Is my child safe around my dog?
(Q) My mother-in-law has a Springer X collie, and we have a two-year-old son. We think the dog is trying to dominate him. His actions do not appear aggressive towards my son, but he does try to nip and jump at him a lot, almost like he's trying to get him to submit to him. Obviously we can't have this as our son could get hurt.
(A) Behaviourist Steve Goward says: Either your mother-in-law's dog is trying to get your son to play, getting overstimulated by your son, or is possibly anxious and a little fearful around him. The collie in him might be a factor with regards to the nipping and jumping, which could be part of his natural breed-driven behaviours.
I'm confident in saying it isn't a dominance-driven behaviour, as current thinking in this area points us away from describing undesirable behaviours in dogs with a ‘one-size fits all' diagnosis. Whatever is driving the behaviour you are right to be concerned and I urge you to seek a reputable behaviourist to make sure the diagnosis is correct and the best behaviour plan is put in place. In the meantime it is vital they are not left alone and that the dog isn't punished around your son, as what may have started out as on overexcited breed-specific behaviour could turn into a fear-driven aggressive response. Having a safe place for dog and child, as well as clear house rules for both, are a good starting point.
Staying safe around dogs
- It's important that children react responsibly around their own and other dogs. Here are some tips to ensure both child and dog stay safe.
- Children should never go near a dog they don't know, and only pat a dog if they have asked the owner's permission first.
- Parents should not let children tease or play too roughly with their dog.
- Dogs should be taught not to jump up at children or be too boisterous, as this can lead to accidents.
- Never disturb a dog who is sleeping, eating, injured, or ill as the animal may react badly.
- Do not leave young children unsupervised with a dog, even for a few minutes.
- Socialise your new puppy properly with children.