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Parents' poodle and DD - help please

(25 Posts)
DitaVonCheese Tue 20-Sep-11 10:53:16

Please be gentle with me sad

My parents have a standard poodle who is around 3 yo. My dad is completely doolally over the dog - handcooks all her meals etc. She spends most of the day with him (he's retired) and can be quite jealous/possessive of him. She is not great with small children and tbf most of the time my parents are good at keeping them apart eg usually when I visit with DD the dog is kept upstairs.

A couple of times in the past the dog has nipped/snapped at DD's face, sometimes because DD has touched her in a way she doesn't like (eg on her back near her tail, though not her actual tail), at least once it has been completely unprovoked as far as I could tell - on this occasion my mum was holding DD and they were talking to/stroking the dog and I suddenly noticed the dog's body language had gone v odd, tucking her tail under her legs, then she suddenly snapped, but for no obvious reason that I could see. She has also gone for their neighbour's daughter's face a few times (neighbour's daughter aged between 4-6 at the time) but I don't know the circumstances.

On each of these occasions it has been very much a warning rather than an attack, though obviously traumatic for the child involved.

First incident seems to have been when my parents' great-niece was visiting. She was about four at the time and came over dressed as a dalmation puppy. Dog was very young at the time, maybe a year or younger. When great-niece saw the dog, she got down on all fours and barked at her and dog seems to have been convinced she was a puppy hmm - first did the bowing down thing, then ended up playing with her very roughly as if she were a puppy and had to be hauled off. Confusing for the dog I appreciate. Not sure whether this is relevant or not but seems to be where it started.

Yesterday I visited my parents with DD, who is nearly 3. She loves the dog and is very gentle but maybe a little bit insistent with her. DD wanted to give the dog a biscuit and got one of her little meal biscuits out and tried to get the dog to take it. Dog not interested. I went and got a treat biscuit (Schmacko type thing) and DD gave it to the dog. So far so good. I then turned my back on DD and the dog. I realise that I shouldn't have done this, please don't flame me, I already feel terrible sad I have no idea what happened next but dog barked and I turned round to see dog going for DD's face again, lots of nibbling/nipping bites. I grabbed DD, who was understandably hysterical, dog was taken upstairs. Slightly annoyed by my mum who said "Oh, it feels like she's very close to your face, doesn't it?" - DD has a mark on her nose and a scratch on her cheek so dog was clearly touching her face angry

DD calmed down and said that she just wanted to give the little biscuit to the dog, so I'm assuming that she just kept trying to give it to the dog and dog felt cornered. DD doesn't seem to be scared of the dog now, thank goodness, though she will always ask me to pick her up if the dog comes near her (dog is as big as she is).

Sorry this is so long blush I just need some advice on where to go from here. I know I need to work harder at keeping an eye on DD around the dog and teaching her that she needs to leave the dog alone (as much as you can teach a 3 yo anything they don't want to learn). I haven't been too concerned until now as I feel that previous incidents have just been the dog's way of communicating "Oy, pack it in" rather than an actual attack, but not sure whether this is naive and dog is just a timebomb. Really I'd like DD never to go near the dog again but this is unrealistic as we visit there and parents sometimes look after DD, including taking her on walks with the dog.

Help please!

BeerTricksPotter Tue 20-Sep-11 11:16:55

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

seeker Tue 20-Sep-11 11:22:12

My dp's grandparents had a dog like this. He is nearly 50 and still has scars on his face- the dog had warned him several times over several months, and then bit. I'm sorry iif this is not what you want to hear, but you absolutely must keep them apart.

DitaVonCheese Tue 20-Sep-11 11:22:29

Thanks BTP. I realise I am being a little unrealistic wanting a solution that isn't just keeping them apart - wasn't sure whether to post but just wondered if I'd missed anything obvious.

The dog has seen a behaviourist in the past though only briefly I think.

Should I ask my parents not to take DD on dog walks then do you think? If anything at least it would make them realise that I am serious about this. It's sad as I think that they got the dog partly because they thought it would be nice for their grandchildren sad (they have had dogs before, though not this breed).

Bloody dog is going to be around for years and I'm just so exhausted at the thought of it sad (grey day is not helping my mood today!).

BeerTricksPotter Tue 20-Sep-11 11:23:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BeerTricksPotter Tue 20-Sep-11 11:26:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

DitaVonCheese Tue 20-Sep-11 11:35:56

Thanks again, and x-posts Seeker. She may be better with older children - luckily I have neighbour's daughter and grand-niece, who both turn 7 in December, as a handy barometer! hmm

The irony is that when my dad was young and when my brothers and I were young they had a series of GSDs. I know my parents trust them around children because I asked her once on behalf of a friend who was thinking of getting one, and she said she would recommend them for families with children unreservedly. Then with the latest dog they randomly changed breeds to one they have barely any experience of because they thought she'd be more child-friendly angry sad

AgathaCrusty Tue 20-Sep-11 11:39:47

I don't think this is a breed specific thing, it's more of a training issue and a socialisation issue IMO.

aftereight Tue 20-Sep-11 11:46:46

Dog behaviour aside, I am concerned that your parents haven't taken the incidents more seriously. I appreciate that they love their dog, but this is their granddaughter fgs. They should be keeping the dog away from her at all times. The dog may never injure her, but it only takes once.

daisydotandgertie Tue 20-Sep-11 12:10:05

It sounds as though the dog might be quite frightened of children.

From what you've said it doesn't sound as though the dog is vicious or a 'timebomb'.

To turn it on it's head and look at it from the dogs point of view, many of the interactions it has had with children have ended with it being told off/children hysterical/being shut upstairs. Dogs - especially clever ones, like poodles - may well have put all those things together and turned them into a fear of small people.

Work with a behaviourist and with lots of positive socialisation with no pressure on the dog will, I expect make an enormous difference.

Those dogs you see which are rock solid with children are pretty much always those who have been with children every single day. Where the dog and the child know and respect each other's boundries.

For the time being, I'd take away the pressure and keep them apart in most circumstances. I'd also book a behavourist specifically to teach the dog that children are OK and give advice on the best way to socialise your parents dog with children.

I don't think that anyone has done anything 'wrong' nor is the dog different to any other. Being good with children is not a breed specific thing; it is all about exposure to them, socialisation and good behaviour from both the dog and the children.

Try not to fret about it. It honestly does sound as though the problem is fixable.

Midori1999 Tue 20-Sep-11 12:50:54

I agree it sounds like the dog is nervous/uncomfortable around children, maybe even in general. Dogs don't get 'jealous' and the dog behaving like this suggests it's maybe uncomfortable in certain situations, not just around children.

I think it would be wrong of anyone on a forum to suggest a course of action, especially without having seen the dog. Positive association seems the way to go, but only a good behaviourist that sees the dog in person should really advise. Would your parents consider this? In the meantime, keep the dog seperate from any children that visit, for the sake of the dog as much as the children and to save making things any worse for the dog. If your parents won't see a behaviourist, I think keeping the dog away from any children at all times is really the only course of action.

EggyAllenPoe Tue 20-Sep-11 13:00:21

dog must be kept separate from small children - it is just that simple.

and it is an individual dog thing - but may not be forever- i have known dogs who didn't like small kids warm to older ones...

As dog is 3 also it is very likely to calm down as it gets older, and gets trained.

GrimmaTheNome Tue 20-Sep-11 13:38:10

>As dog is 3 also it is very likely to calm down as it gets older, and gets trained.

and ditto your DD, which helps!

misdee Tue 20-Sep-11 13:48:15

def keep them apart. poor old ralphie doesnt get free reign of the house whilst i'm cleaning, as cant supervise him and the two little children if i'm wondering from room to room (plus ds is testing his escape artists skills atm). so unless i'm about to supervise even our family pet wanders off to a safe place so he doesnt get 'mugged' by small people wanting cuddles with the big softy. if they do get to him you can almost see him rolls his eyes and sighing like 'oh go on then, but i'm moving in a minute you annoying wee beast'

he loves it when the big girls get home from school and is def more big kids friendly than toddler friendly. he knows he can play more with them and they wont pull him about.

Ephiny Tue 20-Sep-11 14:14:19

I would keep them apart, at least while DD is little, unless you can keep your eye on them all the time (difficult I know!). Don't think the dog sounds aggressive as such, but may be quite stressed by your DD and her 'insistent' behaviour (not saying it's her fault, she isn't really doing anything wrong and a different dog might be absolutely fine with the way she is) and I'd worry that a small child could be hurt even by a warning nip, especially to the face.

Might be a good idea not to have food/treats involved as some dogs can be a bit possessive or snappy when it comes to food?

DitaVonCheese Tue 20-Sep-11 21:10:50

Thanks so much for all the suggestions and advice, I really appreciate it smile

aftereight I think that my parents aren't too worried because they just see the dog's behaviour as warning rather than attacking iyswim. I do agree with them, but am just worried that one day the dog might get fed up with warning DD and give her a proper telling off and yes, it does only have to happen once sad

Being shut upstairs isn't necessarily a bad thing for the dog - generally she's up there with my dad as well as he isn't so interested in the littlies and has his own various projects to get on with.

The dog has been around my DD a fair amount - parents got her about the same week DD was born - but I guess that's not the same as living with a child day in day out. Hopefully it will get better as DD gets older - though also have 8 wk old DS asleep on my chest!

Do dogs really not get jealous? The kind of thing I mean is if I'm talking to my dad the dog will often come and stand between us, kind of blocking him if that makes sense. Perhaps jealousy is the wrong word. Protective maybe?

She isn't a very food-motivated dog but I think this can sometimes be a power/pack order thing as well as just liking food maybe?

Will see if my parents will get a behaviourist round again and try to keep them apart for now. Any recommendations for behaviourists in the Cheshire area?

Btw, no idea if this is relevant but dog has been known to kill things before eg pheasants, rabbits etc. GSDs never did that even when they managed to catch one (and we used to have an escaped rabbit that lived free in the garden who used to come and snuggle up with one GSD when she got very old smile). I'm sure she can tell the difference between DD and wildlife but it does make me a bit hmm

Thanks again, sorry this is long and rambly (DC have been waking in the night with colds so I'm in a haze of sleep deprivation today)

Midori1999 Tue 20-Sep-11 22:34:01

What happens when she stands in between you and your Dad? Does he/you tell her to move out of the way or ignore her and let her stand there? Or something else?

It's pretty normal for dogs to chase/kill small furry or feathery things, just most dogs aren't fast enough.

For behaviourists, look on the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors website.

DitaVonCheese Wed 21-Sep-11 09:56:38

The blocking usually gets ignored or then commented on/laughed about then ignored. We don't tell her to move - should we?

northerngirl41 Wed 21-Sep-11 12:37:33

This isn't really the dog's fault. Your daughter did something which it perceived as threatening and it reacted instinctively. It's best all round that they are kept separately - for the dog's sake as much as your daughters.

It will get better as she gets older and has more dominance over the dog/better pack position/knows not to bug it.

And yes, dogs do get jealous - I've seen dogs actually leap behind a baby which their owner is holding and try to shove them off!!! They want the attention from the pack leader and no other "dog" will usurp their position!

There are certainly things your parents could do to improve this behaviour, including reordering how the dog gets fed, who feeds it, where it sits etc. But it's an animal and as such no animal is bombproof and they shouldn't ever be trusted with children.

Midori1999 Wed 21-Sep-11 14:51:19

Dita, you shouldn't necessairly tell her to move. The reason I asked as normally this type of behaviour has been somehow inadvertantly rewarded in the past and so has become a habit for the dog, usually because it is still rewarded or because it is sometimes still rewarded, most often by attention, either positive or negative. This could be as laughing at the dog when it does something, especially if when the dog first did it, maybe as a puppy or younger puppy, she got a bit more attention or doing it.

Northerngirl, that all depends on whether you believe that a person can in fact, be 'pack leader' of a dog pack. Or in fact, if dogs even liove in packs in the way most people believe they do, and in fact, they don't. Pack theory is largely disproven and when you feed your dog or where you let it sit has absolutely no bearing on whether it is likely to bite a child.

northerngirl41 Wed 21-Sep-11 15:20:05

It depends on the dog - if it's territorial and thinks that person is "theirs" then yes, it will bite people who come near it. I'm not totally sold on the whole pack theory but it does explain some of the behaviours we regard as being wholly weird from animals. Example: why does the dog attack the postman? Because it's someone who comes to the door but is never let in by the owner, therefore the dog thinks this person is not welcome.

You need to think like a dog in order to see why they are behaving in certain ways. The child in this case is a rival to its human's affection, it's no wonder it doesn't like it. On then on top of that, every time the child comes over, the dog gets locked away from its humans and usual interactions. No wonder it hates the child!!!

AgathaCrusty Wed 21-Sep-11 15:41:53

I don't think there is any evidence that the dog "hates" the child.

DitaVonCheese Wed 21-Sep-11 23:38:02

Thanks again for the replies, they're really interesting.

I'm not sure that the dog does hate DD - she often greets her affectionately etc. I think she's just quite a highly strung, neurotic dog and sometimes DD pisses her off.

Funnily enough, my parents are quite into their dog psychology/pack behaviour thing (didn't know that had been disproven) - interesting that this dog is way more neurotic than the previous three when they had kids as well and less time to indulge the dog!

To clarify again, the dog doesn't always get locked away from everyone when DD visits, but just stays upstairs usually with my dad as well, on one of the two hmm sofas she has for her personal use. If my dad does come downstairs while we are there though he will generally leave the dog upstairs (but with the full run of the upstairs and usually her pick of the beds as well!). And DD does sometimes go on dog walks with both her grandparents and the dog.

The blocking thing happens quite a lot, including blocking DD eg if my mum's friend comes round with her doddery old lab then the dog will block the lab from getting near any of us or stand in the way so DD can't throw a ball for the lab. Don't think we really make a big fuss about it though.

EggyAllenPoe Thu 22-Sep-11 20:15:04

if dog is 'guarding' members of family in a 'piss off, this is my Mummy/Daddy' kind of way then should probably be told to go into a different room or go to bed - if that behaviour is validated they will think they are right to do it.

it is nearly impossible not to reward a dog that is doing this unless you send it away from you (as it will sit there with its fluffy head just in reach for stroking)

i think the snapping you describe is over-excitedness but should be taken very seriously - an overexcited dog who is, eg, stood on, fallen on, hair-pulled by accident could bite - it just isn't a risk you should take. If it is kept separate both it and child are safe.

i think dog resenting child for being sent into diff room is not the case btw - dog will usually see this as right, that when puppies are about they are sent away (as bitches will shoo away other dogs from their pups).

even the most high-octane poodle should be able to be alone for a bit (in a crate? might be more relaxing than run of the upstairs)

DitaVonCheese Tue 27-Sep-11 21:37:54

Thanks Eggy - will keep an eye on the blocking in future. Was also worried that avoiding dog would lead to more resentment from her so you've reassured me about that.

As a quick update, we saw my parents briefly yesterday at their house for the first time since the latest incident. They were very firm and clear at immediately excluding the dog (upstairs - this has just reminded me about the crate suggestion, which I haven't mentioned to them partly because I don't know anything about using crates with dogs and mainly because I forgot). It did come up briefly and I mentioned the behaviourist they had seen before. I had completely forgotten that the problem with older 4-6 yr olds wasn't that the dog was attacking them but that she wanted to play with them, so would swipe with her paws and knock them over etc - obviously quite scary for a child when dog is the same size! - so this seems to be a different issue. They didn't seem convinced by the behaviourist but were very clear that the would be keeping the dog away from their GC for the foreseeable future, so I'm feeling better about it.

Thanks again for the thoughtful and helpful replies smile

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