Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Disturbing Sheba development this week: last Saturday she growled at three little girls who were trying to pet her, and snapped at one (no contact, fortunately), and then on I think Monday, she growled at a little boy who was trying to pet her too.

This is not good. It's also more or less new: the husband tells me she's growled at people when he's taken her on walks before, but they were adults, and she didn't try to bite them. I personally had only ever seen her growl at people while in the car before, and I didn't worry about that much because obviously she wasn't going to bust through the window.

Now, okay, we wanted a dog that would do a little light house-guarding, if necessary, but a dog that bites children isn't good. We can't afford obedience classes, and although one of our neighbors has lots of kids and probably wouldn't miss one if we were to borrow one for an afternoon to practice with, it seems like that would probably be wrong or rude or something, so . . . what's left, besides Cesar Millan?

It's worth noting that the situations were unusual; as far as I can remember, Sheba and I haven't interacted with any kids on walks before. She's been okay with my niece, who's more or less the same age. So it might have been more the novelty of the situation than a thirst for the blood of the innocent. But still. Suggestions?

Meanwhile, it's been a long time since we've had a picture of Nina, and Sheba's been bad this week, so let's have a picture of Nina:

She bites too, though not lately.


Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Cute photo of Nina.

Sorry I can't offer suggestions for Sheba, since I've never had a dog. But maybe you can sign up to be on Cesar Millan's show.

Diana said...

Please do NOT listen to Ceasar Millon. His TV show is deceptive since he has been known to medicate dogs to calm them down for the cameras.
I like Patricia McConnell's methods much better. She has a website ( where she sells books and DVDs - cheaper than classes.
Without seeing Sheba and telling why she is acting this way my simple advice is: teach her a sit and wait. Then when interacting with children she sits and waits and ONE CHILD AT A TIME pets her and GIVES HER TREATS (on their flat, open hand). Borrow children to train this. If she won't allow children to approach without growling - sit and wait and have the children further away and treat, treat, treat. Lots of food equals good in dogs' minds. So if she's seeing children and behaving appropriately and gets lots of treats she will come to associate children with food and therefore with good.

Whew. This is long. Hope this helps.

Tigerdawn said...

Once I ruled out all the possibilities of Sheba being scared or uncomfortable in the situation, then I would firmly glare at her, point at her and say, "No!" or "Hey!" or something to let her know that I didn't approve of the behavior. It might take a few times for her to connect the growling to your disapproval. In the mean time you can tell the kids you are teaching her [whatever you decide the lesson is] and they are helping her learn her new skill.

I love these pictures where Nina's pattern really shows up. She's very pretty.

Liza said...

Maybe the little brats deserved a good scare. Haha, I'm kidding. I got nothing helpful for you.

Derek said...

I find that my dog is often a better judge of character than I am. There are people we see in the park that he just doesn't like. I tend to take his word for it. If Bug doesn't like the cut of your jib, that's good enough for me. I bet Sheeba just knew those kids were up to no good.

Jenn said...

My suggestion.

Ask if you can borrow the kids. Have them each have a treat. Walk her up to each of them, have her sit. When she's calm and sitting, allow them to give the treat. You might line them up, or you might have them interact one at a time. Avoid having them all at once, or clustered around her. Make sure you have a clear path away if you need one.

No petting. If she growls, do an about face, walk her away, walk her back. All calmly. Make everything as positive as possible. If you need to do a little jerk on the lead as a 'hey, listen up' that's okay.

This is best with one or two interactions over a period of days.

After she's comfortable with walking up to the kids, have them walk up to her. Same sit, calm, treat.

Watch the kids, they like to stare. Have her look at you when the eye contact lasts more than a blink - you can treat her for this behavior, too.

Go easy and pace everything slow.

This should help her see kids in a better light.

Anonymous said...

Please do NOT give any credence to Cesar Millan and do NOT attempt to punish a dog for growling; the growl is a valuable signal that she is uncomfortable and the situation could become unsafe. It is absolutely possible to teach the dog to stop growling and then you have a "she bit with no warning!" situation. Also do NOT have kids feed her out of their hands if she is growling and snapping at them; I have seen dogs who were temporarily mollified by an overpowering treat who then, once the treat was eaten, realized "Ah, the scary person is too close! Get it away!" and bit. (Plus, children are not known for having impulse control and good judgment, and "don't try to pet her, just calmly feed this" isn't going to be guaranteed for them.) (Plus, people are really protective of their kids, go figure, and you want to take all precautions to prevent a bite!)

If you want to teach her that children predict good things, then *YOU* (& the husb) feed her delicious out-of-the-ordinary treats when a child appears at a safe distance. Make it a game - kid goes away, treats go away, oh darn, don't you wish they'd come back? Kid appears, party time! Hooray!

This article (and the rest of the ASPCA behavior site) has good very basic information:

And this page has a nice debunking of Millan - scroll down for videos of the effectiveness of using food to change the reactions of aggressive dogs.

Because you got Sheba from a rescue organization, they may offer subsidized behavior/training help. It would be a good idea to contact them and find out your options; some have professionals on-staff, others can arrange deals with locals who will donate their expertise.

I also respectfully submit that the money and time spent on private or group training lessons is an integral part of having a dog, just like food and vet care. It's amazing, in my repeated experience, the many non-essential purchases a household can continue to make while claiming that a $100-200 dog training class is "too expensive/not worth it." In-person real-time experienced guidance from a professional is absolutely worth it, and usually makes a huge difference in whether or not the problem has a positive outcome. The money would probably miraculously be there if the problem was physical/medical rather than behavioral/mental, and the time will have to be invested whether it's with professional help (much more efficient use of time) or bumbling around on your own. Just a thought.

Good luck!
-CPDT in Chicago

mr_subjunctive said...


The Cesar Millan mention was mostly a joke. (I've watched the show in the past, and still do very occasionally, but people have pointed me to debunkings of his methods in past post comments, and anyway he wouldn't come to Iowa, nor could we go to California, so it's all moot anyway.)

We couldn't actually borrow the kids from next door for any of this; we don't have much of a relationship with the neighbors on that side, for good or ill. And there's the issue that we'd be asking, essentially, hey, can we expose your kids to our dog who we expect will try to bite them?, which no reasonable parent would agree to. Or at least I would hope no reasonable parent would agree to.

CPDT in Chicago:

Two problems with trying to get training through the rescue organization is that 1) the adoption was over a year ago, so any offers they may have had at the time have probably expired by now, and 2) they're not located very close (Google Maps says the most direct route is an hour fourteen minutes, one-way). The location of the shelter and the location of any trainers they have connections to aren't necessarily closely linked, but I'd be surprised if they knew any trainers significantly closer to us.

Point taken, about the cost and value of obedience training.

cconz said...

My suggestion is, When the kids start running toward you "Can i pet your dog", Say "NO, she doesn't like kids" It works for me.

Aralia said...

My friend used this:
You need a playground with children and treats. Choose a playground with a fence, so the kids won't run petting your dog. Bring your dog to some distance to the playground so he can hear the kids, maybe also see them. Tell her to sit and give her treats. If she reacts to the children, take her further away, and try again. If she is calm, take a few steps closer to the kids, tell her to sit and give treats again. If a playground is too noisy for the dog or unavailable, borrow some children and give them something to play. Tell them not to notice the dog. And again, start from far away and get closer. Any growling or bad behaviour --> the dog is taken away to calm down. No yelling or hitting the dog.

I like the advise of Victoria Stilwell:

mr_subjunctive said...


The boy last Monday kind of suggested that. When she started growling at him, he gave me sort of a puzzled look and said, "She doesn't like kids?"

I, of course, being me, gave a wordy and probably-confusing answer, but I was a little thrown by the situation.


That might be possible. The neighbor kids haven't been outside much in the last several months, but as the weather warms up, they will probably be out more, and if not, there are parks in town. She doesn't actively pursue kids, just reacts badly if they come to her, so we might be able to work with that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking my point. :) I'm relieved that CM was a joke, too, and I do have a lot of sympathy for a living situation where help is distant/inconvenient.

While you're in research/save up mode for finding the right professional help near(ish?) you (these websites have good tips for that: )
these books might be helpful, if you're into books for this sort of thing? (Unfortunately, they are frequently stolen at libraries, so you may have to purchase them, but they may be used on amazon or something somewhere...)

Control Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt
(seems to be for performance/agility dogs, but is highly applicable to housepets, especially those with impulse control or reactivity issues)

How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong, by Pam Dennison
(not that Sheba's "gone wrong"! It deals with varying levels of aggression, from growls/snaps up to more serious problems.)

Of course there are lots of other great books but I already feel like I'm talking too much and don't even know if you'd want to use a book to work on this.

Good luck. I'll stop making huge comments and go back to lurking for interesting houseplant reading... hope to hear about a nice resolution to this issue sometime in the future.
-CPDT again.

Celeste said...

This is trainable, but has the drawback of needing kids to practice on.

Here are the basic steps. You need her on a leash where you are in total control, perhaps with a Gentle Leader around her head. (She could bite through it, but the handler controls where her head goes so it won't happen. If you go that route, you would need to get her used to being on the Gentle Leader for a while before even beginning the child training.) Have a child approach in the way you would want a child to approach -- calmly, with hands relaxed.

As soon as the dog begins to get agitated in ANY WAY, the child should stop. At that moment, give the command you will use for this (maybe "BACK!" or "CALM!" or whatever you like - a word you don't use for other stuff; I use "WAIT!" which may confuse people who think I'm just telling the dog, "NOT NOW! YOU CAN BITE HER LATER!" but I digress...) and pull her back towards you. The moment Sheba relaxes, pet and praise her. "Good "BACK", Sheba, Good "BACK," good girl!"

You should be petting her every second that she is relaxed, ears back, not intently focused on the child. After she is totally calm for several seconds, have the child take one step closer and wait. If Sheba stays relaxed, do more petting and praising.

If Sheba messes up - barking, growling, or even starting towards the child (for my dog, this just means ears-forward-staring-intently) then STOP PETTING, repeat the command, and pull her back.

Keep at this with the child coming closer by degrees, then offering a hand, until the child can actually pet Sheba without the dog becoming agitated. (This means you and the child would be petting Sheba at the same time! Bonus points!)

It may take several sessions until she's calm enough for the child to actually pet her. You want her 100% calm, responding to YOUR petting and praise.

The system works because our dogs CRAVE our praise and physical affection. When you stop petting her simultaneous with giving the command, she knows exactly what she did wrong and what to do instead.

DO instruct any child (or anyone else really) not to pet her from directly over her head, but from the side instead. Dogs don't like people "patting them on the head" as people are wont to do. It's threatening.

This is the technique I used to get my dog used to friends visiting the house. He used to bark, especially at men. Now he barks to let me know they are there but then stops at my command. It took ONE session with a trainer ($60 including trainer's travel to my house) and many practice sessions with various male friends I would ask to stop by so we could go through the whole routine slowly multiple times.

ALL THAT SAID, sad to say, it may not be worth it for children. There is NO margin for error if she ever does snap. A simple, "I'm sorry, but she's not quite used to kids," is probably the safest. But it's trainable if you want to do it.

My dog and kids are a case-by-case basis. I steer clear of the smallest, most erratic ones. The medium-sized ones (say, 6-9 years old) he likes fine if they are calm. Some kids are just so desperate to pet the pretty dog that they exude this pent-up energy that makes my dog really nervous. I can tell from his ears and face which way it should go with kids. When I have ANY DOUBT, or if the kid is small, I keep him away. Most parents get it.