Child-aggressive dog leads to tough choices

(QMI Agency files)

(QMI Agency files)

JOHN WADE, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

Dear John: We have a three-year-old German Shepherd. One throw of the rope and she's a friend forever – if you're an adult that is. When she gets near a toddler or a small child, she gets very aggressive.

Our neighbourhood has a lot of young families and I'm scared to death that if she gets the chance she'll bite one of them. I wish I had read your article about socializing dogs to children, noises, etc. before they are 12 weeks old. Is this something that can be dealt with?

- Jeff 

Hi Jeff: When dog owners have a serious behaviour problem such as this, and want to know their options, I tell them there are four. It's more of an option funnel really where you move from one to the next.

First, though, you have to start with an assessment. The stakes are high so be careful with the assessment part. Many dog trainers are part-time and are what I would call hobbyists as opposed to professionals.

Even so, obedience training is one thing. This is quite another. For example, even an excellent full-time obedience trainer might not think to check on the behaviour of the dog’s littermates, or they may miss flags indicating a dog's thyroid or serotonin levels need to be checked.

Don't let your dog's future depend on someone whose reach might exceed their grasp.

Once the assessment is complete you can have a look at level one of the funnel - the impact of training. On paper, training will almost always positively impact behaviour, but a professional will read you the fine print. There are a lot of "subject to" clauses.

For instance, "Subject to: the owner having the necessary handling skills, time to invest, ability to provide a safe environment for all concerned during the rehab period etc."

The second level of the funnel is the possibility of "the work around." This is where we look at strategies to reduce risk when training will have little or no impact. For example, wearing muzzles, higher fences, more diligent use of crates etc.

For some behaviour problems, the risk might be manageable. For others, it is not and reliance on this option will only delay the next incident, not prevent it.

The third level is to find the dog another home. This might be an option when it appears training will turn the tide, but the current owner cannot for whatever reason make that happen.

The problem, of course, is that an ad saying, "Child aggressive dog - free to a good home," isn't going to make the phone ring off the wall. Some might suggest finding someone without children or a place on a farm. I've found this is more fairy tale than reality. Children are everywhere and farmers aren't dumb.

Sometimes we can’t find the balance between our responsibility to the dog we love and our responsibility to the people around it. We're down to level four, which is euthanasia.

Your first step is finding a person (or two) to assess this dog. Remember, you may really have to dig to find a trainer with more experience than a love of dogs and the ability to teach sit with a treat or two.

I love food and I “cook,” but you wouldn't want to depend on my culinary skills for a meal that really means something to you. You need someone that can really "cook" in the assessment and training department.

Regards, John Wade

Askthedogguy.com


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