View Full Version : Bella growls and barks at strangers and kids!

7th June 2008, 05:45 AM

My "Bella" is almost 11mos old (June 16th), we got her from a breeder when she was 8mos old, so we've had her for almost 3 months. She has adjusted very well to our home, just my husband and I, and our 3 cats. When we first met her she wasn't shy with us at all, she, along with about 5 other cavaliers (some puppies some adults), all came up to my husband and I licking our faces and just being very friendly....after awhile they all kind of wandered off..all except for Bella, she stayed right with us throughout the whole time we were visiting with the breeder....we chose her, she was such a sweetheart!!

About a month after we brought her home, we signed up for some basic training classes..she did really good, although according to the trainer who has trained cavaliers before, she is very shy, and "needs to build up her confidence".....an example of her shyness: when taking her out to the pet store or just walking in the park, if anyone would want to pet her she would pull back and pretty much hide behind me or my husband..well we've been working with her on this and she is doing much, much better! She is actually going to people sometimes, not always, but it's a definite improvement..Ok, so here's our issue now..she barks and growls at some people..this hasn't happened in the park or at the pet store, it mainly happens when we're at our home and we have visitors..she seems very uneasy around kids...my niece is 6 and she barks at her alot. We also took her with us on a trip where we stayed at a hotel and when we were checking out she was growling and barking at people:(...I'm sorry, I know this is long...We really love her and want her to be well adjusted....what is the best method for teaching her not to bark and growl? ( I did contact the breeder and she let me know that she had never been around kids, she told us to have lots of treats when she's around people/kids, not to baby her..just tell her that "she's fine" and that growling is not acceptable)....We're afraid of being too stern with her, we don't want to create a bigger problem..we want to help her build her confidence. Thanks everyone, and I'm sorry this is so long...Kristen

7th June 2008, 11:15 AM
Bella is scared. Jolly reacts the same way. He loves his human family of 4 and all our pets. But he is scared of all strangers and all children. He barks at them, because he is fearful. Jolly even went to doggy daycare 5 days a week until he was 18 months old and that didn't seem to cure his fear of new people.

Also, whenever anyone new comes to our house, 3 of my 4 cavaliers bark and carry on. But after they find out the new person is not a threat they come over to get a petting. All except Jolly. He'll inch up, after he sees the other cavaliers get petted, but then he'll quickly jump back and bark again. I usually have Jolly come stand with me, so that he knows he is safe. I usually pet him to let him know everything is OK and to get him to stop barking. I don't force him to warm up to the person.

I'll be interested to hear people's advice. Because I will be able to use it for Jolly.

14th June 2008, 10:51 AM
One thing not to do -- though it seems instinctively right -- is to pet a dog and talk encouragingly when it is hiding behind you or growling or uneasy. By doing this, you are actually confirming this behaviour as the *right* response for the dog to the situation by giving positive reinforcement (eg: if you are scared, you get attention. If you growl at people or bark, you get attention). Your dog looks to you, it's leader, for how to react to many situations. If you are indifferent the dog takes the message that whatever is causing the fear is not an issue. This is the way you deal with fear of lightening or fireworks for example and also for anything that causes fear. Consoling the dog only makes the problem worse.

Generally you want to totally ignore this kind of behaviour in some situations and in others, distract the dog and give some positive reinforcement BEFORE the reaction (fear, aggressivesness) begins so that the dog starts to associate what has made it react, with a positive experience. In other words, you reward the dog for being *indifferent* to what caused the reactions in the past, and give those things a positive association; you do NOT reward the reaction itself, by consoling or petting the dog at the time it has ALREADY reacted.

Generally this is done by using treats and praise, having a dog that knows 'look' and can quickly focus on you, not the reactive thing (dog, person, child), and gets lots of treats to keep it distracted. It is then a slow process of starting this approach when the reactive thing is far away and then gradually getting the dog so that it can be close to the reactive thing without reacting. This takes time and effort.

Many dogs are not comfortable with children especially shy dogs. If this is the case I simply don't put the dog in a situation where it has to deal with children. My boys don't mind attention from kids if I am holding them so they are level with the kids. But they generally do not like toddlers at ALL and not really hyper younger kids either. The girls love kids and are not bothered by attention. I give the dogs LOTS of praise and often give kids a treat to give the dogs.

HOWEVER: a shy dog that has started to become truly reactive -- growling at strangers and kids -- really needs to work with a good trainer. I'd go back to your original trainer who sounds like she understood these issues and see if you can get advice on how to move forward. If left unattended to you may progress to having a snapping dog. Growling is the warning before a bite and is a sign that she is really distressed in certain situations. You need to figure out why and work on that -- and that really needs a professional. To give some context -- if I were to have dog like this in rescue, I'd have it temperament tested and then home to an adult home with a strict provision that the people get help from a certified behaviouralist/trainer. :thmbsup: Or I might ask Tara to foster for a bit and work with the dog to see what she thinks. It sounds like for your cavalier, it isn't (yet) a major problem right now but is moving towards being a real problem if she has gone from being simply shy to being fear aggressive -- these are the signs of fear aggression. So it is really important IMHO to get some pro guidance.