Is It Ever OK to Tease a Dog?

It is also important to recognize that teasing actually teaches aggression. Attack and protection dogs are commonly trained to aggress using teasing scenarios known as agitation techniques. With these, a dog is presented with a situation — a person acting aggressively, for example —while being restrained. This increases reactive behavior and raises the likelihood that the dog will bite. For a trained protection dog working with a skilled professional trainer, the method may be useful, but when it comes to family dogs, such frustration building is dangerous. Unfortunately, unintentional teasing like your son is engaging in can also teach your dog to act more aggressively.

As a dog trainer, I believe that teasing should be completely taboo and totally off limits. In your situation, the consequences of your son’s behavior range from creating a dog who's withdrawn and reluctant during interactions and play to a dog who's overly wild and intense. More seriously, the chances that your son will get bitten increase the more he plays this particular game (or engages in other forms of teasing) with your dog. The bite may be inadvertent — a side effect of your dog’s desperate effort to get the ball or toy your son is holding — or it may be the end result of her ongoing frustration and decreasing tolerance of your son and his behavior.

Put a Stop to Teasing

It is important for parents to establish clear ground rules for all interactions with a dog and to make sure they are followed all the time. The rules don’t need to be restrictive or overly complicated; the goal is to keep interactions between children and pets predictable and structured.

My daughter, Reagan, who is 6, is allowed to play fetch with our two Pugs, but only when an adult is nearby to help and supervise, and only as long as she follows a few simple rules. When the Pug brings the ball or toy to her, she asks him to “drop it,” rather than pulling it from his teeth. After the Pug has relinquished the toy, Reagan knows to ask for a calm behavior like a down or sit. Once the dog responds appropriately, she can toss the toy for him to retrieve or give him a treat if their game is over. A simple set of rules like this will benefit both your son and your dog, and will increase the chance of a controlled and mutually fun game of fetch while hopefully eliminating any antics that tease or frustrate your dog.

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