It’s every owner’s worst fear: You’ve brought home the pup of your dreams, and he gets along with everyone in the family — except for one person.
Aggression toward any family member, whether severe or mild, should be addressed right away to prevent the situation from escalating. What starts as a small growl could turn into a much more complex problem over time.
Why Does My Dog Hate One Family Member?
First things first — it’s important to distinguish dog behavior from human characteristics in situations like this.
Dogs probably can’t feel emotions as complex as hate. Reactions like growling, snarling, lunging, nipping and biting typically stem from either fear, pain, or learned aggression (such as dog fighting, past abuse, or even just an unwelcome interaction from puppyhood).
There are a lot of reasons that a dog may react aggressively toward a family member. If you’ve had your dog since puppyhood it may be easier to figure out the root cause, but for many adopted dogs the cause may never be discovered.
More often than not, the reason a dog reacts aggressively toward a family member is due to poor socialization or fear from a past experience.
What Can You Do About Dog Aggression Toward Family Members?
Finding the trigger that causes your dog’s aggression is the first step for resolving the problem.
When your dog acts aggressively toward a family member, try to take inventory of the situation:
- Does the dog appear to be guarding a resource like food, water, toys or bones? What about another animal or a child?
- Does the family member use an assistive device like a cane, wheelchair, walker, or some other type of medical equipment? These items are foreign to dogs and could be scaring your pooch.
- If the family member is a child, is she interacting with the dog appropriately? Children have a tendency to grab, pull, squeeze and touch their pet in ways that can make dogs uncomfortable.
- Has your household undergone any major changes recently, such as moving, welcoming an infant, or bringing in a new pet?
Having a trainer evaluate the aggressive behavior is also a good idea. More often than not, dogs with aggression issues require professional assistance.
In the meantime, preventing aggressive behavior like nipping and biting is paramount. Muzzles can be helpful for doing so – they may even be mandatory for some dogs. In some cases, such as those involving small children, complete separation may be necessary.
Is It OK If a Dog Is Protective of One Family Member?
“Protective” behavior is another human attribute that we project onto our dogs. Unless trained specifically for protection work, the “protective” behavior your dog displays is most likely resource guarding.
Dogs see their owners and family members as a valuable resource that provides food, water and affection. If you notice that your dog growls or snarls at other family members only when they are interacting with you, he might be guarding you.
Guarding behavior may seem harmless and even endearing at times—after all, how sweet is it that Fido loves you so much that he doesn’t want to share you with anyone? However, a growling dog is a dog that’s giving a warning; his behavior could escalate and a bite may soon follow.
This is especially important to acknowledge in any home with small children. Children have a difficult time reading dog body language if not taught very well. A guarding dog and a child who doesn’t recognize guarding behavior is a recipe for disaster.
Seek out a positive reinforcement trainer as soon as possible if your dog displays guarding behavior.
In this particular situation it’s important that you avoid trainers who use aversive methods like negative reinforcement and positive punishment. Dogs who guard are trying to prevent the loss of their resource and have extremely heightened emotions when they feel the resource is at risk.
Why Does My Dog Growl at My Husband? Does He Hate Him?
Growling is a perfectly normal behavioral response for a dog to display — it’s simply a warning that something is making your pup uncomfortable and they would like it to stop.
Dogs growl to warn other animals and humans away from resources they value (things like food, toys, or even water), to stop someone from touching them in a way that is uncomfortable or painful, or simply to tell you to knock it off and let them be.
Dogs also growl at someone when they are afraid. It warns whatever the dog is afraid of that he wants this interaction to stop, and if it doesn’t the dog will be forced to protect himself.
If your dog is aggressive toward your husband but not you, he may require more socialization time with men.
Men in particular have a tendency to be scarier to dogs for a number of reasons. Most men are taller, stockier, and have deeper voices than women; some also have beards or other types of facial hair that look odd to dogs.
If a dog isn’t well-socialized with all sorts of men — tall, short, big, thin, with and without facial hair, with deep and high voices, of different races and ethnicities, disabled men, etc.– meeting someone “different” could trigger growling.
Fear not — this is usually manageable. Desensitizing your dog to your husband by having him play the “good cop” is a great way to start.
How to Make Your Husband The “Good Cop”
In order to help win your dog over, your husband should start giving your dog all the things he finds valuable. For example, he should:
- Feed the dog meals
- Offer the dog treats
- Provide high-value toys and play with the dog
- Take the dog for walks or other activities your dog enjoys
- Play trust-building games and activities with the dog
They key is to help the dog associate your husband with positive experiences – this guy is a heralder of great things!
Your husband should also avoid raising his voice and making sudden movements around your dog to encourage a positive relationship.
Can You Keep a Dog That Is Aggressive Toward Family Members?
The answer to this question depends on a number of factors.
If your dog simply growls or barks at one family member, the answer is probably yes. You’ll likely be able to solve the problem over time (and with training and desensitization), because the dog hasn’t felt that he needs to escalate.
Even a dog that has escalated just once, in a moment of pain for example, may be able to stay in the family with the help of a trainer.
If, however, your dog has repeatedly displayed other aggressive behaviors,– like lunging or biting — it may be time to consider other options.
This is especially true if there are young children in the home. Any dog who bites and breaks the skin must be taken extremely seriously.
Behavioral intervention is necessary for all aggressive dogs, and if you can’t accommodate the cost or time that it takes to modify behavior, it might be time to find your dog a more suitable home.
No two dogs are the same, and triggers of aggression are unique to each and every one.
When in doubt consult a certified behaviorist (not just a trainer – they often don’t have enough expertise for aggression cases). They’ll be able to help you determine the type of dog aggression you are dealing with.
Does your dog seem to have issues with a specific member of your family? What steps have you taken to address the problem? Have you figured out any way to promote familial harmony? Have you solicited the help of a professional trainer?
Let us know all about your experiences in the comments below!