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Thread: Sudden aggression from usually placid dog

  1. #1

    Default Sudden aggression from usually placid dog

    I adopted a gorgeous little foxy cross jack russell about 7 months ago. Harley is about 18 months old now and for the most part has been the perfect dog up until recently. Hardly barked, completed 8 weeks of basic obedience with flying colours, about 95% house trained and generally a very submissive dog, very cuddly and most happy when curled up on my lap. But over the last few weeks I have noticed Harley's confidence growing, he's been barking more in the night, showing aggression at random dogs when we have been walking (most of the time one's that show no threat to him) but most concerning and what has lead to my email is there has been three times now where he has started showing aggression towards me, last night being the most serious. These are the three incidents:

    1. A few weeks ago, he became fixated on a corner in the backyard, I assume that neighbour must have a cat or something. It's very secure and no way for him to dig out, but he was obsessively scratching the fence one day in that spot so I told him firmly a couple of times the commands he knows, 'no' and 'leave it', no luck so I tapped him on the lower back (a very very light tap) and he swung round with a snap and a growl at me.

    2. A couple of nights ago there was a thunder storm, each bit of thunder sent him into a barking frenzy. I went through several stages over a few hours to try and calm him, first I shut off his outside access so he couldn’t run outside, he sleeps in a dog bed in the hallway corner but eventually I moved it into my room, then finally I let him sleep on my bed (that is a very rare occurrence but I was getting desperate). Then when the thunder started again he started chasing his tail manically (he does that occasionally), so I said 'no, leave it' and tapped his bottom and got the same snap and growl reaction as above at me, his lip was very curled up also with teeth showing.

    3. Last night he was on the couch asleep while we were watching TV. I went to brush my teeth and called him to go to bed (he usually follows me and takes himself to bed, normally I take him outside first but he'd been out not long before). He didn't come so after I finished I went into the living room and called again, he didn't get up off the couch. It was fairly dark in the living room as I had turned most of the lights off. I went to pick him up as I've done before when he's too sleepy to get up and go to bed, he instantly growled spun his head and nipped me on the hand (did not latch on at all, it didn't break the skin and I wouldn't call it a bite at all but it did startle me). I was shocked but assumed he was just surprised as he was dozing and it was dark. I turned the big light on straight away and gave him a very firm 'no' and waited for him to settle, then I tried to tap his bottom to get him up but this time he became very aggressive, his hair stood up and his shoulders moved, his lip was very up with teeth barred and he was growling at me for a few seconds. I was very shocked, the first time I can sort of understand but he was well aware it was me by the second time.

    Do you have any advice you could please give me to try and combat this? I dread the thought of being scared of him every time I want to pick him up, or of him becoming one of those little aggressive dogs you hear about. He is usually so placid and attention loving, I love him to bits and will do anything to fix this. I have done some reading and started employing some methods, making sure I only feed him after me and not letting him eat until I say ok, not going through doors before me etc. But is there anything else I can do? And if/when he is aggressive like that with me what should I do? I thought of shutting him outside but the problem is I'm too fearful to pick him up when he's behaving like that.

    Some further info, I'm 30, single and live alone. Up until a couple of months ago my ex boyfriend used to live here a fair bit, he was wonderful with Harley. I wonder if the disappearance of that male presence could have anything to do with the change? They adored each other.

    Also Harley's weekly routine - I work full-time however I have a fairly decent sized backyard and Harley has full access to that and the house while I am at work. He also goes to doggy daycare at least once a week, is walked at least once a day in the morning and/or evening, and I have also just employed a dog walker/nanny who comes once or twice a week to spend time with him and walk him while I'm at work to break up his day. It's rare that Harley has more than one day at a time totally on his own at home and he’s always well exercised. I'm wondering also if while I am at work I should restrict his house access so he can't get into the front (living room, kitchen/diner, front house windows), maybe he thinks it's his domain?? I can close that off so he just has the hall (where his bed is), laundry and backyard so he won't hear/see any activity through the front windows.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
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    I think maybe you could use some face to face help from an expert in your area.

    I'm not sure the "no leave it" and then attacking him (from his point of view) is helpful. Especially when he's upset or frightened. Dogs have the same freeze, flight, fight reactions to stressful situations that we do...

    And yours is not freezing or running - he's opting for fight which is hardly ideal.

    It also seems like his relationship with your ex - was better than his relationship with you - which would not be surprising if you're the one telling him "no - leave it" and "tapping" him.

    I think in quite a few of the circumstances you describe, putting him on lead and then moving him to where you want him might be a safer option than "tapping him".

    First you would have to rebuild your relationship with him by playing lots of a game called "collar grab" and then some more of a game called "its yer choice".

    You might also want to play games of geddit and give - offering something he's not that fond of but likes and then when you want him to give - say give and when he does - hand over something he likes better. I've been doing that with my dog roo jerky (pretty good) vs smoked salmon (OMG good) - but every dog likes different things and they always like the new stuff best.

    All the methods you describe are the worst of a certain tv dog trainer - who regularily gets bitten when he fails to read a dog properly. The show starts with "DONT TRY THIS AT HOME" and they mean it. It gets lots of people bitten every year.

    Focus on what you want your dog to do and train that instead. So if you have a better recall - you can call your dog and he will be thrilled to leap off the couch and run to you - because after the right training - that feels as good as a gob full of smoked salmon. Or tinned sardine. Or roast chicken...

    If you let us know what your nearest capital city is - or area - we can recommend some trainers for you.

    Look up kikopup on youtube for better training methods, and look up "collar grab" and "its yer choice" on youtube also.

  3. #3
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    I would consider getting public liability insurance. You have invited an 'employee' to interact with a dog known to bite humans. Doggie day care, ditto.
    Sounds like he understood his position/relationship with your ex, more so than with you. A temporary state of affairs.

    I too would recommend having a face to face training session. With a animal behaviourist or if you cannot find one, a dog trainer.

    Biting humans, is not a dog thread answer. It is a behaviour that can be trained out, over months. No quick fix unfortunately.

  4. #4
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    Another thought... how well do you know the dog walker you hired and do you really trust them? Dito about the doggy daycare, does he like going there? We tried a rather large and well known and referenced doggy daycare for our pup once and it was definitely not for him. He was completely off afterwards. It took him days to settle and he showed aggression towards the handler in the daycare.

  5. #5
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    Mmmmm I wonder about the doggy day care as every time there will be a different mix of dogs and he may have had some stressful experiences.
    Let us know where you are and a good session with a behaviourist will point you in a positive direction. Depending on where you are there may be a forum member who can recommend someone.
    Building your relationship as the leader (that is holder of resources and all round good guy) will reassure both of you.
    Thunderstorms are a problem and you may have inadvertently reinforced his stress, again good direct advice will give you strategies.

  6. #6

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    Hi Hyacinth, Thank you very much for the advice! I had not heard of those interaction games before so will definitely look up the references you included. Not sure which tv trainer you were referring to but I must admit, I have been doing a tonne of reading online and have read so many different opinions and methods of how to deal with this it's very confusing. I worried that using treats may cause him to think I'm rewarding him for growling at me, but I think your method of making it a sort of reward for a behaviour (letting me put the lead on etc) is much better. I shall give it a go! Also the behavioural specialist is a good idea also, I have started looking into those also but again, they all seem to have different theories as to the best methods. I live in Victoria, the South East suburbs of Melbourne, if you have any recommendations that would be great.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by bernie View Post
    I would consider getting public liability insurance. You have invited an 'employee' to interact with a dog known to bite humans. Doggie day care, ditto.
    Sounds like he understood his position/relationship with your ex, more so than with you. A temporary state of affairs.

    I too would recommend having a face to face training session. With a animal behaviourist or if you cannot find one, a dog trainer.

    Biting humans, is not a dog thread answer. It is a behaviour that can be trained out, over months. No quick fix unfortunately.

    Hi Bernie, I was pleased to see your response regarding this being a behaviour that can be trained out, that has given me some hope. I am willing to work on this as long as it takes and looks like I've been given some good advice and places to start on here already, cheers.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by farrview View Post
    Mmmmm I wonder about the doggy day care as every time there will be a different mix of dogs and he may have had some stressful experiences.
    Let us know where you are and a good session with a behaviourist will point you in a positive direction. Depending on where you are there may be a forum member who can recommend someone.
    Building your relationship as the leader (that is holder of resources and all round good guy) will reassure both of you.
    Thunderstorms are a problem and you may have inadvertently reinforced his stress, again good direct advice will give you strategies.
    Hi Farrview, thank you for the response I appreciate it. I hadn't thought about my response to him during the thunderstorm potentially inadvertently reinforcing his stress, that's a very good point. Hopefully I will make contact with a behaviourist soon who can help me analyse how I dealt with the situation as given I live in Melbourne it's a pretty safe bet more thunder storms will be in our future unfortunately. Thanks again.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by margoo View Post
    Another thought... how well do you know the dog walker you hired and do you really trust them? Dito about the doggy daycare, does he like going there? We tried a rather large and well known and referenced doggy daycare for our pup once and it was definitely not for him. He was completely off afterwards. It took him days to settle and he showed aggression towards the handler in the daycare.
    Hi Margoo, thanks for your reply feedback on your experiences. The dog walker is a fairly recent addition, but I was very thorough in my research and interviewing prior to selecting her. I'm very confident that she is trustworthy, and she has a lot of experience in dog training and reading dog behaviour. Whilst she's not a formally trained behaviourist, I have discussed the situation with her and she's helping me observe him during her visits. As for doggy day care, I have no doubt he absolutely loves it. When he realises he's going (when I let him in the car at that time of the morning) he barely contains his excitement, and when we get there he pulls like crazy to get in the front door of the place. I've spoken to the carers there about his behaviour also and they say they haven't seen anything unusual from him during his visits. I have decided to reduce the visits though for a few weeks just to see if that has any effect though. Thanks again for your feedback

  10. #10
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    Hi Pennyvic

    thanks for the updates.

    You're right you definitely don't want to produce a treat to lure him off the couch when he's growling at you - or even when he's not.

    With my dog she loves food so much - I can't use them at all when she's excited about something (eg the lawnmower man) or she does her best fierce dog (all method ie she is fierce dog), to get the treat. Not good.

    So I practice getting her to sit calmly (on lead) before I will open the front door, and then before she gets to step out - the reward is getting permission to "go" (forward). If I used a treat - she'd "back chain" naughty joined with good to get treat.

    If she can't be calm when I open the door or as we go through it, I pull her back inside (gently but firmly by the lead - not jerking just irresistible force) and shut the door until she's holding a calm sit ie we start over again from the beginning. She is so much better since I started this process. Before I just let her launch out the door because I thought it didn't matter cos she was on lead and couldn't do anything but she started to lose self control in other situations so this is a good place to practice it. And it makes loading and unloading her into and out of the car much easier.

    Refs - I think Judi from inline training is east side and I like what she posts here occasionally.
    Behaviour Problems - ProK9

    The other trainer we get posting here regularly as Nekhbet, is Julie but she is on the Geelong side.
    InLine K9 Dog Training and Behavior

    Either of them should be able to help or recommend someone who can.

    It's important you say if you're not comfortable using any of the methods they suggest, they will either explain why it works and show you or they will come up with something you're happier using. It's also important they train you as much as the dog so you know what to do when you go home with your dog.

    Pay attention to everything your dog likes or finds distractions and keep a list. Also write descriptions of what he does now and what you'd like him to be doing instead. Things your dog likes can be used as rewards and for relationship building

    eg you ask him to work for you, and when he's successful you give him permission to go do something he likes - he will pair that thing with you and working for you will become as much fun as hunting mice (that thing he likes) - or at least that's the idea. It doesn't always have to be food. But making him work for his food is also a good idea.

    I make mine do recalls away from her food then back to her food (the mat next to it) before I give her permission to eat. Every thing I've had trouble training her to do - I end up training her in front of her dinner - might only be one or two attempts at a stay or a recall or a fetch or whatever we're working on and then she gets her dinner, but she does drop stays now - thinking of dinner and her tail is wagging the whole time. Before I started this - could not get her to stay at all.

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