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Discussion Starter #1
Despite my best efforts to follow every positive training protocol for building trust and confidence, Finnegan's resource guarding continues to get worse. Any time I even go near his coveted object, he goes berserk: he barks, makes this loud, high-pitched snarling/screaming sound, lunges, and bites. His bites are hard, quick, and rapid (multiple bites in a row). He's always shown great bite inhibition, at least, but things have inexplicably escalated in the past week--one day he bit me hard enough that it actually hurt, and the next he bit me hard enough to break the skin a little (like a paper cut). Additionally, I'm really worried that he's begun to show aggression in situations where he's not guarding. For instance, if I tell him "no" or grab his collar (I always do these things gently). He has bitten me 5 times in the past 6 days.

Then, the night before last, he bit me completely unprovoked. He was laying down, very relaxed, and I approached to pet and praise him. At first he was his normal self, very calmly enjoying the gentle scratches, and then, out of nowhere, he jumped up and started snarling and biting me rapidly and very hard. I have no idea what caused this. I was always able to tell when he was feeling uncomfortable/protective, but this was completely out of the blue.

I have a vet appointment booked for next week, but it feels so far away. I guess I'd just like some insight, commiseration, info on what to expect going forward. What are the chances that there's something physically wrong with him that's causing this behaviour (and what should I be looking for)? Could he just be a dog with aggressive tendencies? How likely is rehabilitation via a behaviourist? Will he ever be fully trustworthy? It kills me to ask these questions, but how does this limit my options for giving him up, and at what point is it decided that a dog who bites should be put down? I really need some real talk. As much as I love and cherish Finnegan, he's been a much bigger challenge than I'd hoped, compounded by the fact that there have been some huge, unexpected upheavals in my life since I got him. I'm totally lost, and I'm hoping that somewhere between asking here, asking the vet, and asking the obedience trainer next week, I'll be able to figure out the right thing to do.
 

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I'm very sorry you're going through this. Unfortunately it sounds like this behavior is worsening. And though it wasn't...warranted, I wouldn't say this was "unprovoked". Clearly what provoked him was you approaching/reaching out to/petting him. That in itself is very troubling, because if a dog is reactive to his owner simply approaching him it's very difficult to live with him.

Where did you get Finnegan and how old is he? I looked on the profile you made for him and saw he's a Mini Aussie/American Shepherd. In my experience they can be a...very fear reactive dog. I feel like reactive doesn't totally cover it, but most that I've met short of high quality show dogs are a very unhappy bundle of nerves. Sadly some breeds have had some very bad neurological/psychological problems bred into them. And what color is he? Blue merle/double merle dogs of this sort are also sometimes prone to serious aggression or emotional problems as well.

*hugs* I think it's impossible for us to say exactly what's wrong with him or what his potential is. However I'm sure after the vet and trainer see him they will give you a better idea. I think right now we need to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. But either way I think with a dog who has such severe aggression issues, the definition of "trusting" him might need to change. Keep us updated.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Thanks for your response @traciek88. What you said about the bites being "unwarranted" rather than "unprovoked" makes sense, though I really struggle to understand why he reacted that way. He usually loves getting attention and being petted--he loves people in general, and is super outgoing. He has never shown discomfort before when being approached (unless he was guarding an object). Even in this instance, he showed no discomfort when I approached him, and only "attacked" after I'd already been petting him for a few seconds.

I got him from a family who runs a small farm and owned a couple of mini aussies as pets, and had an "oops" litter. Yeah, not the most responsible breeders. If it makes any difference, he was the runt. He's 6.5 months old now and he's a red merle colour. His mother was the same, his father was tri-coloured, and they both seemed well adjusted when I met them. Finnegan definitely seems like a bundle of nerves a lot of the time though, especially since entering adolescence. But I'd also describe him as generally happy-go-lucky. Like he's very chipper and friendly but doesn't know what to do with himself half the time.

Here he is looking unusually stoic.
 

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He is a beautiful dog and you have gone above and beyond with your efforts. I myself would not keep an unprovoked biter, not only do I not want to be bitten but there is after the first unprovoked bite, here in the US, the whole possibly very expensive liability problem if the dog should bite someone else.
Rehoming him has its own set of ethical/legal problems, it may be time to think about having him put down. That would not be any reflection on you, you have tried very hard to alter his behavior but sometimes, trying and wanting are not enough.
 

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I'm sorry you have to go through this. I have a reactive dog who can be a handful at times but I don't know what I'd do if he were ever aggressive toward me....thankfully when it comes to people he knows he is very loving and kind.

Wait and see what the vet says. It could be the wiring is just wrong, but it also could be something neurological. Maybe he's having mini seizures or something? Who knows.
 

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Next step should likely be a very thorough vet exam. A full thyroid panel, hearing, vision, looking for possible pain, etc. Honestly behavior like you describe just sounds like something might be going on...

A consult with a vet behaviorist might be a good idea. If anxious in general then meds may help take the edge off and allow for progress with behavior mod.

I also think at least a consult with a behaviorist or behavior consultant would be beneficial. They can assess the situation/behavior, help create a behavior mod plan, and help you implement it. Behavior mod, while often seeming easy in theory, van actually be tricky to do well. Lots of ways to make mistakes. https://iaabc.org/consultants
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I wanted to add my support to the others above- I've been watching your progression of posts on Finnegan on this board, from the very first one when you first got him. It really sounds like you have been doing everything as well as you can, trying harder than most dog owners- don't look at these issues as something *you* created; I'd be willing to bet there is either a health issue going on here or a genetic predisposition to this that would have shown up in any home he was in (especially considering the ages the issues started showing up, which were all unusually young).

It is totally possible both parents are very nice, stable dogs- I have seen wildly reactive litters thrown out of very stable parents. Sometimes that happens. My (informal, not backed by any studies I known of) opinion is it just has something to do with the way the genetic contributions of the parents come together, and points to the propensity for them both to throw reactive pups, even if they are not reactive themselves. With things like this, even a good breeder doesn't know it will happen until it does.

I will say, I have also found this breed to be prone to reactivity/aggression, though I also hesitate to say it like that because it is less that they are reactive to certain stimuli and more, as said above, that they are just a big ol bag of nerves that lashes out with their teeth. They did ride a "fad breed" wave in their earlier years, and so there are a lot of lines bred from dogs with poor temperaments and I think that has added to it.

I also would suggest a workup on hearing and vision, a thyroid panel, and looking for possible pain. Like I said, this sounds like it may very well be physical/aggression caused by a health condition. I would also highly, highly recommend seeking the help of a professional in behavioral modification. It is much easier to explain the possible ways to modify behavior than it is to institute them, and it is very easy to institute them wrongly and either make it worse or just not make any progress because you're not doing it in a way to maximize success.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Everyone, thank you so much for your responses. It's truly appreciated.
@kmes, thank you for the resource. I'm in Canada and it doesn't look like there are any behaviourists anywhere close to me. I will look into perhaps doing at least a phone consultation or something similar, or perhaps my vet or local trainer will have another idea for me.
 

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Everyone, thank you so much for your responses. It's truly appreciated.
@kmes, thank you for the resource. I'm in Canada and it doesn't look like there are any behaviourists anywhere close to me. I will look into perhaps doing at least a phone consultation or something similar, or perhaps my vet or local trainer will have another idea for me.

A lot of the behaviourists are not going to be as easy to find by just looking up. I can help point you in the right direction to finding one in Canada as I do talk with many frequently in other forums. They would recommend one that does not deal with aversive practices also. If you would like me to network for you just let me know what city you are close to and will ask today. Local trainer would have info on a behaviourist as well.
 

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This is so sad. He's a beautiful dog. Is there any way you could contact the owners of his litter mates to see how they're behaving? Sorry if this has been asked/answered.
 

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I just want to reiterate that I REALLY do not think that YOU are responsible for this. You've done everything and more that I did with my guys. I really sadly think that a majority of the Minis are just...wired wrong. Most I meet are reactive, hyperactive, and just...nervous in general.
Please, please, pleeeease don't beat yourself up. You're a great dog owner.
 
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Discussion Starter #13
I don't have the contact information of the people who took the other two puppies. I have contemplated contacting the breeders to see if A) they know how the other puppies are doing or B) if they ever experienced anything like this with their own dogs. But I'm not sure what I'd say or if it would even matter...

Aww, thanks @Shandula. I really have been wondering if I somehow caused this, or caused it to worsen somehow :( It really is heartbreaking.
 

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I don't have the contact information of the people who took the other two puppies. I have contemplated contacting the breeders to see if A) they know how the other puppies are doing or B) if they ever experienced anything like this with their own dogs. But I'm not sure what I'd say or if it would even matter...

Aww, thanks @Shandula. I really have been wondering if I somehow caused this, or caused it to worsen somehow :( It really is heartbreaking.
If it were me, I would contact the breeder to see if (a) they would give you the contact information of the other owners; or (b) see if they would be willing to contact them and see how things are going. I would also contact the owner to see if they have any advice for you on how to handle this situation. I don't understand when you say you're not sure what you'd say or if it would even matter???? You can say exactly what you've said here to us and of course it matters. One has to assume that these are responsible breeders who want the dogs that come from them to be happy and that the buyers are as well.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
If it were me, I would contact the breeder to see if (a) they would give you the contact information of the other owners; or (b) see if they would be willing to contact them and see how things are going. I would also contact the owner to see if they have any advice for you on how to handle this situation. I don't understand when you say you're not sure what you'd say or if it would even matter???? You can say exactly what you've said here to us and of course it matters. One has to assume that these are responsible breeders who want the dogs that come from them to be happy and that the buyers are as well.
The reason I feel unsure is because they weren't "breeders" per se, just some people who had an accidental litter. We have no contracts or agreements of any kind. But, I'm sure you are right. They seemed like nice people and it probably is a good idea to contact them.
 

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My heart goes out to you.... I had to finally put down a healthy, 3-year old mixed breed dog that I had raised from 5 DAYS old. I was helping out the humane society by taking three of them (they were left on the doorstep), raised all three to eight weeks of age, re-homed two of them and kept one. There was something "different" about this one right from the start, even before her eyes were open, and that's primarily why I chose to keep this one.... I wasn't comfortable rehoming a dog that I wasn't confident was well-balanced. After a few years of training, behaviorists, Prozac, and vet visits, we determined that even though she SEEMED healthy, she wasn't mentally healthy. After the last bite (which took quite a few stitches to close up my arm) I threw in the towel and had her put down. At that point I was afraid of her (and of course they can sense that) and I wasn't going to rehome a dog like that. It's heart-wrenching, but sometimes it hurts to do the right thing. I hope you find peace in whatever answer works for you and your situation.
Sue
 

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Thank you @SueAndHerZoo. This really is heartbreaking and kind of surreal. When he's good, he's so good. Friendly, playful, sweet, intelligent. You would never in a million years guess he'd be aggressive. But just last night he was tethered near me, chewing his bone, and when I stood up to get something he jumped and snapped at me.

He doesn't react so strongly to anyone else. He has snarled and snapped at my other family members, but with me it's like he instantly loses his mind and goes straight into attack mode. I have no idea why. I've always been gentle with him, always worked to build trust... but for some reason it seems I'm the person he trusts the least. It's hard not to feel like it's my fault, knowing that.

Anyway, I did contact the breeder yesterday and told her what was going on. She seemed pretty shocked and said she has never heard of anything like this. Neither of the parents have ever shown aggression and as far as she knows the other two puppies are doing well. She suggested that the fact that he's not neutered yet might be playing a role, but I'm not sure. I've heard conflicting reports on whether that has any effect on behaviour.
 

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I'm inclined to agree with Lucillle.
Unprovoked biting isn't acceptable.
As I see it there are three choices...
Put up with it.
Change it.
Lose it.
 
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