As humans we expect a lot from our dogs. We expect them to guard us against a burglar but not the mailman. We expect them to realize it is ok to jump up on Saturday afternoon when we are in garden clothes, but not ok Monday morning when we are in a suit. Many parents expect the dog to tolerate being jumped on, hit and poked with a toy by children without ever lifting a lip or growling to say leave me alone. While many dogs may be tolerant to this kind of behavior from children, most will not and should not be expected to do so.
Lifting of the lip and growling are all early warning signs that your dog is uncomfortable. These warnings may also be indications of impending aggression. If you see either of these behaviors, do not punish your dog. Take note of the situation and remove your dog to his room, crate or bed. Once everyone has relaxed, take the opportunity to teach your kids healthy ways to interact with the dog. Parents who encourage polite petting, fun games such as fetch and training new skills like shake or roll over will begin to see less inappropriate behavior and a better relationship formed.
Punishing the early warning signs will only teach your dog that (A) you will not advocate for him and (B) he should not give advance warning. If he doesn’t warn you, he will simply respond with a snap or bite.
If you find yourself in a situation where your dog is either overly exuberant around children or behaves fearfully do not hesitate to seek help from a professional dog trainer or dog behavior consultant. If your dog displays any type of aggressive behavior towards a child (growls, snarls, snaps at, lunges toward or tries to bite a child) you must take precautions immediately.
Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers www.ccpdt.org