another chance in her bitting and this time doing serious damage!

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