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Kid Safety Concerns with Dog lead to Family Drama... can family peace be restored?

Kids & Pets & Family Dog Drama

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I am a longtime reader of your blog and advice column! As a fellow boy-mom and special education service provider, you are so, so relevant to my interests! Glad to see your elbow is on the mend. (Anyway, hi and hugs from a friendly internet stranger.)

So here’s the situation:

My sister, who is in her late twenties had her life take a left turn a few years ago, she was living out-of-state, away from family. She made the decision to come back home and move in with her very serious long distance boyfriend. Her employer agreed to let her telecommute. They boyfriend broke up with her as she was boxing up her things. So she temporarily moved back in with my parents, worked from their couch and figured out a new plan. One thing that she did in the name of self-care was volunteer at a local animal shelter, where she fell in love with a one year old pit bull rescue. She got a new job, a new place, fell in love again and she and this dog have been on their way up ever since.

Now, this dog. He’s been through some things. He had a clear startle response that looks very aggressive. Though mostly sweet, and mild-mannered, he has a history of nipping people, growling and other anxious dog behaviors, especially men when he is nervous. He once came over the fence at a neighbor and the neighbor felt so threatened as to call animal control. My sister has done everything under the sun to work through these issues. He’s been to obedience school, a trainer has come to her house and worked one on one with him. The dog is also on a low dose of prozac.

Enter my husband. A large man who has never had a dog, and has his own issues with anxiety, which he is working on and medicated for. This dog has growled at him, bit him and once, growled at my children. From his perspective, this dog is not to be trusted and is not to be unsupervised around our children. Because I have come to this dog’s defense in previous arguments, he does not trust my ability to supervise the children (six and two) around the dog and feels that his concern is not being taken seriously. We’ve revisited this issue a few times, but this is one of his hard limits. He has asked that if my sister’s dog is somewhere, either he be around or we not attend the function.

I was able to finesse this so that it never became a conversation with my sister, and we were able to peacefully attend functions and visit family for almost a year. However, I see now that I have kicked the can down the line too far, and things have come to a head. At one weekend at the family cottage this summer, I disclosed my husband’s request to my sister, who was hurt, frustrated and defensive. This has definitely put a wedge between my sister and my husband, who have already had a tense relationship at best.

A few weeks later, at the next opportunity to gather, my sister called me while I and my boys were en route to my mother’s house to let me know she was bringing her dog. She stated that she wanted to wait to let me know until I was already on my way so that it didn’t cause a fight with my husband, who stayed home. I was frustrated and angry at the situation she put me in, but for the sake of peace and a good weekend, did not turn the car around or alert my husband or make it a big issue with her. Mistake. My not asserting the issue enabled her to assume this would be the status quo. I cannot continue to lie by omission. Further, my children are very young, are not great secret keepers and asking them to lie to their father is unacceptable.

Now, my boys and I were planning to head to my mother’s again this coming weekend. My sister was planning to visit as well. I asked her if she was bringing her dog. She said she wasn’t sure because her fiancé may be staying home and doing other things. I asked her to please let me know, because if she was, my husband would either need to change his plans and come, or we could not attend. And explosion. My sister has stated that she will always plan to bring her dog, and “I guess I’ll see you never.” My mother has stated that she is so upset with my husband that she cannot comment on the situation.

I understand that her dog is her family. I understand that boarding him is an expense. I understand that leaving him home with her fiancé will be less fun for the dog than hanging out with us all weekend. I understand that she and her fiancé would like to come together to future gatherings, and the logistics around arranging for the dog to be somewhere else are very inconvenient. Selfishly, I really look forward to having some quiet time with my mother and my sister, and my husband enjoys the quiet time when I take the boys to visit and he stays home. I understand that I can’t have everything my way, and sometimes, to respect my husband’s wishes, I will have to miss out on some events.

I am thinking that the way forward means we all have to give. My husband needs to spend some more time around this dog and perhaps learn to feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, the relationship between my husband and family is now pretty strained, which complicates this. Sometimes, my sister needs to make arrangements for her dog so that we can enjoy each other’s company without that stress. If neither of these are possible, we may need to opt out of some gatherings.

But man, this just sucks. Am I missing something? Is there a better way forward? Is someone extra in the wrong here? Help!

L

(Update from Editor: I strongly encourage you to read the comments below from our smart readers who have additional and thoughtful opinions and legitimate concerns on this topic.)

Ugh, what a mess.

This seems like a situation that has snowballed so far out of control that all players involved share part of the blame, especially since everybody is digging their heels in EXTRA MEGA HARD and refusing to even consider some kind of compromise. Probably because there WAS a time for compromise, but now everybody feels lied to/deceived/insulted/frustrated/butthurt that it’s escalated past the point of everybody just CALMING DOWN and BEING REASONABLE and TALKING TO EACH OTHER LIKE ADULTS.

You asked if someone is extra in the wrong here, and that’s honestly hard to say because mistakes were made by pretty much everybody. On the one hand, your husband is 100% not obligated to like this dog, and your husband’s concerns about the dog’s aggressive tendencies and need for attentive adult supervision are not unreasonable. THAT SAID, I very much don’t like this demand that HE ALONE can provide that attentive adult supervision and the suggestion that simply because you DO like the dog (or have defended it in the past) you can’t be trusted to protect your children? What in the what??

Also on one hand, your sister does sound like a very loving and responsible dog owner who has done everything she can to help with the dog’s aggressive tendencies. But…honey, not everybody is going to love your dog, calm down and stop taking it so personally. Just like not everybody is going to love my children, or be happy with me if I bring them to a 5-star fancy restaurant and then insist that the kitchen find a way to serve them chicken nuggets after they’ve thrown food on the floor. She should not have put you in the position of lying by omission, and she also shouldn’t be using her dog as a pawn in the weird power struggle she and your husband are now locked in. “I’m ALWAYS bringing the dog JUST to PISS HIM OFF and I guess I’ll SEE YOU NEVER” is just…frankly pretty childish. And I have to wonder if this poor dog really IS happier being dragged to all these family gatherings rather than staying home with a familiar human/the fiance, or is being unnecessarily triggered by unfamiliar people and places.

(Full disclosure to anyone having a kneejerk reaction to the fact that the dog is a pit bull. I have a rescue pittie mix myself and am a huge lover/advocate for the breed. They are wonderful, wonderful dogs and if the husband here was/is overreacting out of pure breed prejudice, I would smack him down to next Sunday. But no matter what the breed, any dog with abuse/neglect in his past and nervous behavior issues in the present is not going to be well-served by being dragged into triggering situations out of spite.)

But if the dog is going to be there, and everybody else is okay with the fact that the dog is going to be there, I do think your husband needs to quit with the insistence that HE and HE ALONE can be trusted to be the responsible adult/lone protector of your children. That’s…really kind of insulting, seeing that you are THEIR MOTHER. He obviously feels like everybody else thinks he’s overreacting to the dog’s behavior (and maybe he is in general, but he is the person who did actually get bit by the dog) and nobody is taking this four-legged threat to his children’s safety seriously, but…that’s probably anxiety talking. His children are surrounded by adults who love them at these gatherings and presumably watch them closely at all times. What does HE do, in particular, that keeps them safe that no one else is doing already, other than obsess/fixate on the dog situation the entire time?

(Second full disclosure: I also have terrible anxiety! I know me some anxiety! I have absolutely made similar mental deals with myself over triggering situations! And surprise! THEY ARE NOT ACTUALLY REASONABLE OR HELPFUL.)

You do owe him an apology (if you haven’t given him one already) by letting your sister pull you into a deceitful situation, which yeah, was 1,000% going to end with him finding out and making everything so much worse. (I get that your sister put you in a tough spot, as did he, but unfortunately  the way you handled it just further entrenched his beliefs about your judgment, so it’s best to own that one.) What SHOULD have happened, if we’re looking at 20/20 hindsight here: You should have pushed back on the “I have to be there if the dog is there because I question your judgment” rule, and insisted that yes, you are aware the dog has some behavior quirks/issues and are fully capable of both liking the dog and PROTECTING YOUR OWN CHILDREN. You also should have spoken more honestly with your sister about your husband’s fears and brought her in as an ally — i.e. “Does your trainer have any specific suggestions on how we can get them to have some successful interactions, given Fido’s mistrust of men?” — rather than “finesse” the situation.

(I bet you five bucks that an actual dog trainer would suggest something gradual and controlled [and involving lots of treats], and would absolutely NOT suggest “oh just keep bringing the dog to a ton of big family gatherings until the adult male with dog anxiety and the dog with adult male anxiety just magically get used to each other.” That’s a bad plan!!)

But what’s done is done, and honestly I DON’T know how to easily fix things, since the two people who are actually capable of fixing things don’t want anything to do with each other, and are far too entrenched in Being Right About This. I do think you can (and should) push back on your husband’s rule/belief that you can’t be trusted around both the dog and your children. Ask him what it is, exactly, that you think he does around the dog that keeps them safe and that you do not. (Be prepared to hear a justification for obsessing/fixating.) Offer to join him for a therapy session or two to work through the situation there. (I am hoping he is in therapy in addition to medication? If not, this situation is worth moving in that direction, both as a couple and him individually.) Try to make peace with your sister, explain that your husband is working through things and really didn’t intend for her to take everything so personally, but you understand now why she did, you should have spoken to her sooner, blah blah.

And then make it VERY VERY CLEAR to BOTH OF THEM that you are no longer getting put in the middle of their crap. You are no longer Switzerland here. If you believe the dog does not pose a threat to your children and that you are capable of ensuring their safety in the dog’s presence, then you are going to whatever family gathering you want to go to. If you believe your sister is being irresponsible and bringing the dog into situations she shouldn’t, then you are going to stay home. If she’s mad at your husband and he’s mad at her, they can fix their own damn relationship. If the situation continues to put strain on your marriage because of your husband’s anxiety or refusal to budge on anything, go to therapy, because that’s the relationship you CAN do something about.

And of course, continue to teach, demonstrate and reinforce how to safely interact with dogs — including familiar ones like your sister’s — with your children.

 

Photo source: Depositphotos/graphicphoto

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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 amyadvice@gmail.com.

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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Comments

  • Kerry

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the husband to expect to be included in any decisions about how much exposure his two year old, who does not live in a household with dogs and may not be particularly savvy around them, is going to have to a pit bull who occasionally bites people. It also doesn’t seem unreasonable of the husband to be worried that, if he’s not personally present, the wife’s family is going to ignore his concerns about the dog and pressure the wife into ignoring them too….evidence is pretty strong that that’s exactly what will happen.

    For what it’s worth, I grew up with dogs my whole life and worked at a vet hospital (that is to say, I do not have dog anxiety), and my biggest pet peeve is dog owners who assure me that their dog will “be fine” around my little kids. Most of the time, they don’t actually know what’s going to happen if my kid surprises the dog, gets in its face, picks up a dog toy thinking it’s a kid toy, runs across the room looking like a prey animal, gets scared, falls down…any of those things. Dogs are complicated and unpredictable and so are kids, and the margin for error isn’t nearly big enough to just throw them together and hope for the best.

    • “my biggest pet peeve is dog owners who assure me that their dog will “be fine” around my little kids.” <– THIS! We are not a dog family but my kids are generally cautiously interested in dogs. We have a neighbor with some little dogs and they always encourage the kids to come pet them and play with them because they're "great with kids!" . . . and then the dog lunges and tries to nip their hands and the kids freak out and then the dog freaks out and then the kids are terrified of all dogs for 6 months again : They're not inherently angry dogs (and they're tiny, so even my 2 year old cold easily just kick it away if necessary) but I hate that they keep trying to encourage my kids to play with dogs that CLEARLY and REPEATEDLY don't want to play with them! UGH!

      • CKD1

        I’m the opposite of that type of dog owner. We have a very cute, sweet-natured dog and people are drawn to her. Which is fine! But parents are constantly trying to get their kids who aren’t so sure or are straight-up afraid to “pet her!” or “say hi!” I am fine with that and teach the kids to let her smell a hand, don’t just lunge at her or try to grab her face, etc. IF THE KID WANTS TO ENGAGE. I don’t like seeing kids being forced to interact with dogs, and don’t want MY dog to be part of their origin story of why they hate dogs or something. A neighbor boy is clearly trying to work up the courage to pet her but for now we just say hello and I keep her on a short leash so that he feels secure in each interaction. That’s what responsible, normal people do.

  • Jennifer

    Nope. A dog who bites once is a dog who bites. The husband is not being unreasonable and the sister needs to back off and grow up. And I LOVE dogs, grew up with dogs, volunteer with dogs. But the husband (not unreasonably) feels that the dog threatens him and his children, and the letter writer’s family seems to not get that, at all, in making excuses for the sister and her dog. The sister pretty much forced the letter writer to lie to her husband and seems to want to put the letter writer in the postion of choosing the sister and her dog over her husband? For real? And the sisters’ mom thinks that’s fine? Dog needs to stay home with the sister’s fiance and the sister owes the letter writer and her husband an apology. If and only if the husband wants to should the dog get to be around the kids, either with him there or if he can learn to trust his wife (which maybe he can, notwithstanding that she lied about the dog and knowingly broke his limits previously) then with her there.
    A dog’s head and a two-year-old’s head are often around the same level, height-wise. A bite to an adult’s knee is going to land full on a toddler’s face. I wouldn’t risk that given this dog’s history and I don’t see why the husband should have to here either.

  • SL

    As the owner of three (rescue) dogs and the foster dog mom of about 12 more, I think the sister is being irresponsible, and the husband is being irrational. Sister is NOT setting dog up for success by bringing an anxious dog with a history of fear issue to large family gatherings full of (basically) strangers. It’s not fair to the dog. Leave him home. As far as husband thinking that his wife and MOTHER OF THE KIDS won’t keep them safe, that sounds like a much bigger personal issue that needs to be dealt with.

  • Ashley

    Oh my. I think Amy makes some really great points here, but I really have to side with the husband here a little more. These kids are really small and this dog dig actually BITE him—I think that was a little too glossed over. At the end of the day, it is a dog and I would be fairly livid if I had to continue to be exposed to a dog that has literally attacked me. I would be especially enraged if my kids had to be exposed to it. Add in some marital trust issues and anxiety and I can see how this has gotten totally out of hand, but I wouldn’t allow my small children to be around a dog that I know has aggression issues and has bitten me. I don’t care who was supervising–including myself. The fact that the sister (and the rest of the family) can’t see that is a little mind-blowing to me. If a dog that size attacks a two year old it would be horrific and a lot of people are being wildly irresponsible considering that poor dog has given plenty of warning signals.

  • hayesmary

    Wow. The dog “has a history of nipping people, growling and other anxious dog behaviors, especially men when he is nervous. He once came over the fence at a neighbor and the neighbor felt so threatened as to call animal control.” “This dog has growled at (the husband), bit him and once, growled at my children.” I’m going to put on my yelling pants here: THIS DOG SHOULD NOT BE AROUND YOUR CHILDREN, LETTER WRITER. YOU NEED TO STAND UP TO YOUR DIFFICULT SISTER. THIS DOG IS A THREAT TO YOUR CHILDREN. This is not the fault of the dog. Your sister has not, in fact, “done everything,” because the simplest, most effective action she could take would be to leave the dog safely at home when she visits her mother’s house. The fact that you are appending to your letter completely irrelevant information about your sister’s romantic entanglements and past difficulties suggests that your husband is correct, and you are not seeing this clearly, and that you are placing your sister’s interests above your children’s. Are you under some special obligation to tolerate an unsafe dog because sister got dumped? You’ve turned a simple equation ( this dog plus children equals danger) into a complicated quadratic mess (x squared for sister got dumped; (y+2) is sister’s hard to get along with; z = husband’s medicated anxiety). Your husband thinks that you don’t take his concerns about the dog seriously, and he’s right, you don’t. THIS DOG BIT YOUR HUSBAND. THIS DOG GROWLED AT YOUR CHILDREN. THIS DOG WENT OVER A FENCE AT A NEIGHBOR.

    • Kerry

      I missed that the dog growled at the children. That’s the dog letting you know how much it enjoys having the children around. Respect its wishes.

  • Audrey

    Fellow large dog owner (GSD) – Keeping kids away from dogs isn’t a good answer (they are everywhere and husband won’t always be there to intervene) and dragging a dog to an uncomfortable situation that triggers aggressive behavior isn’t good for anyone either. Is it possible for the husband, kids, mom, and sister to attend a dog training seminar together? Preferably in a familiar environment to the dog? I’d bet dollars to donuts that the dog isn’t being introduced to people properly, and as an owner of a large, dominant dog I can tell you that one of my biggest fears is kids running directly up to my dogs face because I know he doesn’t do well with that while he’s on a leash. That doesn’t make him a bad dog, but it does mean as his owner I need to be vigilant about keeping him out of that scenario and instructing kids how they can and cannot interact with him. A trainer worth their salt will be able to teach the entire group how to properly interact with the dog, provide some training opportunities for everyone with the dog (helps the dog to build trust), and should also be able to provide additional insight on dog body language – most of the time the cues that a dog is uncomfortable with a situation show up WELL before any incidents occur.

    • Carolyn

      This would be my reaction too, if this dog hadn’t ALREADY BITTEN THE HUSBAND. I don’t think it is reasonable to ask the husband to attend a training seminar with this dog or try to force the husband to interact with this dog. I think the sister is unreasonable in thinking that her dog, WHICH HAS BITTEN HER BROTHER-IN-LAW, has any right to interact with him or her nieces/nephews.

      I also take issue with “most of the time the cues that a dog is uncomfortable with a situation show up well before any incidents occur.” The key phrase there is “most of the time.” I would not risk my kids with this dog where an incident already HAS OCCURRED.

      • Audrey

        Carolyn – I certainly didn’t mean for you to take issue with my comment. My intent was merely to provide a possible solution. Most of the comments I read were concentrated on assigning blame, and while I can certainly understand their points (and even agree with them to some extent) the OP has made it clear in her letter that assigning blame to one person isn’t going to fix the problem. The sister isn’t willing to leave the dog at home (this would be the solution I would personally use if it were my dog). The husband isn’t willing to allow his children to be around the dog without his supervision, which I understand and agree with – his children are rightfully his top priority and this dog has not shown itself to be trustworthy in his experience. And the OP just wants to be able to visit her family in peace! To clarify, I was not suggesting that the children interact with the dog without supervision. In fact my personal policy on dogs and children is that they should never be left unsupervised, because too many things can go wrong too quickly. In my reading of the letter Husband has already agreed to be around the dog to supervise his children, which to me indicates that he is willing to continue to be around the dog. If this is not actually the case, and the husband feels uncomfortable being around the dog regardless of the circumstance then I would 100% agree with you that it would be unfair to force him to interact with the dog. Furthermore, I don’t disagree with your point that the dog doesn’t at this stage have a right to interact with any of the family members – he needs to earn that right back!

  • Anne

    I actually am going to side with the husband. If there was a dog in our family that had ALREADY BITTEN me, I would actually question everyone else’s judgement as well – no matter the breed, a dog that has these issues should not be around little kids. You never know – they are animals after all. And it’s no fault of the dogs, either. That poor thing probably has no desire to be in situations in which it feels threatened. That whole family needs to take a step back and reevaluate – why would you risk a dog bite with little kids over someone’s hurt feelings? Nope. Nope. Nope.

  • Lily

    Commenters are spot on today! Amy, you dispense great advice, and I agree that there’s a lot of interpersonal drama here that needs to be dealt with. But a dog that has bitten someone, of any breed, should never be around children. Children don’t always know how to act around dogs, or might accidentally trigger something distressing for the dog. I love dogs, but if a dog has bitten me I would never allow it near my children. Letter writer, please protect your kids!

  • cupcakemuffin

    LW, I’m sorry but I do think your perspective here is a little warped. Yes, your sister may think of her dog as family…but at the end of the day, the dog is an animal and your husband//kids are human beings…and they are human beings who have ALREADY been harmed/threatened by the animal in question. This is not in any way a statement on all dogs or all pitbulls, but it sounds like this particular dog has already demonstrated quite dangerous behavior, and training has not been entirely successful. Frankly, given your attitude in the letter, I don’t think I’d trust you to watch my kids around this dog either, because it sounds like you are way more worried about hurting your sister’s feelings than you are about the very real, genuine safety issues here. Little kid vs. large dog is a fight the little kid simply will not win, and which can lead to very serious injury in an extremely short amount of time.

    A toddler is not yet at an age where they can be 100% trained to watch for warning signs and behave “correctly” around a potentially dangerous dog with perfect obedience, and obviously the dog is not 100% trained/safe either, so this really is a recipe for potential danger, and you seem not to recognize that and you’re just acting like your husband is being irrational! Of course he is worried about the kids being in that situation!

    It seems like a reasonable compromise would be to offer to pay half the boarding cost for the dog for these family visits.

  • Jennifer

    I have a dear friend who has rescued two dogs, both with histories of abuse. These are large dogs, both easily over 75 pounds. My friend has had both in obedience classes and refreshers from the day she adopted them. She is constantly posting adorable pictures of them cuddled up with her, her husband, or their toys. These dogs love my friend and her husband. Other people–not so much, to the point that when there is a guest in the house, one of the dogs needs to be muzzled at all times and both need to be kept on short leashes. During one of my visits, the muzzled one pulled at his leash, lunged at me, and–through the muzzle–caused a long, deep bruise on my leg by knocking into me with his head/snout. The trigger? I was sitting on a chair and had reached down to tie my shoes. There was no warning growl or bark–just 0 to 60. My friend and her husband were shocked; the dog had never done something like that! But will I ever feel comfortable in their house again? No. Would I ever let my children visit their house or be around those dogs? Absolutely not. It just isn’t worth the risk. And I generally like dogs! I do not blame your husband and I think your sister needs to leave her dog at home or board it. I also think you need to re-read your letter–are you more afraid of hurting your sister’s and your mom’s feelings than you are of your kids’ accidentally getting bitten?

    I also think we are also kidding ourselves in trying to say the breed doesn’t matter. There is a difference between an aggressive teacup poodle and an aggressive pit bull with a history of biting and growling. It is doing a disservice to the dog not to recognize that.

    • Stephanie

      Not necessarily. My SIL got bitten on the face by a tiny dog (not sure of the breed) and had to have something like 4 surgeries and could barely eat. Affected her life in a huge way. I think people are naturally more wary around larger dogs but small dogs can be even more aggressive to make up for their (lack of) size and can absolutely be just as dangerous, especially to small children.

      • Angie Gaul

        I’ve known some wonderful pitbulls and had a part-Rottweiler rescue (who was a flower girl in my wedding!) for 14 wonderful years. The truth is that a pitbull is a muscular breed with strong jaws. It’s in their physiology. One of our favorite pitbull buddies at a dog beach where we used to live in Florida LOVED to swim out into the waves to fetch tossed toys. She was famous for snapping sticks and Chuck-its and plastic toys with a high “Chew-o-meter” rating when she’d swim with them, just because her jaws were so strong when she had her chin up to paddle. My mom was walking her black lab when she was bombarded by a neighbor’s dogs (a pitbull and a Rottweiler) who ran into her at a high speed and knocked her knee from the front- the way that knees don’t bend. She was hospitalized and needed surgery. We say “bombarded” and not “attacked” because if she had truly been attacked by a pitbull and a Rottweiler, especially if her dog had done anything but lay down and submit (which is what he did) she very likely would not have survived in a true attack/fight between three dogs, especially when two were muscular, fast breeds with an impact like small rockets. The fact is that physiology matters, and shit can happen. Toy breeds can be destructive too, as the previous commenter pointed out. My advice to LW is this: I get that you want to keep the peace. I get that you want to give everyone a chance to do the right thing, but there are red flags here. If one of your children were to be seriously hurt, you would never forgive yourself. The relationship between you and your husband would likely be over due to trust issues and you not respecting his boundaries. Your relationship with your sister would likely be over because you will go into mama bear mode if your kid gets hurt. Your husband will get physical with this dog if it lunges for your kid- that will suck. Your mom would be severely torn between her daughters, and honestly, this dog who has been rescued and given a chance in life? Well, dogs that bite kids get destroyed, especially dogs that already have a strike against them from animal control. Don’t put anyone in that position. No more kids with nephew-dog. It’s not safe for anyone. You wouldn’t put your kids in a crib that wasn’t safe, or a carseat that was recalled or in an accident, or in a house where the carbon monoxide detector was going off. This dog is warning you with growls and nips and startle responses. The detector is going off. Listen.

        • Caroline Bowman

          this completely. ”my sister is hurt and so is my mom”. How hurt would they be when you strangled them with your bare hands because your two year old got his face ripped off? More or less hurt? Seriously. The dog, through no fault of its own, is not a good mix with small children. It just isn’t. Prioritising sister having a tantrum over her grandchildren’s safety? Nope.

  • Stephanie

    My aunt and uncle have a puppy. Turns out that puppy has temperament issues that were not apparent when they got him, and Uncle is working hard (and investing money) to train puppy to be a safe pet. I 100% do not trust ANYONE other than Uncle to control puppy when he is around my toddler. Aunt is too permissive and even my DH and I, who love dogs and would happily play with puppy on our own, do not know puppy and his issues well enough to control him around our curious, active and unpredictable toddler. And this is WITHOUT any specific incidents of aggression towards my child. My brother cluelessly took my baby by the hand and opened the patio door to say hi to puppy without checking with me or Uncle, he is DARN LUCKY that all puppy did was lick her face but I am still angry, Uncle was angry too.
    All this to illustrate that I’m on the husband’s side here. LW tolerates her sister’s dog growling at her children and biting her husband. This is not acceptable to husband- I’m sure that he would absolutely prefer his children not be around this dog EVER and he is already compromising by saying that he will go out of his comfort zone to be around dog in order to make sure his children are safe. This bait-and-switch BS that sister is pulling is ridiculous and immature. She wants to have her cake and eat it too. Well that’s too bad. LW is putting herself in the middle where she doesn’t belong. She needs to stand with her husband and say that her family, her children’s safety and husband’s comfort, are her top priority- she should not be compromising that for any dog, let alone one who has demonstrated aggression towards her family.

  • Daisy

    If the dog has bitten someone (sounds like it has, if I’m reading correctly) then I am 100% in agreement that the dog should never be around children. This shouldn’t be a question. I know it is hard, and it feels personal, but it isn’t. Ultimatums are not good things in a marriage, but on this, I side 100% with the husband. I’d put my foot down on this as well, and I’m confused why a whole lot of other adults don’t see the issue with a dog who has bitten being around children.

    • CKD1

      Yeah, that’s the part that I find craziest, honestly. Your dog is more important than your brother-in-law and nephews? WHAT? Even the grandma/mom to OP and dog owner seems more concerned about not hurting her daughter’s feelings than her grandbabies’ safety. I’m a crazy dog person and if someone tells me “I’m not super comfortable around dogs” I don’t bring her or force interactions and the most my dog will do is try to lick you!

      • Lauren E

        I totally agree! I have a teeny 5lb Morkie and when anyone new comes to our house the first thing I ask is if they are ok with my dog. If they aren’t, we move his pen to our bedroom and shut the door. Part of being a responsible, respectful pet owner is understanding that there are many people in this world who are afraid of dogs or simply do not like them. I would never want to make someone in my home uncomfortable.

  • Kat

    So, a good friend has a 2 year old grandson. Grandson was at a different relative’s house. Grandson walked near a large rescue dog that was eating. Dog had no previous history of aggression. Dog turned and bit the child on the head. Child had to be life-flighted to a trauma center with major facial and neck wounds. Grandson nearly lost his eye and had to get over 50 stitches. The dog had to be put down. It’s not fair to either the dog or the children to expose them to situations that are dangerous to both.

  • deislily

    Can we not make the charitable assumption here that Dad is saying that he has to be the supervisor at least in part because he’s a big dude who might actually stand a chance at pulling a pitbull off of a child?? And then there’s the reality that someone who’s sanguine about a dog that’s actually dangerous (. . . which this one is; it bites people) might leave the dog unattended for a moment, and honestly, a moment is all it takes.

    When my firstborn was such a little baby that he could sit up but not move, I was lulled into complacency by a standard-poodle owner who assured me that her animal was no threat to my son. So I sat him on a playmat and went to have a discussion across the room. That jackass of a dog immediately lunged and snapped at my kid. I was lucky it only went that far, but that’s exactly the kind of thing that can happen when you’re not on your guard enough. LW’s husband will be on his guard. I’m not convinced any other family members will be.

    But honestly? The answer here is that LW’s children should not share a point in space-time with this dog until they are much much much older. This dog is aggressive. It’s not worth it.

  • EmilyG

    I’m on the husband’s side here, too. Our family dog attacked our son– it only takes a moment. She was 75 lbs and he was 3 years old. Luckily I was able to pull her off of him and he just has a few scars on his head (mainly in his hair), but I will ALWAYS live with the guilt of not rehoming her when she first snapped at him. We thought we could watch them closely enough that they would both be ok, but they weren’t. A dog who has already bitten your husband and who growls at your 2 and 6 year old children is NOT a safe animal for them to be around, period.

  • Becca

    This one legitimately scares me … I worked with a woman whose granddaughter was dragged off by a dog with known aggression issues (the child did not survive). My husband was bitten by his grandfathers dog and my MIL did nothing because she didn’t want to cause a fuss … suffice it to say I have feelings about this issue. Dogs are awesome, we’ve had dogs (right now we have been adopted by two cats😊) … but no dog who had bitten me (and growled at my kids) would -ever- be allowed near my kids. Full stop and no further discussion.

  • Maggie

    I think it’s unfair of the letter writers sister to put her dog in this situation in the first place. I have a young, but fully grown German Shepherd and he’s been known to nip. I would never want him around children, especially children of someone who is uncomfortable around dogs to begin with. Children are unpredictable and I would never want a child to be in a position to antagonize my dog. That’s a recipe for the dog to feel attacked and defensive which puts him at risk! Parents, especially if they’re already uncomfortable with dogs, are less likely to accept that their kid was antagonizing the dog and more likely to see the dog as aggressive and needing to be put down. I think it’s geberally safer for strange kids and strange dogs to not interact.

  • Maggie

    If I were the letter writer’s sister, I’d be more uncomfortable with strange children around my dog, and want to keep my dog home for his own safety and peace of mind.

  • Caroline Bowman

    Thing is… the dog has already had animal control called on it once because – incredibly – a neighbour felt all twitchy when a raging pitbull jumped a fence and came for him. Go figure. I have witnessed a pitbull tear the throat out of my labrador while she lay there and wailed. This dog was previously very friendly, great with kids and never a known problem. They, as with most other breeds of dog, are unpredictable, and are naturally somewhat aggressive and built to win fights. This particular dog has a very sad history and is obviously basically a lovely, much-loved dog, which is great.

    The dog has already bitten your husband. Has. Actually. Bitten. Him. Think about that. Think about the myriad of cases where pitbulls specifically have mauled babies and young children. I know all dogs are capable of it, but some breeds definitely are known for it. They just are. That your parents and sister refuse flatly to acknowledge that her dog is potentially a massive lawsuit and possibly a trip to A and E waiting to happen is astonishing. They must surely be aware that the dog absolutely does bite. He is triggered easily and that is not his fault at all. Your husband probably feels he has the physical strength – and that is what is needed in attack situations – to properly stop the dog, should it attack one of his young children. That is a very real prospect. Everyone else seems… relaxed about this possibility, and he may well feel they might not be as vigilant as he would be. Yes, it’s irrational to feel you, the children’s mother, wouldn’t protect her children, but you obviously don’t see the dog as a problem and he does. Maybe because he got bitten, maybe because the dog has major issues, weird, huh?

    Give it time. The dog will attack someone else and have to be put down and then the matter will be resolved. KIDDING. No, seriously, sit down with your sister and explain that you don’t want to choose at all, but prioritising bringing a dog ALL THE TIME over her relationship with her nieces and nephews, and forcing you into conflict with the father of your children is not going to end well, and you need to reach a compromise. Your parents, well, it’s hard to understand their thinking. Do they genuinely and seriously not think an anxious, medicated pitbull might ever be a small problem around loud, unpredictable little kids ever?

    Time to clear the air. Apologise for the breach of trust with your husband, work on establishing some compromises and help him be assured you won’t lie to him again on the matter.

  • Lauren E

    NO NO and NO. If the dog bites, your HUSBAND is right here. My sister’s now-husband had a dog when they were dating and sounded just like this one–aggressive with men and occasionally nips/bites–and one night the dog snapped and attacked my sister. Thankfully she was able to run and lock herself in the bathroom, but not before ending up needing 47 stitches and permanent nerve damage in her arm. I wouldn’t let my children anywhere near your sister’s dog. Your husband may be approaching it in the wrong way by seeming he doesn’t trust you, but mostly I question why you would let your children be near this dog. Your sister may treat this dog as her child, but it is an ANIMAL. And animals are unpredictable.

  • Stephanie

    Hoo, boy. What a giant mess. I’m a dog lover. We currently have three rescued greyhounds–who all have some history of mistreatment at the least, and very likely were abused (the industry is deplorable). We’ve had large dogs (60 pounds and larger) for more than 20 years. While greyhounds are generally not aggressive with people, I am very cautious and watchful of my dogs when there are young children around. Especially children who are not comfortable or familiar with dogs. You just never know what will trigger a reaction, doubly so with a rescued dog who has a history of abuse.
    If the letter writer’s sister was truly doing everything she could to help her dog, she would not take the poor thing to large family gatherings with a bunch of strange adults and children. That sounds like a very stressful situation for the dog, and one that I would not put my very gentle, calm, non-aggressive dogs in. For what it’s worth, I do not trust my dogs with smaller dogs (or other small animals, for that matter) because of their very high prey drive. They don’t always recognize small dogs as dogs and have lunged for them in the past. And while none of my dogs have shown any kind of aggression toward people, I still wouldn’t completely trust them with little kids until I had a chance to make sure they were okay, since they really haven’t been exposed to toddlers in that way.
    I am definitely siding with your husband and agreeing with other commenters, especially since the dog has actually bitten your husband, and has growled at your kids. Those are GIANT warning signs that the dog is distressed. Your sister really shouldn’t be putting you, your family and her poor dog in this kind of situation. If it’s not possible for her to board her dog at a kennel, or leave him at home with her fiance, she should stay home herself sometimes. Anything besides bringing the dog with her.

  • Annie

    I have a pit mix who we rescued and is adorable and loving with us, but also anxious and protective. She was definitely abused before we got her. We also have a one year old, who the dog tolerates and sometimes likes. We did training and bootcamp and she is on meds, but she still has outbursts and gets really stressed out, especially when she is in a new place or when there are a lot of people around. My family doesn’t have any other children or dogs, but some members have some dog anxiety in the first place. We made the decision to keep our dogs “circle” of people small because it was better for the dog.

    I completely understand your sister’s desire to bring the dog everywhere as it is a member of her family, but so is your husband and his concerns are completely fair. Dogs can sense when someone is not comfortable and that usually makes them more on edge. She is clearly a responsible owner by trying the training and working with the vet on medication, but she should also acknowledge that she doesn’t have the right to dictate whether your husband can visit your mother and shouldn’t be pot-stirring the family dynamics.

  • Bast2112

    Trazadone is great for anxious dogs. It’s great because you can give it to them 2 hours before a stressful situation and they are good for about 8 hours.

  • Tiffany

    My initial reaction is that I tend to side with the husband, too, for a few reasons:
    – Other people in this family (sister, mom) who in other circumstances could be trusted to watch the dog have had what sounds like unreasonable pro-dog reactions. So can they really be trusted to be that viligant? Are they able or willing to admit fault in the dog?

    – The writer, and her sister, haven’t always been completely honest with him. I’m not sure I could be comfortable at this point either. Lying about the dogs presence can slide to lying about its behaviour etc..

    – When it comes to kid safety, IMO either parent should have the right to say “No”, and have that respected. That’s actually my biggest issue here.

  • Kerry2

    This whole situation (and tragic stories in the comments) make me sick to my stomach. Husband is 100% in the right here. I can’t help but feel like there is some sort of weird bias (perhaps sexism?) towards the husband, both in sister and mom’s reaction and in Amy’s response to OP. This dog fucking jumped a fence to go after a neighbor, growled at the children and fucking BIT the husband. He questions OP’s ability to protect the kids. Geez, what a controlling jerk! How offensive! /s Suppose the dad was the one with questionable judgment, and did something like drive around a few times without putting the kids in their car seats. We would be “Yaaas QUEEN”-ing the mom all day if she told husband he couldn’t drive alone with the kids anymore. OP, your husband and children are more important than your sister’s feelings about her dog. Please own that.

  • K

    Wow. I’m super surprised at Amy’s stance on this. I’ve read posts from her in the past about kid and dog interactions and they’ve been much more “unsafe dog? No kids, full stop” – this sounds a lot more like “I don’t care that her husband is concerned for their childrens’ safety, and I don’t care about united front when it comes to dealing with family issues”. For what it’s worth, I agree with almost every single commenter – this dog BIT someone. It has growled at children, and has a history of nervous and unpredictable behavior that displays as aggression. DOGS ARE NOT PEOPLE. And if they WERE, would you put your children within arms length of an aggressive, unstable and unpredictable human? NOPE. I also think that telling your husband that you are taking your children into a situation that he feels uncomfortable with (BECAUSE DOG BITES AND GROWLING) is a pretty not okay move in the future. Anxiety or no, they are his children too. And to one comment (maybe he feels more comfortable being present because he would actually separate the dog and his children if need be), I totally agree. I actually think his judgement is the only sound judgement in this whole thing.

  • Leslie

    What’s missing from your letter is YOUR gut instinct about this poor dog, and I think you know what it is. I came to this column to search for advice about my sister, who has also put me in a very similar situation in the past.

    Even though I was always confident that I was a smart, independent person, several years of weekly therapy have given me the ability to recognize how I was actually NOT standing up for myself in the past, particularly in family situations. Getting to that point for yourself is life-changing. I can’t recommend good therapy enough. I would never have seen that part of myself if I hadn’t been gently led there by a good therapist, and would probably still be getting embroiled in strange family power dynamics to this day.

    My sister’s dog nearly ripped my 9 month-old’s face off while sitting on my left foot. That’s how close she was. The fact that your husband will allow your kids near your sister’s dog actually shows how much of a compromise he is willling to make. He is not digging in his heels as Amy suggests. It’s not a creepy chauvinistic thing, either. I will not let my kids be in the presence of my SIL’s two rescue dogs without me, as I know my husband and family do not share the same concern.

    Please do not let your kids near the dog, please find a therapist to help you work toward not being bullied by your family, and be grateful that your husband is a solid partner that’s looking out for your kids’ safety as best he can.