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I know this is a GSD forum, and I do indeed have a GSD, but I also have a 2 1/2 year old lab that I rescued from the SPCA. I have a question in regards to him, that I can't find answers to anywhere else. So I'm hoping someone here can give me some advice.

He growls. Never has he attempted to bite or snap. But he will growl, and if pushed, show his teeth. I don't hit him, nor do I want to. I think that approach in this situation (or any) is very inappropriate. He will not growl at me, but he is "my dog". He will growl at my youngest son, who is 4 years old.

We have been working on my son slowly approaching him, and telling him good boy if he doesn't growl, etc. And that has been going well. It seems that once he realizes that the approaching person is ok, he's ok. If they are adults or older kids, he's fine from the beginning. Its the young kids he's unsure of, and tends to growl at right from the beginning.

When I first got him, we tried just holding him steady by the collar (not forcefully) and telling him "No" until he settled. But he just got worse. To me it seemed like a fear type thing. Does he sound like a dog that's been hit?

Again, I know this is a GSD forum, but I've tried a lab forum, and the responses seemed to make light of the situation. I think its something that needs serious work.

Oh, other than that problem, he's a fantastic, typical, playful lab.

Any suggestions?
 

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We love every breed of dog here- the only requirement is that you love love love GSDs.
Glad you asked us! You're right, hitting will make everything worse. It may band-aid the problem but the problem will fester, and one day that will come out and your son will pay the price. No smacks!

Your son is old enough to do some leadership work with the dog UNDER SUPERVISION. Of course, I don't mean he needs to take the dog out on the leash and enforce a heel, but what your son CAN do is give treats to the dog (toss them at first) while you have the dog leashed up and you give the obedience command. When the dog responds well to that AND his commands are strong, your son can start giving easy commands like sit and down. Start with sit first. Again, you have the leash, you have the ability to control. Once the dog complies, your son can toss the treat to the dog. This will teach your son the basics of dog training while teaching your dog that this mini-human is every bit a pack leader that you are. You can eventually graduate to meals fed by your son, piece-by-piece, obedience command-by-obedience command. This shows the dog that this mini-human also has the power to control food; a very powerful position in the "food chain." To avoid unnecessary confrontations, whenever you give your dog a bowl of food, put it in his crate and shut the door. No one, especially kids, can bother him then. Same thing with bones, favorite chew toys, or anything he would get possessive over. This also serves as a good lesson to your son that eating dogs should always be left alone and not bothered! If your dog loves balls, you can have your son throw the ball. Make sure you take it from your dog, just to be safe, then give the ball to your son and have him toss it. Make sure the dog can hold a reliable sit or down to avoid exuberant jumping!

Many dogs have not been properly socialized to young kids or they were raised in homes where parents let young kids beat the crap out of the dogs, pull their tails, poke them, and just generally abuse them because the kids were never taught better. You may be working against this. Make sure you ALWAYS supervise the lab and your son and continuously teach your son proper dog interactions. With time, patience, and good experiences, you may be able to overcome this. Always keep the dog securely leashed whenever you do have a training session with your dog and your son but make sure you stay calm and don't project nervous energy. It also helps if your son is the ONLY person in the world that will give your dog his favorite treats!
 

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I would add two things to the above post.

I know how 4 year olds are. They run and jump and shout and do all kinds of fast paced, unpredictable things. Even the most careful and subdued 4 year old occasionally slips or trips or rocks on the dog's tail. In addition to the intensive desensitization you're doing with copious amounts of highly desirable treats, I would be very careful about supervising your child and the dog right now. Obviously you don't want to risk a snap or bite, but you also want to move out of fear and toward trust.

The other thing is, I'm guessing your child sleeps in another room and your dogs sleep in your room? That's a big deal to some dogs. In light of that, I would be careful to do all the little things that prop up the kid in the dog's estimation. Deliberately give your child a snack (something good--like cheese) before you feed/treat the dog. Let/take your child through the door first. Don't let the dogs jostle the child around. Use NILIF, but tweak it to include your child.
 
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