Dogs and kids are natural playmates, and many a child has learned the value of companionship and loyalty from his dog. But it's not always that easy. Sometimes they get off to a bad start, especially if the child isn't a member of the family. Other times dogs simply don't like the energy and noise associated with youngsters. Growling is your dog's way of communicating this. Either way, with patience and understanding, you can help your dog overcome his issues; with time, they'll get along famously.
Find the Cause
Supervise all interactions between the dog and the child. Never leave them alone together.
Identify the type of growl. A low-pitched, sustained growl combined with a fixed gaze and curled lip is a sure sign of aggression and should be corrected. But a brief, slightly higher-pitched growl accompanied by a wagging tail and a "bowing" gesture is a sign that the dog is feeling playful. The latter needn't be corrected at all.
Observe how the child and the dog interact and make notes on what you suspect is causing the dog to growl. If the child is too rough, this may cause the dog to growl out of fear. The dog may fear strangers, children in general or this specific youngster, and the growl might be a defense tactic to tell the child to stay back.
Correcting Inappropriate Treatment of the Dog
Advise the child that Lucky doesn't like being petted so firmly or that he needs his own space. Encourage the child to understand that Lucky may be scared of new people. Sit with the child and call Lucky over. Stroke him and give him lots of praise for being calm. Invite the child to stroke Lucky in the same way you did. Be sure to demonstrate clearly how to stroke an anxious or unsettled dog. Never move the hand straight toward the face, always approach slowly and stroke in the direction that the fur grows to avoid hurting the dog.
Repeat this process once daily, gradually increasing the length of time the child and the dog are exposed to each other. If the dog growls, gently guide him away. Explain to the child that the dog is saying "that's enough petting" or "ouch" and encourage him to respond to Lucky's body language.
Correcting the Dog's Behavior
Give the child a food treat to feed to Lucky. Put Lucky on a loose leash and walk him toward the child, at which point the child can give Lucky his treat. Make sure the child gives the treat slowly, with a sufficient portion of the treat sticking out from the hand so Lucky doesn't accidentally nip the fingers. Alternatively, the child can start by putting the treat down in front of Lucky.
Praise Lucky for as long as he remains passive toward the child. Receiving the treat will help Lucky to build positive associations with the child. Repeat this process once a day until Lucky is more comfortable around the youngster. Allow the young dog lover to pet Lucky. Praise Lucky for being tolerant and calm. Walk him away and cease the praise if he growls. This teaches Lucky that when he growls, you stop praising him. Since Lucky loves to be praised by his owner, he'll associate this negative outcome with his own behavior.
By Simon Foden
About the Author
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.