Dog talk with Uncle Matty: The breaking point

By From page A7 | October 11, 2013

No one and nothing is immune from a breaking point. Chemical substances have breaking points. Physical objects have breaking points. Men and women have breaking points. And dogs are no exception.

A breaking point is defined as:

1. the point at which something or someone gives way under strain.

2. the moment of crisis in a situation.

Both definitions apply to the following scene:

I have some concerns about my 18-month-old American Staffordshire, “Duke,” and my two children, who are 4 and 5. Tonight, the kids were playing with the dog, and my 4-year-old boy pinched and teased the dog and obviously hurt him. My daughter was giving him a big cuddle at the same time — and was probably also being a little rough.

The dog lunged at her with a huge bark, which to me sounded like an aggressive warning as if to say I’ve had enough. Is that a normal response to pain from a dog, or is my dog a time bomb waiting to go off?

He didn’t bite her, but he did show his teeth. He mouths sometimes when playing, and he’s a big dog who could do a lot of damage if he snapped. He is very social with other dogs and people.

What is the best way to discipline this type of behavior? Or is it simply reason enough to give him away to someone without children? I just don’t know…

Not knowing what you’re doing when you bring together young children and dogs is risky parenting. You’re gambling, and the stakes are high.

The first thing you should know is that all dogs — regardless of size, regardless of breed — have a breaking point. Knowing that your dog has a breaking point is important, but it’s not an invitation to go looking for it.

As a parent, you have a duty to protect your children. The best way to do that is through intelligent prevention. And the most effective way to prevent a dog from biting your kids is to teach your kids how to appropriately handle a dog.

The letter writer’s questions are off-base. “What is the best way to discipline this type of behavior?” Whose behavior? The kids’? The dog’s? The parents’? And “discipline” isn’t the ingredient that will bring this dish together. Education is what’s missing. These kids have not been taught how to properly handle and play with a dog.

That is not the dog’s fault. And it’s not the kids’ fault.

This kind of behavior toward an animal is unacceptable — even abusive — and many parents don’t even realize it. Kids are allowed to flat-out abuse the family dog, and their parents have this notion that because he’s the family pet, he won’t react.

Why is a dog expected to tolerate this? Where is it written that “family” can treat a dog however they want and the dog will just put up with it? Everyone has a breaking point.

It’s important to understand the difference between aggression and a normal reaction to provocation. Duke might very well thrive in an environment without small children — or even with children who know how to properly handle a dog. A professional trainer or behaviorist can help make that determination. But if Duke is to stay in this home, everyone needs some good positive training.


Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is the co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and the host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

Matthew Margolis

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