Buy Photo

Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Columnist Sherry Davis.

I don't think it would be much of a stretch to say that I have a passion for dogs; this weekly love letter attests to that.

But training man's best friend requires training man himself, which often proves more difficult than training the dog.

A lady called me last week about training for the 3-year-old, 130-pound male mastiff that she and her husband acquired several months ago from a rescue. The dog had been picked up on the street and there was no history regarding his breeding or former environment, although he was covered with battle scars that may have accounted for his aggression toward other dogs.

After the "honeymoon" or adjustment period was over and the dog had settled into his new home, the couple started seeing changes in his behavior. He growled or curled his lip whenever the wife approached her husband or tried to get the dog to do anything he didn't want to, and attempts to move him from any area he didn't want to leave were met with air snapping.

As I asked the woman questions about the dog to get a clearer picture of what provoked his aggression, the description of each incidence was followed by the assurance, "but he doesn't bite." This is not unusual, as owners are very protective of their dogs and by saying it doesn't bite, they are just clarifying that it's a naughty dog, not a bad one.

I tried to explain to her that the growls and lip curls had been warnings and their failure to heed them had resulted in the air-snapping, which was an indication that additional punishment would follow if they didn't respect the dog's demands.

And then the woman dropped the other shoe; she told me they had a 4-year-old son. I asked her how the dog acted around the boy, to which she matter-of-factly replied, "Fine, as long as he doesn't step on him or do anything he doesn't like, then he'll growl or snap at him too." Perhaps thinking I didn't understand dog behavior, or questioning my experience, she added rather dismissively, "but he's not biting." When I asked how the dog was when friends came to the house she said fine as long as they didn't touch him or ... well, you get the picture.

Frustrated that she was not comprehending the gravity of the dog's behavior, I tried approaching it from another angle. I calmly asked her if she had a good home owners' policy, to which she replied, "As a matter of fact, we do."

I told the woman that this was a very dangerous situation and that I found it very disturbing that any rescue would place a dog of this size with aggressive tendencies in a home with such a small child. He surely hadn't been thoroughly evaluated.

And while training could be very effective in controlling the dog's dominance issues and providing boundaries for his behavior, it was the things you can't control that would continue to make this an accident waiting to happen.

It's hard enough to get adults to be consistent and not forget important details in a training program established for an aggressive dog, but expecting a young child to have that same discipline is impossible.

How sure can you be that a 4-year-old will not forget that he has been told he must never step on the dog's tail, walk near his food dish or pick up his bone? Or that he'll remember that doggie doesn't like petting on his head or you mustn't go to daddy when he's sitting on the couch with doggie next to him.

I tried to explain to this woman that her son should be growing up with a dog that can be his buddy, creating a wonderful childhood memory. He should have a friend he can play ball with and tell his secrets to, not fear.

"So you're saying I should just have him euthanized?" she snapped. "No, I'm not," I responded, "but I would recommend returning him to the (breed) rescue and adopting a dog that is more appropriate for a family environment."

And with that the woman abruptly ended the call by informing me that she'd already had a one-hour lecture on this subject the day before from another trainer and didn't want to hear it again.

Yep, training dog's best friend can be difficult.


A Bark-N-BBQ Birthday Bash, celebrating Bakersfield Pet Pantry's five years of helping feed pets in need, will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 30, at 2307 McCain St.

It will include a live rock band, Big Mike's Ragin' BBQ, live auction and more. (No pets allowed.)

For tickets, call Pete's Seats at 661-323-7383 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets are $40.

Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@ These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.