Dogs/Dog started growling at my kids
QUESTION: My 2 year old German Shepard recently started growling at my kids when they get near him. I think it started when my husband got laid off work and started staying home with our 5 year old. He's an outside dog during the day but comes inside when we are home and to sleep. My husband thinks it's either he's jealous of me with the kids (5, 7, 10 yrs old) or it's a dominant behavior thing. We've since started having my younger kids in charge of feeding him and practice giving commands and offering treats. It started with my youngest 2 kids and he has now started growling with my 10 year old and recently with me! He used to snuggle on the coach with me & the kids but doesn't do it anymore. Is it possible he is depressed?
ANSWER: Hi Sophia,
I'd like to respond more fully to your question. Before I do, I have a few questions for you.
1. How old was your GSD when you got him?
2. You wtrite that he's an "outside dog." What does this mean? For how many hours a day is he outside? Is he supervised during that time? Who might have access to him while he's outside, of which you might know, or might not know? How much area does he have access to outside?
3. You recently started having your kids hand feed him. Why?
4. You recently started training the dog at two years of age and giving him treats. Why these recent changes?
5. You say the growling might have begun when your husband was laid off and started spending more time at home. What is your husband's relationship with the dog? Have there many any changes in the dog's routine since your husband has been laid off? If so, what arte those changes?
6. Why do you think your dog's growling and his possibly being depressed might be related?
Thank you for your question. This is a serious issue. I look forward to your answers to my questions so I can comment more fully. Please answer all my questions in as much detail as you can.
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
Professional dog trainer and dog behavior consultant
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: 1. He was 3 months when we got brought him home.
2. We let him out in the morning before I go to work (around 8 am) and is usually out all day until I return until around 6-7 pm. So 10-11 hours during the day. Not supervised; he has access around the outside of our entire house which is gated/fenced. He barks at anyone who approached the house.
3. kids are not hand feeding him; instead they are the ones to put food in his food/water bowl and instruct him when it's time to eat. We figured he'd appreciate them more if they were the ones feeding him.
4. We didn't necessarily just start training him; just emphasized having the kids "reward" him with when he has proper behavior. Sometimes even when the kids will come up to him to pet him, he'll growl at them; then my husband or I will go up to him tell him "Django NO! No growl!" (and we make his growling sound) then leave him for a minute then come back and pet him and say "Django good boy!" and have the kids do the same thing (pet him and tell him he's a good boy) If he growls again, we let him outside for a while. Then when we let him back in, we have the kid(s) pet him again to see if he growls at them. Sometimes it's not even touching him that sets him off, sometimes they'll walk past him and he'll growl.
5. Figured it changed when my husband was home more with my youngest son; so my youngest son started spending more time with my husband. Not many other changes than that.
6. Since he's growling more at the kids, we're scolding him now more and always saying "No!" and since he doesn't like being around the kids, he doesn't "cuddle" with us on the coach anymore. Kinda feels like he just mopes around. My husband thought he was getting too possessive/jealous of me; so instead of sleeping on my side of the bed, we make him sleep outside the kids' room.
Thank you so much for all your help! I'm really concerned, and can't wait to have our playful pup back!
I'm glad you directed your question to me, because as much as I'm a dog trainer, I'm also an expert in canine behavior and proper socialization of puppies, especially intended to prevent inappropriate and dangerous behaviors as adult dogs due to improper socialization or lack of socialization, both to people and to other dogs/animals.
I'm going to be delivering some hard truths, so you need to prepare yourself for them. None of what I write is meant in judgment of you, as an owner, but intended to educate you and help you. At the same time, I'll be honest in my assessments and comments in order to give you the advice you need.
My first concern is for the safety of your children. From what you have written, my assessment is that Django is a potentially dangerous dog to have around children. Let me repeat that, in another way: Any dog who indiscriminately growls at children who are not even trying to pet him, but just walking by, is an accident waiting to happen for those children, especially a breed as large as a German Shepherd Dog (GSD). That Django is only two years of age and behaving this way makes me even more concerned. The behavior will become worse if you don't intervene immediately with a very knowledgeable trainer or a professional such as a veterinarian behaviorist, and that is IF Django's behavior and the underlying emotions beneath his behavior can be changed toward your children. Django is currently a dog who should NOT be allowed around young children. One would probably be stressful for him. It sounds as if three children are almost intolerable for him and causing him tremendous stress.
So, why might Djang be so stressed by children? Here are a few possible answers:
1. Lack of proper socialization: the critical developmental period for socializing dogs to all types of people, including children, is UP TO 14 weeks of age. Since you got Django at three months of age, it sounds to me as if he was almost, or already, past that critical socialization period, where the dog is supposed to be exposed to novel people, experiences and environments daily, not only critical before 14 weeks of age, but also important to continue on a well-built foundation of socialization after 14 weeks of age.
2. Django is an "outside" dog. That is of great concern to me, especially since his behavior has been unsupervised and unobserved by you and your husband for almost all his life for 10 hours a day. The barking at passers-by is an unacceptable and dangerous behavior, in that the dog becomes highly aroused every time someone passes by, with stress hormones rising in his body many times a day, and, at this point, most likely not returning to normal, baseline levels. This is very troubling behavior which you describe, and a very dangerous situation for a dog behaviorally to be left outside all day for all those hours unsupervised. As well, you don't know who might be stopping by and harassing or teasing Django while he's out all day. From beyond the safety of the other side of the fence, young children might be coming by on a daily basis to tease Django and perhaps they even think it's very entertaining that they can make him lunge at the fence. In this manner, a dog could learn to fear and hate young children.
3. Never scold a dog for growling. A growl is a warning! If you teach the dog that he can no longer growl to warn, he may skip the growling and go straight to biting. Consider the groling a gift. Do NOT punsih or scold him for growling. Do NOT pet him right after he stops growling. The growling means "keep away." It is not a time to be petting a dog right after he's growled because the growl is saying he desires to be left alone. Django, infortunately, has been "left alone" outside, on his own, for two years, for 10 hours a day. He, also unfortunately, has not learned how to behave inside a home or with his family for all that time, which is a very significant amount of time.
Django was raised with little or no socialization at a critical time in his development. He also has been outside for 10 hours a day unsupervised experiencing doG knows what for two years. It is my strong feeling based on everything you've told me that Django should be in a home without young children, or grandchildren, at the very least. He MAY be better with adults, but I can't be sure.
I think you need to have him evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist in your area, and follow that person's recommendations, which will likely coincide with mine. I would suggest doing do immediately. You can find veterinary behaviorists, who are veterinarians who have chosen to specialize in dog behavior in vet school, at www.AVMA.org
In addition, you will probably need to work with a trainer who will be able to help you implement the vet behaviorist's suggestions, if such suggestions involve keeping Django and working to change his behavior, which will take a tremendous commitment from you and your whole family. If you are not up to this task, then you might want to consider contacting and speaking with a German Shepherd breed-specific rescue in your region. You can find one via a Google search. You must be completely honest with a rescue about Django's behavior. A good, reputable rescue will evaluate his behavior and tell you what they think.
In the meantime, do not allow your children or anyone else t scold Django. When you have him indoors, have him gated and away from children passing by him, which may trigger his growling. While normally I would ask you to bring this dog indoors because I believe being outside unsupervised for all this time so many hours a day has contributed to his current and very concerning behavior, I can't tell you to bring him onside because your five-year-old is ionside, and he's growling at this child whom you need to protect. This is a very troubling situation where you are between a rock and a hard place. The only instance in which I can even suggest that you bring Django indoors is if you and your husband can ensure that Django is gated away from your five-year_old at all times, and your five-year-old is supervised and made to understand that s/he can not be around Django unsupervised and is not to let Django out from his gated area, or to go in and play with him.
It's debatable as to whether Django will do well in a home without children, as you've shared that he's also begun to growl at you. If the stresses of the children and being an "outside" dog are removed, he might do better in an adult-only home, WITH training and after a behavior evaluation. I do NOT feel that Django should be re-homed to anyone who has not been made aware of what yu've described to me, and to anyone who will not make a commitment to the management and training Django will need, as well as make a commitment to never leave him outside unsupervised, and to make sure he lives indoors during the day while his people are working during the day. If there is any hope for django, he needs for these changes to be made. This is my opinion - you may not agree with it.
I might even suggest that a trainer get Django used to wearing a muzzle until it's determined whether training will have a positive effect on his behavior.
I can not over-emphasize how extremely concerned I am about the safety of your children, and for your safety as well since Django has begun to growl at you; and, how deeply troubling the behaviors you have described are to me.
Please tell me that you hear my warnings and understand the advice and information I am sharing with you.
Best of luck,
Madeline Friedman, M.A.
NYC and NJ Dog Trainer and Dog Behavior Expert