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I have a 4 y/o rescue St. Bernard, She was used as a breeding dog in an amish puppy mill for at least 3 years. When we adopted her she was underweight (90 pounds), had hookworms, smelled of urine even after 2 baths, and had her bum shaved because it was covered in feces. So obviously she did not have a good previous life. But She LOVES hugs, kisses, cuddles, and praise. She loves these things but only from myself and two other family members. She growls at my younger sister for trying to pet her. But it's only sometimes. It doesn't happen everyday, it doesn't even happen every week, even though my sister pets her daily. My younger sister can be a little in her face, so I have to tell her to back off a little bit and she does listen. But even when she is in her face, my dog doesn't growl. It's only occasionally which is why I don't know what to do. My mother is of the belief that you MUST punish a dog for growling, so she gets angry when I don't. She thought it was radical that I told her not to punish my dog for communicating. But last night my dog snapped at my sister when my sister was putting her face in my dogs and trying to kiss her. Now my mom is mad at my dog, not my sister. My dog does sometimes growl at my sister in what I would call an 'unprovoked' way.
From what I can remember, she has only ever growled at my sister when I am in the room. Could this be resource guarding? But how do I make this stop?
Do you know why she is doing this?
Thank you!
update: turns out my pup has a bad ear infection so we are treating that. i sat down ad really had a talk with my mom and showed her some of these responses and some articles and she is willing to learn and although it might take awhile, we are still getting there. my sister also was quite startled by the snap and is now a little more wary of my pup so thats (almost) a good thing. thank you guys for all of the responses, i appreciate them all.
 

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First: A dog should never be punished for growling. It's a warning that somebody is doing something that makes the dog uncomfortable. If you manage to "train" her not to growl, she'll just skip straight to snapping. Nobody wants that.

Second: You need to somehow persuade your sister not to get in her face. If she persists, she will get bitten and it's the dog that will truly suffer.

Getting her to accept your sister will require great patience and, likely, the help of a trained canine behaviorist (not just a trainer.) It will take time and cost money and I sense that you're not in a position to make the decisions regarding those things.

I applaud your family for trying to help this poor dog. You have a hard road ahead of you.

I hope anyone considering buying a dog from a puppy mill/pet store will read this and understand that this is what happens to the breeding stock.
 

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Definitely do not punish the growl. (as both you and RonE said) She growls to say "I don't like this", then, if she still feels threatened, she snaps to say "go away", but after that, it could turn into an actual bite if she still feels threatened. Do not take away her ability to communicate by punishing it. It will result in a bite. It could even result in her bottling up her aggression and then "randomly" taking it out on another human or animal in a totally different context. Your sister needs to give the dog space- and if it growls, she needs to back off. That will not be "reinforcing" the growl, that will be saying "okay, I understand you don't like this, I will stop now". Perhaps, depending on the age of your sister, she could do some bonding activities with the dog. Trick training (with no pressure, physical or otherwise, you don't want this nervous dog to stress any more), hand feeding, playing with toys, something like that. But the main thing here is teaching her to respect the dog and its space. Work on building trust between your sister and the dog, it may be a while, but she'll get it.

Perhaps you could show your mother (your whole family, really) these articles. It's from a very reputable source, (American Kennel Club) this way she's not just taking the advice of "random" people on the internet.

And this one is short, to the point, and good for your specific situation:
 

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You need to keep your sister away from this dog.

Her face in the dog's face is rude in dog language. Dogs do not like being kissed by humans. It is a human behavior, not a dog behavior.

The dog has given a warning growl that says to your sister "BACK OFF!" A growl is equivalent to "please."

The dog has now snapped at your sister but not made contact. In dog language the dog has said, by growling, "Please BACK OFF." It was ignored. The Air Snap was "What part of Back Off don't you UNDERSTAND?"

Next the dog WILL bite. The first bite might not be hard.. but it will escalate on subsequent bites.

Your SISTER needs to stop her behavior. Now.

It is not a matter of IF she will be bitten should she continue.. it is a matter of when.

I think it is good you are aking questions but it sounds like your Mom is in control and does not understand. Maybe show her this thread.

Good luck.
 

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I'm probably more pessimistic than most folks here, but I don't think "teach your sister" or "your sister shouldn't" is going to work. We all know kids do things they shouldn't and know they shouldn't and if your sister hasn't stopped the behavior yet, she isn't going to. I assume the dog came from an organization that rescues puppy mill dogs. I'd contact them and see if they can find the dog another home with adults only or a family with only children old enough to respect a dog's needs. Otherwise, you're courting trouble.
 

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I'm probably more pessimistic than most folks here, but I don't think "teach your sister" or "your sister shouldn't" is going to work. We all know kids do things they shouldn't and know they shouldn't and if your sister hasn't stopped the behavior yet, she isn't going to. I assume the dog came from an organization that rescues puppy mill dogs. I'd contact them and see if they can find the dog another home with adults only or a family with only children old enough to respect a dog's needs. Otherwise, you're courting trouble.
I agree that it is unlikely to fix the issue with an overbearing child (I'm assuming this persons sister is a young child, not a teen or adult)- but first, supervision of the child when they're with the dog, and a serious talk with the child explaining why they need to stop should be tried before simply rehoming the dog- the dog has found a loving home after a hard life, it could be traumatizing for the dog to leave its home. Also, as the child gets older, the problem should decrease (assuming, again, that this is, in fact, a young child). Of course, if it becomes clear that the dog cannot handle children under any circumstance, it would need to be rehomed. But it seems like this dog is simply unused to having it's space invaded. The child needs to be supervised, and either the dog or the child should be removed from the room/area when the growling occurs. Also, the dog does need a "safe space" such as a crate, where no one, especially the child, is allowed to bother them. It is important that every child with a dog learns "dog manners". Any dog would probably be annoyed by someone in their face all the time.

The dog is not being unreasonable in asking the child to get out of their face. The only way a dog has to do this is to growl. This is not extreme, unprovoked aggression to the child. This is "please leave me alone". Maybe with a little bit of "leave me alone NOW" depending on the intensity. This is communication not aggression.

Perhaps I misunderstood you though, you may not have meant to suggest that they just give up on the dog- but that's how I interpreted it, so I wanted to write this.
 

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Kensi - you are not misreading what I wrote, but we are interpreting what the OP wrote differently. What I see is a child who won't listen and continues with behavior she has been told repeatedly not to do and a mother who is in control of the household who wants to punish the dog for the child's behavior. Leaving out emotions like loving, the dog is pretty much being set up to bite and when it happens the kid is going to have a trauma and scar anywhere from minor to horrific (I once met a woman with over 150 stitches in her face because she'd done the in the face thing to a Cocker Spaniel puppy). The dog will pay with its life. Sometimes everyone lucks out in these situations, but I'm not a risk-taker.
 

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Kensi - you are not misreading what I wrote, but we are interpreting what the OP wrote differently. What I see is a child who won't listen and continues with behavior she has been told repeatedly not to do and a mother who is in control of the household who wants to punish the dog for the child's behavior. Leaving out emotions like loving, the dog is pretty much being set up to bite and when it happens the kid is going to have a trauma and scar anywhere from minor to horrific (I once met a woman with over 150 stitches in her face because she'd done the in the face thing to a Cocker Spaniel puppy). The dog will pay with its life. Sometimes everyone lucks out in these situations, but I'm not a risk-taker.
I agree. And I don't deny that in some cases the dog may do better in a different home. However, without seeing this dog I can't say. However, if this family wants to have any dog, or hang out with other people's dogs, this child must lean to respect the dog. So, to my mind, the best fix here is supervision and instruction of the child until such time as the child is old enough to respect the dog of their own accord. Even if a dog is gentle and never growls, they still find it unpleasant to have someone up in their face, especially an unpredictable child. To my mind, the family lucked out with a dog who is willing to communicate that to the child, instead of silently suffering. We humans need to respect the animals- they operate differently than us, (although I wouldn't like someone in my face either lol) and we should respect that. It's not fair to send the dog away because the dog wants a bit of space. That is a right of the dog. No human should infringe on that, especially not a child, because they are more unpredictable to the dog as well as more vulnerable. The child and the mother both should be instructed on how to respect the dog, then the dog can thrive. It's not this dog, it's a dog thing. Any dog they get may have the problem. Rehoming solves the symptom, not the problem.

At any rate, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and your take on this is just as valuable as mine- and I don't want to get too off-topic for the sake of the OP. I appreciate your opinion, and will add it to my "library" of dog knowledge lol. Perhaps something I said can be of help to you in the future- perhaps not, but I hope at least something I said can be of value, my goal here is just to gain information and to try to give what knowledge I have to others.
 

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That is a right of the dog. No human should infringe on that, especially not a child, because they are more unpredictable to the dog as well as more vulnerable. The child and the mother both should be instructed on how to respect the dog, then the dog can thrive.
Our basic difference is you want to deal with the world as it should be while I've learned to deal with it as it is. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
 

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Our basic difference is you want to deal with the world as it should be while I've learned to deal with it as it is. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
Interesting. I see your point here- I am a bit idealist I suppose. I realize the world is far from perfect. But I also realize that we can do everything in our power to improve it for ourselves and our dogs. But it is vital to have this pragmatic, realist approach that you have- extremely valuable. I like the points you are making. I may disagree slightly in this exact application, but they're good, solid, points, and I appreciate that. And I'm certainly in no place to claim you're wrong. Just to give my view. Again, I do greatly appreciate your ideas, I will remember them- they will surely come in handy. I could certainly do with being a tad less idealist, but that's just my personality I think- oh, well :)
 

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What are the ages of you and your family members? Who does the dog like and who does he not like so much. This info may help set the scene for a better interpretation.
 

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Looks like the OP has disappeared after getting good advice. :confused:
I have a 4 y/o rescue St. Bernard, She was used as a breeding dog in an amish puppy mill for at least 3 years. When we adopted her she was underweight (90 pounds), had hookworms, smelled of urine even after 2 baths, and had her bum shaved because it was covered in feces. So obviously she did not have a good previous life. But She LOVES hugs, kisses, cuddles, and praise. She loves these things but only from myself and two other family members. She growls at my younger sister for trying to pet her. But it's only sometimes. It doesn't happen everyday, it doesn't even happen every week, even though my sister pets her daily. My younger sister can be a little in her face, so I have to tell her to back off a little bit and she does listen. But even when she is in her face, my dog doesn't growl. It's only occasionally which is why I don't know what to do. My mother is of the belief that you MUST punish a dog for growling, so she gets angry when I don't. She thought it was radical that I told her not to punish my dog for communicating. But last night my dog snapped at my sister when my sister was putting her face in my dogs and trying to kiss her. Now my mom is mad at my dog, not my sister. My dog does sometimes growl at my sister in what I would call an 'unprovoked' way.
From what I can remember, she has only ever growled at my sister when I am in the room. Could this be resource guarding? But how do I make this stop?
Do you know why she is doing this?
Thank you!
update: we took her to the vet to check her ears because she whimpered when i touched her ears. it turns out that she has a bad ear infection. thank you for all of the the advice, it is so appreciated!
 

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update: we took her to the vet to check her ears because she whimpered when i touched her ears. it turns out that she has a bad ear infection. thank you for all of the the advice, it is so appreciated!
It's so good to hear you figured that out and are treating it! Sorry to hear she has an infection, but definitely glad it was no worse.
 

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update: we took her to the vet to check her ears because she whimpered when i touched her ears. it turns out that she has a bad ear infection. thank you for all of the the advice, it is so appreciated!
Thanks for the update. I hope the infection is gone soon.
 
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