Hi everyone. I have fostered a multitude of dogs in my life, and dealt with a lot of behavioral problems--dog aggression, cat aggression, food aggression, separation anxiety, super high prey drives...I've seen it all, and I've certainly encountered my fair share of dogs who weren't safe around small children. So I feel extremely confident in saying my current 5 year-old lab mix is safe for kids. He's basically a gigantic teddy bear, and loves everyone.
However, it's always been my personal philosophy that dogs (and any other animal, really) should never be left alone with young kids, even if it's the sweetest, most mild-mannered dog in the world. The kids don't understand when they're pushing the dog past its limits, and the dog cannot reasonably be expected to put up with being harassed long after it's signaled that it would like to be left alone.
My niece has never been good with my dog. She pulls his tail, climbs on/lays on him, hits him, pulls his ears, gets in his face and yells at him, and never gives him a second to himself unless she's forced to. He is basically a saint with her, but every dog has its limits. I stay as on-top of this behavior as I can, forcing her to leave him alone when it starts to seem like too much, and locking him away in a bedroom if she won't. My brother and SIL (30/f) really just don't get it, though. I've tried to talk to them about this behavior a bunch of times, and they know it's wrong, but they think it's wrong in the same way that her refusing to share or not picking up her toys is wrong. They don't understand that it's dangerous, and that if she was left alone long enough, my dog might lose it and attack her. This has been going on for over a year, I've tried to have this conversation with my brother over and over, but he always acts like I'm criticizing his parenting. Which is not the case; I don't think my niece is especially bratty or out of control for a kid that age, it's just that this behavior is dangerous to both her and my dog, and it needs constant intervention. The same way that a small kid playing with the stove isn't especially bratty, it's just especially dangerous, and needs to be curbed ASAP. I even tried having a dog trainer friend explain this to him, and he still didn't get it.
I've tried to come up with excuses for why we can never meet at my house for our family hangouts, but I couldn't think of one the other day, and my brother and niece came over. I was cooking dinner and not paying enough attention to make sure my dog was okay (which was absolutely my fault, and I accept responsibility). I asked my brother a few times to keep her away from my dog, but he kept saying she was fine. I did move my niece away from him a few times, but I wasn't vigilant enough, and my dog ended up getting to the end of his rope and growling at my niece.
I immediately grabbed my dog and brought him into my bedroom. I did not punish him at all; frankly, I'm glad that he signaled loud and clear that he was uncomfortable. I would never want to discourage him from doing that, because then next time, he'd skip the growling and go straight to attacking. I came out of the room, ready to talk to my brother about how this is what I've been talking about. But he was furious, yelled that my dog is a menace who should be put down, and left.
I completely understood his reaction. That's his daughter, and he was afraid for her, and nothing else mattered to him. But he hasn't calmed down at all since this happened, and won't talk to me except to say my dog needs to be put down and he won't be speaking to me until it's done. He's also tried to involve our parents, who said they will absolutely not be getting involved (they know my niece's behavior with my dog has been a problem in the past). I have not heard from my SIL at all, which makes me think she might agree with me. Knowing her personality type, I don't really think she'd sit out a fight like this if she thought my dog was dangerous.
The way I see it, this is solely my fault and my brother's fault. I shouldn't have allowed my niece to harass my dog; I knew what could happen, and I was more concerned about how upset my brother got when I tried to bring it up, than I was about my niece's safety. I should've just said my niece wasn't allowed around my dog until she got a bit older, and dealt with whatever fallout there was within my family. Similarly, my brother should've kept a better eye on his kid, and not been so defensive when I tried to explain the problem. My dog, on the other hand, put up with being harassed for over a year, and when he was finally pushed to his limits, signaled very loudly (and harmlessly) that he needed to be removed from the situation. He is not dangerous, and I will not put him down.
My brother is now saying that the entire family has sided with a dog over his child, which is not the case. It's just that there are lots of other solutions to this problem. I am perfectly happy to crate my dog when they come over, or leave him in another room, or just never have them over again and hang out somewhere else. There's no reason for my niece to ever see my dog again, and I'd be happy to talk over a solution with him. It's just that he won't talk to me at all, and I don't know what to do. Should I give him more time to cool off? Should I go over to his house and try to talk? I don't want to ruin this relationship, we are very close, but I'm just not putting my dog down over this.
tl;dr After a year of warnings and my brother refusing to do anything about it, my dog got fed up and growled at my niece. Now he wants my dog put down, and won't talk to me until I do it.
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