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When There's a Ferocious Fido in the Family

When There’s a Ferocious Fido in the Family

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

Hi! Remember me? I’m the one who had an epic meltdown over tacos? Happily, my cranky baby is now a not so cranky toddler. Turns out he had a milk allergy so I cut out dairy in my diet and went to a 50/50 combo of breastfeeding and soy formula. Now he’s even able to eat cheese and yogurt (straight milk is still a no-no).

Anyway, I write to you having exited the sleep-deprived, hormonal rollercoaster I’d been on. Now I find myself in a situation where I am questioning my instincts and sanity.

I now have a 1 year old toddler, a 10 year old and a 12 year old. My brother and his wife have a 6 month old plus a 120-pound Rottweiler who thinks he’s still a tiny puppy. Up until about a month ago, the dog just annoyed me because he galumphed around being his clumsy self. He’s knocked over my little one, and my not so little ones too. He was just a big, goofy dog. But then, he growled at my 10 year old son who had come up to scratch behind his ears. A couple hours later, it happened again. Having two elderly terriers at home, my son is very respectful and gentle around dogs so I know he wasn’t roughing Fido up. I told my children that I didn’t want them roughhousing with the dog anymore. I told my brother but didn’t make a big deal about it because I did worry I was over reacting.

Yeah. Then 2 weeks later at a picnic, a 6 year old who was visiting came up to hug the dog and Fido snarled and BIT him in the ear/neck. The boy needed a few stitches. IN. HIS. NECK. My brother swore up and down that they were getting rid of the dog as soon as they got home. That didn’t happen. To make matters worse, a few days ago at dinner when I asked about the situation, they were talking about how he’s such a good dog. As an example, my brother told us about watching this dog just lay there while his 6-month old baby grabbed the dog’s lips and pulled his ears just that morning.

I thought my mom was going to have a heart attack. We had no idea they were still letting Fido around the baby. Their little guy is one epiphany away from grabbing ahold of everything and anything to pull himself up (including a big giant dog who, apparently, is a bit bitey).

Anyway, probably out of fear for their grandson’s life, my mom and dad took the dog to their house. My brother and SIL now seem to think the problem is solved, but I am pissed concerned. I don’t want my children around that dog at all. EVER. I’m relieved that the dog won’t be around my nephew as much, but my kids will end up being around this dog twice as much now! Not to mention, the family whose child was bit typically come every year and visit for 2 weeks and stay with my parents.

My kids love to go to their grandparents’ to spend the night and now I’m really not sure I can let that happen if they keep the dog. I’m worried that my Dad won’t take this as seriously as I do and the dog will end up loose around my children. I frankly just don’t understand why everyone is so determined to keep this dog around. Am I being unreasonable here? Years ago when the same little brother was 19, he stepped between two of my dogs fighting (20 pound terriers). He got bit and my father was adamant that “That dog bit my son, she needs to go.” I kind of feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone right now because that was an unacceptable situation, but a 120 lb. dog vs a 6 year old boy is forgivable?

Do I stick to my guns and tell them if the dog is around, your grandkids won’t be? That seems harsh especially since I feel like my mom only agreed to take the dog to protect her grandbaby. Do I tell my brother to snap out of it, wake up, and deal with this problem the right way instead of pawning it off on our parents (the dog would probably be a good pet for a non-kid household)? Do I suck it up and accept that this dog isn’t going anywhere and I’ll just need to be hyper-vigilant any time we visit (which is often since they live only 10 minutes away)? Am I having another taco-sized overreaction?

You are not overreacting. Do not let your children near that dog. Put your foot down and keep it down. Good Lord. This is a tragedy just waiting to happen — another (!!!) seriously injured child and a dog with no place to go but the pound for destruction. And since BOTH of those outcomes can SO EASILY be avoided at this point, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills while reading about your brother’s and parents’ reaction and “solution” to the problem.

Okay, we’ll take the dog away from the first lousy owners who 1) didn’t train their dog properly in the first place, most likely, 2) ignored warning signs that the dog was aggressive around children, 3) took the dog to a picnic that was presumably full of children, 4) refused to do a damn thing after the dog BIT A CHILD’S NECK, and finally 5) remain astoundingly, perhaps purposely obtuse about the potential danger this dog poses to children in general, and IN PARTICULAR THEIR OWN INFANT.

But now the dog is with a second set of owners who…well…it doesn’t really sound like they’re any better. Have they hired a trainer? Talked to any canine behavior experts about the dog’s aggression? Put up “Beware of Dog” signs and taken proper steps to ensure that he can’t get out of the yard or pose any danger to neighborhood children or their own household visitors? What is going on in their minds here, if they are able to recognize that the dog doesn’t belong around the six month old, but don’t seem to grasp that also means your one year old can’t/shouldn’t visit either?

Yes, Rotties can be wonderful, loyal and loving dogs, and maybe Fido would never, ever attack a baby he perceives as “his.” But evidence suggests that YOUR children do not fall into that category, and that his reactions to children are growing less predictable by the day.

This dog needs help from people who know what they’re doing if he has any hope of rehoming. Go online and research Rottweiler rescue or foster organizations in your area.  (If he bites again, his chances go down, and could put him at risk for mandatory euthanasia, depending on if the first bite was reported and your local laws are.) Point out to your brother and parents that having the dog with the grandparents is NOT a viable, long-term solution for all the reasons you listed: Your kids want to visit Grandma and Grandpa and can’t now, because they’re scared of Fido and you don’t trust Fido, the child who was BIT IN THE NECK will be coming to visit and probably won’t want the dog that BIT HIM IN THE NECK galumphing around the house like a big furry land mine. Not to mention the behavior seems to be escalating fairly quickly, going by the timeline you’ve described. (Is the dog fixed? Please tell me somebody at least got the dog fixed.)

When I was 17, I was attacked by my then-boyfriend’s dog. I’d met and interacted with the dog dozens of times. I was a little nervous around him at first (he was a BIG German Shepherd), and had been repeatedly assured by the family that the dog was a big old teddy bear and was even made to feel silly over my initial nervousness/caution.

They never mentioned the two people the dog had bitten in misguided attempts to “protect” family members, and didn’t warn me about the dog’s “triggers.” Don’t run towards one of his people when he’s off-leash, and don’t just walk into the family home unaccompanied.

That last one was what happened. My boyfriend was inside getting something; I was waiting for him outside in the car and realized I needed to pee. I heard the dog barking, so I called his name and announced myself, but within seconds of opening the door his jaws locked on my thigh and he brought me down to the floor in one quick, horrible, painful motion.

After what felt like eternity but was probably more like 30 seconds of biting and growling, he recognized me and THANKFULLY, released me and backed off. The damage was done (my thigh looked like hamburger meat) but he didn’t attack my face or neck or inflict any serious damage beyond a lot of scarring.

I was lucky; other dogs and breeds attack and simply don’t stop mid-way through because they realize they’re attacking someone they know — or a defenseless child.

Now stand up and estimate the height of your thigh, and then look at the height of your toddler. It’s. Not. Worth. It.

My injuries could have been prevented if the family had just been honest with me about the dog’s behavior. (Then again, I was a young adult who knew how to follow directions. The same isn’t true for small babies and children.) Your family needs to be honest about this dog as well, and that he really, really needs to be relocated to a kid (and grandkid) free household.  And it sounds like you’re the only one willing to push the issue. Go ahead and push. This is definitely more important than tacos.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Caroline
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Caroline

I’m going cold, thinking of the possibilities. First. Your children never, ever go to that home unaccompanied, regardless of what promises might be made re Fido being locked up. Dogs escape. Then you ask your brother and sister in law for an adults-only supper and you explain very carefully what they need to do. You don’t brook any argument. You haul out pics of children after dog attacks and then you tell them – and absolutely mean – that if anything happens and you hear of it, you will not only report them but make it known that the dog… Read more »

Cheryl S.
Guest
Cheryl S.

I agree with Amy. Stand your ground on this one. It’s sad that your brother did not immediately rehome the dog after he bit a child hard enough to need stitches. I have a German Shepherd. Luckily, he’s great around kids (he will try to lick you to death, but not biting) BUT if he bit someone, he’d be gone. We’d all be sad, but that is not something you EVER put up with. PERIOD. The dog has shown agression toward your children and has bitten a stranger. That is not a dog that should ever be around kids.

Gottabe Anonymous
Guest
Gottabe Anonymous

I can’t comment under my own name right now, because this is still a touchy issue in my family. People are freaking INSANE about dogs – and I say this as a dog person.  INSANE. My mother’s miniature breed dog bit my then-toddler’s arm, and it caused no end of stress in our relationship until the stupid evil dog (who had a history of biting dozens of people) died.  My mother refused to have him put down.  I put my foot down and demanded that if we were in the house, he would either be crated or in a muzzle,… Read more »

mia
Guest
mia

hey amy, i like your stuff, but i need to go against the grain on this one. first, google ‘dogs and kids’. _any_ page will do, they all say the same thing about setting rules about how kids are supposed to act around animals and how the owner needs to enforce these rules. a dog is just a dog, not a stuffed animal to put up with everything and, like the rest of us, has limits. he doesn’t need to put up with kid antics if he doesn’t want to. it is up to the owner, in this case the… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

I’m not sure why you think you would get flamed for your comment. You are actually saying the same thing as Amy. It absolutely IS the owner’s responsibility, but the OP is dealing with some VERY BAD owners. Therefore, she cannot rely on them to do the due dilligence with the dog that they are SUPPOSED to do. You are absolutely right. We have a German Shephard and we watch her closely with new children. They are only allowed to interact with close supervision and we explain what is acceptable behavior with the dog and what is not. We also… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Admin

+1
Thank you, MR. Well said.

Hillary
Guest
Hillary

I’m also not sure you’re going against the grain here – you seem to have misread Amy’s reply where she by no means insists the dog is evil and must be put down. She is saying this situation isn’t safe. The dog needs to be with owners who understand his triggers and can manage him so that he is not a risk to humans. This family – his original owners and now the grandparents, are inadequate owners for a dog who clearly has some fear aggression going on (if it were outright aggression that kid with a neck bite would… Read more »

Annie
Guest
Annie

When I was a kid, my parents immediately put my dog down after he bit a kid on the hand. It was a child we knew well, and an aggressive bite that surprised us all. My dog was a small Maltese mix. I was nine at the time, and it was sad, but I totally understood. A child’s safety is far, far more important than a dog, even when it’s a beloved pet. I completely agree with Amy: Do not let your children go to a house where that dog will be. If this were my dog, and I had… Read more »

Jillian
Guest

Just more solidarity here. In a perfect world this clearly loved dog will be able to be re-trained to live happily in a child-free environment. But there is absolutely no amount of training or accommodation that will make him adequately safe to be around children. You sound worried you’re over reacting. I’m kind of on the free-range side of things and I regularly let my kids (using all the right dog manners) introduce themselves to strange dogs. I would under no circumstances allow my children to be in the same home as the dog you’re describing. Not with a whole… Read more »

Cait B.
Guest
Cait B.

Amalah is 100% right, this dog needs training ASAP to figure out what is going on. It could be a lot of things but hopefully is just a training issue, but just in case please get him to someone who is *very* experienced with training dogs. I say this because my mom is one of those people, she is a dog whisperer and people often bring her their dogs for training of both the dogs and the humans (humans need as much training of the dog)  I do hope that it is only a training issue, and I hope the… Read more »

Daisy
Guest

There are also legal implications here. The dog has bitten once – and if it hasn’t already happened the insurance of the child that got stitches is probably going to be seeking the money back from the dog’s owners/their insurance. Now that the dog is a known biter, if anything happens again, most likely all financial/legal implications lay squarely on the feet of the owner.

Paige
Guest
Paige

Yeah, I’m with Amy. Not worth it. It’s not even enough to separate them. Kids can open doors, especially little ones who don’t really follow directions to stay away from the dog.

I’m posting this link to something that happened in my hometown because I think it will help the OP have a conversation with her parents, but please, it involves the death of a child and, SERIOUS TRIGGER WARNING: http://abc7news.com/archive/7569456/

Jen
Guest
Jen

You are 100% not overreacting.  We’re “rescue the adorable pit bull from the pound” types, and my toddler son loves to play with new doggies.  But that type of behavior would result in our adorable puppy being immediately (like directly from the picnic immediately) brought to a rescue organization that could handle the issue.  A dog that is escalating to biting children needs to be re-homed ASAP to a home with either no children or much older children.  The fact that your brother didn’t immediately do that for the dog’s own well being is a huge red flag.

Cassie
Guest
Cassie

Wow. I agree wih Amy. I really really understand hanging on to dogs. I’m a dog freak. I have an 80 pound mutt who’s about 8, and has bit someone. A nip on a fully grown adult when my dad was watching him, so I really have no idea what happened. He is a complete baby sweetheart with me, my husband, my other dog, my cat, people he’s familiar with. But he doesn’t meet children now (even though he had a fine history with kids petting him on walks). He gives one growl and he’s in the bedroom for the… Read more »

tami
Guest
tami

Agree with Amy. Can the dog be rehabilitated? Perhaps. But there are two options find a rescue who is dedicated to doing this type of thing or destruction. I am an animal lover – have always been will always be – however the safety of people comes first. Always. And dogs that bite kids are not accepted by rescues as a rule – for the very real liabilities mentioned by other commenters. He is labeled – known biter of children.

Molly
Guest
Molly

There’s a way to flip the script on this story, one I use when people tell me I’m being overly cautious when my toddler is around unfamiliar dogs: It’s for the dog’s protection to keep him away from children. If that dog bites another kid, that’s the end of the dog. Putting Fido in situations where he is at risk of harming a kid is not a loving thing to do to him. If they loved Fido, they’d work hard to prevent him from becoming another murderous statistic. They’re clearly not doing that, and FOR THE DOG’S SAKE, they need… Read more »

EmilyHG
Guest
EmilyHG

Our dog bit our son– she actually kind of chewed on the top of his head– and that was her last day in our house. We ended up boarding her with a sympathetic dog trainer who helped us find a great child-free home for her to go to. The new owners were given her full history and agreed to never let her be around children. They love her and everyone is doing really well now. You CANNOT let your child be around this dog. Please do not let your child be around this dog. My son has scars on his… Read more »

K
Guest
K

EmilyHG – that’s really hard to admit (that your own dog caused harm to your child), but also a really powerful story about how a good owner handles a dog, even a beloved family pet. Dogs are animals. They can be unpredictable, especially around children (who are often unpredictable themselves!). For the older children around this dog, the brother in this story is setting a horrible example. By choosing to keep this dog around (even housing it at grandma and grandpa’s, where it sounds like children regularly are), he’s telling his children and his family that “keeping” this pet is… Read more »

Amanda
Guest
Amanda

I agree with everything that’s been said here, except the rehoming part. In this case, I think the safest (and kindest) thing to do is to have the dog peacefully euthanized. And I say this as a longtime rescue volunteer. We are absolutely inundated with basically perfect dogs needing homes. Why would anyone adopt a dog with a bite history when there are literally millions of dogs available for adoption that have done nothing wrong? With our pet overpopulation problem there are currently twice as many dogs as there are available homes. Think about that for a minute. Even if… Read more »

April_S
Guest
April_S

I agree with you, the most reasonable solution would be to put him down. Especially with the over population of animal shelters. However, it doesn’t sound as though the dog owners or grandparents would be willing to let that happen. If the LW can get the dog re-homed, it would be an improvement for their family as well as the dog.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I see your perspective, but I could never take such a hard line. It’s my experience that even a “perfect” dog will bite if the situation is right. My parents’ dog (a lab/husky/spaniel mix) growing up was ineffably sweet, inalterably calm, patient, loving, the whole nine. Like Nana in Peter Pan but less protective and more mellow. Even he bit a child (my cousin–and only because my cousin bit him first). Never repeated anything even close to that behavior–never even growled at anyone else, to my knowledge, in the rest of his long, long life. My dog now (30 lb… Read more »

S
Guest
S

I totally empathize with your situation. We are in the same one. My in laws have a dog that has bitten their grand kids and tried to bite my baby. The baby did not provoke the dog, he was sitting on my mother in laws lap. i grabbed the baby and almost got bitten myself. The dog is my mother in laws baby. She calls it that. But after that incident my husband put his foot down which he never does with them. The children are never in their house without parental supervision, the dog is in the cage the… Read more »

April_S
Guest
April_S

I agree w Amy. Also, it might help resolve the situation & find the dog a new home if the LW looks up the resources that the dog owners need. Compile a list of phone numbers, websites, and email addresses that might help them find the dog a new home.  Start with your local dog rescue or animal shelter, talk to a specialist. There are also Facebook groups for this type of thing.  Start the leg work for them to get the ball rolling (I don’t think this ought to be the LWs responsibility, it’ll just help move the situation… Read more »

Feisty Harriet
Guest

When I was 5 I got bit my the neighbor’s cocker spaniel, he jumped up and bit me square in the face, I’ve got (tiny, only noticeable to me) scars right under my eyes and his teeth also went through my bottom lip which has left a solid scar that only 6 stitches can leave. It was a family dog, we were sledding, lots of kids around, but my neighbors put it down immediately and paid my parents for my medical bills. Dogs cannot be allowed to bite kids, and if they do there need to be some serious and… Read more »

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

These people need more training than the poor dog. A dog looks to its leader to protect it (amongst other things) This dog has learned that its leader will not. So it feels like it has to act and make decisions on its own. This is dangerous. The situation you describe in which the dog bit the child is textbook if you know canine body language and behavior. Here is this non pack member child ‘hugging’ the dog. Only to the dog this is not a hug but an aggressive move to show dominance. Think of a dog “t-ing off”… Read more »

Carolina
Guest
Carolina

Petting a dog on the ears is NOT “abuse.” A dog that thinks it is should not be around children. Full stop. One should certainly teach children to be kind and respectful to dogs, but the penalty for a kid forgetting (and kids forget all the time) shouldn’t be maiming or death. I have three dogs and they would never think about growling or biting for being stroked on the ears.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I agree with you that the situation, as described, seemed ripe for a bite, and it’s nothing that I would have done with a dog I don’t know or wasn’t able to read in the moment. The problem, of course, is that small children can’t read dog body language and interact with them on that level. (And their small stature can exacerbate the problem.) And even older children who know good manners when it comes to unfamiliar dogs may not have the deeper knowledge (like reaching from above being more threatening than reaching from below) that can be necessary for… Read more »

Kay
Guest
Kay

Please, please take NO chances with your children and this dog. You are not overreacting. I was attacked by a black Lab when I was a young child, a dog its family insisted “loved kids” and let it off the leash. In actuality the dog had a history of nipping neighborhood kids, and I can tell you that there was a collective feeling of guilt after my attack among people who knew the dog was dangerous but did nothing because they didn’t want to offend this family, their friends. Obviously I lived but it could have ended very differently. Remind… Read more »

Leslie
Guest
Leslie

My sister’s dog nearly bit my 9 month-old’s face off while I was within a foot of both of them. Completely unprovoked and out of the blue. Do not let your children near the dog even WITH supervision. Do not attempt a conversation. Do not let your children be on the same property with it unless you can be there to visibly see that it is truly in a secure place. You will have to endure obnoxious comments and constant pushing of boundaries, but it’s easy to shrug all that off when your answer is just NO. I absolutely love… Read more »

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

I feel nauseated just thinking of someone letting their baby climb on a dog. So irresponsible, and in my opinion bordering on criminal negligence. I have yet another story to add to the already-long list. A friend’s dog (little and very sweet) bit a neighbor kid on the hand, but sadly my friend chose to deny that it could happen again. Thanks to her ignorance, her own son was eventually bitten on the face and now has to spend a lifetime with those scars. The dog was put to sleep, so look where her denial brought her. Good for you,… Read more »

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

*nephew when others won’t. You should raise hell.

SarahB
Guest
SarahB

At any point, has anyone called animal control about the first child being bitten?

I think the OP might make an initial call to describe the situation and see what they recommend.

At the family level, tell your parents you won’t be visiting their home so long as the dog stays there. Relay any information you learned from the call to animal control (for instance, about their personal liability should anyone get hurt). Tell them you feel for the dog, but that it is just too much of a risk to have around children.

Michelle Thomas
Guest
Michelle Thomas

As a mother I know that there is no place for aggressive dogs that bite children. You brother and his wife do not seem like the type of people who can dedicate their each and every day to containing and controlling that dog 100%. It takes the right house, the right people, and the right trainer. Said digs cannot be taken in by rescues, and are lucky to find that perfect house out in the country with someone who does’t get any visitors, or will kennel the dog when they do.  I have buried a dog that I loved because… Read more »

Ali303
Guest

As sad as it is to write, we put down our Rhodesian after she tried to attack our then 2YO daughter. Our child’s safety did, and always will, come first. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the responsible one.  I agree wholeheartedly with Amy’s advice, and with other contributor’s: everything from your family’s personal liability to your child’s safety to reminding your father about the terrier. There is no grey area here. This is a dog who *has bitten* a child. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t seem that the adults in your family (other than yourself) are responding… Read more »

Kate F
Guest
Kate F

I come rely agree with everyone, and as long as we are talking dog attacks, thought I’d share this nugget I learned recently: Apparently when a dog is attaching, you should cover its eyes with cloth. It will get disoriented and release its target. (Pulling the dog off the victim, while a natural instinct, tends to major everything worse.)

I don’t know if it’s true, but it seems like important info.

Blargh
Guest
Blargh

You know what?  That dog has told his owners many times that he’s not comfortable around children.  That’s why he growled.  He growled and growled, and his statements were ignored.  Then finally it was one child too much and he bit, because he had been ignored every other time he politely (in the dog world) told his people that he wasn’t comfortable.   That dog actually had a lot of restraint for something that bothered him so much.  It’s not his fault that his owners were dumbasses and ignored it.  I just realized that this article was written months ago… Read more »