Monday, September 27, 2010

Growling at the Kids

Never punish your dog for growling. This may seem counter-intuitive and may even go against the advice of your dog trainer or dog trainers you have seen on TV. If your dog growls at your child he is sending a clear warning that he is very uncomfortable with the actions or proximity of the child. Be grateful that your dog chose to warn with a growl rather than going straight to a bite. If you punish the growling, you may inhibit the warning growl the next time and the dog may bite without growling first. Punishment or scolding will not make the dog feel better about the child, in fact he may even feel more anxious and be even more likely to bite in the future, especially if you are not there to control the situation. If your child cannot follow directions and/or has got into the habit of being rough with the dog, then the dog and child should be separated until the child has learned to treat the dog with kindness and respect.
  • Increase supervision.
  • Take your dog to the vet to make sure he is not sick or in pain.
  • Seek the advice of a dog behaviour specialist who will use positive reinforcement to help teach the dog to change his attitude and to enjoy the company of the child.
Do not assume that the dog will not bite because he hasn't yet. As dogs get older they can become less tolerant. As children get older the dog can become less tolerant of rough treatment. How tragic if your last memory of a faithful long time family member is of a bite to your child. Visit our Why Dogs Bite page for more about why your dog might growl or bite.

Reinforcing the Growl

Teach your kids to back off and report it to you if the dog growls. The same goes for adults. "Doesn't this just encourage the dog to growl if he finds out he can control us with this behavior?" is a very common (and a very good) question. Yes, if you back off the dog will know that growling works to get him out of an uncomfortable situation. He will be likely to growl again in the same situation and less likely to feel the need to bite, since growling works well enough. Wouldn't you rather have a dog that will warn with a growl and not go straight to a bite? Of course we don't want the dog to turn into a growling machine and so action is required immediately to remedy the situation. The kids need to learn to avoid the behavior that causes growling until the dog is trained (and possibly afterward as well). The adults need to teach the dog to enjoy whatever situations cause him to growl. This requires behavior modification training so that the dog no longer feels anxious or threatened and so does not feel the need to growl. We recommend that you hire a dog behavior consultant to help you with this, since growling is such a serious warning and must be dealt with immediately and properly. Click here to find help.

Remember, if you want your kids to tell you if the dog growls, thank them for this information. Avoid scolding or making them feel that they did something wrong (even if they did do something you have told them not do). Kids who get in trouble for making the dog growl and then telling you about are not going to come to you with this information the next time. Some behavior modification may also be required for the child. Visit the TAGteach website and blog for information about how to use positive reinforcement to modify human behavior.

The Alpha/Dominance Approach

You may have read or heard that it is important to be the alpha in your home and that you need to show the dog who's boss in order to get his behaviour under control. You may be told that your dog is being dominant and that you need to intimidate or force him into his proper place at the bottom of the pack.This kind of tough approach can make the dog more anxious and likely to bite. Please visit our blog for the latest scientific information and explanations which refute the alpha/dominance model in dog training. Read more about social organization in dogs.

A True Story

Read this true story about a family who trusted the dog too much and were not aware that the dog was feeling anxious around the child: The Truth About Kids and Dogs

Growling Over the Food Bowl - An Example

A common situation in which the dog may growl at a child is when the child tries to take something from the dog, particularly a food item. Some dogs will growl if a child even approaches the dog's food bowl. We have posted an article about this at our blog with instructions on how to prevent food bowl guarding. The goal with this training is to change the dog's attitude about people approaching his food, to make him happy instead of anxious in this situation. The same principles apply to any growling situation. The goal is to use positive reinforcement to teach the dog to enjoy the situation that previously caused him to growl.

Click here to read our blog posts about growling and why dogs bite.

Recommended Resource

Doggone Safe recommends the book, "Living With Kids and Dogs... without losing your mind" by Colleen Pelar for all parents with a dog in the family or who are thinking about adding a dog to the family. Preview and buy it by clicking here.

Fun Teaching Kids of Greyhound Adopters

Thanks to Angela Jardine of Maritime Greyhound Adoption Program for telling us about their protocol for educating adopters and their kids about dog behavior and safety around dog. This is fun for the kids, decreases potential anxiety for the dogs and increases the chances of a successful adoption. Doggone Safe would love to see all rescue organizations provide this type of training for their adopters. We offer a 50% discount off the price of our Basic Body Language online course for shelters and rescues who purchase blocks of 5 or more seats. Contact us for details.


The policy of Maritime Greyhound Adoption Program, is not adopt to families with children under the age of 5, so the kids in the dog safety session can be anywhere from 5 - 12 or 13 years old. The first thing we do is watch "Every Picture Tells a Story - The Language of Dogs" video, then we go over the list of "Teresa's Bad Rules" and get them to ask any questions they have. We look at the pictures of safe and dangerous dogs and discuss how to tell the difference in each. We learn what "Be A Tree" means. Next we play the Doggone Crazy! Board game and depending on how many children there are, we may play it more than once to get through all the cards. Sometimes after we play the game, we will just shuffle the cards and draw out cards to ask the questions. We read the Diggity the Dog story book and I get them to point out on the pictures where the "bad" stuff is happening. They are given a package to take home, including a colour printout of the dog communication page to put on the fridge and the Kids and K9 activity page, along with Teresa's Bad Rules and of course some colouring pages of greyhounds. I tell them it is important not only that they learn the proper and safe way to behave around a dog, but it is also important that all their friends know the rules of how to behave too.

I feel that everyone even thinking about adopting any dog should have this information and hope that someday it becomes the norm instead of the exception. It benefits the humans and the dogs immensely. Deb Levasseur, CTB (the president and founder of Maritime Greyhound Adoption Program) is a certified dog behaviour therapist and gives an informative and extensive information session for the parents and other adults as well, going over all aspects of responsible dog ownership and canine behaviour. We have a great bunch of volunteers and our greyhounds go to foster families within the group, while they are waiting for their forever homes where they are all given the opportunity to learn what it is to live in a home.

Click here from more information about adopting a retired racing greyhound.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Be a Tree - Confessions of a First Time Presenter

Thanks to Dana Martin of Wag the Dog Training (Calgary AB) for sharing her experiences with her first Be a Tree presentations on the Doggone Safe Yahoo discussion group.

Join the discussion group to learn from other members and presenters and to download the quiz that Dana mentions in her post.

Just wanted to let you all know how the presentations went today, after you all went out of your way to support me and answer my MANY questions this past week! Today I saw a kindergarten class and 3 separate grade 1/2 classes - what a riot!! The kids loved it and had a blast and I think I had more fun than the kids. I have also already been asked to talk to a group of girl scouts by one of the teachers and received a ton of positive feedback from the principal. The one thing I did find with the younger kids is that when it comes to question and answer time, you are more likely to get (very long and detailed) stories about "my friend's cousin's dog" than any actual questions! However one kindergarten boy did ask me if it was okay to pet his cat's back?

Tomorrow is the older grades - I will let you know how that goes:)

Day two at the elementary school involved another kindergarten plus grades 3 - 6. It actually went really well, and I was surprised by how much the grade 6 kids got into it. The quiz really seemed to help (I gave it to grades 5 and 6)...and I only had one eye-roller in those grades which I think is pretty good:) I actually saw a couple of kids "be a tree" in the schoolyard since then. And apparently, there are now a few younger kids who are determined to be dog trainers when they grow up! (we gotta recruit 'em young) It was interesting to note that with the grade 4 & 5 classes, I was only given 25 minutes to go through everything, and I would say that they probably enjoyed the presentation the least (much less interaction and time for fun) so in future I would be firm that 45 minutes is needed.

I have uploaded the quiz I gave the older kids (grades 5 and 6) into the files was great to see their faces when I told them that all the answers were false. They were especially surprised to find out that petting the head and ears was not great, and that you should never "punish the growl" (I specifically asked them to share that one with their parents as that is something I didn't used to know either!)

Thanks again to everyone for their support!


Click here for more information about the Be a Tree program

Visit the non-commercial information site for teachers and principals

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wolrd Rabies Day - Sept 28, 2010

Doggone Safe is proud to be a World Rabies Day partner, helping to spread the word about the elimination of rabies worldwide.

Check out these educational videos from The Global Alliance for Rabies Control

Get information, logos and press releases from the World Rabies Day site

Visit the Doggone Safe rabies resources page

Leadership vs Dominance - An Article for the Dog Owner

Here is a nice short article by Kerry Vinson written for the dog owning public that explains the decline of the alpha dog/dominance concept as a useful model for dog training.

Leadership versus Dominance - What really matters when it comes to training dogs? PETs Magazine Jan/Feb 2010

I'm sure you have heard the term apha wolf, as it is somewhat ingrained in our culture as referring to the leader of a wolf pack. Over the years the term alpha dog as been adapted to describe the "top dog" in a group of canines. Likewise the concept of the "dominant dog" has also become a popular moniker for the most assertive animal in the group.

Read the full article

Visit the Doggone Safe website for many other informative articles from Kerry and other authors

Thursday, September 23, 2010

That "Guilty Look"... Bad Dog!

Most dog owners and all dog trainers have observed or heard tell of the "guilty
look". Ears back, half moon of white showing in the eye, head lowered and possibly slinking away... the sure sign of a dog that knows he has done wrong, or is it? Thanks to the Latham Letter for pointing out this research report that studied the "guilty look" and concluded that the look is a response to cues from the owner and does not indicate that the dog knows he has done something wrong. Dog trainers and behavior consultants have long known this from their own observations and have tried, often in vain, to convince dog owners that the dog does not know that he has done something wrong, but rather is displaying signs of anxiety in response to cues from the owner. For some poor dogs the cue to display anxious behavior is simply the return of the owners to the home, since a scolding sometimes follows the return of the owner and the dog does not know what to expect.

Journal Reference:
Horowitz et al. Disambiguating the 'guilty look';: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour. Behavioural Processes, 2009; 81 (3): 447 DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2009.03.014


Anthropomorphisms are regularly used by owners in describing their dogs. Of interest is whether attributions of understanding and emotions to dogs are sound, or are unwarranted applications of human psychological terms to non-humans. One attribution commonly made to dogs is that the “guilty look” shows that dogs feel guilt at doing a disallowed action. In the current study, this anthropomorphism is empirically tested. The behaviours of 14 domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) were videotaped over a series of trials and analyzed for elements that correspond to an owner-identified “guilty look.” Trials varied the opportunity for dogs to disobey an owner's command not to eat a desirable treat while the owner was out of the room, and varied the owners’ knowledge of what their dogs did in their absence. The results revealed no difference in behaviours associated with the guilty look. By contrast, more such behaviours were seen in trials when owners scolded their dogs. The effect of scolding was more pronounced when the dogs were obedient, not disobedient. These results indicate that a better description of the so-called guilty look is that it is a response to owner cues, rather than that it shows an appreciation of a misdeed.

Link to more about this article from Science Daily

Friday, September 10, 2010

L’enfant et le chien …..Grandir ensemble

 Child safety tips in French from Doggone Safe France coordinator Yoland Lafon

Un jour ou l’autre, tout enfant peut rencontrer un chien. Qu’il fasse partie de la famille plus ou moins proche, du voisinage. Qu’on le croise tout simplement lors d’une promenade ou encore au coin de la rue, c’est pratiquement inévitable. Côtoyer un chien de près est pour beaucoup d’enfants source d’un immense plaisir.
Le rôle de confident que peut jouer le chien, le support éducatif qu’il devient quand l’enfant découvre à travers lui « les choses de la vie » ou encore le compagnon de jeu qu’il peut être, sont autant de raisons qui peuvent conduire à choisir d’intégrer un chien au sein de la famille.

Pourtant, l’actualité a été marquée par des accidents dramatiques pour des enfants causés par le meilleur ami de l’homme. Seuls les drames impliquant des rottweilers, pit-bulls, dogues allemands et American Staffordshire terriers ont fait les gros titres. Les médias, tout comme la loi du 6 janvier 1999 et du 20 juin 2008, laissent à penser que certaines races sont plus dangereuses que d’autres. Cependant, de multiples enquêtes indiquent que les agressions les plus fréquentes seraient attribuables aux chiens de petite ou de moyenne taille et non pas seulement aux grands spécimens.

TOUS LES CHIENS , quels qu’en soient l’apparence, la taille, la couleur, l’âge ou le sexe,ONT LA CAPACITE DE MORDRE .

Même le plus sympathique d’entre eux peut un jour se défendre et provoquer un accident s’il se sent agressé ou même simplement menacé.

Assimiler tous les accidents à une seule catégorie de chiens est une erreur qui conduirait à faire perdurer le nombre élevé d’accidents.

En face de n’importe quel chien un enfant est toujours vulnérable

Les parents ont tendance à considérer que leur chien n’est pas dangereux pour l’enfant parce qu’on le connaît, parce qu’il est gentil et que rien de tel ne s’est jamais produit. Mais il faut toujours garder présent à l’esprit qu’un risque potentiel existe comme avec une casserole d’eau chaude qui en tombant pourrait ébouillanter l’enfant. Toutes les situations qui vont mettre en interaction un enfant et un chien sont susceptibles de présenter un danger.

Pour créer un lien de confiance entre votre enfant et votre chien

Apprenez à l'enfant à ne pas déranger ou toucher un chien en train de manger.

Un chien qui mange son repas ou déguste une friandise a le droit de le faire à son aise, dans le calme, sans être dérangé. Même si l’écuelle est vide, elle appartient au chien et il peut avoir envie de la défendre.
Vers l’âge de 5 ans voire un peu plus, l’enfant peut commencer à être responsabilisé pour des tâches simples comme la préparation des gamelles et aider à les ranger lorsque le chien a fini de manger, mais toujours en présence et sous la surveillance d’un adulte. Quand votre enfant s'occupe de votre chien, que vous l'associez à l'une ou l'autre tâche selon ses possibilités, il développe un sentiment de fierté et de responsabilité qui renforcent sa confiance en lui. Il se sent valorisé.

Attention ! Même si vous contrôlez la gamelle du chien, c’est à dire le retrait du récipient pendant que le chien mange. Il ne faut cependant jamais oublier que ce n’est pas parce qu’un adulte peut se le permettre, que le chien le tolèrera d’une personne étrangère et encore moins d’un enfant.

Apprenez-lui à respecter les moments de sommeil et de repos.

Donnez au chien un endroit calme isolé, hors du passage où il peut se retirer quand bon lui semble comme un panier, une couverture, une cage ouverte, une niche qui symbolisent l’espace qui lui est réservé. Il est important d’expliquer à l’enfant que lorsque le chien s'est retiré " chez lui ", il faut le laisser en paix.
S'il veut jouer avec le chien, il doit l'appeler pour le faire venir mais en aucun cas aller provoquer un contact avec l’animal couché « à sa place ».

Ne jamais approcher un chien par derrière ou par surprise surtout s’il se cache derrière un meuble ou sous un lit.

Ne laissez jamais un enfant lui retirer ses jouets ou son os même si le chien ne joue pas avec..
Si le chien a pris un jouet à un enfant, celui-ci doit avertir un adulte et attendre son intervention.

Découragez-le de tourmenter un chien même si l'enfant ne pense pas à mal (lui tirer la queue ou les oreilles, lui monter dessus comme sur un cheval…).

Limitez également au maximum les contacts dans des contextes particuliers : mise bas, affection douloureuse (otite, arthrose…).

Les enfants doivent éviter d’approcher leur visage près du museau d’un chien


NE JAMAIS LAISSER UN ENFANT SEUL AVEC LE CHIEN en particulier un enfant en bas âge.

Le chien est, avant tout, l'ami de l'enfant. S'il y a des exceptions à cette bonne entente, celles-ci sont rares lorsqu'on respecte certaines règles de bons sens.

Yolande LAFON

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Upcoming Doggone Safe Member Events

Title: Click Beyond the Basics
Presenter: Virginia Broitman
Location: My Dog's Gym - Salem OR
Date: Sept 18-19
more information

Title: Go For It - Relaxed and Ready
Presenter:  Helix Fairweather and Megan Cruz
Location: Oct 9-10
Date: Top Notch Play All Daycare  - Modesto CA

more information

Title: Understanding Canine Behaviour
Presenter:  Kerry Vinson
Location: Seneca College - Markham ON

Date: Oct 26

more information

Doggone Safe event listings are available for Doggone Safe members. To qualify for listing events must be educational,open to the public and the topics covered must be consistent with the Doggone Safe mandate. We cannot list fund raising events for other organizations such as dog walks or charity runs, unless these include an educational component related to dog bite prevention. We cannot include listings for individual dog training classes, but special purpose seminars do qualify if they are consistent with the Doggone Safe mandate.

To list your event please send us an email with all the pertinent information and a web link.