Ask the expert: Dog growled at toddler

Reader Question:

Last week our dog (9 months now), growled at my 2 year old daughter and then, when my wife tried to correct her, she was growled at too. They were watching TV and my daughter approached the pup face to face – she has done this previously without any reaction but last night she stroked her on her back and the dog pulled her lips up as if if she was ready to bite. She usually never growls is very friendly – in most instances she is very submissive with people and other dogs.

Expert Response: I would be careful about letting your daughter be around the dog at this age, based on your email it seems that all that is required is some gentle and consistent guidance until your adolescent pup has outgrown this behaviour: 1. More than likely, based on what you’ve told me, you don’t have a bad dog. What you’ve seen is very common amongst young dogs. They are reaching adolescence and are testing out their position in the pack. They are experimenting with new behaviors to see what kind of response it will elicit from the rest of the pack. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU SHOULD ENDANGER YOUR CHILD, but rather that you need to keep a very close eye on the two at all times. It is likely this may happen again – when it does, it must be met with a no-nonsense, extremely firm correction. Immediately separate the dog from the child – she must understand that this behaviour will not be tolerated. 2. As your toddler grows, make it a priority to emphasize behaviours that are appropriate when in the company of your dog: how and where to stroke the dog, never to tease the dog, and never to interrupt the dog when she is sleeping, eating or guarding a toy. 3. Let me repeat, this is a very common behavior amongst young dogs. However, your child’s safety comes first. I would not let a young child of this age be in direct contact with a dog, period. Regardless of the dog.

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