Random Aggressiveness in a Rescue Dane

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Random Aggressiveness in a Rescue Dane

This is a discussion on Random Aggressiveness in a Rescue Dane within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; Okay...sorry in advance...a bit of a story here. My wife and I are experienced Dane owners. The rescue who is the subject of this story, ...

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Old 09-02-2017, 11:19 AM
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Unhappy Random Aggressiveness in a Rescue Dane

Okay...sorry in advance...a bit of a story here. My wife and I are experienced Dane owners. The rescue who is the subject of this story, Levi, is our 5th Dane. But he's the first rescue. All the others were brought home as puppies and raised and trained by us.

Roughly one year ago, we saw a rescue Dane online and fell in love. We went to visit him and heard a tale of woe about a divorce, and how he had been largely abandoned in a yard with a younger Dane. He was 18 months and only just neutered by the rescue folks. We brought our Dane Gideon for a visit, a 30 month old neutered male, and they seemed to get along famously. So, after a day of preparation, we went back to pick up Levi. We had them meet for the second time on neutral territory. All went well, and we brought Levi home.

This is where the story goes wrong...or more appropriately, where I go wrong. I have never brought a rescue home, and in hindsight, I did a lot wrong. Rather than giving him time to adjust, and learn to trust us as pack leaders, we just assumed he was "our dog." The first aggression incident took place the day after we brought him home.

We went out for our usual weekend hike in the mountains. We had both dogs on leads, and I had the new dog, Levi. He was (and is) absolutely docile, obedient and charming on lead. At the very beginning of the walk, someone came towards us on the trail with an Aussie puppy (probably 4 mos or so), off lead. The puppy ran up to Gideon and sniffed, no problem. He then moved on to Levi (the rescue), who seemed fine. But as the puppy sniffed Levi's front legs, without warning, Levi lunged, grabbed him by the neck and head and picked him up. All hell broke loose. Terrifying. I used the nylon choke collar as hard as I could, I yelled, everyone yelled...and the owner of the Aussie threw a water bottle at Levi. He would not let go. The puppy was screaming and crying out, and eventually, and stupidly, I intervened with my hands. I pried his jaws open and the puppy fell to the ground.

Here's the amazing part. At that time Levi was a bit skinny, and 123 lbs. But there was, precisely zero damage to the puppy. Not a scratch. Not a puncture. Unbelievable. We are all shaken up terribly, but the puppy was fine. I get that the puppy shouldn't have been off lead...but my dog did the attacking. So...

I was freaked. I called the rescue and arranged to return him. I cried all the way there. I felt like I was abandoning a dog that needed me, but both my wife and I were scared.

So after returning him, I did a bunch of homework. Should have done it in advance. We are responsible dog owners. All of our Danes have been through at least intermediate obedience, and we stay on top of them. Big dogs are big responsibility and we get that. But I hadn't brought Levi home responsibly. I dreamed about him...and prayed about it for a couple of days. And in the end, my wife and I decided to take him back.

This time we went much slower. We kept other people away for a few weeks, we let him learn we loved him, but were also strong and assertive pack leaders. And Levi...he was pliable, loving and amazing. No problems...at all.

Until...several weeks later I was out of town, and my wife and Mom decided it would be a good idea to give my wife a break and take Levi to a dog sitter. Short story...when they arrived, dogs were running around barking, and the Danes were in the back of our SUV going crazy. When my wife opened the hatch, Levi jumped out and pounced on a full grown black lab just sitting there. Same thing...back of neck, clamped down...dog screaming, people screaming...and eventually my Mom intervened and got bit by putting her hand in Levi's mouth. Pretty seriously. Required hospital visit, and ultimately therapy. :-(

We then took him through beginning and intermediate obedience training with a certified trainer (that we have used for all our Danes). We told her about our experiences, and she pre-evaluated the dog around her dogs (with a muzzle), and we saw nothing. Levi completed trainings with flying colors, including a bit of off-lead work at the end of intermediate. All good right?

We were working to expose him to as much as possible, all the time. We work from home, so we're around all the time. At some point we took a trip to the city and brought both dogs with us. While there, someone approached Levi and went straight for his face...face to face. He was fine for a few moments, and then lunged and snapped. I don't think he actually tried to bite...because he was in position where he could have. But the woman jumped back, and I was pretty upset. I never saw it coming. Again, in hindsight...I should have never let someone do that...but he had not expressed any aggression at all to people before.

Second incident...my adult son was home visiting. He and Levi were laying on the couch together, snuggling, and Levi growled pretty aggressively. No snap, no bark...but clearly serious. My son got the hint, the dog got clearance, and no harm. But...signals.

Third. Next post. I'm about to take off on a flight...I don't want to lose this post.
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Old 09-03-2017, 10:26 AM
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Story continued...

So the next incident took place at home when we were having our house renovated. Floors had been torn up and replaced and on this particular day, painters were all over the place. Levi was clearly a bit nervous about all of this, as was Gideon. But generally fine. At a random point, one of the painters walked by Levi (they had met and pet numerous times over the previous days), and patted him on the head. Levi lunged for the painter, and again...no actual bite, but hit him pretty hard waist level with the side of his face. Clearly aggressive (fear based). But there was NO notice. Maybe there was notice...and I just missed it. I'm open to the idea that this is my fault.

Final incident...couple of months later. My Dad was in the hospital post-knee replacement surgery. We brought the dogs to the hospital to cheer him up and help with recover. Believe it or not, most hospitals LOVE having any dog come in, and we have had tons of experience with this. First day, both dogs...all good. Great time. Second day, it was just me and Levi. All good most of day, including Levi sleeping quietly on the floor after loving on my Dad. Then, at some point, there was a bunch of activity in the room, and they needed my help to move my Dad. So my Mom took Levi's leash. As Levi was standing obediently next to her, a male nurse walked by. Levi lunged and grabbed the front of his scrub shirt. No skin, no bite...but a tiny tear in the shirt. I had to leave and take him home.

When these incidents happen, I don't panic. I've been working with dogs and horses a long time. I assert dominance, by putting the dog in a down, and leaving him there until the situation seems more relaxed and under control. (Again...right or wrong...I don't know...just what I've learned in the past.) When the situation was long past, and Levi was back to sleep on the floor, we left the hospital and went home.

So...finally...we don't know what to do. The unpredictability is scary. He hasn't hurt anyone, or any dog, yet. I am assuming the real reason he was given up for adoption is this behavior. I don't know at what age he was taken from his mother (perhaps never learned appropriate boundaries), or what his life experience was for us.

Right now I have him with a trainer that is boarding him for two weeks and claims to be an expert in aggressive behavior. He has a pack of nine dogs who help with the rehabilitation. Dog agression training specialist near Sacramento, CA.

I have no idea if this is the right thing to do. We are committed. We've had him a year and love this dog (and frankly...all dogs...but especially Danes). But we are out of our depth.

Any ideas or experience in dealing with unpredictable aggression (likely fear based), and/or Danes is greatly appreciated.

Mark
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Old 09-03-2017, 12:30 PM
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When I went to a behaviorist for some aggression my dog was starting to show, also fear basedation he's a highly anxious dog with severe separation anxiety who had 2 homes before me, I was told to write down everything I could about every situation where he acted out to learn the triggers to make these incidents seem less random. My dog was only barking and growling, but would lunge, never any biting, although had gotten into some fights at the dog park. No bites at people though. My last dog that I had for almost 12 years has bitten a few people, always when protecting me or someine close, and never hurt anyone, always warning bites.
It sounds like your dog gets nervous in new strange situations or when his home is changed like with construction. Then any strangers are at potential risk. Unless you can find some common pat tern among all the people. Tall, short, wearing hats, dark vs light skin, strange hair, color hair. Sunglasses, etc.
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Old 09-03-2017, 01:22 PM
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Frankly, I would not use that behaviorist. I see no credentials such as CAAB. He's using the outdated Apha philosophy, and if he's simply suppressing the way the dog feels then the dog's fearful reaction generally comes back, sooner or later, worse then before. I also do not like "programs" where the owner drops off the dog for training unless I am free to visit the whole facility at any time of the day and observe just how those dogs are being treated. If they are using corrections such as alpha rolls, choke or shock collars, intimidation, etc, then they are doing nothing but teaching the dog to be afraid to react, and like I wrote above the behavior tends to come back down the road even worse then before because the dog was never taught to change how it felt about the trigger.

Having said that, with the way Levi is progressively getting worse, reacting to dogs and now humans, and the unpredictability of his reactions, paired with his size, I do agree that you need outside help. I'd be way out of my league, not to mention recklessly careless, to suggest you do A, B, and C, and see if that works.

I can offer a few suggestions. First, search here for a true certified applied animal behaviorist Animal Behavior Society, anyone can claim to be a trainer or behaviorist, but to actually be certified they'll need special courses and training.

Next get a basket muzzle and muzzle train him, basket muzzle because he'll be able to pant, drink, and take treats. He needs to wear that muzzle anytime he is walked, otherwise you are walking a legal liability because sooner or later he's going to hurt someone. Here's a site that will help you condition him to wear the muzzle https://muzzleupproject.com/

Last have him checked head to toe, including blood work with a full thyroid panel, by the vet. You need to make sure that something medical is not causing his reactions before trying work on his behavior.

Good luck to y'all and thank you so much for not giving up on him!
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Old 09-03-2017, 02:17 PM
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Rain if you're referring to the behaviorist I mentioned, he was a top credentialed veterinarian behaviorist from Tufts Veterinary center. He told me many things for my complex dog, gave me many handouts, prescribed medications and was very helpful and I believe is well known and respected in the field in my area.

I was only mentioning one brief suggestion he told me to figure out triggers to my dogs fear based aggressive behaviors which were starting to mildly escalate, not to the point of the great dane this thread is about. It helped me to look for commonalities as I could then prevent my dog getting anxious and fearful by keeping those triggers further away and distracting him more with treats and commands and having him associate fearful triggers with praise and treats.
But the behaviorist and his advice was excellent. He retired so I had to continue with another acredited behaviorist in order to continue my dog on his medication as regular vets around here are not comfortable prescribing it. Her advice was identical to the original ones. The medication is for separation anxiety but I mention all issues I'm concerned about while I'm there.
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Old 09-03-2017, 02:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shadowmom View Post
Rain if you're referring to the behaviorist I mentioned, he was a top credentialed veterinarian behaviorist from Tufts Veterinary center. He told me many things for my complex dog, gave me many handouts, prescribed medications and was very helpful and I believe is well known and respected in the field in my area.

I was only mentioning one brief suggestion he told me to figure out triggers to my dogs fear based aggressive behaviors which were starting to mildly escalate, not to the point of the great dane this thread is about. It helped me to look for commonalities as I could then prevent my dog getting anxious and fearful by keeping those triggers further away and distracting him more with treats and commands and having him associate fearful triggers with praise and treats.
But the behaviorist and his advice was excellent. He retired so I had to continue with another acredited behaviorist in order to continue my dog on his medication as regular vets around here are not comfortable prescribing it. Her advice was identical to the original ones. The medication is for separation anxiety but I mention all issues I'm concerned about while I'm there.
Shadowmom, no I was referring to the behaviorist in the link that the OP provided, I saw no accreditation on the site, just that he took different animal related courses. I'm sorry for the confusion!

It sounds like the ones you used were good ones, and vet behaviorist generally are Medication, is often warranted for truly anxious, fearful, dogs as without it there is no working with the dogs to overcome anything. My own dog is like that with his thunder phobia, and I have medicine that I give him during storms. I'm glad that your boy is getting the medicine that he needs, along with the CC/DS that he needs to overcome his fears and anxiety! I actually do similar work with my fear aggressive boy and it's amazing how far he's come.
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Old 09-03-2017, 07:25 PM
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Arrow Manage 1st; *** then ***, train.

@GreatDaneMark -
personally, if this were my dog & my situation, i'd stick to management for the moment, while getting the WHOLE-BODY work-up via my usual GP-vet - including especially a 5-way or even 6-way thyroid panel, to be analyzed by one of 2 labs: either Michigan State Univ's vet-lab, or DVM Dodd's HemoPet lab.

a full thyroid-panel includes both free & bound forms of T3 & T4, plus TSH / Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, & may include an ANA test, too - i'd get the Anti-Nuclear Antibody test with the other 5, myself, as it's a nice helpful bit of data that tells U if the dog is trashing his own thyroid-hormone after making it.

MSU has the world's largest breed-specific database of thyroid values; Dr Dodds has a global reputation for excellence, & decades of specialization in blood-based problems. Both of them get specimens from all over the world.
A full panel runs around $85 to $100-usa, & the analysis is by far the most-important part - Do NOT Let the vet talk U into "saving money" by skipping tests or by having it analyzed locally; both are false economies.

The difference between free & bound forms is akin to the measurement between floor & ceiling - U need both ends to make useful data of the middle.

If the results are borderline low, i'd be prepared to ask my vet about a trial period on low-dose thyroid supplement; approx 3-weeks should tell the tale, & if behavior improves, that's reasonable grounds to continue the supplement for life.
Once the dosage is properly adjusted, the supplement is blessedly cheap, so no great hardship. If he needs it, the supplement can make an incredible difference in the behavior of a hypothyroid dog, even if s/he is subclinical [none of the classic symptoms, thyroid levels on the low end of 'normal'].

I'd also look for either a vet-behaviorist or a CAAB - both sets are somewhat thin on the ground, but many will do remote-consults using video or live feed of the dog's behavior, plus the local vet for hands-on stuff, & the owner to carry out the B-Mod protocol.
There may or may not be Rx meds - it depends on many factors.

management
I'd pre-condition him to happily wear a box-muzzle, plus under the box-muzzle, i'd have a Gentle Leader headcollar. // Properly adjusted, their headcollar lets the dog pant with a freely-opened airway, doesn't impede vision, & is comfortable; there's a DVD in the package to explain fitting, & don't cheat - WATCH it, please.

A headcollar takes the power of the dog's legs & the sheer weight of their torso out of the equation; now, the dog's strength is limited to the muscles of their neck, & either inertia or momentum - which in the case of a Deutsche Dogge is still considerable, but it certainly helps level the playing field with a puny, bipedal human.

Dogs have 4-on-the-floor maneuverability, faster reflexes, most can run at 35-mph by the time they're 4 to 6-MO, & most of all, the AVERAGE dog is 3X as strong as a human, pound for pound.
Muscle breeds - Rotts, Pibbles, Corsos, etc - are 4X as strong, pound for pound, as humans.
IMO, we need all the help we can get. A headcollar is certainly one such help.

Management can keep the community safe, while U look for in-depth help from a humane professional.
I, too, would say avoid anyone who spouts Cesar Millan catch-phrases, talks about 'dominance' & 'pack leaders', 'Alpha', etc.

- terry


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Old 09-03-2017, 09:30 PM
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So...he's there now...are both of you saying I should cut it short and go pick him up?

Mark
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Old 09-03-2017, 09:34 PM
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Also, as an aside, he's not generally anxious. He's pretty chilled out. I take him all over the place with us. He's been in stores, banks, on restaurant patios, in the car, out of the car, at our house, and at others. He never acts "obviously" anxious, except in the rare exception described above. Again...I may just be missing subtle cues. I don't claim to be expert at all. Though, as someone who works at home, I've been around him almost 24/7 for a year, so I feel like I know him pretty well at this point.

Super interested in the blood tests you describe. What would low thyroid do to him?

Mark
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Old 09-03-2017, 10:01 PM
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Lightbulb subclinical hypothyroid

Quote:
Originally Posted by GreatDaneMark View Post

...
Super interested in the blood tests you describe. What would low thyroid do to him?
hypothyroidism, even when it's subclinical [meaning asymptomatic], can lower a dog's threshold - they are more reactive, & are less tolerant; in simple terms, they're irritable.

a trainer I knew had 2 M dogs, brothers, who'd always been best-buds; suddenly they began seriously fighting, at around 5 to 6-YO. It reached a pitch where simply walking toward one another could cause the dog being approached to bite as soon as his bro was close-enuf. The change was crazy-fast & very bizarre.
Both needed stitches more than once. // B-Mod didn't help, nor did anti-anxiety meds, nor calmatives.

When they were tested & came up borderline, both dogs started thyroid supplement. // Within 72-hours, they were again sleeping side-by-side, playing without friction, eating in the kitchen just 5-ft apart... no growling, no posturing, & DEFINITELY no fighting.
The return to their norm was just as fast & just as drastic as the onset of aggro.


The effect of thyroid replacement in dogs with suboptimal thyroid ...
http://www.journalvetbehavior.com/ar...002-6/abstract
by NH Dodman -
‎2013 - ‎Cited by 24 - ‎Related articles
Feb 5, 2013 -
The efficacy of thyroid hormone replacement therapy (THRT) as treatment for owner-directed aggression in client-owned dogs with borderline ...



- Terry

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