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Our dog is nipping and curling his lips at the kids - our youngest boy especially. Although I can understand the sentiments, it's a behavior we need to stop - now. The boy has already been bit twice (once to the neck, once to the face) with enough force to just break the skin. Not to be tolerated. So we need some good advice on how to handle the situation.

Our dog is just over 40 pounds and about a year old; he's a shepherd mix. He was evidently well trained, as he heels, sits, and submits like a champ. He has no trouble with giving us space as we prep his meals and remains passive and submissive as he eats. Beyond twice daily walks, we flirt him in the yard and set (and hold) to clear rules for everything: sit and be calm to leave the house or enter, wait until permitted to grab treat dropped on floor, wait until he is permitted to attack 'squirrel' on flirt pole and to surrender said squirrel when ordered.

We've applied the whole 'Cesar Millan' thing from day one, with the introduction to the home and with being consistent in his rules & training. He has shown much improvement, and we really haven't had much to complain about except for the occasional thing with the kids and a tendency to react to other dogs.

We called in a well-regarded local trainer who applies much the same approach to dog psychology and obedience to evaluate the dog and provide guidance on his dog reactivity and this uppity business with our kids. In his eyes, the dog tested very well and we were doing much as we needed to. For the reactivity, he suggested that we be more forceful and change our timing (I was acting much to early, the wife with insufficient determination). For the kids, he suggested keeping an eye on the dog when the kids were around and immediately reprimanding him whenever he got 'fixated' or curled his lips at them.

The advice on the dog reactivity was spot-on, and we've seen a huge improvement in his behavior during canine encounters. Still far from 100%, but piles away from $)*&#$)* dog!

The advice with the kids has been more mixed as yet. The interaction between our eldest (a girl) and poochie is much better than it was, though this has much to do with her approach and demeanor. But the interaction between dog and boy is still problematic.

Our boy (the human one) is 3.5 years old, has 'STUBBORN' stamped across his forehead, and often smells worse than the dog. He's big for his age, but the dog is nearly at eye level.

The boy clearly instigates much of the trouble - running madly about, screaming and babbling excitedly in biblical tongues, 360-degree head rotations, etc. etc. He knows how to command the attention of a room (and hotel security). Obviously, this doesn't always sit well with the dog. But most of the incidents - lip curl or nip - aren't as obvious and occur when the boy is being mostly calm and relaxed, if pushy.

In most cases, the dog finds a place to sit, either a favored spot or one by the wife or I. Maybe he's alone, watching us, or maybe we're petting him. In either case, when the kids near, he might fix his eyes on them. They get closer, and out comes the lip curling. In some cases, the 'zone of no entry' can be upwards of 10 feet. Other times he seems perfectly relaxed and content at zero feet, then changes his mind.

We reprimand the dog ("Shhht! No! Zap! / space invasion) the moment we think he's reacting (lip curl, fixation ...). The kids will usually yell "NO!" and wave their hands "no" at the dog, which might not be as helpful.

What else could we / should we be trying?

The boy is with me during the morning feed. He handles the food, stands by the food, and gives the dog the order to 'come' when I feel he's calmed enough to warrant his reward. (He keeps his eyes on us, not the food.) Dog listens, obeys, and won't react negatively to his presence. He even leads the dog on occasional walks and has walked him on a leash (I hold one leash, boy holds another but takes the lead).

From my inexperience, it appears to be a ‘space’ or ‘respect’ thing: the dog is sitting down, claiming some space or receiving affection, and a pack member he sees (?) as lower ranking is not properly minding his manners and must be 'set straight.'

So how do we turn this around?

Do we continue to wait and zap as intervention?
Do we force the dog out of his claimed space?
Do we force the kids off and out of the area (which I'd be afraid might just reinforce his behavior - "Hey! I won!)
Do we stand beside the child and psychologically compel the dog to move off, demonstrating solidarity with the child?

Do we send him back to the shelter, and there to wait for an uncertain fate?

Before we got the dog, this kind of a decision would have been very easy to make. Now it would seem like a divorce, and perhaps twice as traumatic. It is not something we wish to contemplate, but something must be done. The boy comes first, and the dog, however wonderful he may be, comes last among men.
 

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How long Have you had the dog? (since what age?)

Heard a lot about what the dog does. Not a lot on what your boy does. Could you give more history on their relationship? Dogs are pretty smart...they usually protect the kids, only displaying this behavior if the kid asked for it via poor behavior.

Also, implement NILIF. You are alpha. Dog respects who you say to respect.

Does the dog stare at your boy while curling a lip or snarling? If your fur kid isn't looking at him, it's grumbling and communication, not aggression.

I dunno, I need more info.

I'm sorry this is happening to you. Keep your boy safe.
 

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Keeping doing what you are doing while getting these behaviors would not be advisable. They aren't working so I would back up, and get a positive/relationship based trainer involved.

You can also contact Tufts to get things going with them: PETFAX Behavior Consultation: Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University I would always do this (or other vet school behaviorists like at UW).

Rewarding Behaviors - Article Library

More things to think about - your relationship with your dog and how it relates to their behavior:

Relationship Centered Training | Suzanne Clothier
Bottom of the page has some recommended trainers: Consultations | Suzanne Clothier

On how to find a trainer: Find the Right Behavior Professional for Your Dog | Dogster

http://www.peaceablepaws.com/referrals.php?type=pmctReferral Pat Miller trainers

Relationship Centered Training | Suzanne Clothier
Bottom of the page has some recommended trainers: Consultations | Suzanne Clothier

Find A Force Free Dog Trainer and Pet Care Professional

https://www.karenpryoracademy.com/find-a-trainer

Finding Help

http://www.academyfordogtrainers.com...erral_List.pdf


This isn't anything that would be easy to fix via the internet and needs the help of someone with the positive problem solving mindset.

I would save the alpha stuff for the kid! Not really - the same ideas work - shaping behaviors through positive markers and extinguishing the behaviors that do not work for him - and right now, his behaviors do not work well/are not safe. In the 70's, the kid would have been the focus of the behavioral work, and not the dog, and the problem would have been solved thusly.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
We already practice the "nothing in life is free" philosophy and demand that the dog perform or restrain himself in some way before he is allowed compensation.

The trainer's consultation was in-person, and he's advising us now to practice having the kids give the treats while they are standing with us as a team. They already give the dog commands and he responds well. This nipping issue seems very dependent on the dog sitting down and claiming space - almost never otherwise.

The boy is a boy. We correct his behavior, and many times the dog's aggression is not warranted - the boy is not bothering with him or acting crazy or pushing buttons. He just wanders within the 'zone' when the dog is (apparently) in the mood to set boundaries. As it is with canines, these things seem to happen instantly in the moment. We try to structure both, and the kids have a strong sense of themselves. They love nothing more than giving commands and having the dog respond and listen to them (a novel concept they cannot practice with Mom & Dad!). Assertive and controlled. It seems to be doing something for their own temperament.

The dog is much better about this business than he was when we first got him. But - tolerance for this behavior is low and must be 'nipped' in the bud.

To reiterate - they say the dog was about a year old when we rescued him. We have had him for two months.
 

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As it is with canines, these things seem to happen instantly in the moment.
This is not true. Dogs give off tons of signals before something just happens it's us silly humans that don't know how to see and read those signals and act appropriately to stop the behavior before it starts. You mentioned he fixates on the kids, that is one of your first clues that something needs to happen that moment BEFORE he moves to lip curls (another warning) and worse to nips or bites because his other signals were ignored.

The dog is uncomfortable with the boy and given your description of him, I can understand why. All the Shhts, taps and zaps are just confirming his fear that when this boy comes near him, especially when the dog is in the calm presence of Mom and Dad, bad things happen and so he must keep the boy away.

The dog and the boy need to bond and form a trusting relationship filled with mutual communication and understanding. Correcting, zapping and otherwise dominant a dog that is already unsure will not lend itself to a positive relationship - just one of conflict.

Dogs are our companions and friends - not something to be dominated and controlled.

I agree with Jean about getting a positive trainer/behaviorist on board and I would bet you will see much improvement quicker.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
When I said "dogs react in an instant" I meant that they don't necessarily carry on a 'mental debate' about their intentions. Stimulus is provided and they react. Sometimes the first reaction is to warn - at which point my question becomes "what do you do?" More troublesome are the times when the dog is not providing a warning - no fixation, no curling, totally at peace and relaxed, enjoying a rub, and SNAP - hat-drop turn and snap, or an equally quick on-the-spot decision to send a warning signal.

Positive association is fine, and even better when it works. And this is what our current trainer is advising for us right now, too. But what we really need in the immediate is a plan, a 'protocol' for managing this interaction when things are spooling up to go 'bad.'

If dog is lying down and boy is approaching ... do you send the boy away? Send the dog away? What's the best way to intervene when the dog actually announces his warning? Do you try and have the boy give him a treat in that moment (and possibly reinforce this behavior - warn kid / get treat.) Is this a dominance / territorial display? Or is it just anxiety-based? If the kid is being calm and isn't even paying attention to the dog and he starts warning from 10 foot away ...?

Treat-bombing is fine, but if the dog gives a negative reaction, what's the best reaction you can have to stabilize the situation without (unintentionally) aggravating the problem?

One problem here is that it's not like the dog is some sort of hyper-aggressive ****-hound bent on destroying all life and goodness in this world. Most of the time, these two ships pass without any trouble (which is as strong a testament to the dog's temperament as any I know). Advance prediction is difficult. Only when those curls come out do you know that there's an issue this time. If the issue was "every time" it might be easier to tackle. Most of the time, a sharp snap of the fingers or a simple Shht! ends it right there.

So that said, provide the positive associations - boy gives treat, boy walks dog, boy preps and delivers food (while making dog stand off, calm down, and wait for signal).

BUT - when boy and dog are in the same area and dog decides to warn ... what then? What's the best way to handle the situation in that moment without reinforcing bad behavior?
 

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In most cases, the dog finds a place to sit, either a favored spot or one by the wife or I. Maybe he's alone, watching us, or maybe we're petting him. In either case, when the kids near, he might fix his eyes on them. They get closer, and out comes the lip curling. In some cases, the 'zone of no entry' can be upwards of 10 feet. Other times he seems perfectly relaxed and content at zero feet, then changes his mind.
Ok, I see something here. You obtained a dog with an unknown history and in the course of two months at home, the dog has made himself at home, claims his spots (even next to you, at times), and now you have this going on. In all actuality, this is no surprise.

Crate train him in the living room on a regular schedule. Do not let him choose where to rest or sleep. Read up on a proper puppy schedule of crate, relieve, play, relieve, crate and implement that. The good news is that its only been two months. Now is the time to act, which obviously you are doing.

During play time, alternate between adult-dog play and adult-child-dog play so the dog begins to learn the difference and that both are fun. Continue doing all the other usual training and the boy feeding/treating. Make sure the dog is well exercised, too. Especially before adult-child-dog play.

Also, it is critical that you all exude a calm, pleasant demeanor without anxiety while your son is present with the dog. You have to catch yourself to make sure to aren't sending signals inadvertently to the dog that you're concerned about their interaction, therefore he should be too. They are masters at mind reading, so this is important.

I will say that direct eye contact "the death stare" or fixation is not a good sign, so it's good you caught onto that.

Oh, and when the dog is awake and resting in his crate, play with your son in the living room so the dog learns his normal sounds and becomes an expert on his behavior. Right now, it's obvious it's stressful to him.

All these things I've addressed are critical.
 

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You asked what to do if the dog is resting and your son approaches. CRATES regular crate schedule (VERY CONSISTENT!) will address that.

I will say I am not a fan of your son treating the dog on approaches. Dog upset, gets treat. Reinforced.

Much better to stick to the scheduled play sessions where the focus is on fun and training (supervised). When done, dog goes to crate FIRST, not later in after you all settle down.

It's going to take six months of a super strict crate-relieve-play-crate schedule to fix this, but barring any other unforeseen issues, it should fix the problem.
 

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BUT - when boy and dog are in the same area and dog decides to warn ... what then? What's the best way to handle the situation in that moment without reinforcing bad behavior?
HAVE THE KID BACK OFF.

If the dog is giving space-increasing signals, IN THAT MOMENT, back the kid away. You can work on CC/DS and improving the underlying mental state and communications between child and dog LATER. In that specific moment, what should you do? Defuse the situation.

This dog has been giving you warnings as best it can, and instead of having its warnings respected, it's been punished for giving them. Whoever told you to do that gave you horrible advice. If a dog is punished for giving signals, without having its underlying mental and emotional conflicts resolved, it will simply stop giving signals -- and that's when you get the bite that "came out of nowhere."

Please take a look at Jean's links. You may also want to take a look at Living with Kids and Dogs and the associated book by the same name.

I agree: this is not something that we can or should try to address via the Internet. But in my opinion if you continue down the course you are now going, you're very likely to end up with worse results.
 

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It's going to take six months of a super strict crate-relieve-play-crate schedule to fix this, but barring any other unforeseen issues, it should fix the problem.
No, it won't.

I don't normally like to be this blunt but if we're talking about a situation where a child has the potential to be seriously bitten, please allow me to be as frank as I can: this is bad advice.
 

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If dog is lying down and boy is approaching ... do you send the boy away? Send the dog away? What's the best way to intervene when the dog actually announces his warning? Do you try and have the boy give him a treat in that moment (and possibly reinforce this behavior - warn kid / get treat.) Is this a dominance / territorial display? Or is it just anxiety-based? If the kid is being calm and isn't even paying attention to the dog and he starts warning from 10 foot away ...?

Treat-bombing is fine, but if the dog gives a negative reaction, what's the best reaction you can have to stabilize the situation without (unintentionally) aggravating the problem?
You send the dog away. My best guess based on experience and the information you've given is anxiety but again, making diagnoses over the internet is never a good idea. As someone who has done a lot of fostering and had many fosters in and out of their home: two months is nothing. The dog is not settled and is still very unsure of his surroundings which is evident by the behavior you are seeing. IME, it is around the 2 month period where potentially bad behaviors start to show and it takes until 6 months for you to really know a dog new to you (especially one acquired at over a year old).

Also, Positive training does not equal "treat bombing". You don't just throw treats at the dog and hope for the best. If food is the only motivator you have at the moment then yes it should be used as reinforcement of good behavior which has to happen ALL the time and not just when things go wrong. Training should be proactive not reactive. You should be constantly telling the dog what you expect (in a fair and consistent manner) and reinforcing the good behaviors so that there is very little time for the dog to make poor choices and bad behavior to surface. Behavior that is reinforced grows stronger and behavior that is ignored (or isn't allowed to be practiced in the first place) goes away.


So that said, provide the positive associations - boy gives treat, boy walks dog, boy preps and delivers food (while making dog stand off, calm down, and wait for signal).

BUT - when boy and dog are in the same area and dog decides to warn ... what then? What's the best way to handle the situation in that moment without reinforcing bad behavior?
If the dog warns then the situation needs to change. No yelling or getting upset. In a calm manner, move the kid to safety and address the dog. The dog needs a place to be safe without worrying about anyone being in his space. Crates are wonderful for this. Dog should be rewarded for removing himself from a stressful situation but it will need to be taught first.

In order for positive associations to work - good things must happen BEFORE and during the time the dog sees the boy. If the pattern is dog sees boy, dog becomes nervous/scared/anxious/other negative emotion and then positive things happen, you won't break the cycle and risk creating negative associations with whatever your are using as a reinforcer.

All interactions with boy should be light and fun. If the dog does not enjoy training and doing commands, it is not something he should be doing with the boy because it is just adding stress to the relationship.
 

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You send the dog away.
Yeah, that works too. It doesn't matter whether it's the kid or the dog who moves away (seriously: it doesn't matter which one moves. There is no pack order woo-woo that makes a difference in this situation), as long as the distance between them is increased.

If you're more likely to be able to get the kid to listen, have the kid move. If you are sure that the dog will listen (if it has a good "go to mat" cue or something else you can use), do that. Pick whichever variable you can more reliably control.
 

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No, it won't.

I don't normally like to be this blunt but if we're talking about a situation where a child has the potential to be seriously bitten, please allow me to be as frank as I can: this is bad advice.
Indeed, it might be. I apologize.

I agree, over the Internet is tough on any situation.

I stand by the crate schedule, in addition to the other helpful hints. It's truly hard to say whether it's a "wrong dog" for the family vs "new rescue" basic issues. With the nature of the little guy, perhaps it just may be the wrong dog...

Good luck.
 

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Our dog is nipping and curling his lips at the kids - our youngest boy especially. Although I can understand the sentiments, it's a behavior we need to stop - now. The boy has already been bit twice (once to the neck, once to the face) with enough force to just break the skin. Not to be tolerated. So we need some good advice on how to handle the situation.
IMO this is not the right dog for your household or not the right household for the dog.

If my three+ yr. old child was bitten twice in a couple of months, especially to the neck and face the dog would be gone.
 

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If the dog warns then the situation needs to change. No yelling or getting upset. In a calm manner, move the kid to safety and address the dog. The dog needs a place to be safe without worrying about anyone being in his space. Crates are wonderful for this. Dog should be rewarded for removing himself from a stressful situation but it will need to be taught first.
Absolutely, and while in the crate or special room the child is not allowed to approach. That area is the dog's safe zone

The safer the dog feels the stress level will come down and you can work at expanding that safe bubble. No, it's not appropriate for a dog to growl at a child, but it's also not appropriate for the child to encroach on the dog's space.

You have to be the referee and manage both parties. The dog growling is your cue to immediately step in, the dog is telling you it's over the tolerance level.

Make sure there's appropriate down time for the dog, quiet time that he can rest in peace and not worry about being disturbed every two seconds. Again, crates are great for this.

Lots of exercise and fun obedience will strengthen the bond between you and the dog. Learn his signals and use that knowledge to prove to the dog that he doesn't have to handle problems, you will handle them for him. That builds trust and you will see the dog turn to you for help
 

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Good - it seems as though a general consensus on approach is developing.

In moments when the dog is warning we vacate the source (child) and then command the dog to move out of that spot as well. Separate to diffuse the situation, and this will NOT give the dog the sense that he's "won" a victory by forcing the child from the zone he's established, thus contributing to further negative behavior; removal of child will NOT translate to a 'pack' issue.

During other times of the day, make sure the boy is present to reward the happy nice dog with treats, engages with structured play, and participates in training exercises.

I'm less clear on the issue of crating.

The dog is comfortable with his crate and spends the night in there. Willingly enters and settles in, especially when given a treat for doing so. Are we saying that during times when the dog is in a restful state, he should also be confined to the crate and only be permitted 'out' when we're actively engaging him in some manner? Is that it?

He does not seem to 'claim' space in the sense of "this is mine - go away' but just 'this is where I am, these are the boundaries I set for some of you when I'm down, and sometimes I change the distance depending on my mood or yours' - or perhaps this is how I interpret the signals. Wife and I have no trouble invading that space and commanding him to move on out. (Slinks away very humble and submissively.)

For a rescue dog, he seems remarkably well-mannered and submissive. He's eager to learn and perform to command, and we make sure to keep him well-exercised mentally and physically. The kids love to participate, especially with commands, and the dog reacts to them much as he would to us - eager, enthusiastic, and submissive. A very different vibe during those times. He's a medium-energy animal at best and has fit in to the family well - outside of this occasional issue.

I have heard that 'new' dogs are likely to 'get their beans on' a few months after introduction to the family and house, when they've settled-in and become more comfortable and knowledgable about 'you' and the situation they're now in. At the moment, he's trending in the opposite direction. He was pretty well-behaved at the start, which made transitioning him (and us) very easy. Since then, he's become much more compliant, much more obedient, and we've become better reads for his moods and behaviors. (Rather new to the dog thing.) Negative interactions between the dog and the kids has dropped considerably.

I think our concern - and our plea for the help and experience of the collective here - is based more on the fact that we fear the potential for something bad to happen. Even if the dog and the boy interact fine 99.9% of the time, we're concerned about that 0.1% when the dog lashes out and means only to 'correct' but accidentally ends up severely breaking skin or somesuch. Fault and intent matters little - the damage is done at that point. So we need this plan of intervention to break any developing cycle and establish complete control of the situation.

Let me know if I understand this business with the crating correctly and we'll move to implement. It has the sound of a good idea, for cooling both hotheads down during a period of contention.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
And yes - the moment there's any 'noise' between the kids and the dog, Mom & Dad immediately take action. He's not a growler - hasn't done that much, mostly a fixed stare or curl of the lips.

In addition, the nips seem to be very controlled. I have seen what this dog can do to chew toys and rawhide. The force he's used against the boy is decidedly restrained.

I think the problem there is that the both of them stand at about eye level and the boy's arms are short. If he's not reaching out to try and pet the dog, the upper body becomes the mostly readily available target. Again, another reason why it's our wish to force the 'error' rate down to 0%.

And FYI, we're reluctant to send poochie packing since the boy has contributed more than his fair share to provoking many of these incidents and the dog's behavior is mostly exemplary. We honestly expected a lot worse from a rescue dog and I find it hard to imagine that you could find a better dog "straight off the shelf". Seriously - it's like he was a pre-packaged deal, trained and ready to go.

Boy comes first, but the dog deserves a chance for us to try and figure this out and redirect matters. Worth mentioning that despite these incidents, both of the kids adore the animal and feel perfectly at ease with him - especially the boy, oddly enough. He's williing to immediately go back 'in there' and interact with the dog as if nothing ever happened. 'That was a minute ago, this is now.' His confidence around the animal and his ability to assert authority over him has grown notably. If anything, he might be pushing the dog's buttons on these occasions, knowing he'll react. In which case, perhaps we should be most assertive in 'crating' the boy, too.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
One other point - the first incident was precipitated by the boy falling onto the dog (accidentally). But with the curling thing ... we could see the way the winds were blowing and brought in a professional.

The incident from last night was the first real "line-crosser." We can see that in order to avoid over-the-line events, we need to nip this in the bud, to shut down the whole lip curling / eye fixing routine, which means work on both of the animals. Boy is easier to understand and redirect, the child? Less so, but we can work on that, too.
 

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The point of the crate is to teach the dog that's his safe place to hide away

I don't correct the first growl, I investigate immediately and neutralize the problem. So if Jazzy growls at the cat for jumping on the couch while she has a treat I move the cat away but don't correct her for the growl. If she growls again after the cat is moved then I verbally correct the growl, usually a "knock it off". If she chooses to growl again then she is removed from the situation, either removed from the couch or taken to her crate with the treat. I place her and the treat in the crate but don't close the door, just leave her there to eat the treat in peace. This is my way of showing her I'm not happy with the continued growl and if she wants to continue eating the treat then she can eat it in her crate.

My dogs each have a crate, no other animal is allowed in their crate, that is theirs alone. So placing them in the crate is never punishment, it's a place to relax and sleep. They have wire crates with blankets over them and comfy beds inside, it's a true den

As you reinforce to your dog that "here is your safe place when you feel overwhelmed" then they will start to seek it out when they want peace and quiet. Lead the dog there and give a treat and leave them there with the door open, you've removed him from the situation and shown him a better place to relax

As for the child, reinforce to him that the dog has gone to "bed" while he's in the crate and needs a nap, or whatever way you want to explain to the child it's the dog's quiet time and he's not to be disturbed.
 

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IMO this is not the right dog for your household or not the right household for the dog.

If my three+ yr. old child was bitten twice in a couple of months, especially to the neck and face the dog would be gone.
I'm with Jack's Dad.

Your 3.5 year old is too unpredictable and is still too young to be expected to consistently behave in a way that will be compatible with the dog.

You can try adopting a puppy in a few years or get an adult rescue when your children are more mature. Please don't see this as a failure on yours or the dog's part, its just not a good match.
 
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