How to Correct a Puppy's Aggressive Behavior Toward Children
You're Not Communicating Effectively with Your Puppy
Agressive behavior results from some confusion, mixed messages, and mixed methods in dealing with the undesired behavior. Obiously, the puppy and the family have not been to a puppy socialization or kindergarten class. Therefore you, your children and the puppy will not have learned how to communicate effectively. You would also learn to develop some signals that would allow you some control of your puppy. Prior to the puppy reaching adolescence, it is suggested that you contact a local behavior consultant who will come to your house and work with you and the children. Try to locate someone in your area who is associated with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. APDT trainers specialize in working gently and positively with you and your puppy.
Your Children Are the Pup's Siblings
Puppies understand who the pack leader is - an adult in the household - and look at most children as siblings. They respond to children just as it would their own brothers and sisters. I am sure that your puppy has much more respect for you and the other adults in your family then he does for the children. This is normal because adults usually deal with the puppy more firmly than do children.
Your puppy probably perceives your children's attempts to correct its behavior as a challenge. Understand that when a puppy is challenged in relation to what it wants to do, it will defend itself. Growls and nips are warnings. For example, when you pull the puppy away from a place it shouldn't be, the puppy perceives a threat and growls. Again, the puppy needs proper training so this does not escalate into serious biting behavior as he gets older.
Teach Your Puppy Which Areas Are Off-Limits
If your puppy is getting into the trash, or something else he shouldn't be, you need to teach him that it is off limits. A loud clap of the hands along with a firmly delivered verbal reprimand ("Leave it!") to distract the pup as it approaches the trash, followed by praise when the puppy moves away, will go a long way toward teaching the puppy where you don't want him to be. Of course, when the children are left with the puppy, he will most likely try to get away with things - the best strategy is to remove the trash altogether.
Teach the Right Lesson
Taking treats away from your puppy teaches him the wrong lesson - that people interfere with his fun. The better approach is to teach him to "Drop it" when he has something in his mouth that you don't want him to have. With your puppy on a leash, give him a ball with the command, "Take it." Then, lean forward and blow lightly in his face and say, "Drop it." Usually, it takes a few puffs for the dog to open its mouth and drop the ball.
When your puppy does drop the ball, immediately praise him and do the exercise again. If he resists and holds the ball tighter, keep blowing and repeating the command. Make your voice friendly, use a quiet tone, and don't force him to drop the ball. You may find that you have to blow in his ear. Once your puppy gets the idea, he will learn to "take it," "get it," and "drop it" on command. Be sure to praise or reward proper behavior so that your puppy enjoys this new game.
Be Careful Not to Make Your Puppy Resentful of Children
Don't allow small children to take things from your puppy's mouth. This can make the puppy resentful of the presence of the children. While most breeds have a high tolerance for human foibles and will often tolerate some pretty rough handling, it is not fair for a puppy with little or no training to have to put up with things it really doesn't understand. Remember when your children were small and the reaction they had if another child took a toy away from them. It is no different for a puppy.
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