You think you’ve done all the right things. You’ve taken the dog to obedience class.
You’ve read up on how to introduce a dog to a baby.
But then, just as you dreaded, it happens.
Your dog growls at the baby. The baby starts crying.
What Do You Do if Your Dog Growls at the Baby?
First things first: don’t panic. This has happened to us before…we’re sitting on the couch, watching TV with our daughter and dog, and she decides to reach over and grab a fist full of his fur.
He starts to growl.
Your instinct is to yell at the dog, but experts say that’s not the right course of action.
1) Don’t punish the dog.
This is going to seem counter-intuitive, but you shouldn’t punish your dog for growling. To understand this a little bit better, let’s assess the reasons a dog might growl:
- The dog is sending a warning signal – something happened that made him uncomfortable.
- The dog may be protecting something, such as a toy or food.
- The dog was caught off-guard/surprised by something your child did.
In some ways, you should be glad your dog growled, because the alternative could have been a bite, which is obviously a lot worse.
So why shouldn’t you punish the dog?
Punishing the dog will make him feel worse about the child and more anxious about the situation. If the dog feels that growling is wrong, he may resort to biting next time.
Punishment could actually inhibit your dog’s desire to first warn before biting.
And again, if you punish your dog right away, the dog will likely associate your child with punishment, which will only make their relationship worse in the future (and make the dog more likely to be aggressive when the child is around).
2) Diffuse the situation.
Although you’re not going to punish the dog, you still need to take the situation seriously and figure out how to prevent it from happening again.
There are a few steps you should take, depending on how close you are to your dog and baby when the growling occurs.
If you’re very close when the dog growls at the baby:
- Pick up the baby right away and move him or her away from the dog.
- Put the baby down, further away from the dog, on a play mat or playpen.
- Call the dog to you, praise him and give him a treat for coming to you.
If you’re at a distance when the dog growls at the baby:
- Call the dog over to you with a playful/happy voice, using whatever trigger words usually get him excited (e.g.“want a treat?”, “want to go out?”)
- Reward the dog for coming over to you, with a treat.
- If the dog is still focused on the baby and not listening to you, make a loud sound (but don’t yell), toss a treat or toy in his direction – anything to divert his attention away from the baby.
Wait, so are we rewarding the growl?
No – we’re taking a negative situation and making it positive. We want the dog to feel comfortable and have a positive association with the baby. And in some ways, you’re rewarding the dog for not biting.
3) Understand what happened, and take steps to prevent it in the future.
Now that you’ve diffused the situation, it’s important to understand what happened. If you don’t know what happened, it’s going to be difficult to prevent it from happening again in the future.
Was your baby sitting next to the dog? Is he or she in a phase where they’re grabbing everything?
Kids grabbing dogs is common, and it’s understandable why dogs don’t like it very much.
You’re not going to get your dog to be OK with it, so the right thing to do is to keep your baby a safe distance from the dog at all times so he or she can’t grab him.
Was your dog defending food, or a toy?
It’s also common for dogs to protect their food and toys. If they feel threatened (i.e. they think the baby is going to take the toy or food), they may growl to protect it.
The solution here is simple: don’t let your child near the dog’s food or toys.
The key here is to prevent your child from getting into a situation where the dog feels compelled to growl. And over time, as your dog gets used to your child, he will hopefully treat the child the same way he treats you.
However, if you’re in a situation where your dog continues to act in an aggressive way, you need to consider bringing in a dog behavior consultant.
The difference between a regular dog trainer and a trainer who is experienced in dog behavior is that the dog behavior consultant usually has experience dealing with dogs who exhibit potentially dangerous behavior.
Here’s a great resource page if you’re looking to being in a professional behavior consultant for your dog.
It’s not going to be a quick process, but the key is really to focus on keeping your baby out of situations where your dog is even tempted to growl.
Over time, things should get better, even if you need to bring in a professional to help correct your dog’s behavior.
Have you had any experience with a dog growling at your baby? What did you do you solve the problem? Leave a comment below!