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Thread: My whippet growled at a child today... (long)

  1. #1

    Default My whippet growled at a child today... (long)

    ...and I need some perspective because right now I'm so horrified I don't know what to think.

    Sky is 7 months old, female, desexed. To be honest, she's not very well socialised - partly because her shots were way overdue when we got her, partly because my social anxiety is quite severe which is really debilitating when it comes to strangers. It's something I'm working on and I will give details if needed but the main thing is that she's wary of strangers (humans - she loves dogs) although getting much better around them (taking treats, but shying away if they try to touch her - sometimes barking, sometimes not). She hasn't been exposed to kids although she's always shown interest in them. This is mostly because until very recently it was so hard to control her jumping and lunging while snapping her teeth at your ears/face - not in an aggressive way, just that she is SO excitable - but even her paws have given me serious scratches to my face and I didn't want to risk that happening to any kids. Since I started clicker training her she's gotten MUCH better, knows to keep all four paws on the ground, and today was the first day I brought my little cousins (two girls, age 7 and 4) to swim in our pool.

    They had been introduced in the front yard once before, when I explained very clearly to the girls how I would like them to offer her treats, keep quiet and not touch or make eye contact with her. They were great, and Sky was pretty well behaved though excited too. Today however I'd been out with the girls all day; walked Sky in the morning but it was only a quick half hour walk with only a very brief off-leash run time. My family was at home with her but I know she was VERY excited to see me home. I tend to ignore her when I get home until she calms down, but she didn't calm down at all plus I was so focused on watching the girls that I never got around to properly acknowledging/saying hi to her.

    Then the girls' parents plus my uncle came over, plus two dogs randomly wandered into our yard (we live in an area where people leave their dogs running loose outside all the time, don't get me started) and things were just really, really chaotic. We VERY rarely have so much activity in our house like today. I understand that she had a lot of pent up energy, and was probably unsure of what to make of everything that was happening. She started barking loudly and in that situation I couldn't excuse myself to take her for a walk. I also didn't know how to deal with the barking because it's so rare for us to have a lot of guests over that it's not something I've had experience with. So I put her in her crate with a piece of roo tail to hopefully calm her down.

    She was in there a while. My younger cousin went up to her crate and I don't know what she said or did, but I heard a VERY scary, long, drawn out growl. It froze everyone in the room. She has never, ever, EVER done that before.

    Here is the thing: she growls a lot during play. It's playful growling and I never discouraged it before. Should I be discouraging it? And do you think under these circumstances she had the right to tell my cousin to back out of her space? Should I be worried? I KNOW that socialising is the most important thing, and I'm honestly really trying. I put an ad on gumtree for people to help me with it and got some great responses, I'm just working up the courage to actually meet them. Now I just feel terrified to have her around kids though.

    Sorry for the long saga... I would really like some experienced dog owners to tell me what they think of this situation. Thanks in advance

  2. #2
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    Sounds like a case of resource guarding to me. It's not ideal that she guards food from people and you may want to do some more training with taking food of her. There's some posts on here about how to do that. Usually involves taking food off the dog while they're eating regularly and swapping it for a higher value food. Your can also make a habit of adding food to her bowl (or in the crate) while she's eating, so she learns that you approaching when she eats is a positive thing. You can then try to involve other people in this training too.

    You don't want your dog to guard resources from people but it's pretty normal behaviour and doesn't mean your dog is vicious. Kids should learn to back off when a dog growls at them. But you do want to address it sooner rather than later because you can't always control how other people behave around your dog and your dog will get the blame if she were to bite someone.

    And never tell your dog off for growling. Growling is just communication. If you teach them not to growl, they may one day bite without warning. I also think dogs don't really make the link between play growling and a threatening growl. They're two very different things.

  3. #3
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    I agree with what Beloz has said. It sounds like pup was guarding her bone. It is a natural reaction and I can understand your shock, but don't be disheartened by it.
    You will need to train her to accept you (and other humans) taking food off her. Beloz has summarized it well.

  4. #4
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    In a nutshell, when she is in her crate (safe place)
    and chewing her treat - you should not allow children or strangers in general near her.

    Given that it was such a busy day and she was likely a bit stressed anyway I would
    not blame her in any way for growling at the child.

  5. #5
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    You've missed the mark on socialising. I wouldn't be putting ads on gumtree I would be getting a professional in to help you get rid of these now set habits she has.

    She doesnt understand children and the outside world. She's highly strung, so feeling cornered with something new in her face, she growled. It's what a dog does, when nothing different has been taught they rely on their canine instincts. You need to get the skills to teach her properly and she needs to be put in her place with the scratching, out of control behavior.

  6. #6
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    My dog was an absolute shocker with jumping up on kids. The first few times we met kids on walks, she knocked them to the ground before I could stop her. Pretty embarrassing stuff. Now my dog is still bad with jumping up on visitors and sometimes on other dog owners on walks, but I had great success with training her out of jumping on kids by using the Look At That routine. I never thought it would make much of a difference, but it significantly changed her behaviour around kids in a fairly short time. And I don't think I have ever met a dog that was more excitable around people than mine. I still call her away from little kids we meet on walks but she always complies and that works for us. But she does have my daughter to play with.

    I did also use time out when she didn't behave around visitors. Now I just use the spray bottle which is highly effective. Though I do occasionally spray our visitors by mistake. Lol

    Oh and the only thing that worked to train her out of jumping on us (and she did the nipping whilst jumping too) was to wait for a sit before we opened the front door more than a crack. Then if she got up as we opened the door, we'd just close it again and took it from the start. If she still jumped a few seconds after we finally had made it inside, we'd just walk out again and started again. We had tried lots of other methods to get her out of her insane greeting behaviour, but that one finally did the trick within a week or 2.

  7. #7

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    Thank you everyone for your replies! It's really confusing to me that she would growl over food because I actually do handle her food while she's eating (adding, taking away, trading kibble for bones, mixing in egg or sardine, throwing kibble for her to chase etc) exactly to prevent something like this. I don't do it every single day but I'd say a few times a week. I'm guessing she may have sensed that the children were not as high up in the pack as the rest of my family. In any case my gut agrees with those of you who said she was in her safe place and I should have kept the kids away from her. I doubt we will have so much chaos in the house again anytime soon but I will continue to work with the food and also more controlled and brief exposure to my little cousins.

    Beloz, your advice re: not scolding her when she growls makes so much sense and I'm REALLY, REALLY glad you mentioned that. Thank you!

    Nekhbet, I know I've missed out on the crucial socialising time period, but I believe that dogs can be socialised at any age. Also, I feel the need to point out that her scratching and out of control behaviour has decreased significantly since I started clicker training her - it's very rare now for her to forget she needs to keep all four paws on the ground, and when it happens she immediately realizes and "offs" herself. I don't know what you mean by "put her in her place", but since I've started clicker training with NO harsh corrections, her behaviour has improved astoundingly. She's also naturally very submissive so I was told specifically to NOT try and dominate her in any way. Everything I'm doing is advice from people who work with nervous dogs... I don't think it would hurt to keep up with socialising; I've had several whippet people and one lady involved in dog rescue respond to my ad telling me they know what I'm going through, so it's definitely something I'm going to try. As long as it's with people who know not to stress her out, it can't hurt... that's how I see it anyway

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by leilei View Post
    Thank you everyone for your replies! It's really confusing to me that she would growl over food because I actually do handle her food while she's eating (adding, taking away, trading kibble for bones, mixing in egg or sardine, throwing kibble for her to chase etc) exactly to prevent something like this. I don't do it every single day but I'd say a few times a week. I'm guessing she may have sensed that the children were not as high up in the pack as the rest of my family. In any case my gut agrees with those of you who said she was in her safe place and I should have kept the kids away from her. I doubt we will have so much chaos in the house again anytime soon but I will continue to work with the food and also more controlled and brief exposure to my little cousins.

    Beloz, your advice re: not scolding her when she growls makes so much sense and I'm REALLY, REALLY glad you mentioned that. Thank you!

    Nekhbet, I know I've missed out on the crucial socialising time period, but I believe that dogs can be socialised at any age. Also, I feel the need to point out that her scratching and out of control behaviour has decreased significantly since I started clicker training her - it's very rare now for her to forget she needs to keep all four paws on the ground, and when it happens she immediately realizes and "offs" herself. I don't know what you mean by "put her in her place", but since I've started clicker training with NO harsh corrections, her behaviour has improved astoundingly. She's also naturally very submissive so I was told specifically to NOT try and dominate her in any way. Everything I'm doing is advice from people who work with nervous dogs... I don't think it would hurt to keep up with socialising; I've had several whippet people and one lady involved in dog rescue respond to my ad telling me they know what I'm going through, so it's definitely something I'm going to try. As long as it's with people who know not to stress her out, it can't hurt... that's how I see it anyway
    Nekhbet does actually know what what she's talking about. I don't believe you were being told you've missed the boat when it comes to socialising, but that you've missed the mark. I too have an anxious, highly-strung dog, and there's NO WAY I would socialise him with randoms that replied to a gumtree add. Do you KNOW these people you've never met will know how to not stress her out? I think it was being suggested that you do the socialising in a much more controlled manner, with people you actually know. Better yet a professional. Thing is, with an anxious dog, socialising can go pear-shaped very quickly and end up traumatising them if something happens that 1, you can't control and 2, frightens them.

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