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Canine Behavior/Cavalier King Charles Rescue


We adopted a King Charles one week ago for the county animal shelter. We've had 2 stories, 1 that she was an elderly gentleman who didn't socialize her and 2 that she was part of a puppy mill.  We took our kids and other dog (cocalier) to meet her and all went well. My 8 uear old and I brought her home the next day.  Overall, she is pretty timid, insecure and skiddish. We felt that we made progress with her being comfortable, she barked when people came in the house, she would slowly come to us and jump up on the furniture.  She has started showing what I consider aggressive behavior toward our 8 year old.  I appears only to happen mainly if I am in the room with the dog and our 8 year old walks in - she will start barking.  We thought maybe it was jealously or protective issue (although not warranted by the 8 year olds action) . Yesterday the dog has been sleeping on the couch and woke up - she went to pet her and she snipped at her.  Last night the dog was on the floor and our 8 year old walk by and she went at her.  She did not bite her but scared her. She wasn't running or being load. It is breaking my 8 eayr old's hard.  Now, if I'm not home, she will go up to the 8 year old and sleep with her on the couch, she is the primary feeder (that is her "job"), takes her out to go potty and takes her for walks. We are very confused and looking at a solution.  We want to keep the dog, but I will NOT have a dog that is aggressive to my child. Group training would not be helpful as she is afraid of her shadow when she is outside of our house. Thank you so much for any suggestions.

Well, once a breed becomes popular one can pretty much expect to see enormous faults both in health and temperament as they are literally pumped out of puppy mills and backyard breeders.  This breed needs very heavy socialization from early puppyhood; timidity is one possible inherited trait and can result in aggressive behavior (most dog aggression is caused by fear).

I understand the concept of teaching your child responsibility and also wanting your child to learn that all life is sacred.  Bonding to a dog and caring for it is one wonderful way to do this.  But no eight year old child should be "in charge" of any dog, for any reason.  We don't know what occurs between a child so young and a dog when we aren't watching.  And this is NOT the fault of the child, nor the dog, it just happens.  Dog can pull on leash, child can react in a way that scares dog; child can mess with dog's food while feeding it with no bad intentions at all.  Child can share human food with the dog and then chase the dog if it "steals" something from him/her, all totally innocent.  I can tell you from having been in more homes than I can count at this point (many of which were having aggression problems between dog and child(ren)) that kids can do, and do, and experience, things with a dog you know nothing about; and the child will deny it or attempt to make excuses for the dog.  Why, this happened in MY OWN HOME back in 1992!!!  NO fault or blame on either child, dog or yourselves as loving parents.

You describe advancing/developing active aggression.  "Yesterday the dog has been sleeping on the couch and woke up - she went to pet her and she snipped at her.  Last night the dog was on the floor and our 8 year old walk by and she went at her.  She did not bite her but scared her."  There's a very good reason for the adage, "let sleeping dogs lie".  This dog was not at all socialized to children; she may perceive your daughter as equal to, or lower, than herself in social hierarchy; one NEVER APPROACHES A SLEEPING DOG or touches one, I don't care WHO that dog is, unless there is a very, very strong psychological hierarchy between dog and Human.  Even then, a dog can come up from a "dead" sleep and bite out of fear, especially if the dog's past life history hasn't been so terrific (as in this case).  When your child "walked by" and the dog "went for her" this could be the next step after having been suddenly awakened and frightened by an innocent child.  The child reacted with "fear", the dog learned about how to use this behavior to control or avoid the child.

What wonderful parents you are, truly, and how loving and kind of you to go to a kill shelter to find a dog!  This situation requires eyes on, hands on evaluation and the dog and child must both be re-educated regarding one another.  I guess Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (AKC club rescue only) has their hands full right now, but I'd Google in your area and see if you can find a breeder who does rescue work or knows someone who does.  The dog can't go back to the kill shelter, she will be put to death, guaranteed.

Look for legitimate rescue.  Surrender the dog.  They might very well have PROVEN dogs that ARE "good" with children (known to be, "tested" and safe).  The child can still feed the dog but it must "earn" its food by "sitting" on command.  The child must be supervised with any dog at all times, not left alone for any reason, even out for walks.  If you want to work with THIS dog, I cannot guaranty the situation is open to remedy because of the quickly developing problem, but you will need a certified applied animal behaviorist (NOT a dog trainer).  You can find one hopefully on one of these sites:

The "best" dog as a companion for an eight year old child is NO DOG.  The child should be at least age ten, a lot more maturity occurs in the next two years.  But you have this dog now and are accountable for her life.  Do the best you can.  Protect the child by instructing her never to wake this dog, to not allow the dog to "curl up next to her" (child should get up and walk away), to not hug, pick up, or in any way offer any "free attention" to the dog.  You need to be present when dog is fed: stand there, ask dog to "sit", have child put food down, tell dog "ok" and both walk away.  If dog barks when child enters the room with you already in it, YOU get up and leave immediately, have the child turn her back on the dog, count to ten, go back to normal.  Something is going wrong, I can't see what it is, I don't know if it can be fixed, but at this point both child and dog deserve a try.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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