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Helping Dogs Interact with New People

I often take my dog to my son’s baseball games. I bring a chair, and we sit a distance away from the bleachers. Most of the time, things are great. Every now and then, Kelsey takes a dislike to someone and starts to bark. It’s usually an elderly man. I have no idea why she’d act this way. The people have never done anything to her. It’s embarrassing, and it makes me worry that people will think I have a mean dog. What should I do? ~ Samantha

Dogs define “normal” by what they see all the time and, conversely, they find things that are different a bit worrisome. It’s not unusual for a dog to react badly to people who limp, use a cane, or roll by on skates. These things are not every-day occurrences for many dogs.

If she’s usually good with people, take treats with you and work on having her focus on you instead of the “scary” people. Stand up, move around a bit, and do a little training. Movement can be settling for both people and dogs. Be sure to stay far enough away that she feels comfortable and is not reactive.

If possible, ask the man to sit in your chair (so he’ll be still and Kelsey knows he won’t approach her) and toss treats to her. Most social dogs can get over their initial fear of someone different when you keep things light and fun.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dog who Resource Guards – Dangerous for Kids?

We are fostering a dog that we have considered adopting. He growls if I walk by when he has a rawhide. We are working with him on exchanges, and so far that is going well. From what I read in your book, he probably wouldn’t be the best match with kids. We are really bummed! He doesn’t growl over his food or toys, but he growls if I try to take a rawhide or napkin from him. If we work on this, do you still think he shouldn’t be with a family that may have kids in the next few years? ~ Lowell

It is incredibly hard to manage all the interactions between a child and a dog who guards resources and, if you make a mistake, your child may be bitten.

You already know that your dog guards rawhide and napkins. But kids bring many other things dogs may find valuable: dirty diapers, food-stained clothing, crayons, and more. Dogs decide what they value, and it’s often not something that we would expect.

As sad as it is, I would not adopt your foster dog if you expect to have children in his lifetime.

Suddenly Overprotective Puppy

My 1-year-old lab was a star at puppy classes and is a generally friendly little guy.  This summer, I had 2 surgeries, and he has become a bit aggressive and overprotective of me.  The recovery periods required a lot of bed rest, and since I am his primary caregiver he clung to me quite heavily.  He would not let unfamiliar guests near me if I was home alone.  This was an out-of-the-blue change in his personality that I fear has led to some fear-aggression tendencies that I am hoping to nip in the bud.  How do I re-socialize this once very friendly dog? ~ Kathy

If you are up to it, try to get him out and about again.  If you aren’t ready for that, ask a trainer to supervise some visits when you have guests to offer some training tips. The very basic idea is to have guests mean good things for the dog; you’ll want to avoid feeding him unless someone comes over (which means, of course, that you’ll want to have people over often). If you can’t do a short session daily, then get some mind-blowing treat (such as roast beef) that only appears when a guest is over.

The timing of your surgeries coincided with his adolescence, which is when we typically start to see dogs feel confident enough to do something when they are uncomfortable. We need to turn his feelings around so that he enjoys your guests again.

Don’t Try This at Home

My wife and I are having a disagreement. From time to time, our dog, Mohican, will grab a napkin or Kleenex and run behind the couch. If you try to reach back to get it from her, she’ll growl at you. I won’t tolerate a dog growling at me, so I shove the couch out of the way, grab the dog, and wrestle it from her. My wife thinks we should trade a treat for the garbage. What do you think? ~ Michael

Many dogs will growl (or even snap or bite) if they have something they consider valuable and someone tries to take it.

Growling is an early-warning sign. It’s possible that she may be sufficiently intimidated by your method to give up growling, but that won’t make her any more comfortable about being approached when she has something she really, really wants. In many cases, this will cause a dog to skip over her warning signals and move directly to biting. Definitely not what you want.

Also force-based methods work only for people confident enough and strong enough to carry them through. Imagine if one of your kids tried diving behind the couch to retrieve a napkin from the dog—she’s be far more likely to bite a child who attempted your maneuver.

Trading for a treat can be a good idea if the dog is taught to drop what she has so that you can safely pick it up. The best book on the subject is Mine: A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs, by Jean Donaldson. You and your wife should read it to develop a plan that works for both of you, avoids aggressive behavior, and doesn’t scare your dog.

photo by: Sahsha Kochanowicz Photography

Touched-Out Teachers Have Dogs Too​​​Today's post is written by Debra Murray of Smartypaws Dog Training.

​While chatting with a teacher friend today, it was brought to my attention that teachers with dogs and kids have some unique challenges when adjusting to back-to-school schedules.  All day teachers pour their energy into other people's children and come home to their own households and families with important physical and emotional needs that must be met.  

Then, the family dog, who had access to people, play, and ample potty breaks throughout the summer, is ready for rambunctious interaction or inseparable snuggles.  Yet teacher parent is tired and touched out.  They just need a few moments to breathe without the world around them urgently demanding something every single second.

Dear Teachers,

I hear you! I hope these 6 suggestions* can help you find at least 15 minutes of calm in the craziness of raising kids and dogs together while teaching and inspiring our children daily.

(Good news!  You don’t have to be a teacher to try these Back-to-School Doggy Dinners.)

  • Take-Out (scatter feeding):  Let the dog out to potty when you get home while you get the kids and their school stuff situated.  Let pup back in and send the kids out with dog’s dinner.  Have the kids toss and scatter doggy’s food around the backyard.  Call the kids in, then send the dog out for dinner.
  • Tasty Tosser (kibble toss):  This can make some of my teacher friends cringy, but ideally the mess that is made will be cleaned up by the dog.  Children of just about any age can participate in this feeding fun.  Separate dog and children with a sturdy baby gate.  You can take a seat on either side of the gate – probably closer to whichever “animal” needs you most, but being on the same side as your child is optimal.  Have your young kiddo pour dog food in a pile on the floor next to where you are seated sipping cider and gathering your thoughts.  Of course, you can keep the kibble in a bowl or container next to you if you prefer, and sip whatever you choose.  Encourage the child to grab a piece or handful of kibble and toss over the gate to the dog.
  • Homework Helper:  Since doggy snuggles can be nice, sit on the sofa and snuggle and scratch your pup the way you enjoy lovin’ together.  You can play, too if that helps settle your stress.  Use a baby gate to keep pup from interrupting the kids if necessary.  Have the kids practice their letters, spelling words, or math facts by writing them with kibble on the kitchen floor.  When they are finished, switch your snuggle partner.
  • Burrowing Blankie: This is similar to scatter feeding, but indoors and a little different.  Have kids spread dog’s food on the floor while pup is outside or with you in a different room.  Let them lay a blanket or towel over the food for Fido to burrow under and find his feast.  They can use more blankets and towels and spread the food out farther. 
  • Jr. Trainer (hand feed):  Let older children (8+) who have helped with training hand-feed Fido as a training exercise.  Instruct the child to ask for basic behaviors the dog knows well (e.g.,  sit, down, find), and feed or toss a piece of kibble when dog responds correctly.  It’s important only older children who won’t tease or frustrate pup implement this strategy.
  • Brain Toys and Puzzles:  Have kids fill food puzzles and let pupper play engaging in mealtime enrichment.  Check out Smartypaws January and February blogs with mealtime enrichment ideas:

* The above suggestions are for family-friendly dogs without a history of resource guarding or aggression.

 * Keep dogs and kids separated when eating (except older children for hand feeding)

* Always supervise kids and dogs and remember baby gates are not a substitution for supervision.

Debra L. Murray of SmartyPaws

About the author:  

Debra L. Murray is the owner of Smartypaws LLC Dog Training and Family Education in Lee’s Summit, MO.  She is a licensed educator for Family Paws Parent Education, AKC Canine Good Citizen and S.T.A.R. Puppy Evaluator, professional member of Heartland Positive Dog Training Alliance, and presenter for Good Dog in a Box Dog Smart Education.

Debra also is a homeschooling mom committed to promoting safety and creating harmony between dogs and their families. Currently, she has a rescued Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix named Dolly, a husband of 20+ years, and 3 beautiful children.

​Photo credits: Child spelling "dog" with kibble by Sahsha Kochanowicz Photography, photo of Debra Murray by Tim Galyean


Adult Dog Growls at Puppy

My family just adopted a 5-month-old beagle mix. Parker’s really sweet and playful. We all love him—all of us except our 7-year-old shepherd mix that is.

When Parker wants to play with Cookie, she frequently growls loudly at him. He’ll bring her toy after toy, and she’ll occasionally play tug, but most of the time, she’ll just get up and move away from him. Heaven forbid he follow her because she’ll turn around and bark in his face.

She doesn’t hurt him, but it looks scary. Will we have to give up Parker? ~ Diane

It sounds to me like Cookie doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for puppy antics. In most cases, this isn’t a serious issue, but rather an adult dog setting down the household rules. It will help if you make sure that Parker gets lots of exercise and, if possible, opportunities to play with dogs closer to his age. Having an outlet for his energy will help.

You may also want to take Cookie in for a physical, just to rule out any health or aging issues. If you find that after a month things haven’t settled down (or at any time if they escalate), you may want to bring in a dog trainer to watch the interaction and give specific advice.

But based on your description, it really sounds like Cookie is just telling Parker that she’s the queen and she’ll let him know when he has earned the right to play with her.