Aggressive Dog Towards Humans and Pets

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This is a discussion on Aggressive Dog Towards Humans and Pets within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; Hello, I have a 8 year old Maltese named Sammy. We rescued him a couple years back and while we've tolerated his bad habits, we ...

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Old 05-23-2019, 01:38 PM
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Aggressive Dog Towards Humans and Pets

Hello, I have a 8 year old Maltese named Sammy. We rescued him a couple years back and while we've tolerated his bad habits, we can't anymore. He gets territorial in certain areas. When my grandmother's home, it's his bed and underneath her bed. When she's not here and shut him out of the room, it's a chair or underneath the leg pull out if someone's already there.

It doesn't matter who you are or even if you're walking by and otherwise ignoring him. He will growl and, if you get close enough, snap at you. He's already bitten my dad a couple of times and me once. We normally just deal with it but it's gotten worse and we are afraid he might go after one of our little kids that sometimes visit us. We have a 2 year old who doesn't understand what we mean to stay away from him yet. Nor do we expect her to.


He also has a nasty habit of stealing things. From socks to dishes. He doesn't destroy them. He just gets protective of the things he stole. And size and weight does not matter. If he can drag it, he will.

We've tried everything we can possibly think of to correct him excluding shock collars but he's very stubborn. It'll work for a bit before he's right back to his old habits. We're thinking about putting him in a shelter but that would break my grandmother's heart and upset the balance between my other 3 dogs. So I'm in desperate need of help. Should we go for the shock collar or just give up and send him away?

Aside from those things, he's an otherwise a good dog. Any ideas would be very much appreciated.
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Old 05-23-2019, 03:33 PM
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Hello!

It sounds like a very classic case of Resource Guarding. He guards space and objects by the sounds of it.

Resource guarding is extremely common, and realistically logical from a dog’s point of view. “Don’t take my stuff”.

Shock collars and taking things away is reinforcing him that he is right to be nervous about people taking his stuff - because you do!

So, the first thing I would do is bring in a Positive Reinforcement trainer to help you. They can create a plan to help you train this, if not manage it.

In the meantime, I would give him a space where no one is allowed to bother him. Whether that is a crate, or a room, or an exercise-pen. Let him know is he’s feeling uneasy, he can go there. (I have a dog that doesn’t like young children. They make her very nervous. I have no plans to have children, but when my young nieces and nephews visit, she knows she can retreat to her crate and be left alone).

The other thing I would do is every time you walk by, drop a piece of cheese, or meat, or his favourite treat. You aren’t treating him for growling, you are treating him for learning people approaching is a great thing!

I also teach all my puppies to bring me things to trade. So if they pick something up they shouldn’t have (youngest was a big fan of toilet rolls and socks) they bring it to me, and I give them a treat (or sometimes let her shred it :P ). So instead of running away with it/potentially swallowing it or guarding it, they just bring it right to me.

This is going to take some time, especially because you admit it has been going on for a while, and you’ve also punished it. Also, teaching your 2 year old to respect a dog’s space, although you feel you shouldn’t have to, will be a great lesson for her for her whole life.
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Old 05-23-2019, 04:11 PM
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Sounds possibly like a worried, non confident dog with RG issues

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Originally Posted by HollyH View Post
It doesn't matter who you are or even if you're walking by and otherwise ignoring him. He will growl and, if you get close enough, snap at you. He's already bitten my dad a couple of times and me once.

We normally just deal with it but it's gotten worse and we are afraid he might go after one of our little kids that sometimes visit us.

He also has a nasty habit of stealing things. He just gets protective of the things he stole.

We've tried everything we can possibly think of to correct him excluding shock collars but he's very stubborn..

Should we go for the shock collar or just give up and send him away?
.
Hi HollyH,

Welcome to our great dog forum!

As much as your situation is so stressful and difficult right now, I am so happy you are here trying to help your dog!

I don't have much time right now (since I am at work) to write you in detail with how to help your dog, but maybe I can just give you some ideas to think about. Maybe this can be a "starter" if you will, to getting you and your family on a different path so that you can truly help your dog Sammy.

To me, from reading your post, it sounds like your dog possibly lacks confidence, is shy possibly, fearful, worried, anxious, or a "combo platter" of these, as I say.


Why are dogs like that? Who knows, maybe he was born that way to some degree (weak nerves some call it), maybe early puppy issues or lack of socialization, maybe some not-so-hot training that confused him or made him leary of people... again, I usually tend to think it is a combo platter of things that contribute to a dog's personality, just like with us humans, right?

Anyway, your dog certainly has resource guarding issues (RG) if you say he is stealing things like socks etc and then protecting them. My Puma pup came to me at 3 months of age with this issue already deeply rooted in her. We work with it all the time and have made huge progress using the "exchange method" where you trade the dog for some amazing food or other valued item.

[B] "Corrections" generally backfire as you have seen, since the dog is genuinely worried about losing his precious treasure. If you scold the dog and then take the item away, it only reinforces his worry or fear of losing his item, because he was right--you are taking it away! So the RG and aggressive behavior usually worsens over time. He steals something, family approaches or comes near, he shows aggressive behavior to tell you to back off. If you go closer when he is warning you, a bite may happen! After all, he warned you, right?

Also, please, please ditch the idea of the shock collar asap for your dog. I am very glad that you chose to come here for help rather than revert to using an aversive device like a shock collar. Using a shock collar in your case would most likely cause your dog's worry or fear or insecurity to increase, hence increase your dog's aggressive behaviors.

Sammy sounds like he is very used to using aggressive measures to drive people away at times. Usually this stems from some fear or insecurity or worry. Does this sound right to you?

The goal with the "exchange or trade method" is to change the underlying emotions of how your dog feels about you coming near when he has a treasure. It does take a lot of time and patience and understanding to do this, but it is so worth it and certainly can be done!

RG can be very dangerous and unsafe, especially when small children are present, like you are smartly right about being concerned. A dog could RG an item or specific area, kid comes near and bam-- innocent child gets bit. Not good.

In my house there are no kidlets, but I do have 2 other dogs and I am very cautious when Puma is in her occasional RG mood. (Which generally is a response to her being way overtired or too much overall stress in our home)

I suggest that you look up RESOURCE GUARDING online, and also here on our dog forum as a starter. I have written many posts here about RG and my Puma pup. Go to the advanced search button and type in AthenaLove (my screen name) and Resource Guarding and you can read all about how I work with my Puma if you are interested.

I will write more later to try to offer help for you guys.

I also suggest that if possible, you talk to a professional trainer (or behaviorist) that uses positive reinforcement. At least to get an assessment to see what they suggest before you even consider rehoming Sammy. A trainer can come to your home and actually see the dynamics and offer help, whereas we here online can only go by what you are writing to us.

Thank you again for wanting to help your dog Sammy! Hang in there, ok?

I am sure others here will have good ideas and thoughts for you as well. This forum is super helpful and has very nice folks who want to help dog lovers and their beloved dogs.
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Old 05-23-2019, 04:18 PM
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Resource guarding...great post here!

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Originally Posted by Shandula View Post
Hello!

It sounds like a very classic case of Resource Guarding. He guards space and objects by the sounds of it.

Resource guarding is extremely common, and realistically logical from a dog’s point of view. “Don’t take my stuff”.

Shock collars and taking things away is reinforcing him that he is right to be nervous about people taking his stuff - because you do!

So, the first thing I would do is bring in a Positive Reinforcement trainer to help you. They can create a plan to help you train this, if not manage it.

In the meantime, I would give him a space where no one is allowed to bother him. Whether that is a crate, or a room, or an exercise-pen. Let him know is he’s feeling uneasy, he can go there. (I have a dog that doesn’t like young children. They make her very nervous. I have no plans to have children, but when my young nieces and nephews visit, she knows she can retreat to her crate and be left alone).

The other thing I would do is every time you walk by, drop a piece of cheese, or meat, or his favourite treat. You aren’t treating him for growling, you are treating him for learning people approaching is a great thing!

I also teach all my puppies to bring me things to trade. So if they pick something up they shouldn’t have (youngest was a big fan of toilet rolls and socks) they bring it to me, and I give them a treat (or sometimes let her shred it :P ). So instead of running away with it/potentially swallowing it or guarding it, they just bring it right to me.

This is going to take some time, especially because you admit it has been going on for a while, and you’ve also punished it. Also, teaching your 2 year old to respect a dog’s space, although you feel you shouldn’t have to, will be a great lesson for her for her whole life.

@Shandula, I just posted my reply....and then saw your excellent post. I totally agree with everything you wrote here. Thank you for writing this easy to understand, very well written post.
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Old 05-23-2019, 05:23 PM
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Thank you for your responses. I've talked it over with my folks. My dad is skeptical but my mom is more agreeable. Right now we have his bed in front of the front door that nobody uses. It's in a snug hallway next to my grandmother's room. They have asked a question that I need ya'lls help.

Say he has something he isn't supposed to. Like a child's toy or a sock. How do we get that from him? Wouldn't trading reinforce it by telling him "Keep stealing and you'll get what you want"? Normally we wait until he leaves to go get it so there's no confrontation which usually he spends more time out with us than guarding stuff. Though on occasion we get the broom and have him go after that while we nab the item. Obviously it just added fuel to the growing problem. Any ideas how we can get the items he stole?
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Old 05-23-2019, 05:34 PM
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I do a fair amount of boarding dogs and I might have them short term for one overnight or a week or a weekend. Not really enough time to retrain an issue like resource guarding.
Which I did fix in my large last dog.

I don't ever want an unsafe situation with my large dog or my cats. I feed every dog separately. I make it very clear that visiting dogs are not allowed on my bed, that's a haven't for my dog and my cats to be safe with me.
My dog's large crate is where any dog who shows any kind of resource guarding or aggression at all to people or animals goes immediately. It instantly de escalates the situation and they get their own den to calm down in. I'll give them a chew or something to motivate them to go in there or I'll lead them in by the harness or leash if I have to. If they're acting like they might bite me, I have a muzzle and a gentle leader which can double as a muzzle in an emergency. Better to be safe than get bitten or have any animals get hurt. I try very hard to stay calm but firm.
I had a small dog that stayed for one night but the minute I left for one hour I'd left him in the bathroom because he kept going after my cats, he started barking like crazy. My dad was visiting for the holidays so went to take him outside. The minute he opened the door to put on the leash the little dog ran out and jumped on my bed and was growling and snapping at my dad who's in his 80s and got his harness off.
He immediately claimed my bed even though I'd firmly put him on the floor and in his own dog bed every time. Once he was on my bed he'd bark and snap at my older cat with cancer that never fought back. No way.
When I got back, my poor Dad had left me all these notes about watch the aggressive biting dog.
He growled at me, so on with the gentle leader adjusted to be like a muzzle, on with the harness and outside we went. He didn't pee or poop. Straight into the crate he went and stayed that night.
Much better attitude the next day until he snapped at my dog. I had already called the owner and told her to pick him up. She had presented him as nervous and needs cuddles, not at all aggressive.
I needed hazard pay to deal with him. He went after every person and a umal in my place.
But the crate does seem to help with giving them their own space to not feel threatened by other people or animals.
At two years old, it's a great time to teach the child to respect others space and that dogs need respect too. Very important life lesson and they absolutely can and should understand that at two.
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Old 05-23-2019, 05:50 PM
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He's guarding because he's worried it's going to be taken from him. If you give him something else he'll learn that he doesn't have to guard. If he's on a crate or a room you can get it since he'll be safely confined. I have had to use a broom to push a guarding growling and snapping dig off my bed or away from a cat or I certainly would to break up a fight with my dog.

I'm not talking about hitting or abusing any dogs with it, just about prying them apart or getting them away from something without getting bitten and staying safe.

But ideally trading teaches him that there's plenty of resources and he doesn't have to guard.

I'm a bit more old school. I trained my last dog to stop resource guarding without trading. And he was seventy five pounds and could be scary. I only fed him in his room and I was the only one to feed him. We did tons of obedience training and he didn't start eating or touch the food until I said ok. If he got pushy I took the bowl away and he had to go in his crate for a few minutes. Tons of praise when he was good.
I could eventually toss out pieces of my steak from my dinner on the floor to him and four or five begging cats. He'd stay exactly where I told him to and he'd only catch the pieces I told him ok on. Never touched the cats' pieces. And they would all be just a foot next to him. If they walked away he'd leave the meat there until I said ok go clean it up.
But he didn't eat anything until I said ok. Was very gentle taking food from me, handfeeding. Never hit him but I had to be firm. I never traded anything if I said drop it he did.

Worked perfectly with him. But he was my perfect heart dog of twelve years.
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Old 05-23-2019, 09:51 PM
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How I helped Puma with her severe Resource Guarding issues

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Originally Posted by HollyH View Post

Say he has something he isn't supposed to. Like a child's toy or a sock. How do we get that from him?

Wouldn't trading reinforce it by telling him "Keep stealing and you'll get what you want"?
Hi HollyH,

Very good question you ask:

" Wouldn't trading reinforce it by telling him "Keep stealing and you'll get what you want?"

Seems like this would be the case, right? I wrestled with that myself when I first started working with my Puma pup, who loves nothing more than to steal my socks or her dad's shirt!

I figured out in Puma's case it has something to do with wanting something personal of ours, that smells like us. She doesn't eat the items or destroy them at all, she just wants to be with them for comfort or closeness....and then protect them like crazy! OY! Kinda a compliment that she loves us so much that she wants to be surrounded by our things, our scent, but then again--it can lead to dangerous consequences so it has to be worked out. Complex, huh?

But it isn't the case. The mission is to teach our RG dogs that we are not there to "steal" from them or "take" from them or "betray" them by stealing their treasures. Once they realize that we are not a threat to them, it won't be an issue. It doesn't happen overnight--especially if the dog has been rehearsing this behavior over and over again! My Puma is much, much better like I said before, but we see her RG flare up occasionally at times, usually due to other stressors.

I started working on her with this by teaching a strong leave it and drop it, by playing fun games with food and praise over and over and over again! In many different places, public and at home. Anywhere I could. In parking lots with food trash. At my shop with customers helping out in the game. I made it super fun and highly rewarding. These commands or cues or tricks or whatever you would like to call them, they can be the basis for working with a RG dog.

So when Puma is in RG mode with a sock sitting in her corner of the kitchen on her blankie growling at me as I approach, I do a bunch of things...until she finally willing releases the stolen treasure (sock)...

1)I say "Hi Puma" every time as cue that we will be working this together and good things are coming her way (yummy food bites)

2) I go near her, respecting her growl as she is telling me she is worried, and I drop tons of small pieces of very high value food near her (cheese, meat, chicken, hot dogs, livers, etc) but at a safe enough distance that she will not ever bite me. (RG dogs can bite) Usually I prefer to stay far enough away that she is NOT growling at me and then toss her the treats from that distance. Growling= worried or stressed or uncomfortable

If she continues to growl I may speak softly to her and say "Hey, Puma no worries, I'm not coming to take your things" or something like that. Helps to calm both her and me!

I do this often, randomly, everytime she RG. Becomes standard practice. I do it --say the cue, then drop the treats, then walk away. Rinse and repeat.

Note:I don't ask anything of her, she does not need to do anything at this stage of the RG training!!!!! I am just wanting to change her mindset over time to Human (me) approaches= good things will happen.
This is where most people mess up! They expect too much too soon.

3)in the beginning when Puma's RG was ultra scary and threatening, I did not feel safe to enter into her room to do this. So I stood across from the baby gate and put some yummy peanut butter on a long fly swatter over the gate and did the routine!! Worked well, kept my distance and kept her from biting me!

Puma had very severe RG issues early on at 3 months, poor lil doggie. How horrible to be so worried as a young puppy, right? She was the runt....who knows why? Also when I first got her she "got" a bird and I freaked out (eeeww creepy) and I stole it from her. I am quite sure she has never forgotten this. In hindsite, I should have done it differently...but I had never had a dog "get" a bird....... live and learn, right?

4)Then when we got better together and it was safer, I increased my distance gradually. Still the same routine.

5)Then I worked on playing the drop it/or leave it games with her in the situation. It worked well for us.

6) Eventually she learned that if she gives me the prize, I trade her for other valuable items. And she gets to have fun while doing so.

6.5) Eventually the goal is that she never ever needs to worry about my coming near her when she has anything, right? We are getting there, slowly but surely.

7) The other day she actually let me take a super high value prized chewie right out of her mouth on the couch. No growls whatsoever! I gave her some of my hamburger from my dinner, then gave the chewie back to her. All was A+, huge difference from her prior RG.

8) I still have to keep practicing so that her RG issues don't reappear, but for the most part, it is so much easier for both of us, since we both know the drill!

9) On the occasions when her Rg comes out strong it is usually due to being overtired so it is much harder for her to release the object. (Think cranky toddler!)
SO at times, when it is very late at night and we all need to go to bed, we do distract her with something to eat or a toy or whatever.. and then go retrieve the
stolen item when she is safely in our bedroom and cannot watch us do it. By the time she jumps in bed with me, she has completely forgotten all about it and is back to snuggling me in bed.

Rg is a trip, and not a fun one! But it can get so much better if you are patient and understanding!

Hope this helps. I may have left some stuff out--it is late, but I wanted to try to offer you some help if I could

Last edited by AthenaLove; 05-23-2019 at 09:56 PM.
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Old 05-24-2019, 05:25 AM
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You are receiving some really great advice here! We also do trading with both our dog and our human child.

It’s the human children I want to address. I’m a mother, a child care professional of over two decades, and (don’t laugh) the oldest of 12 children. Two years old is PLENTY old enough for a child to be learning not to take things away from, chase, or otherwise harass, and also old enough to learn to respect body language and vocalizations of another creature including dogs.

In fact yesterday we were just going over this with my 1.5 year old son. He wanted to take my dog’s bone to play fetch, but my dog wanted to sit and chew it. A simple reminder “No Levi, that’s Ranger’s bone; don’t take away.” Was enough because this is a concept that we reinforce ALL. THE. TIME. Kids aren’t allowed to terrorize our pets, they are required to learn that early.

So your two year old will likely be confused at first, just be firm and consistent, distract them, and set clear boundaries (I wouldn’t let them in the same room as the spaces the dog usually guards, and be SURE the dog can always get away!). I would suggest not even letting kids approach your dog if it makes the dog nervous. If the child approaches the dog, correct the CHILD. Two year olds understand the word no. Correct, explain, distract. Example “No sweetie, do not go to the dog, remember? Come look at this book instead.” The child will likely cry first, get mad, etc but an angry child is Better than a bitten child and they will learn if you are consistent.


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