Dog and Daughter... A love/hate relationship

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Dog and Daughter... A love/hate relationship

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Old 10-23-2016, 01:03 PM
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Dog and Daughter... A love/hate relationship

Hello all,

This is my second attempt at posting. My first post was quite descriptive and having done it on a smartphone it is now lost. Since I am retyping this I will try to make it short and sweet.

I have a 4 yearly daughter and a 6 year old pitfall/shepard/lab mix(75%/12.5%/12.5%) Upon bringing my daughter home Cocoa(my dog) was very interested and curious. She had prolonged exposure to blankets from the hospital as my daughter was there for 7 weeks. She obviously recognized the scent and may have even been a bit confused. After a few days her excitement and curiosity seemed to turn into mild resentment. Almost as if she were thinking "Ok. That was interesting. When does it leave?"

Going forward she was always really great with my daughter. She would wrap herself around her on the bed and as soon as she would wake she immediately let my wife or I know.

Fast forward to the beginning toddler years right up to the present time. Whenever my daughter touches or even comes close to cocoa when Im not petting her she growls and runs away. She has never nipped or bitten her and at times she will actually bring my little one a rope toy to play with. The other strange thing is that when I am not around she is EXTREMELY protective of my child around other dogs and will not let them anywhere near her. Ex. - My wife and daughter went for a hike in the woods with cocoa and 3 dogs approached. Cocoa immediately became defensive, darting between all of them while growling and using her body to push them away. As soon as my daughter was out of sight and in her mind no longer in danger she was very happy to play with these other dogs.

I'm just a bit curious about what may be going on with my dog. I would certainly trust her alone with my daughter. I just don't get the whole love/hate relationship. Any thoughts?
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Old 10-23-2016, 02:05 PM
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Pits can have strong caretaker-type tendencies for family and animals they see as being part of their social unit, and shepherds have even stronger tendencies towards caring/guarding. What you're describing with the other dogs sounds like she is just being very clear that the child isn't to be messed with. I would only be worried that another dog will eventually take it the wrong way and it could cause a fight. Given her mix (pit and shepherd more than lab), if another dog fights back, she's not going to back down from it or deescalate the situation, especially given it would have started with her protecting what she views as her charge.

The not wanting to be touched by her unless you're touching her could just be that the dog doesn't especially like the way your daughter pets her, and tolerates it when you're there because she feels you'll keep the child in line. Most children that age are still pretty clumsy movers, so it isn't surprising.

It sounds like your dog thinks she is responsible for your child's well being. On the one hand, it's sort of cute. On the other hand, a dog shouldn't be in charge of dictating to a child what she can and cannot do, or who can and cannot be around her. For one, it's not fair to the dog. The dog shouldn't have that amount of responsibility. Secondly, eventually she's going to feel the need to intercede physically at an inappropriate time with either an inappropriate person or dog and there will be an issue.

When there are other dogs around with your daughter, I would try to find some kind of "job" to occupy your dog that doesn't involve guarding you daughter. Ask her to to something for you and reward heavily with food/praise- a cute trick, holding a sit, playing with a toy. Perhaps have your daughter start getting involved in training (as much as she can be at this age, at least). I also wouldn't be letting the child interact with the dog without direct supervision- a dog shouldn't be feeling the need to warn a child by growling at her, and at this age I'd encourage owners to have children interact with the family dog more on the dog's terms than on the child's.
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Old 10-23-2016, 02:11 PM
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I would never leave a young child alone with a dog.
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Old 10-23-2016, 02:32 PM
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Moonstream - TY. I'm not sure the growling is a warning from what I've observed. It seems to be more of a "leave me alone" type of thing. I should point out that I got cocoa before I met my wife. That alone may explain why she feels the need to be protective of both of them when I am not present. 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.

While the dog was cornering myself, my wife and cocoa the dogs owner was watching from her third floor window and didn't do a thing to stop it. From what I understand this pit was caged 23 hrs/day. His urine leaked through the ceiling of the tenants below. I personally had called both the police and AC numerous times to no avail.

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.

McCourt - while I can understand your sentiment I know that cocoa would never hurt my daughter. To her she's a part of the pack. I think she may see her as an annoying little sister.
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Old 10-23-2016, 02:41 PM
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McCourt - Allow me to clarify and give you an example.

There are times when I am the only parent around to supervise my daughter. She may be watching Spongebob, Mickey Mouse or the like. I may need to use the bathroom. I have never had a problem with cocoa hurting Michaela. She would give her life for her but at the same time wants her own space. From what Ive observed this isn't a competition for resources but rather a pack hierarchy.

She seems to have decided that it is this:
Me
My Wife
Cocoa
Michaela

Again I'd like to emphasize that Cocoa would NEVER hurt Michaela. She knows that Michaela is basically my "puppy" and part of the pack. She also believes that I am somehow the pack leader.
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Old 10-23-2016, 04:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheNamelessOne View Post
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.
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Old 10-23-2016, 05:40 PM
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Moonstream - thank you for your reply. I do tend to agree that as michaela gets older the power dynamic will shift. Cocoa seems to act like a grumpy big sister who wants to be left alone but at the same time would give her life for Michaela.

The only time it's an issue with other dogs is when I'm not present and my daughter is. When I am present she'll defer control to me an literally roll over on her back in front of other dogs.

There are times when I verbally correct her and she put her tail between her legs and try to hide. She almost acts like a dog that's been abused but I got her when she was very little and I know that she hasn't been. This strange behavior was apparent before the male pit cornered us BTW.
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Old 10-23-2016, 08:23 PM
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All three of those breeds in her mix are breeds that tend to think the sun rises and sets with their owner. Pits especially tend to be sensitive to tone, I've noticed. I have a Boston, which one of my trainer-mentors says read the pitbull handbook and forgot to grow, so fairly similar in a lot of ways- a sharp, loud "HEY" is enough for her to act as if she's been struck.

To me, that just sounds like a really soft dog. That's the kind of dog that if you did use physical correction on, you'd likely end up with a dog who is seriously terrified of you in training situations. Be mindful of the tone you use with her- she's telling you that when you raise your voice, she is scared. In her mind, you yelling is not just unpleasant but something she has to do everything she can to deescalate.

Soft dogs actually tend to be pretty easy to teach the rules to, because they think the sky is falling if you say something in a sharp tone and then will never do that thing again. That said, they're easy to teach the rules to because they're easy to spook, and so you definitely have to be sure you're not being overly harsh. What's overly harsh for her might be something another dog wouldn't even bat an eye at.
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Old 10-23-2016, 09:52 PM
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With all respect to you and your dog, how many times have we seen articles where the long time dog owner said "the dog never did that before" when explaining how it killed their child? You DO NOT know what an animal will do, ever. Just be safe and be responsible. Don't leave any animal, two legged or four, with your child. You will never forgive yourself if the unimaginable happened.
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Old 10-24-2016, 08:13 AM
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The title of this thread is a bit alarming but you know your dog best. I can't see the harm in keeping your child and your dog apart when you aren't fully there until you know for sure what is going on and hopefully you get a handle on this growling. When in doubt, take the dog with you to the bathroom or wherever you are going in the house. Gates can be excellent tools as well. Just my two cents. By the way, I would say this for any dog and a 6 year old.
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