Canine Behavior/Who to Contact
I read your above instructions regarding active biting and I completely agree and understand. However, when I searched for certified animal behaviorists, there are none available in my area of San Antonio Texas. I have a problem with my dog that is very serious and I just need some guidance as to who is best to contact. I am unsure about contacting a box store, like PetSmart, for behavioral training and have read conflicting information about contacting my vet. Some have said that a vet is great for the health of a pet but for the behavior it is best to contact someone else. A lot of places also want to do an evaluation, but my pet is a sweetheart with adults and it would be difficult to decipher his problem through just a consultation. I will include my problem with my dog fully understanding that you would not give "advice" online but hoping to be given some inexpensive resources for help. Thank you!
We have a five year old American Bulldog that has been in our family since he was 6 weeks old. He was raised with our three children from the time we brought him home. However, he has a lot of aggression with small children. He is fine with adults and older children but he does not like smaller children. This has really become a problem because of his size, he is 130 lbs., and the fact that we live in an area with a lot of younger children who play with our kids.
When he sees kids outside from the door window, he growls and barks and jumps angrily at the door and it is impossible to get his attention. He, just recently, got away from my father in law while outside, and knocked down and possibly bit my neighbors three year old daughter. We also had a friend of my daughters spend the night, which she has before, and she stood next to him and put her hand down to go underneath his chin and said hi to him. He did not growl or bark but instead looked at her and then lunged at her and bit her side. Just yesterday, we took him out for a nice long walk and then tied him outside with us on a 10x10 fence while we did yard work. A woman walked by with her granddaughter and wanted to see him. I told her that he wasn't great with children so she stood about 10 feet away, both of them kneeling down the entire time. After several minutes of small talk and with her and her granddaughter still kneeling, my dog lunged at the little girl and took the fence with him about 2 feet. He did not growl or bark at her and the little girl never moved. He also has a problem with my younger children. He will growl at them if they try to hug him or pet him and he has broken skin by biting them in the ear and on the hand. I do not understand what to do at this point, our family loves animals but I could not allow anyone to get seriously hurt by my dog.
Aggression is almost always (97 to 98% in my experience) fear based; your dog has a fear of young children that has been (most likely) acquired by direct experience with a young child (perhaps one of your own) that injured or frightened him. Many dozens of times, I have separated parents and children and questioned the children in the household; if you knew how many of those times I discovered the root of the problem (one the parents did not know), you would be shocked.
Large dog supply chains (such as the one you mentioned) do not "hire" legitimate trainers and do NOT have Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists on their payroll; employees of these places must sign a contract restricting them from doing any training of any dog for a period of time and there are also geographical constraints.
Your dog requires expert evaluation: NO dog trainers (who say they are "behaviorists" and who say they have experience in aggression). ONLY a CAAB. I will give you a link. If you cannot find one from this link, then call the veterinary teaching college in your geographical area and ask for referral to one (they should have one on staff). BUT......
Your dog is a clear and present danger to children. He no longer growls to warn, he is actively biting. You must NEVER ALLOW your dog in any situation where there are young children, for any reason; you must NEVER confine your dog in a kennel outdoors or on leash while allowing a young child to approach him; you must NEVER allow anyone to walk this dog who does not have sufficient strength to control him. You MUST, immediately, fit him for a head collar; if that is not do-able, then he must wear a basket muzzle when taken outdoors. I do not mean a velcro muzzle that prevents the dog from panting, I mean a leather basket muzzle that attaches firmly behind his neck.
I rarely say this but, in this case, I am going to say this: I consider this dog to be a very serious threat. He is capable of seriously injuring, even killing, a young child and this will not change; even with the expertise of a CAAB, there is no guaranty. You have young children in the home and your dog has already bitten your children. So far, the bites appear to be "superficial": this WILL CHANGE. They will become more serious and can do so quite rapidly. I would like you to do your absolute best to find a CAAB. You have, unfortunately, chosen a poor breed type as a companion dog. The American Bulldog is often the product of idiotic breeding practices and is not a casual companion dog even if the breeder is beyond spectacular. No matter how much you love animals, this dog is very dangerous. A veterinary behaviorist (and there will be referrals to same from a veterinary teaching college) will most likely say what I am about to say: the dog must be humanely euthanized. Do not get another dog until your youngest child is eight years old. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO INTERACT WITH THIS DOG UNSUPERVISED OR PUT THEIR HANDS ON HIM. In the time it takes for you to get out of your chair, a dog this size can kill a child.