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 to 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? —Worried
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.