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Canine Behavior/Resource guarding me? Snarling at my child


My new rescue dog of one month snapped (no bite, snarled and growled at my 4 yr old son. I was sitting with the dog, Henry, on the couch when my son approached me to kiss me goodnight. At first everything was fine, then about 10 seconds into hugging my son Henry growled very loudly, showed his teeth and snarled. I pushed my son away out of instinct and my husband held Henry back. Henry seems to also be getting somewhat aggressive while leash walking him. Aggressive may be a strong word, but he is now starting to bark, sometimes growl at people we see, mostly across the street. Usually these people are walking dogs. He see,s to like dogs though. My concern is this escalating. I have 3 small boys (1,2 & 4) and I just can't have a dog that I do not trust. Otherwise, Henry is extremely lovable, lets all of us remove toys from his mouth, I can take his food bowl away. He shows no other signs of aggression. He is a polish sheepdog/spaniel mix of some kind, about 2 yrs old. Neutered and about 32lbs. So my question is, do you feel this is treatable or am I just spinning my wheels? I have the option to return him to the rescue for re-homing. He truly is a wonderful dog. Thank you.

Return the dog.

This is the tip of a very large iceberg.  This dog has issues you are not prepared to deal with.  I suggest STRONGLY that, despite your loving nature and your wish to give a dog a chance, your children ARE FAR TOO YOUNG right now.  A growl is a bite waiting to happen.

For future reference:  NEVER REMOVE FOOD FROM A DOG.  In the dog culture, once you give it to them you essentially relinquish it; taking it back or handling it is confusing to the dog and counter productive.  Further: playing with a dog is actually creating a place for that dog in the social hierarchy of your environment.  Teaching a dog to "take it/leave it" is a good way to have fun while establishing a social hierarchy where the dog comprehends its placement in that hierarchy.  Polish Sheepdog...uncertain who came up with THAT breed mix; spaniel should have a soft mouth since they are intended to retrieve during hunting without harming the hunted victim (yes I said victim, boy I hate hunting).

This is not treatable.  Wait until your youngest is at least six years old; that will make his older brother ten, old enough to be instructed carefully and to be given the authority to oversee the interaction between a dog and his siblings, plus giving him a very good lesson on taking responsibility for other living things.  Choose your breed VERY CAREFULLY.  I do not suggest any home with young children take in any dog from any "rescue", certainly not a municipal kill shelter.  While dogs are the victims (most often) of miscreant humans and are inhumanely and unnecessarily dumped (someone once told me her dog no longer matched her decor), some are dumped and for very good reasons.  With young children in the home, you must know the breed you have chosen very, very well.  You must find a responsible breeder by going to the breed AKC web site and contacting the Secretary of the Club AND the rescue coordinator, who will know which breeders to avoid.  You must visit the breeder's home.  You must SEE the breeder's breeding stock IN THE HOUSE (not living in kennels).  You must meet the dam (mother) of your potential puppy and ask for references from others who have purchased her puppies.  You must know the five generation pedigree of both the dam and sire (sire is often not on premises).  The breeder must agree that your home is appropriate for one of her puppies, very important that she meet all your children and make this decision.  The breeder may want to choose a puppy FOR YOU based upon her long term experience in judging temperament and suitability.  The breeder will ask for a spay/neuter certificate before handing over any puppy to you with its AKC papers.  

If you want to see dogs in person, look for "point" shows in your area (these are AKC events for conformation titles).  Talk to handlers.  Ask questions of those who are present and whose dogs are being presented in the show ring.  There are also "match shows" which are "rehearsals" for the real thing.  You might be able to Google calendar dates for these match shows (there used to be a "Match Show Bulletin", I don't know if it still exists.)

A purebred dog of the right breed/type and the right sex (in some, males and females present behaviorally in significantly different ways) is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY when you have young children.  if you start doing your homework now, by the time you are ready to make a purchase, your name will come up on the breeder's list (any good breeder has a list of people waiting for puppies).

Any more questions, don't hesitate to ask.

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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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