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?