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Dog May be Aggressive Towards Children, Skateboards, Bicycles

Dear John,

I adopted a now two year old cocker spaniel/poodle mix and he’s just wonderful, loving and full of life for me, my husband and most people.  There is, however, one problem I am having and that’s with small children. I don’t know if it’s just that he’s rambunctious or what but I have some trouble controlling his unacceptable behaviour.  He also likes to go after bicycles and skateboards. As for children, my friend has a 10 year old daughter that he tries to go after. He doesn’t do this with her 14 year old daughter, just her. What can I do to stop these unacceptable behaviours?

Thank you.
Mary C.

Dear Mary,

I have a series of questions I like to ask people when I’m doing an assessment. “Does your dog come?” A common answer is, “Yes” but sometimes qualified by “Except around squirrels/dogs/cats.” Another is, “Is your dog aggressive?” A common answer is,”No.”, but when pressed often qualified by, “Except if you touch its feet/toy/food.” To me those are yes or no questions, sort of like if you were to ask me, “John, is your girlfriend faithful? If I were to reply, “Yes; when I’m home.” or “Unless the Leafs are in town.” (The closest they’re ever going to get to scoring.”) You might think I didn’t hear the question clearly.

It’s possible that your dog’s not aggressive towards children but instead is, as you say “rambunctious” but it wasn’t clear if there’s a distinction between what he’s doing with the children and the bikes/skateboards and you say “likes to go after” which to me implies aggression. There’s also the distinction he’s making between the 10 year old and the 14 year old which is something that dogs that weren’t properly socialized to children often do. It may be nothing more then unruliness but I agree you do need some help and sooner rather then later. Nevertheless, I don’t want this to be a situation where we’re saying, “My dog isn’t aggressive, unless it’s around children or bikes or skateboards. There are too many of each around to work around long term so find yourself a balanced trainer to do a risk assessment.

These sort of odd behavioural distinctions are almost always the result of poor socialization which ironically more often then not, are the result of dog trainers and vets telling people to take puppy socialization classes. If there aren’t a whack of children, skateboards, bicycles, thunderous overhead sound, vacuums etc. incorporated into the class, it’s not a socialization class. It’s a play date or a training class at best. In my how-to book and lectures about puppy socialization I say if we equipped breeders and dog owners with the knowledge as to what proper socialization is and some tips on how to do it we’d save dogs and dog owners a world of hurt. It’s that big of a deal. It could be done in an hour and all that time spent going to what passes for puppy socialization classes would be better invested actually getting out and doing the job. That is not to say getting a dog into training young is a bad idea but training and socialization are two very different things. Professionals need to educate themselves and make the distinction to their clients. All will benefit.

Pawsitively Yours,

John Wade

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