Aggressive behavior issue

The Problem:

Kristin –

We’ve been working on the exercises from class but have discovered an off-leash problem. Two days ago A- took our dog to the dog park for the first time. It was empty and he was enjoying the freedom to run since our yard is not fenced in. However when A- tossed him a tennis ball he brought it back and dropped it and lunged at her. He kept grabbing at her arm and gnawing it. She struggled for several minutes to get him off, but he kept lunging for the arm. She ended up with several bad bruises and a few scrapes. Our dog went back later that night and only had issues when a toy was removed form his mouth and he wanted it back.

The next day E- took him to the park to see if this behavior was the same. This time there were other dogs and people. He was doing fine for 20 minutes, but then he ran back to a girl who had previously pet him and proceeded to lunge at her arms.

This behavior is frightening to us as we have lots of little kids in our family and this lunging/biting/gnawing is unacceptable. He is fine on the leash, though on occasion he has turned around and jumped on E- a few times. He is mouthy at home, but we have been discouraging that with “Leave it” or removing ourselves from the situation. When he lays on his back and we pet him he likes pawing at the air and trying to nip our hands.

We’re not sure if his behavior is real aggression or just exuberance. But we would like to know how we can diagnose the problem and if it is something we can work on.

-A- & E-

My Reply:

A- and E-,

You are correct in being alarmed…any “exuberance” should not cause harm to a human or their clothing. But it is unclear if it is “aggression”. This is difficult to diagnose over email and having only met you and your dog in a large class. But I would be happy to do a more thorough evaluation for you if you’d like. I do in home work through the Water Bowl (formerly the GenevaRuffners).  There is a list of training I offer through there.

From your email description it seems to me you have a young dog (am I remembering this correctly?) who is challenging your authority, or is just playing rough because he doesn’t know that it is unacceptable to play that way. Even though I am sure you have told him it isn’t ok to play that way, our way of telling our dogs is often confusing to them – the message doesn’t get through. The fact that he is targeting smaller kids and women more than you, E-, suggests that to me. We can discuss this more in class next week but it is difficult to give you any substantive answers via email. But definitely do not let him off leash until there is a plan for how to address this. I would begin working his down/stays very diligently for a few weeks before the dog park freedom is introduced again. And ABSOLUTELY no play biting is to be allowed. Any time he puts his teeth or open mouth on your body or your clothes he should be told to down/stay and should hold that position for at least 20 minutes. Really. This is far more effective than isolating him by leaving him. As he is working his down/stay you will likely have to stay near him to keep him there. I would have a leash on me at all times and leash him and step on the leash so he cannot get up. I would demand this without anger or any other emotion – just with persistence . Any time he gets up you put him back down. If he resists you put the leash under your foot and pull up the slack until his body is bent. This position will be uncomfortable and he will eventually choose to lay down. Work this with him in silence, aside from saying “down” as you put him down each time – say it once, don’t repeat it each time. Do not release him (even if the time is up) unless he has held the position on his own for at least 5 minutes.

Given this new way of interacting with him, be very careful about playing energetic games with him – the more wound up he gets the more likely it is you will see this behavior. Only play fetch, or other such thing if you have the time and are prepared to correct any negative behavior in the above way. Instead, take him on long walks. Walks where he walks at your side only, no lunging out in front. If you are a runner, it is fine to run with him too, but again his position should be at your side or slightly behind you. There is an invisible line from each hip bone and he cannot cross it. You do these two things and be careful about how you relate to him (more somber, less excited, more firm, less lenient) and you should see some improvement. But be aware that this will take time.

Good luck. This can be addressed, do not worry.


November 18, 2009 • Tags: , • Posted in: advice, behavior, dog ownership, training

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