Dog is suddenly growling at children.

by Steve


We recently added an APBT to our family. I have had AmStaffs before so I’m used to the breed and it quirks more or less, but this girl is troubling me. I adopted her as an adult about 2 months ago. She is registered and quite beautiful, and has been a model citizen up until these last two weeks.

She knows her basic commands and is very submissive. She is an indoor dog and will not walk outside unless either my wife or myself go first. She is not food aggressive, nor dog aggressive, but has growled at the kids on two separate occasions in the past week and it is worrying me.

The first occasion was last week. Everyone was on the couch and she was invited up as well. My oldest son can be a bit clingy to her at times and tried to hug her, she growled and he backed off.

Needless to say she was kicked off the couch, and all has been well up until last night. She was lying underneath the dining room table and my two year old son got growled at this time. He was being loud and she was cornered more or less.

The table is up against the wall so there was no where for her to go, and she was sitting under the table to be near me. She growled, I called her name, her ears went back and she immediately stood down.

I can explain both of those situations. The first time she just wasn’t in the mood to be hassled by my clingy son, and the second she was cornered. Problem is that I never dealt with this with my AmStaffs. These have been isolated incidents, but I don’t want to ignore warning signs if a problem exists.

It just seems so spontaneous. She seems to love everyone, and the kids would hate to see her have to leave, but I’m not sure why she’s suddenly fed up with the kids.

I’m not really looking for an answer to why, but I am looking for some advice on what to look at. She’s inside all day while we’re at work, and my brother comes by and lets her out during the day to do her business, and she does well with it.

When we come home I immediately take her outside for a game of fetch
and a walk to help her use her pent up energy. We hang out for awhile and then we go on a long walk again before bed time.

My Amstaffs were on the same regimen, and they were fine with it. The kicker is they BOTH had dog aggression, and yet never growled at any person period.

Should I look into some more training? She has had training in the past, (before I got her) should I give her a refresher, or do I just avoid letting similar situations occur? I know it’s never acceptable to let a dog growl at children, but in both cases I can see why it happened.
Any advice?

Gale's Reply:

Hi Steve:

Whenever a dog that was previously tolerant suddenly begins growling, it's time for a trip to the vet to rule out any possible physical cause. Quite often, the basis for this kind of behavior is an otherwise invisible physical condition that makes body contact painful or unpleasant for the dog. Yet, it's often overlooked.

If you decide to get professional help, you should look for a behaviorist or someone with a background in behavioral training rather than regular obedience. Obedience training is for learning commands. Behavior training is for ironing out the kinks in the human/dog relationship.

You don't say how old your oldest son is. I think it's generally hard for a child to understand why a dog would growl at them for giving the dog a hug.

We humans view hugs as a wonderful, satisfying way to express affection. But, it's not the same with dogs. In the dog world, a paw across the shoulder is a display of dominance and/or aggression.

I would encourage you to work with your son to find out what kind of things your dog DOES like--rubbed under the chin, scratched behind the ears, etc. That way your son can find ways of interacting with her they can both enjoy and will strengthen the bond between them.

The SPCA of Texas offers a free, down-loadable coloring book for kids called Be Bite Free. Check it out and see if you think your son might enjoy it.

Good luck. Feel free to post back here and let us know how things are going.

For more information on obedience training, visit our Pit Bull Training page.

For help with behavioral problems, check out our Dog Behavior Training page.

Comments for Dog is suddenly growling at children.

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Feb 26, 2011
Dominance aggression?
by: Nik

I've been doing an internship with a behaviorist in the austin area. My first thought is that despite the dogs submission to you and your spouse, she might not see the children and alphas above her in the pack.
Do you do food control with the dog? If so, I would suggest having the kids start feeding her, she must sit and watch them before they give her permission to eat. This of course all depends on the age of the kids and parent supervision. If the kids are under 10 I wouldn't do that.
Again, depending on the childrens age, have them do obedience with the dog, sit, down, etc.
And I agree with above, make sure there are no medical issues. Also, I wouldn't let your kids hang on the dog, esp if they are hugging around her shoulders, that is considered mounting in the dog world.
Best of luck!

Feb 26, 2011
by: rebeca

we have had this same encounter with our mixed pit, but only when the grandchildren grab Him (scooter) around the neck and tug on him..he was chastised for this behavior and it never acelerated to anything but a growl. But i accepted this thought as expressed by your experts..he also doesn't like anyone grabing him around the back and hip area! just a little bit of a tid-bit as a general knowledge thing for all.

Feb 26, 2011
been there
by: Amanda

I've been in your position just recently. I got a pitbull lab mix at 8 weeks old and she has been raised with my two young kids. Even though she has grown up with them, she didnt love them for a long time, she tolerated them. She is now 18 months and has calmed down since i had a trainer come in. I also had to teach my kids how to behave around her, as 2-6 yr olds are the most common aged kids to get bit. They dont understand social manners, personal space and dont pick up on a dogs warning signs. She is very submissive and respectful, to the point she wont sit on you if you invited her, next you with her head on your lap is the closest she will get, and as soon as you move an inch she gets out of your way. My oldest is 3 1/2 and she understands now that Nysa doesnt like hugs, but a scratch behind the ear is great! As she feels respected, she loosens up. She lets the kids lay with her, and i have seen her take a couple QUICK hugs, with out a flinch. If your dog is anything like mine she just needs to know she is safe, and has a way out if she needs it. Im thinking of under the table, maybe have her sit on the other side of you, or remind the kids not to crowd her when she is there.

Feb 26, 2011
It is not always Dominance
by: Anonymous

In both situations it sounds like your dog is responding in a fearful manner not dominant manner. She is not perusing you son's but simply stating, "I'm uncomfortable with you please back away." I would recommend to 1. Visit your regular vet and ensure there is no physical pain or illness causing her discomfort 2. Ask your veterinarian if there is a Veterinary Behaviorist within driving distance to consult with. ( 3. If your older son is old enough to participate in Dr. Sophia Yin's Learn to Earn program I would highly recommend doing so.
4. If you are uncomfortable enough with her responses to your children consider fitting her with a light wire basket muzzle to ensure safety while you are working with your behaviorist. (dogs can eat and drink with these on)

I would not choose anyone who uses a dominant dog approach to dealing with this situation as it will only reinforce her fear response and could escalate it.

Feb 26, 2011
re: dog growling at children's actions
by: Anonymous

It sounds like perhaps both the dog and your children might need training, once medical problems are ruled out. Lots of people immediately think it is the dog who needs training yet they forget about the kids or other people. Your dog may been abused by children or other adults (before she came in your home) in a manner that is similar to how your children are trying to interact with her now. Cornering or physical restraining a dog (even a hug can be seen as an aggressive move) are how some people hold a dog in one place while they abuse it. Perhaps let your sons know that it is not a good idea to cling onto her or try to get into an enclosed small spaces with her and see if that stops the growling. The older one should be able to understand and come to terms with this, but I would recommend supervision with the two year old since he likely won't understand why it's not a good idea to corner this dog in particular after the others have had no problems with it. An abused dog, just like an abused person, has difficulty forgetting about what has happened to them and can fear the same thing happening again when certain behavior of others triggers those memories. That is not to say she won't be a good dog and won't eventually allow for more interaction. It will just take a while for her to be able to trust everyone around her equally and overcome her fears.

Feb 26, 2011
It is not always Dominance
by: Anonymous

In both situations it sounds like your dog is responding in a fearful manner not dominant manner. She is not perusing you son's but simply stating, "I'm uncomfortable with you please back away." I would recommend to 1. Visit your regular vet and ensure there is no physical pain or illness causing her discomfort 2. Ask your veterinarian if there is a Veterinary Behaviorist within driving distance to consult with. ( 3. If your older son is old enough to participate in Dr. Sophia Yin's Learn to Earn program I would highly recommend doing so.
4. If you are uncomfortable enough with her responses to your children consider fitting her with a light wire basket muzzle to ensure safety while you are working with your behaviorist. (dogs can eat and drink with these on)

I would not choose anyone who uses a dominant dog approach to dealing with this situation as it will only reinforce her fear response and could escalate it.

Feb 26, 2011
sudden growling
by: Phyllis

I have a pitty/bassett/beagle mix and she's got a lot of pit tendencies. We have always kept a good Nylabone for her, and she chews it for hours. One time, I had to throw it away because it was barely a nib. But we didn't replace it right away.
After about a week, she started getting aggressive with our other dog -- out of nowhere. They always get along.
When I got her a new bone, and she had something to chew regularly again, that aggression went away.
You may want to consider giving her another outlet like this.

Feb 26, 2011
by: Anonymous

I agree with Nik,I have done many adult pitbull rescues and I also have children. I find that letting the kids participate in the obedience helps reduce or eliminate fearfulness of the kids. I also recommend teaching the kids a better way to interact with your dog.assuming there old enough.ex fetch,hide and find,new tricks. NO Tug of War! In many cases the dog you originally brought home changes in behavior,training should start immediatly upon coming to your home so he knows his boundries with everything and everyone. The key is to be consistant with your training.

Feb 26, 2011
Remove this dog from your home.
by: Anonymous

You never truly know what a dogs personailty is until it settles in and feels at home. this dog is obviously Alpha and is showing your children she wants to be top dog. She sees your children as equals . This is a dangerous situation. As much as I love Pits and admire your devotion she needs to go to a home without children, where she isn't trying to esatblish rank with them. Don't wait until she hurts someone , then everyone loses!

Feb 27, 2011
long response, part one of three
by: Greg Gibbs

I got this on my cell phone earlier today and couldn't respond until now, but this situation has been troubling me all day. I'll just throw out some quick comments, because I think this really needs a Note-sized response, but that will take some time (and this reply is getting out of hand already). I will post this on the blog as well (which I have not yet read the comments on).

Let me start with the good and proactive stuff.

Gale's response was absolutely correct in first recommending a vet visit; this has been touched upon repeatedly, so I won't comment further on this. Looking for professional behavioral help, rather than obedience training, was so well described that I may steal the phraseology :-) Learning what any dog likes, particularly in terms of life rewards of the physically-interactive nature (does she prefer belly rubs or ear scratches?), and using them to develop the human-dog bond and reward appropriate behavior is excellent advice! I have not yet seen the coloring book "Be Bite Free" from the SPCA of Texas, but I look forward to it. As a return share, I would like to recommend the Liam J Perk Foundation (a wonderful response to a devastating incident), particularly the "Dog Body Language" section of the "Lets Talk Dog" tab:

(to be continued)

Feb 27, 2011
long response, part two of three
by: Greg Gibbs

My concerns:

"[W]ill not walk outside unless either my wife or myself go first" indicates to me that someone was using erroneous leadership techniques with her or that she might have some unpleasant experiences with wireless containment systems. What body language is she exhibiting when approaching and passing through doors?

I find "model citizen" inconsistent with "very submissive". These have been two "isolated incidents," yet he has also determined that she is "fed up with the kids." Steve claims to understand both situations, but still holds the dog accountable for the unacceptable response. I am getting mixed signals from the human, particularly in terms of truly understanding canine behavior. It is also unclear if the aggression issues with previous family dogs was properly addressed, if it was dealt with at all (possibly indicating a lack of understanding that dog- and people-aggression are not the same). These former dogs "never growled at any person period" - not even a vet, vet tech, or family members when they accidentally got stepped on or were disturbed when sleeping?

I am troubled by Steve's lack of interest in trying to understand the problem (possibly indicating that he's not serious about improving the situation), as well as the terminology used (quirks, stood down, etc.). It also seems to me that he has already decided (or at least seriously considered) getting rid of the dog, and is only going through the motions: "the kids would hate to see her have to leave."

Gale, I don't know you at all, and only through some of the things you've posted on FB (and even less on your blog), but I like an awful lot of what I have seen.* However, I'm concerned that you might accept the now dis-proven idea of dominance. Humans are not dogs, and it is highly unlikely that dogs see us as dogs, so a human arm over a dog is not the same thing as a dog doing a paw over. A dog putting a paw over another dog's back is not necessarily an aggressive move; I have much more often seen this as play behavior, particularly when initiating play, though it is frequently perceived as rude. Now neck-overs on the other hand. . .


Feb 27, 2011
long response, part three of three
by: Greg Gibbs


What kind of training did she have in the past and what is known of her background?

What kind of training did Steve do with his previous dogs?

It would be helpful to have more details on what happened immediately preceding and following the hugging incident, particularly, how was she kicked off the couch and how did she and the humans react in the following few minutes?

When she growled under the table, in what manner was her name called (high and sweet or loud, low and gruff)? Again, what did everyone do and how did she react after that?


Yes, get professional training and advice as Gale described, ideally someone who can come out to your home and observe her in that environment.

Yes, you want to avoid letting her practice inappropriate behavior, but professional help is needed to properly counter-condition and desensitize her.

DO NOT PUNISH THE GROWL. We don't like dogs growling at people, but it is one of lowest possible levels of behavior that they can exhibit to indicate significant discomfort with a situation. We don't want to simply tolerate growling, but we don't want to take away a very clear effort at communication. Again, please see the Liam J Perk reference in this regard.

There was recent article (which I cannot lay my eyes on at the moment) regarding the significant inability of kids to properly read a dog's signals; the children need both training and active supervision.

She has only been in the home for two months; many dogs need even more time than that to adjust to their new environment; I think Steve's expectations may not be realistic.

I didn't seen any indication of mental stimulation, and I'm not sure she's getting sufficient daily aerobic exercise; these areas need to be clearly addressed.

Okay, maybe I don't need that note, now :-) I truly hope that everyone gets what they need and that this pup has found herself a forever home. - g^2

*This is an oblique reference to the joke that two dog trainers will only agree on the fact that a third trainer is doing it wrong.

Feb 27, 2011
(mis-)use of 'dominance' and 'alpha'
by: Greg Gibbs

Since these terms came up in the discussion above, I felt compelled to share this quote:

"Any reference to the words “alpha” or “dominance” should also make you sit up and take notice, as that's a good indication that the trainer is leaning on that nonsensical old myth."

This is from the "Choosing the right trainer" section of the Leah Roberts authored article _When choosing a dog trainer, buyer beware!_ on Dog Star Daily, found at

Feb 28, 2011
To Greg and everyone else
by: original poster

Thanks for all the responses everyone. They are much appreciated.
My responses to a similar post on another bully board were 180 degrees off of these, and I think a lot of that is reflected in my posting. They all got me quite worked up over the situation and the commmon concensus was that I was in denial and attempting to downplay a serious sign of bad temperament.
I will answer Gregs inquirys first.
The door thing isn't a big deal. She's just uusually rather polite about it. I can tell her to sit, she will and we can pass through and remain seated until told to come. She doesn't seem fearful at all.
I don't hold the dog accountable actually, truth be told. I believe that she was reacting to something. The table instance makes a lot more sense to me because she was cornered and my 2 year old was being unusually loud. Backing a dog into a corner is not a good idea for anyone.
I know she is stressed. Even though everyone tells me it's nonconseqential, she has accted very differently in the last few weeks, and gues what? She went into heat 2 weeks ago (before the first incident). There are intact male dogs all over my neighborhood, and it has her visibly frazzled.

Feb 28, 2011
To Greg and everyone else
by: original poster

And Greg, you are quite wrong, I care about how this situation turns out, and I am not going through the motions. I don't really understand where you draw the conclusion that I have no interest in figuring out the problem.
So dominance training it now obsolete? Seems like every week things change.
Answers to your direct questions.

1. I have no idea what kind of training she recieved from her previous owner. She has obviosuly had something, as she responds very well to commands, and knows certain things. Off means get down, sit means sit, stay means stay, heel, means hell, etc.

2. My staffy's were trained in several different ways. I have a friend that developed a method that he used, that worked very well.

3.I agree. I wasn't there however (stress trigger maybe?) I was on my way home from work, and the wife called and told me what happend. She told her to get off the couch and she did. For the rest of the evening until I got home she was her usual self and followed the wife wround the house. Same thing she does to me.

4. There wasn't really "a way" a called her name. Freja isn't a word that comes off harsh, no matter how hard you try. I called her name in the same way I always do when I am trying to get her attention. Not a scold, but a diversion. Much like when she's doing something, and I am calling her to go outside. I KNOW better than to correct a dog for growling, as you don't want to break them of that habit.

I think my dog has suffered a hard life, and has been abused by her former owners, and probably their children. She is very sweet and very lax, but she is fearful at times. She's afraid of brooms. She's not aggressive towards anyone or anything. As someone else stated above, she growled, but she did not pursue; it was like she was giving a message of "hey, I'm uncomfortable, give me my space". She's a big dog, she could have easily of attacked if that had been her intention, but that doesn't seem to be her motivation.
I think it's going to take time to undo all the damage that has been done to her, and to set her straight. She needs confidence, and she needs to unlearn all the fear that she's been taught.

Feb 28, 2011
Keep kids away from dog
by: Anonymous

The children should stay away from the dog until the kids are older and more calm and mature with the dog. Maybe he was abused by children in the past or doesn't like the loud behaviour from kids.

My Staffordshire Terrier is perfect in behaviour but also growls at children, so we just keep the dog away from any children to be safe. To be extra safe the dog should wear a muzzle if close contact with children is nessessary, such as a car ride, better safe than sorry.

I think what is most important is that your children know when to back off if the dog starts growling at them.

Feb 28, 2011
by: Rosetta

Try to keep the children away from the dog until the dog earns the trust of the new household. Tell your children to act calm and gentle with the dog at all times as well. After awhile the dog will probably become more relaxed with the kids.

Growling may be a harmless way of saying 'leave me alone' but if he shows his teeth when he growls that is more aggressive or if he doesn't stop growling. If you want to keep the dog it is best to keep your youngest child away from the dog and also make sure your older child knows to be very quiet, calm and gentle with the dog.

I don't believe young children and dogs should ever be left alone no matter how well behaved the dog is, because you cannot 100% predict a dogs behaviour. Any breed of dog could be aggressive with children but this dog in particular should be kept away from children and supervised with children at all times because of the growling.

Feb 28, 2011
To Rosetta and Anon
by: Steve (OP)

That's what I'm thinking as well, and that's what I've been doing. She's back to being her old sweet self, but I am keeping a very watchful eye on her, and keeping her away from the children when they are being rowdy or loud. Harder to do with the youngest, but there have been no more incidents.

Dec 30, 2011
my blue nose
by: Anonymous

I have a blue nose pit and he's a teddy bear to me and my spouse. But a few months ago he was growling at my kids and still does. My kids can feed him and play when he wants to play. but if they move fast he tries to snap. What can I do to prevent this from not happening. He is very well trained and goes outside. They cannot help him up on the sofa he will snap but he will sleep with them. Please help me figure this out. What am I doing wrong.

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