The “Perfect” Dog Breed

Are beagles good with kids? ~ Jason

I wish I could create a list of breeds in which all the dogs were great with kids, but that’s just not possible. Many beagles are wonderful family dogs, but I also know some that are not.

There can be big differences in the temperaments of puppies–even within a single litter–so look at each dog as an individual. Compare this with your kids. I have three sons, but they are very different people. The same is true of dogs. Each one comes with an individual personality.

Look for a dog that loves people. A strong social drive is the best barrier against aggression. Good family dogs are social, sturdy, and don’t guard their possessions.

Is My Dog a Danger to Kids?

I’m in a desperate situation. I have a 2-year-old German shepherd. Last week, he bit my neighbor’s 7-year-old girl. They had been playing fetch, and he nailed her in the back of the head. She needed 12 staples. Needless to say, I’m sick over this. I have 5-year-old twins, and they can do anything to him. I will say when kids are over he avoids them and seems almost afraid of them. He has growled before, but usually he will just leave the room when kids visit. So I don’t know if this bite was intentional, a reaction out of fear, or a mistake. In any case, I cannot risk him biting again. How can I know if he’ll be safe around kids in the future? ~ Susan

There are several red flags in your letter. First, your dog growls at visiting children. This is his way of expressing discomfort. Never punish a dog for growling; warnings convey valuable information! But whenever a dog growls at a child, you need to carefully assess the situation to prevent it from recurring. By leaving the room, he is telling you that he would like to be away from visiting kids. For now, be sure to put him in behind a locked door whenever children are visiting.

Twelve staples means your dog did not show good bite inhibition. Most dog bites do not puncture the skin. In this case, your dog created a large gash. If he were to bite again, the injury would probably be similar.

And the ages of your kids and of your dog are another cause for concern. Kids between 5 and 9 (like your kids and most of their friends) are bitten more often than people of other ages. Also dogs grow into their level of aggression. Most serious dog bites come from dogs between 2 and 5 years old. Your dog is at the earlier end of this time frame.

I strongly suggest you take your dog for a professional evaluation to get a better idea of your dog’s social drive, tolerance levels, and reactivity. This information will help you decide how best to ensure the safety of your kids and their friends.

Getting a Puppy while Having an Old Dog?

Our dog is getting pretty old. Chelsea sleeps most of the time and doesn’t play much any more. Our 16-year-old son is begging for a puppy. I’m not sure getting a puppy is fair to Chelsea and, to be honest, I’m also not sure I want a puppy. What do you suggest? ~ Jackie

Think long and hard before getting a puppy. Your son will likely move out in the next few years, and the puppy will stay with you for the next decade or so.

If you decide to get a puppy, make sure that Chelsea can get away when she wants a break. With age comes a few privileges, and one is that you shouldn’t have to deal with wild youngsters all the time. She’s earned undisturbed naps in sunny spots.

Be sure to give the puppy plenty of exercise and seek out some playmates for him. The more energy he can expend with you, your son, and other dogs, the less he’ll pester Chelsea.

With careful consideration to the older dog’s needs, many families find the addition of a puppy less stressful than they anticipated. Often the older dog even perks up a bit and begins to play again.

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.

1 2 3 5