Dear Dog Lady,
My husband and I have two rescue dogs, one of which we named Stranger. He is a large Labrador/bullmastiff mix. The first six months of his life are a mystery, but he showed up in our yard three years ago as a malnourished puppy with a shattered hind leg and we worked very hard to rehabilitate and train him. He is a beautiful and well-behaved dog but he has a deeply troubling and dangerous issue around young children and we’re at a loss.
Recently, our neighbor’s 8-year-old daughter was lightly petting his head and all of a sudden he growled and snapped at her. Thankfully, he did not bite her and she and her parents were very understanding, but this is unacceptable behavior in our family-oriented neighborhood. This is not the first time he has done this, and it seems it only happens with children under 12-13 years old. After he growls and/or snaps, he immediately cowers and sometimes relieves himself involuntarily.
I suspect he was possibly tormented by children as a puppy — even beaten — but we don’t know how to begin to correct this behavior. Is there something we can do, or do we need professional help?
A: Just by asking you do the right thing. Too many people would ignore warning signs of their beloved dog’s aggression by rationalizing or denying. Dog Lady applauds you because you care about Stranger — and Stranger danger.
Having your dog evaluated by a behaviorist would be a very smart idea. You can find a professional dog trainer in your area by going to the website of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, aptd.com. A “Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist” (the initials C.A.A.B. after a name) is the highest designation for a trainer.
Until you have your dog evaluated, you should keep him away from all children. Adopting two shelter dogs was a wonderful act of kindness. However, as you found out, you also assume responsibility for the behavioral back story of canine fears.
Dear Dog Lady,
When my nephew and his fiancée went on vacation, they left their pet parrot, Maya, with me. They said it would be easy-as-pie to take care of this bird but it’s been terrible for me and for Sherman, my West Highland white terrier. I believe Maya’s squawks torment Sherman because he follows me around constantly with his ears at half-mast. He tried climbing up to swat the cage and I had to move it higher. Also, the bird has disrupted my life. I gave a dinner party last weekend and the screeching bird drove us all crazy. My nephew seems to think I will take care of chatterbox Maya whenever he and his fiancée are out of town. I’m the only relative nearby. I am going to have to tell him “no.” Do I blame it on the dog?
A: The dog will never know what’s fair and fowl. So, sure, blame the dear dog. Why not do the brave thing and blame it on yourself? Tell your nephew you love him, he’s family, but Maya disrupts your household and you must ask him to find another place to park the bird.
Monica Collins offers advice on dogs, life and love. Follow the “Ask Dog Lady” fan page on Facebook or Twitter at @askdoglady. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.