Originally Posted by TheNamelessOne
Also at around 7 months old we(me, wife and dog) were cornered by a large male pit. I was able to somehow scare him off while holding cocoa. Long story short we were living in a city. There was a party near by and people heard my wife scream and they helped to fend off the pit. Police were driving by, they stopped, they then went to find the dogs owner. The dog was shot in the mouth while trying to attack the officers. He somehow escaped and made his way into an apartment complex a few blocks away and was taken to a vet where he was later put down.
After this Cocoa became very dog aggressive and only through a slow process of resocializing her with other dogs at the dog park did that behavior subside.
Given this, I'm not at all surprised by the growling/body checking other dogs when they're around your daughter. This is a pretty traumatic experience for the whole family, and likely the dog still doesn't quite trust that other dogs aren't a threat to her child. She had a very clear, traumatic experience that informed her dogs are
a threat to her family, and while she understands you and your wife can take care of yourself and each other, she sees it as her job to make absolutely sure your daughter is taken care of.
One note on the "pack hierarchy" stuff... Dogs are social creatures, and as such they do operate within social dominance structures. That said, there is a fair amount of research that suggests dogs operate in more dyadic hierarchies (relationships between two individuals, not reliant on relationships with others outside that pair) that are fairly flexible depending on the situation than in strict linear organizations of social rank.
The idea that dogs live within strict, physically enforced hierarchies is tied to some studies of wolf behavior done in the 1940's on captive wolf packs that were cutting edge at the time, but have since been judged as being of limited use to explain domestic dog behavior for many reasons (among them: captive wolves act drastically different than wild wolves, who rarely use physical threat displays to assert rank and instead operate in a system where rank is upheld by displays of appeasement, and also the fact that dogs are not wolves, and at least 14,000 years of evolution separate dogs from the ancient grey wolves that were the common ancestor between modern dogs and modern wolves).
The actual function of social dominance on dog behavior is a point of contention in the professional dog community (trainers, behaviorists) and also in the scientific community (the academics- often with a focus in behavioral science- that are actually running the studies to look into these things). There is an entire "sect" of dog training ("dominance theory" trainers, Casar Milan being the most popularized) that holds that social rank problems are the #1 influence on "problem behaviors" in dogs, that dogs are constantly striving for higher social rank within their own "packs", and that humans must show "dominance" to the dogs through physical manipulation/threat displays the same way two dogs would to each other. It is something I have gone back and forth on; I started out as a proponent of dominance theory, then over-corrected to deciding that social hierarchies play little to no role in dog behavior, and have now settled more in the middle- a great deal of the time, social dominance relationships play no role in problem behaviors. Sometimes they do. The use of physical force is not needed to adjust problems that stem from rank issues in dogs, pretty much ever. We are the ones with thumbs, we're the ones that feed them, walk them, make sure all their needs are met. Humans are naturally going to be the higher ranking members in the family unit 9 times out of 10. When they're not, it's very easy to adjust the power dynamic. We ask the dog to sit and wait before eating. We ask the dog to wait before going through a doorway. We don't let the dog decide how we walk, or pull us on the walk, by communicating that we don't move forwards when it pulls. We make sure all its needs are being met, and we organize the meeting of those needs so that it happens on our terms. As I said, most of the time problem behaviors do not involve a component of the dog feeling it is "in charge" of its human, and most of the time when it is it can be tweaked by just training a new behavior while working on changing the dog's emotional reaction to the stimulus that elicits the unwanted behavior.
That said, when I first read this, my first thought was that this is one of those issues heavily informed by social rank. Knowing the dog was placed in a position where she, the child, and the rest of the family unit were in danger from another dog when the child was very young makes sense given their current relationship. The dog feels strongly responsible for the safety of the child around other dogs. She also feels that she is well within her rights to give a verbal warning to the child when she is doing something she deems wrong when you are not there. She seems to understand that you rank higher than the child, and you rank higher than her, and so when you're there is deferring to you in that situation. When you're not, she takes it upon herself to let the child know- gently- that she does not want to be bothered. At the age your daughter is, I wouldn't necessarily see that as a problem. At this age, the child is never (and should never) be expected to be responsible for the behavior of the dog. Likely the power dynamic between them will change as your daughter ages. It doesn't sound like you think the dog would ever do more than growl, and honestly I am not someone who thinks a growl is always 100% terrible and bad and unacceptable. If the dog doesn't want to be bothered, and she expresses that by growling/grumbling and moving away, I don't see that as the end of the world. Bullies can be a pretty vocal group, and some are just more growly- it isn't necessarily a threat, and it doesn't sound like it is in this situation. It sounds like normal communication.
I would look at is as a "you can't take care of yourself or me, so I have to take care of you and me" kind of a mindset in the dog. Eventually, your daughter will be able to take care of herself and the dog. Eventually the power dynamic will shift.
I would definitely work to avoid letting the dog boss other dogs around when they're loose with your daughter, especially if you do not know the other dogs well. Eventually a dog isn't going to like it and a fight will break out. The easiest way to avoid her doing this would be to distract her with something else when there are other dogs. One idea: get lots of small pieces of hot dog (think 1/3" cubes) and when other dogs approach, spread them over a large area by throwing a few fist fulls in the direction you're walking. Continue walking, do not stop, and use a key word like "find it" for the dog to search out the hot dog. In this situation, in a large area with lots of small bite sized pieces where you're not stopping, resource guarding shouldn't occur. Alternatively, you could just offer the dog hotdogs for staying near you and ignoring the other dogs.
I definitely wouldn't be letting her stop and socialize with these unknown dogs. To me, that's courting disaster. Most dogs not only don't want to be meeting unknown dogs outside their social groups, but actually would prefer to just stick to their social groups. When unknown dogs meet, they are going to immediately try to establish a relationship, and quite often that leads to tension and/or a fight. Pits and other bully breeds are especially bad at making new friends with unknown dogs, IME/O, because 1) they are rough players, 2) they are very, very intense in their body language and most other dogs will see it as a threat or at least as less than friendly when really it is all in good fun, and 3) I have seen a lot that just don't seem to have all their social marbles quite together and are really shoddy at reading the body language of other dogs and/or like to escalate tense situations for the fun of it instead of deescalating them if they are able to tell that the situation is tense.