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The Children And Canine Catastrophe

Well, it’s not quite a catastrophe.

My SIL and I don’t get on. We’re very different people. Recently she invited me over to afternoon tea, which I took as a kind olive branch, so I accepted. My two children, DS (almost 3) and DD (18 months) came too, because I’m their primary caregiver and it was a weekday. SIL does not have children and DS and DD are her only niece and nephew.

SIL and her husband recently acquired a German Shepherd puppy, which is lovely for them. They are dog people and it’s their first fur-baby so it’s a nice milestone for them. I’m not a dog person, but I’m happy for them anyway.

When I arrived at SIL’s house, Puppy excitedly jumped on DS. SIL pulled him away but this was the start of a cycle of Puppy jumps, DS and DD freak out and need comforting, SIL holds Puppy away, the children calm down, Puppy calms down but within 10 seconds, she’s is jumping on one of my children again. This happened 4-5 times before I said, “Can you please put Puppy away?” By this stage, I was actually quite surprised that SIL was just letting this cycle continue! Didn’t she see that my children were scared? Didn’t see understand that Puppy wasn’t going to magically stop jumping on my children!? As a guest to her house, with our current dynamic, I felt quite uncomfortable asking her to do something with Puppy. She put Puppy away but grumbled about how Puppy won’t like it. I wonder how long it would have continued before she realized that she should have done something about Puppy earlier! Not being experienced with dogs, I don’t know how else to have handled it. She was trying to tell DS to just tell Puppy “stop!” and push her away. HE’S TWO!! Puppy is the same size as DS. I had two scared children on my lap and was trying to push Puppy away and say “stop!” to keep her from jumping on us and then SIL would pull Puppy away! I would have felt better about just leaving, but I was making an effort at positive family dynamics. Once Puppy was in her crate, we had a nice time.

So now my children are scared of all dogs, even dogs they’ve previously been very happy to be around. This has been 2 weeks and they’re still quite scared. I’m doing what I can to reassure them and protect them when applicable.

So my question is this: what now with SIL? I think it’s obvious that I can’t bring the children around again, not until Puppy is grown up and fully obedient and trained. I don’t want to make my children’s fear any worse! But I would like to say something without attacking her and her dog-rearing skills. Please guide me on a polite spine when it comes to dogs and children!  1027-16

And the next day the OP wrote and sent in this second email….

I know it’s only been a day, but last night resulted in more conflict. I initially wrote in because I was apprehensive about a family dinner at BIL’s house (brother to DH and SIL). He is a single man and had invited the whole family over for dinner. I anticipated that SIL and her DH would bring Puppy. I expressed such trepidation to my DH, but he didn’t think it likely. So I worried about it. My fears were founded though, because lo and behold, they brought Puppy!!

Once we arrived, I asked BIL if they were coming and bringing Puppy, he said they were, but Puppy would be outside in the small courtyard. As soon as SIL arrived, Puppy tried jumping on DS. Puppy was set up outside with food and water. But soon after came inside on a leash. SIL walked her around the house and followed wherever she went. Soon after that, Puppy came OFF the leash. And tried to jump up on DS AGAIN! DS ran past DH who blocked Puppy, said “NO!” loudly and had to pin Puppy between his legs to keep her from chasing DS (DH was holding something, I cannot remember what). SIL was close by, but wasn’t looking at Puppy, so she chided DH for yelling at Puppy. DH replied that Puppy tried to jump. SIL defended Puppy saying, “She’s only a Puppy,” to which I replied, “…And DS’s only TWO!” which shut it down a bit.

At one point in the evening, Puppy was put outside again and DS went to go look at her (with the safety of a glass sliding door separating them). I didn’t want DS to make Puppy excited, so I called him to back and to leave Puppy alone. I felt it a courtesy towards SIL and Puppy so that Puppy wouldn’t get distressed being outside. But SIL said it was fine and encouraged him to go look at Puppy, so I let DS go to the door. Lo and behold, Puppy gets excited and is let in again to calm her down.Â

At various times in the evening, our concerns were dismissed, belittled and DS and DD’s fear ignored:

* Puppy played with a 2-year-old at a dog park the other day and that went fine (the subtext being that DS is the problem)
*  Puppy running away from an old, slow remote control car was compared to DS’s fear of Puppy (look, they both run away, never mind that DS can’t actually outrun Puppy)
*  No one else stood up to SIL and her DH to take Puppy outside or keep her more controlled. (all together at the dinner was me, DH, DD, DS, SIL and her DH, BIL, other SIL, MIL and FIL: all my husband’s immediate family, partners and children)

I left the dinner SO angry. DH is equally as concerned for future interactions and is much more sympathetic to my concerns given he’s now witnessed SIL’s lack of care and consideration for our children for himself. We won’t be going to family events that Puppy is also invited to, or maybe DH will go by himself. If it happens that we’re at the same event, we will leave immediately because we just don’t trust SIL and her DH with Puppy. DH will have a talk to SIL about our concerns for DS’s safety around Puppy.

DH is a passive, compliant sort of person, and around his family I try to take his lead, which means I’m not as assertive or forceful as I would otherwise be. SIL and I are both very strong, but different personalities which means we’re likely to clash on a variety of topics, extra reason for me to take my lead from DH for the sake of peace. But my children’s safety is not something I’m willing to be compliant on. I’m just glad DH sees it the same way. 1028-16


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Huh November 8, 2016, 9:30 am

    Sorry but SIL is a terrible dog owner. I’ve grown up all my life with dogs, all my family has dogs, I have a dog and she’s going to have trouble with this dog and it’s going to end up like the rehomed one my family member took in at a year old that was never quite right, even with the large amounts of training my family member took it to.

    The first thing we did with any of the puppies is teach it that it is lower in the pack than, well everyone, but ESPECIALLY any children that it will be interacting with regularly. The minute it jumped on the kid, the Alpha (SIL) needed to make it clear that was a NO. You do not want the large German Shepherd to believe it is higher in the pack than the toddler.

    It has always been a rule in any of my family’s homes, that when small children come over, the dogs are sent outside or to another room. And largely we have small dogs. But babies/toddlers/young kids not around dogs alot come over, away they go. We let them out to see them under our supervision only. And these are dogs that have been trained to be low in the pack!

    If in OP’s story, SIL corrected the puppy then I’d say she’s overreacting. But yelling at her brother for yelling at the dog and saying “It’s only a puppy” when it misbehaves, no. Bad pet owner.

    • AJ November 13, 2016, 8:32 pm


      We have taken over a dog that wasn’t ‘mistreated’ he was just never ‘treated’ and now, even with all our training, from the belated age of 5, we still can not guarantee that he won’t jump, hover (stands up on his rear feet beside the person of the minute) or become ‘possessive’, not aggressive as such, just that he won’t allow even your partner to sit next to you, only my partner or I.

      I was lucky enough to grow up with a rather large breed of puppy and he was trained from only months old to sit at our families feet/heels when in groups, he would put up with the little people in the family practically using him as a pillow/bed or chew/drool toy without complaint (honestly, the big old teddy-bear loved it)

      If they don’t train their fur-baby, they are going to cause the poor thing a lifetime of confusion and resentment as it just won’t know what it has done wrong this time… they are being awful awful fur-parents.

  • Dana November 8, 2016, 10:31 am

    When I was about 8, my siblings and I were playing with a “family friendly dog” for most of the afternoon. When the dog’s owner came home, driving his truck, the dog ran after the truck. I happened to be the way. It was only because I had on sweatpants and thick socks that saved my leg from getting bitten off. It was only because the owner jumped from his truck and pulled his dog off of me that the dog did not go for my throat. Since then, I’m terrified of dogs. I don’t care how little they are, how “friendly” they are, I still remember that “friendly” dog that turned on me.

  • Goldie November 8, 2016, 10:31 am

    I love dogs, but only had one so far. He was a family member, loved by all, and is greatly missed by all of us now that we lost him to congenital heart disease last year when he was close to ten years old. Of course we trained him not to jump on people when he was a puppy! A short leash while passing people on a walk and a strict “be nice”, followed by praise for being a good nice dog, was something he understood really well. And he was a rather scatterbrained Sheltie from a puppy mill, not a highly trainable breed like GSD. Puppy needs SIL’s control and leadership. Otherwise, one day Puppy will jump on the wrong kid and SIL (and possibly Puppy as well, which would be awful) will be in no end of trouble.

    As an aside, my boys were in their preteen/early teen years when we got our dog, and I was astonished at how easy it was to train a dog, compared to raising human kids. He thrived on leadership, a firm hand, and knowing that his humans are in control. Why SIL refuses to be a pack leader to Puppy is beyond me. Puppy would be a much happier dog if her humans took the effort to show her they’re the ones in charge.

    • Lomita Momcat November 8, 2016, 4:02 pm

      My experience is that people who don’t understand dog behavior think it’s mean to be the pack leader, and prefer to think of their relationship with the dog in terms of human friendship. What they’re missing is that dogs don’t think the way people do about social interactions; dogs need to know their place in a social hierarchy, and if the cues and feedback they’re getting from the owner tell the dog the human doesn’t want the alpha position, the dog is going to grab it, because that’s how their psychology works.

      Also true: dogs vary greatly in their degree of “alpha imperative.” Some dogs are highly alpha, and this kind of dog is going to be constantly “pushing the envelope” in his behavior and interactions. Some dogs aren’t strongly alpha, they’re more placid and easygoing, and happy to accept a place in the “pack” where they’re a follower.

      If the human owner is very passive, unassertive, tentative, not confident and is reluctant assert themself, he/she is going to have problems with a really hard alpha dog. It’s just not a good match, personality-wise; if the dog is large and physically aggressive, there’s real potential for someone to get hurt.

      I wish more dog owners would work with a trainer when they get their first dog. They would learn so much, and save themselves and their dogs a lot of trouble.

  • Denise November 8, 2016, 11:09 am

    Honestly, I think you went into the situation expecting a negative outcome and turned something into a bigger deal than it maybe was. I’m sure your SIL’S side would be filled with a lot of “the dog would get near the kids and she would freak out and demand I remove the dog from my own home!” Based on the tone of your letter, I think if it wasn’t the puppy, it would have been something else.

    If this was an “extend the olive branch” tea, I would have called the SIL and asked if she preferred the children not attend.

    If the dog was causing so much anxiety, I would have taken my toddler children home. Not in a huffy fashion, but more of a “I would love to do this again, let’s plan something at my home where the children can play without getting the puppy so excited.”

    If the dog was being excited and rambunctious in someone else’s home and you were not happy with how it was being handle, you can leave in the same fashion. There doesn’t need to be a big to do about it.

    Your reactions will dictate how your children respond to dogs in the future. Your SIL’S reactions and steps in the future will dictate how the dog is trained in the future. When you act maturely and reasonably while stopping the problem immediately, it sets up a precedent for the future and what behaviors you will tolerate and what expectations SIL should have regarding her dog and children in the future.

    • Lyn November 9, 2016, 10:50 am

      I really like your response.

    • Stephbwfern November 10, 2016, 6:07 am

      You are assuming an awful lot

  • Elisabeth November 8, 2016, 11:23 am

    I usually prefer dogs over children, nine times out of ten. That being said, your SIL is definitely in the wrong here.
    My boyfriend and I own two dogs. One is only 7 months but he is already 35 pounds and very excitable. The other is 4, a loving and friendly pit bull mix, and because he didn’t train her when he first got her she is extremely excitable and prone to jumping. She is 40 pounds. When we recently had a friend and his child visit our house, we put the dogs outside. We allowed the child to meet the dogs, one at a time, and Boyfriend held the dogs to keep them calm and docile and not allow them to jump on the child. We didn’t let them run around and knock the child down and jump all over everyone.
    SIL should have exhibited the same concern for Puppy’s behavior. She should not have allowed Puppy to jump all over your children and should have kept Puppy on a leash at all times when she was inside BIL’s house (who brings a dog to someone else’s house uninvited?!). She cannot expect your children to push Puppy off and tell her to stop, because that is just not a behavior that people display with dogs that are not their own.
    Do you think your husband would be able to help with Puppy? For instance, hold Puppy firmly and allow your children to touch Puppy while she is unable to jump on them? I don’t think SIL would be willing to do this but maybe be okay with her brother handling her dog?
    I used to be afraid of a German Shepherd in my neighborhood because she nipped me when she was a puppy. Many years later I was able to pet her while she was quietly lying down and then I was not afraid of her anymore. That’s why I suggest having your children pet Puppy while she is being held firmly.
    In the meantime, I would suggest avoiding events with Puppy for a little while, but encouraging positive interactions with dogs so your children do not keep their fear of dogs.

  • stephanie November 8, 2016, 12:20 pm

    Dog owners have a responsibility to keep their dogs safe. Putting their dog in a position to injure someone, even accidentally, is not responsible or safe.
    I love dogs, but I’ve had a few concerning interactions that make me wary of dog owners… I was babysitting a child and we would walk to the local playground which was next to a dog park. Every time we saw dogs, the child would try to run over and basically body-slam the dog, trying to hug/pet and getting in its face. For my part, I always got in front of the child, stopped him, told him we need to ask the owner if it is ok to say hi to their dog, and then showed him how to stand still and let the dog sniff him before trying to pet it. My expectation of dog owners in this situation, when they see a child coming and an adult trying to teach the child good dog manners, is to control their dog (ask them to sit or lay down, hold a firm leash) answer me honestly when I ask if it is ok (safe) for the child to say hello, and keep the dog under their control during the entire interaction. Unfortunately many owners fell short of my expectations, allowing their dogs to jump around on a loose leash, and acted offended, as if was insulting them and their dog by not immediately assuming their dog to be friendly.
    Even my aunt, who got a new puppy this year, has made me uncomfortable with her dog- I was at her house with my baby and sat down to nurse well away from where the dog was leashed… well she bought him over to talk to someone else, wasn’t paying attention and drifted closer to me- Here I am trying to get my baby to latch and suddenly the dog is jumping on me. I kinda freaked, but you can be sure that I won’t be letting my guard down around that dog in the future, especially when my child is involved. If the dog isn’t kept under control, we will leave. That’s what OP should have done the second the dog came off leash, if not inside. “I’m sorry, BIL said that puppy would be staying outside during this visit. The children and dog aren’t comfortable around each other yet, and a dinner party is not the place to work on that. If puppy will be inside, we’ll have to go.”

  • Pat November 8, 2016, 12:28 pm

    A question for all the posters who are bringing up the issue of whether OP made a faux pas by bringing the children to the tea: What difference does it make to the issue at hand? Even if OP was mistaken in bringing her two young children (which is debatable) should SIL have allowed her puppy to jump on and frighten her niece and nephew? Or, even if SIL was miffed at OP, should she have be mature enough to put the comfort and safety of two small children first?

    • Lady Catford November 8, 2016, 3:46 pm

      Are we blaming OP for the trouble that SIL has controlling her puppy? Would it be different if OP left her kids at home and the puppy jumped on OP?

  • NostalgicGal November 8, 2016, 2:38 pm

    A GSD gets to be a big dog. It NEEDS to be taught from very young age about a pack hierarchy and that it ranks below all humans, of any size (and cats too, a GSD can kill a cat in an eyeblink). At any time. One of the family needs to be ALPHA and keep that firmly. Around 8-14 months is when if the dog thinks it’s alpha it will start aggressive behavior to put all others below it, and that is usually when a dog becomes a shelter discard or the owners get in a bind and get sued. I had a keeshond in our family (therapy dog, of sorts, for my newly disabled husband) and I firmly became Alpha and ‘spoke dog’. She learned to obey me no matter what and I would pull dog rank on her when needed. In return we had a well behaved (and we fully trained her) dog that was good around kids and didn’t jump (though she could be very excited). The SIL and family are heading for a major disaster. I would say OP you need to step out of this loop and work on therapy for your kids to get them over being afraid of dogs. (whether you do the therapy by careful exposure and controlled situations or whatever). I wonder if the SIL and family are going to give Puppy proper training or not… all over, a train wreck waiting to happen.

  • RooRoo November 8, 2016, 3:58 pm

    I’m an old obedience trainer, instructor, rescuer and rehabber, and I could have written a long dissertation… I can be a bore on the subject. So I will restrict myself to this interesting fact:

    The reason dogs jump up is that it is a canine greeting ritual to sniff, and even lick, each other’s faces. Dogs also love touch; have you ever had one lean on your legs?

    Use these as a reward for “four on the floor!”

    • at work November 9, 2016, 9:53 am

      Yes! A pet supply place near me has an Irish Wolfhound that walked right up to me and leaned against my legs in the most friendly way imaginable. It is one of my favorite animal moments.

  • Cyberwulf November 8, 2016, 7:02 pm

    For the sake of family harmony your best bet is to frame the situation as “the kids are too little, they’re not able to cope with the dog”. Which is true – they aren’t able to shut a jumpy dog down. I disagree with most of the other commenters here that SIL is clearly not interested in training Puppy. I have a feeling she’s harbouring fantasies about the “cousins” all playing together, and the excuses she gave during the family dinner strike me as coming from a place of defensiveness. You don’t know what her parents or her in-laws have said to her regarding her choice of a dog that many people associate with viciousness when she has a tiny niece and nephew/there are tiny grandchildren in the family. For now, don’t bring the kids around, don’t go to events if Puppy will be there. I suggested it on the last page but it’s worthwhile paying SIL and Puppy the occasional kid-free visit over the next few months just to see if Puppy has learned to nicely greet visitors and to settle quietly when they’re in her house. It’s too early to know whether SIL is training/going to train Puppy or not. If she does train Puppy I guarantee she’ll want to show visitors all of Puppy’s tricks.

    GSDs live to be ten or eleven and want to play well into old age (mine is eight and still loves Frisbee). There’s plenty of time for the kids and dog to make friends and have fun together when the kids are big enough to know how to deal with the dog, and when the dog has learned how to behave with new people.

  • greenapples November 10, 2016, 9:17 am

    Some (dog) people are just crazy and irrational when it comes to their dogs. My stepfather’s sister and her husband had a horrible little chihuahua who had previous bitten *multiple* people, including the husband! Yet they continued to bring that monster to other people’s houses….including my Mom’s where we were having a family party when my daughter was at the crawling stage. Husband told my mom and I that we should be ‘careful’ of letting my daughter crawl around the dog because sometimes he bites.

    Yeah…..they were told pretty firmly (because this is just one example of how they obviously didn’t get subtle hints) that any future invitations would only be honored if they came dogless. Sometimes, you just have to go there.

  • Garden Gal November 10, 2016, 7:25 pm

    From what the OP has written about these 2 events it sounds like SIL has no intention of teaching her dog not to scare/jump on the children. If the kids were mine I’d ask the host if the dog was going to be attending and, if so, I’d leave my kids home or stay home with them.

    My mother was viciously attacked by her neighbor’s full-grown German shepherd (when it knew who she was) and needed many stitches. I’ve been tremendously wary of dogs ever since, even dogs who know me.

  • dog person November 11, 2016, 9:09 am

    I am disheartened to see so many comments referring to dogs as having an aggression/dominance-based “pack mentality” and their owners needing to assert themselves as the “Alpha”. This is a myth that originated with an extremely poorly-conceived study of captive wolves in the 1930s-40s (google Rudolph Schenkel) and has most recently been perpetuated by Cesar Milan and his ilk. While any given wolf pack will have a hierarchy, it is not based on aggression and competition; they function more as family units and cooperate with each other. Aside from that, dogs are not domesticated wolves! They are a different species, and living with humans for millions of years has caused them to develop different behaviors toward humans and each other than wolves exhibit.

    Dominance-based training can be harmful to both dogs and people, as it encourages an adversarial relationship between the dog and their human family. When you use a so-called “Alpha roll,” “scruff shake,” or “dominant down” on your dog, you only confuse and upset the dog and trigger a fear-fight-or-flight response. If they comply, it is not because they understand what you’re doing and accept you as their Alpha, but because they are afraid. If they become aggressive, it is not because they are trying to seize power and be the Alpha or pack leader, but because you have shown them that you are dangerous and they are trying to protect themselves.

    There are many ways to train and live happily with your dog without the need to “dominate” them at every turn. Some dogs do have behavioral problems, yes, but there are better ways to respond to them, too. Not everything that your dog does is about seizing power over you. Every dog, just like every person, is an individual with their own personality, so the “rules” of relationships between dogs and their families can vary widely and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Please see The Association of Professional Dog Trainers for more information. (https://apdt.com/pet-owners/choosing-a-trainer/dominance/)

    • Kristine May 25, 2017, 6:29 am

      Scientists generally agree that there is good evidence that dogs were domesticated around 15,000 years ago, NOT millions of years ago.

  • Kate November 12, 2016, 4:32 am

    I just got my first puppy. He is a 10 week old pug and while he is beautiful, he DOES need to be trained and reminded frequently of appropriate behaviours. I was reading this post thinking “What would I do in this situation?” and came down on the side of the OP. When my puppy bites or does something naughty, just pulling him away doesn’t work. He needs a firm ‘NO’ at the very least.
    Dogs also need very careful supervision around young children for their own safety. We recently introduced our puppy to our friends’ 2 year old. He was very well behaved and licked her (no biting!) but I actually had to pick him up at one point for his own safety, as she put him on the trampoline and wanted to start jumping.