In truth, the little Shih tzu has snapped at two grandchildren and one of their friends this last week. Her teeth caught the nose of the last child.
There is absolutely no way she can be called an aggressive dog. She is beautiful and friendly. It is clear that at times things simply get too much for her. Too much noise, too many people and too much pulling about by children.
On each occasion the atmosphere was charged with excitement so her arousal and stress levels will have been getting higher and higher until she, literally snapped. On a couple of occasions she had taken herself off to lie down in peace, and the child had gone and disturbed her.
As you can imagine, the family are deeply upset to the extent they were even fearing losing Asha. They adore their little dog but they can’t have their grandchildren or their friends bitten.
We need to look into why would their dog bite a child, and deal with that.
Having questioned the very helpful nine-year-old boy in detail who had been present on each occasion and he himself one of the victims, the reason this has escalated so fast became clear. They simply did not recognise the signs that Asha was sending out, trying to communicate that she was uncomfortable and had had enough and she was almost forced into taking things further. Some breeds’ faces are more inscrutable than others, but there probably was some yawning or looking away. The boy told me she licked her nose.
Unaware of what the little dog was trying to tell him he carried on touching her, so she now growled. Unfortunately he took no notice of that either. So, she snapped. The child recoiled and, bingo, Asha succeeded in what she had been trying to achieve from the start, which was to be left alone.
The second time it sounds like she gave just a quick growl that was ignored before snapping. The child backed off. Job done. The final time, she went straight to the snapping stage, leaping at the child’s face with no prior warning.
Asha had, in the space of just one week, learnt what worked.
Three things need to be done straight away.
Firstly, the opportunity to rehearse this behaviour ever again has to be removed. Each time snapping succeeds in giving her the space she needs, the more of a learned response it will become.
If the atmosphere is highly charged or several children come to play – they have a swimming pool so things get noisy – then the dog should be shut away (something she is perfectly happy with).
Secondly, all children coming to their house must be taught ‘the rules’ and how to ‘read Asha’. The grandson who helped me so well is going to be her ‘Protector’ and teach the other children. I have sent a couple of videos for them to watch. The dog’s ‘den’ – an area under the stairs – must be isolated and totally out-of-bounds to kids. The boy is going to make a poster!
Here are their Golden Rules:
Don’t approach and touch Asha when she’s lying down, particularly when asleep.
Let Asha choose. Wait till she comes over to you. Don’t go over to her.
Don’t go near a dog that is eating anything.
Dogs don’t like hands going over their heads. Chest is best.
If you want to run around and have noisy fun, do it away from the dogs
If you see lip-licking, yawning or if you see the whites of her eyes. STOP. Move away.
If the dog keeps looking away. STOP. Move away.
If the dog goes very still STOP. Move away.
If you hear a growl. STOP. Move away.
Because kids, being kids, may forget the ‘no touching unless she comes over to you’ rule, I suggest when children are in the house that Asha wears something to remind them, maybe a yellow bandana or little jacket with ‘give me space’ or something similar.
The other thing in common between all three snapping incidents is that Asha was in a highly stressed state, so the third thing is helping to keep her stress levels down. There are quite a few trigger points in her life where things could be dealt with differently to help avoid stress accumulating which will mean she is a lot more tolerant and less ready to explode. I read somewhere a good saying: ‘Stress loads the gun’.
They fortunately are nipping this in the bud (no pun intended!) before it can develop further. I’m sure that with the children educated in ‘dog manners’, with any warnings heeded and things not allowed to get too exciting or overwhelming around her, Asha will feel no need to bite a child ever again.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Asha. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).