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New dog snaps sometimes at toddler - can this work?

1856 Views 8 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  SusanLynn
We're "trying out" a senior dog and we have a nearly 3 year old toddler (girl).
Toddler loves it and has tried reading books to the dog and so on.

Dog is a small mutt and over 10 years old. He's normally very mellow (except around other dogs). However, around the toddler he has now growled and a couple times actually snapped at her. Foster says she's never seen this behavior before, but then, he hasn't been around kids, either. We're still in the first 6 hours since his arrival.

He follows the adults around the house and likes to lie down at their feet, and with my husband, tries to lie down on his lap. Sometimes he tries to put his forepaws on them in a manner that we don't approve of. He has tried to do what I assume in a dominance thing on the toddler as well.

She has been playing near the dog, even dropping a dog toy right in front of his face, and he hasn't reacted to most of it. He generally seems to only growl or snap when she moves suddenly to touch him (particularly hindquarters) (and I think when he's near my husband) or once when she tried to sit on a chair he was lying on (big chair).

The worst one was where husband was petting dog on the floor and toddler was right near them. Neither of us saw what happened, but the dog snapped at her. Dog clearly recognizes husband as the king of the house, by the way.

Every time the dog growls or snaps we give a very firm "no," but it's happened often enough I am wondering if these are signs we should not move forward.
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Older dogs that have never been around toddlers can be very iffy with them. Not to tell you that it won't work out, but for heaven's sakes don't leave the dog and child alone. In fact, don't have them together unless you are watching them.
You'll need someone a whole lot smarter than I am to help you deal with this problem though.
Thanks!! Yeah after I posted this we had an incident where she was very innocently petting him, and he snapped at her hand. I tried it (petting him) and he jerked around then decided I was okay. I have a feeling he doesn't view small kids as totally human.

He's also continuing to try dominance shenanigans with the adults, too... but I kind of wonder if that's normal for male dogs in a new situation?

This is really unfortunate as this dog is really ideal in so many other ways.
Its not that he's trying to be dominant, he is expressing that he doesn't feel comfortable with your daughter touching him in certain ways. Older dogs tend to be a bit less tolerant in general (depending on the dog) especially if they've never been around kids before. Part of it may be him settling into a new place, but unless I misread, he hadn't been kid tested before you adopted him? Especially when you have young kids, I really suggest making sure the dog your adopting has been kid tested. Not all dogs are tolerant of children regardless of the age or gender of the dog.

Im not saying this would never work, but your going to have to be very vigilant. Never leave them alone unattended, and don't let her pet him on the hindquarters. She may also be petting him to hard. I would also maybe take him to the vets to rule out any medical reasons on the possibility that he might be sore in some places and may not like being touched there. But again something to keep in mind, even with training, some dogs are just not comfortable around children.
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Yes, he's probably fairly set in his ways and was not kid-vetted, at least not extensively. I know he's probably totally stressed out (he's dozing on the couch next to DH right now).

He's had a few vet visits, including one recently.

Yeah, if LO had hurt him, it would be more understandable, but I was watching closely and all three or so times I don't believe there was any pain.

At other times he's so mellow, too. It's just like he has some old trauma :(
Snapping is a fear thing. Dogs are typically afraid of things that are unfamiliar to them-- toddlers, for instance, look, sound, move and act differently from adults and can therefore spook dogs that have not gotten a lot of socialization to them in the past. Their face is also a lot more on the "level" of a dog so it can at times seem, to the dog, as though they are being "stared down".

I would also advise that as a precaution, you keep the dog off furniture (or keep your toddler away from the dog when it is on the furniture, whichever is easier). It isn't really a dominance thing, but furniture can be a bit of a hot button for dogs, especially smaller or older dogs. They can't move as freely as they would on flat ground so if they feel cornered by someone, they have to either "tell" that person to back up (growling or snapping) or try to squeeze past that person and make the jump to the floor. It's just much easier for dogs to distance themselves from a person that's making them uneasy when they can just scoot away, or hop out of their bed on the floor and scoot away.

Another very important thing to get in the habit of is NOT to discourage him from growling or snapping. Certainly it's not a good thing if your dog is doing this, but dogs only have so many ways of saying "Can you back up and give me some space, please?" before they have to start talking with their teeth. Don't get me wrong, dogs can easily be taught not to growl or snarl-- and this is where so many "out-of-the-blue" attacks come from.

Some good resources:
Dog Bite Prevention Information for Parents
Dogs and children - Company - Dogs
Liam J Perk Foundation - Cape Coral, Florida

Definitely keep an eye on the dog for the next few weeks, especially. Re-homed dogs are usually totally shellshocked during this time. Their world was ripped up and dumped upside-down when they were placed up for adoption, then it happened all over again when they came to their new home. Right now he is probably in a pretty fragile emotional state, being both terribly relieved to find himself back with a family and, at the same time, warily anticipating the next big upheaval. It can take up to 3 months for dogs to fully settle into their new households. Just keep things mellow, upbeat and relaxed. Good luck!
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I accidently reposted the same thing
Little kids don't move, act or sound at all like adult humans. A dog basically has to learn a new language to deal with kids.. and senior dogs aren't very inclined to. Three year olds are also not exactly the most mindful either.

I'd just keep them apart and watched; there's really no need for her to be touching him at all, let him go to her when he's comfortable and ready. It's only been a few HOURS, right? He's in a new place with new overwhelming smells and situations, and here's this humanlike thing that doesn't move act or sound like a normal human trying to reach for him or possibly sit on him! It's scary.

It's also a fantastic time for the little girl to learn to not try to touch/grab any dog she comes into contact with, and respect their space. A whole lot of toddlers don't get this, and eventually run into problems because of it.
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Hi GreenBox,

First of all, I want to welcome you to the Dog Forum. This is a terrific site, and it helped me a lot when I first became a dog owner.

There's a lot that jumps out at me from your post. First, your dog is really, very stressed, and I think he needs a lot of time, patience, and space. This article is a helpful one to read about bringing home an older, adopted dog:

Three Ways to Confuse a New Dog

In particular, please heed the second piece of advice about introducing your dog to too much too quickly. Its author, Patricia McConnell has a wonderful resource book for the owners of newly adopted dogs.

Love Has No Age Limit-Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home: Patricia B. McConnell Ph.D., Karen B. London Ph.D.: 9781891767142: Books

Next, I would highly recommend that you carefully study all of the resources on this thread:

Honestly speaking, I'm afraid that you are setting your new dog up for failure by allowing so much contact with your toddler while he is clearly feeling very uncomfortable in her presence. It sounds like she's too young to know how to properly interact with your dog, and your dog is doing everything he can to express that he's stressed by her interactions with him, short of biting her. Please listen to what he is telling you.

The resources in that thread will help you learn to identify the subtle signs of his discomfort and show the proper way that children should be taught to interact with dogs. It sounds like you're giving her too many opportunities to provoke him. She doesn't have to hit him to make him feel uncomfortable.

This is another thread very much worth reading:

Lastly, you've written a lot about "dominance" and about "correcting" your dog. I'm guessing that you have done what many new dog owners do: turned on Cesar Milan and tried to replicate his techniques. The problem with that is that CM is just a television personality. His theories and techniques are very outdated and counter-productive. You will find that almost no one on this site is a fan of his.

What's happening in your case is that every time you "correct" your dog, he's getting more and more anxious and stressed. He's not trying to be the "king" of the household. He's not trying to "dominate" your toddler, or you, or your husband. He's just really, really stressed by his new environment.

This forum emphasizes positive reinforcement training, and we would love to help you develop a better relationship with your dog. I hope that you'll be interested in learning different ways to interact with him. In the meantime, I'd strongly recommend separating him from your daughter.

Good luck to you all.
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