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Canine Behavior/Labrador mix with a problem.



My dog, who turns 2 this April, is a mix between a Lab and a hound. I adopted him from a local shelter when he was 3 months old, and his name is Dallas.
Dallas has always been a good, smart dog from the very start. He caught on quickly to learning his name, basic commands, and potty training. He loves when friends and family come over....
I took him for short walks at a young age, but never properly trained him while doing so, resulting in him pulling while on the leash. But that's a seperate matter, and I've already began training to help make our walks more enjoyable.
Unfourtantely, Dallas developed another negative behavior. Little childern that are near cause a reaction that I'm embarrassed and shocked by. While on a walk at my local bayside, a young boy around 10 or 11 politely asked if he could pet my dog. I, of course, said yes. Dallas and I were surrounded by familiar family and we were all sitting in the grass, and when the boy approached, he jumped to a stance and began to throw his head back and howl. His tail was up, wagging slightly, but his hackles were raised and he maintained eye-contact with the boy. I thought, maybe it was because the had sunglasses and a cap on, and Dallas was intimidated by it, but even after they were removed Dallas continued this behavior towards the child.
Today, walking home, our neighbor's little 4 year old girl was throwing out some trash and Dallas began the same howling and raised hackles. I was able to get him to stop when we continued walking. Oddly enough, he doesn't react when kids just simply pass by from a distance..
Dallas is rather submissive to other dogs, he rolls over or lays down when they approach. But when it comes to childern, he howls at them. Adults he's shy with, but allows them to give him a few pats and scratches.
I'm nervous to take him outside now, and would like some advice on how to fix this behavior and maybe learn as to why Dallas is this way.

Thank you.

ANSWER: Children are a huge QUESTION MARK to dogs as they have no pheromones and behave in ways quite unlike adults (all perfectly normal of course).  The child you describe as the first "culprit" was wearing a hat and sunglasses: this by itself explains the cognitive dysfunction in your dog at that moment.  Not only did he not "know" what "this" was (lack of socialization to children from early puppyhood on), but "it" was also wearing a "costume" that surely further confused and frightened the dog.  Raised hackles can be a sign of social statement but it more often indicates FEAR and is called pilo-erection.  The howling is a REAL statement of cognitive dysfunction:  'WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THIS AND WHAT DO I DO WITH IT'.  Now, having had this experience, the dog is leery of anyone who fits the "description" of the original "culprit": short, squeaky, quick movements, no pheromones.

This dog is not a candidate for allowing children to approach or pet him.  Not without some serious and long term behavior modification.  He must be counter conditioned to experience the presence of a child as something other than threatening or confusing, and then (hopefully) this counter conditioning can desensitize him (very difficult), but you need NOT "FEAR" if you have total control of the dog during your walks.  Meanwhile: you need to find a "growl class"...this is a class led by a professional with real certification in positive reinforcement training and behavior and is usually comprised of dogs with on-leash problem behaviors.  You can see a demonstration here:

I suggest you start by finding a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) who can observe the dog on the street and as child(ren) approaches in order to determine when the dog disconnects from cognition and goes into fight/flight and confusion.  I can't see anything from here.  It is quite possible that you can be instructed, during several sessions at most, on how to counter condition this dog and such a professional can teach you how to humanely use a head collar (Halti) to redirect the dog without leading him by the nose (a huge no-no).  Hopefully you can find a CAAB at one of the following sites or by calling the veterinary school in your area:

This is eminently "fixable" (I have addressed far more serious reactions as the result of conditioned fear response acquired in ten seconds by a dog). is NEVER "safe" to allow any "strange" child to interact with your dog unless you can instantly judge the child and you absolutely KNOW the dog has no fear, no avoidance, and has never demonstrated anything but full approach to every human being.  One never knows what a child will do and, in that instant, even the best behaved dog in the world can react and now you and the dog are in serious trouble.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Therefore, as a precauionary action, I should no longer take Dallas to the dogbeach? I've never had any negative behavior there, possibly because he seems so distracted by other dogs than people/ children, but I want to be safe. I don't have him on a leash at the beach, Dallas loves to swim and run, but now that I'm more aware of the situation, I'm debating on if I should take him back again.

Thank you for the information and advice! I'll be sure to use it, and ask you any questions that may come up in the future!

The dog has a recently acquired fear reaction to children.  Fear is 99.9% of the reason dogs exhibit aggression.  Until you have "eyes on" by a professional and a clear understanding of dog's body language, etc., I would not allow him off leash anywhere with young children.  Aggression escalates, it does not self extinguish.  A dog face to face with an object it fears or has learned to fear will, most likely, run (if given the chance) but, in some cases, they will advance (growl), you won't be on top of it to see this, child's reaction determines dog's next encounter.  You want to take a chance that your dog is going to be hauled off by animal control and put to death?  I wouldn't.

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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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