My daughter purchased an 8 week old puppy Rottweiler from a professional breeder 2 & 1/2 years ago. During that time, she has spent considerable time training him, and socializing him around other dogs. He has been described numerous times as the best behaved dog in the park.
Last month, my daughter had a job change and was forced to drop the dog off to live with me. At that time, my daughter advised me that the dog does not like squirrels or small children (I really didn???t know what this meant). After being with the dog for a month, I found that it has no food or toy aggression. I consistently go through doors first, never step over the dog, make it walk behind me on walks, take its food away during meals, require it to sit-stay for 15 minute periods, I make it sit before I pet it, never rough play, I roll it over on it???s back and climb on top of it, holding its arms to the ground….it submits.
Now for the scary part. Yesterday I took the dog to the dog park. Inside the enclosed park there were six adults and two small children (a boy and girl). The boy was about 8 years old. I unhooked my dog from his leash and he greeted a few of the dogs. Half way across the park (70 feet), the little boy made some type of jumping movement and my dog ran straight for him. This was not they type of run you would see chasing a tennis ball???.it was the wolf going after the prey???.the dog after the man in the bite suit.
I quickly gave him the OFF command, and he stopped. I then called him over to me, put the leash back on him, and sat down on the bench???..my heart was racing. After about 5 minutes, the family with the two children started to leave the park. The little boy came walking up calmly???.I guess to say good bye (he must of felt bad that I shouted at my dog), when my dog went to the end of the leash, snarling and snapping, barking, etc. I instinctively yelled NO, jerked his pinch collar, and I am embarrassed to say, slapped him across the face as hard as I could. This stopped the growling and he dropped into a laying position as the little boy walked away.
My concern is obvious???.I can not longer trust this dog. When I go to the beach, if there are any children there, I must keep him leashed, even it the off-leash section. More importantly, if he every gets away from me, children may be at risk.
How do I address this behavior?
Thank you for your response.
Thank you for a very detailed and concise explanation of the behavior that’s worrying you – it makes it easier for me to evaluate it and try to help.
What you describe is classic ‘prey drive’ behavior. All dogs have this to some extent, but in terms of how developed it is, there can be a big variation between certain breeds and between individual dogs within one breed. Rotties do tend to be one of the breeds who have a more highly-developed ‘prey drive’ as do many other dogs bred to hunt or guard.
From what you say, this dog is extremely well behaved and that fact that he listened to your corrections (the first one a verbal correction while he was off leash) is commendable and shows that he’s been extremely well trained and respects your authority. The rest of his behavior also indicates that he has a very sound and stable temperament and no ‘alpha’ issues. All excellent news.
The main problem here is that he’s not been socialized to accept small children as ‘humans’ so he naturally sees them as prey. Young children move quickly and erratically, and they have high-pitched voices and tend to squeal and squawk. This triggers the prey drive deep in a dogs brain, and it’s an instinctive behavior not one that requires any thought or premeditation – that’s why you recognized it instantly. It’s totally reflexive.
Once this behavior is triggered the dog is in such an emotional state that unless he’s very well trained will often ignore any verbal corrections – he will literally not hear or see anything other than the ‘prey’. This is why the fact that your dog immediately responded to your voice is so encouraging.
The barking and snarling at the child afterwards isn’t the same thing, that’s why I believe he’s simply not accustomed to children being around him. That type of behavior could be fear-based as he’s not sure what the child is, or it could be defensive because he’s trying to protect you from an unknown ‘danger’, it’s not really aggressive behavior but obviously has very real dangers connected to it, of which you are well aware.
Given how well trained, temperamentally sound, and ‘biddable’ this dog is, I honestly think your best course of action is to get some professional help to socialize him with young children. I think it’s something that you will need some ‘hands-on’ assistance with as although the verbal correction and collar-check were the correct way to handle it (the slap wasn’t but I totally understand that you were startled and very concerned), if you are anxious about the whole thing your dog will pick up on that and it will make the situation worse.
A professional trainer or dog behavioral specialist will be able to evaluate and deal with his behavior in the most constructive way, and will show you what to do in that type of situation.
Until this is completed you need to be very careful about allowing him to be off leash, and be very vigilant when children are around even if he’s leashed. There are all sorts of ways to help him learn to associate children with something good and to realize that they are NOT prey, but it’s impossible for me to go into them as it would be very time consuming and it’s much better for you to see what to do, so a trainer is the next step.
I can appreciate how frightening and worrying this encounter was, but please don’t overreact and consider this dog to be dangerous or aggressive. That would be doing him a huge disservice. He’s still plenty young enough to be retrained and to learn new associations and, as intelligent and eager to please as he seems to be, it will simply take time and patience to overcome this stumbling block.
I wish you lots of luck and hope that you can get the help that he needs to make sure that this situation doesn’t happen again.