Here’s the next round of answers for our Ask a Trainer feature on our website. It’s your chance to get dog training advice from the pros at AnimalSense. Stay tuned for more questions & answers, and if you have a burning dog training question, just “Ask a Trainer”!
We live in Florida, but I am asking around for help. We have a 4-year-old male Rhodesion Ridgeback and we have a 2-year-old child. He has bitten her twice. It also occurred when she was one, both times drawing blood. This time he punctured her ear and both times were under the same circumstances: she messed with him when he was asleep in his dog bed. When he is awake, he shows no sign of aggression towards us or her with his food, toys or other dogs, etc. He is very loving but if he is sleeping, he can not be messed with. He is a rescue dog and has a history of abuse. We did two classes of basic obedience training to help him with his confidence when we first got him. We have never crated him, do you think that would be best? A muzzle when indoors? I would hate to get rid of him, we love him very much but I am scared of him hurting our child again. She is too young to understand to leave him alone, as much as we have tried to teach her to. Is there training that can be done for this sort of sleep aggression? What would you do in our situation?
We are so sorry to hear that you are facing this difficult situation. It’s always tough when the dog’s behavior is so reliant on the humans to adjust their own behavior, especially when we are talking about a 2 year old. I speak from experience as I have a 4 year old and an 18 month old at home myself!
Though I haven’t met you and your dog in person, which is always best when addressing a behavior, I have a couple of thoughts:
1. Have you ruled out any physical ailments that may be contributing to this behavior? A check with the vet is always my first course of action because treating a dog with physical ailments is fruitless until that has been addressed.
2. Continue to present the message to your daughter that she should never mess with a sleeping or eating dog. It may not get through to her today, but the consistency in message will sink in eventually, and it will only benefit her as she starts to have play dates at other people’s homes with dogs.
3. Trying to introduce the crate now is an excellent idea. You could even use a gated off space for him. Giving him his own space where he can sleep without risk of incident is very important. I’m a big advocate of using prevention and management of space first and foremost to set everyone up for success. In my home, where my 18 month old is toddling around, I have a space that the dog seeks out regularly and we have gates to keep the 18 month old out. It may be a little unsightly and cumbersome, but it’s worth it to keep everyone safe. It also took some reprogramming on my part to remember to keep the gate closed, but after some time, it has just become habit now. Remember, the crate or space is for the dog only, and the message to your daughter must always be that this is his private space where he is to be left alone.
4. Finally, and most importantly, I recommend you find a trainer in your area who can come to your home to evaluate your dog in person. There are many things that a professional trainer might be able to observe that could give you a clearer picture about what is best to do. I always recommend a trainer that uses positive reinforcement methods as it is will continue to build trust in your relationship with your dog.
I hope this helps a little. Hang in there and always err on the side of safety until you figure out a plan.