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Hi everyone,

I just joined this forum because I am at a loss of what to do and am hoping for some advice or help...

My boyfriend has this beautiful German Shepard & Pitbull Mastif mix, named Zion. He is 3 years old and has this great brindle color and weighs over 100 lbs so you can imagine how large he is (he literally looks like a baby tiger). My boyfriends parents had Zion's mom (german Shepard) and his dad (pit bull) and they bred them, so my boyfriend has had Zion since birth. I was introduced to Zion when he was about 1 year old, once my boyfriend and I had started dating. Zion lived at my boyfriends parents house since we were in an apartment that didn't allow pets. We would go often though to bring Zion on hikes and to the dog beach and Zion was a happy and friendly (yet probably intimidating) pup. He got along with all the dogs and never showed any signs of aggression. He had always been an outside dog and lived with his mom (german Shepard) and a chihuahua at his parents (the dad - Pitbull was put down for getting out and biting a dog). My boyfriend and I ended up moving into a house and Zion moved with us. He was still an outside only dog, but he did AMAZING for the first month....then things went south. He started getting EXTREME separation anxiety to where he would self mutilate to get out of his kennel or INTO the house. We lived with some family and they didn't want dogs in the house so we had to respect that and he had to stay an outside dog. His destruction went on for months. We had to replace 3 back door screens, our window, almost all window screens, and eventually had to get bars on our back bedroom because he would constantly try and get inside the house. It was heart breaking because we knew it was a severe case of separation anxiety and he just wanted to be with us. He never chewed on the outside pillows, dug up dirt, etc so we know it wasn't out of boredom. We knew removing him from his mom and going into another environment caused a lot of stress. We tried kenneling him, which he tore through the bars with his teeth. We got him neutered to see if maybe it would calm him. We tried vests, speaking with dog trainers, exercising him more, CBD, actual anxiety medication and none of it worked... we were losing our minds.

I finally felt comfortable enough one day to take him on a walk by myself, which made me particularly nervous because he is much stronger than I am and my boyfriend is the only one who would ever walk him. I took him on a walk and he did amazing! Being isolated in the backyard after being with other dogs, made me feel on edge to walk and have him see other dogs, but when we would walk by I would firmly say "leave it" and he would whine a little but would keep walking. I felt like I had control of him, but I also felt that the more I took him on walks, the more he became my "protector" and was getting territorial over me. I saw a slight change in his behavior in becoming a little more aggressive towards other dogs or strangers when we would go on walks. The more I walked him, the more I would notice this behavior increase little by little and I wasn't sure if it was because he felt he needed to protect me or if it was also a combination of his senses being so heightened from being in isolation all day while at work. What was interesting though was that he acted 100% different when I would walk him vs when my boyfriend would walk him. When my boyfriend is there and walks him, he lets down his guard a bit and doesn't get as aroused or aggressive towards people or other dogs. So it is really just with me that I was seeing this aggressive behavior.

Within short notice my boyfriend and I relocated to another city for his job. We finally were able to move into a place of our own which we were beyond excited about so that we could have Zion live inside with us like we felt he always wanted and deserved. We moved into our new place in the beginning of February and Zion has LOVED it. He didn't seem stressed and he didn't have separation anxiety which felt like a huge win for us. He does bark sometimes if he sees people through the window riding bicycles outside or other dogs. He is the biggest baby in the world and tries to act like a lap dog even though he is clearly not. He has become even more attached to me and cuddles with me every night. I also feed him every night before my boyfriend gets home from work. Because I work remotely now, I am at home all day with him and take him on walks in the mornings. His aggression has progressively gotten worse as we leave on walks he no longer is as attentive to my "leave it" commands and will lunge at strangers on the street so I always have to cross the street when walking him and prefer to take him out when minimal people are out. I've had the maintenance guys come in to fix some things and he is always in his kennel, but he will bark at them like he is ready to eat them alive, which I also understand he feels threatened now bc someone is in his territory, especially around me without my boyfriend home. When my boyfriend is home and we go on walks, its like it was before..he doesn't growl or lunge at people, so I know he is overly protective of me. I can deal with that, but now the hard part comes in....

My mom moved in with us a few days ago. My boyfriend and I were well aware that we needed to be specific about how we introduced her into the home (and her male friend who helped her move who is staying with us for the week). We felt it would be best to have Zion with my boyfriend in the house upstairs and then for my mom and I to casually walk in and let Zion know it was ok that we have a guest. Everything we great and he was actually so excited he tinkled a little. My boyfriend then did the same and went outside and came in with my moms friend. Zion had same welcoming reaction and everything went smoothly..We moved everything in while Zion was in his kennel and he watched and was calm and comfortable. We let him out of his cage and for the next day he had been cuddling and playing with my mom and her friend like they were us. The next day Zion still had been super friendly and cuddly, although he decided to mark his territory on two of our rugs (he' potty trained so we knew it was him marking). Then that night my moms friend left for the evening and it was just my mom, boyfriend and I. I was fixing Zion's dinner and put it on the back porch (he always eats on the back porch) and my mom and I were talking on the patio. Zion hadn't touched his food yet, but was just drinking his water..my mom was sitting in the patio chairs to the right of him and I was standing slightly behind him to the right. All of a sudden he lifted his head slowly and turned and looked at my mom in her eyes while he had this deep deep growl. My mom and I paused because we thought maybe was there a raccoon or bird or something he was growling at, but next thing you know he lunges and attacks my mom. She screamed and stood up and he had a hold of her arm and so I panicked and tried to pull him off of her. My boyfriend came running out and grabbed him and put him in his kennel. He never broke skin on my moms arm, but he could have. The freakiest part to me was that he was cuddling licking her face 10 min before that... we went back inside and he was in his kennel still lunging at my mom barking... I understand he may have felt threatened for some reason with his food but it all seemed so sudden and out of the blue. My mom went to her room for the rest of the night and Zion sniffed around. Unfortunately he marked his territory...again..at this point I know he felt threatened.

We decided to revisit again yesterday and have my mom outside as Zion and my boyfriend and I approached her after our walk with a nice welcoming voice letting him know she's ok. He seemed perfectly fine and we went inside. He sniffed everything out and we were in the kitchen talking trying to make everything casual. He welcomed her and was wagging his tail and seemed fine again. This time my boyfriend went out to feed him on the porch. He sat in the same chair as my mom did and Zion ate some of his food. Zion then looked through the back door into the kitchen and saw my mom and started barking again viciously. My boyfriend put the muzzle and leash on him so he could walk him downstairs to our room and as we came inside he tried to lunge at my mom again...

I try not to show fear or anxiety, but I am fearful of him a bit now and I don't know what to do. I went downstairs this morning (he slept in our room with my boyfriend and he put him in his crate before he left) and when I went to the room to brush my teeth I made sure to have my same welcoming tone and to act normal, but he started to bark viciously at the cage at me now...It makes me sad and now I am worried what to do next. He attacked my mom and seems to have up and down emotion with her, and now I am unsure of how he will act with me. I don't like the unpredictable feeling of it and I also don't want her or I to feel uncomfortable in our own home, but I also don't want to have to put him down or give him up. PLEASE help or any advice would be greatly appreciated...apologize for the lengthiness but felt it was appropriate to gain the full back story on his journey and emotions.
 

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Lindsey, I really don't want to be the 1st to reply, because I do not consider myself any kind of expert. Your situation is very sad, and frightening. A big dog like that (& bully breeds as well) is a very big commitment. The situation right now with your and your bf has had you moving several times, really without adequate provision for the dog (physical space, & time/attention).
Does the dog clearly trust and respect your boyfriend? That can only occur if he is spending time every day on training him, reinforcing his (boyfriend's) position as the trusted leader of your pack.
From your post, I get that he is working full-time. I also note that one of the dog's parents was put down for aggressive behavior.
Maybe there are some positive factors that you haven't mentioned. From what you have written, I think you are aware already that the dog is not getting what he needs. Given his size and background, he has every likelihood of causing serious damage to someone if he remains in your care as your current situation stands.
Have you gotten any input from professional dog trainers? There may be relevant factors that you haven't noticed, or options that others have not thought of.
Best of luck to you & your family.
 

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I agree you need professional help here, I'm afraid this is too big and too serious an issue for an online forum. I am going to attach a file that may help you find someone. Please will you stay in touch and update us?

 

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Thank you all...

We re-introduced him to my mom and he was cuddly and happy around her again for the entire day. The next day he was totally fine, rubbing up against my moms leg and then snapped all of a sudden again. I was doing some research and I believe a portion of it could be social aggression. This is what I found on ASPCA:

"Animals who live in social groups, like people and dogs, typically live by certain rules in order to minimize conflict between group members. Canid species, including the dog, adopt a type of hierarchical order that influences which group members get first crack at food, the best resting spots and opportunities to mate. So rather than having to fight for access to valued things each and every time, those lower down on the totem pole know to wait until the higher-ups have had their share before taking their turn. These ordered relationships are frequently reinforced by displays of ritualized aggression. Individuals of high status use aggressive threats to remind the others of their place in the pack. The relationships between people and dogs who live together are certainly more complex than this simplified description, but it’s still important to know that a dog who perceives herself as high in status may show aggression toward family members. (This kind of behavior is sometimes called dominance or status-seeking aggression). This is why a dog might be perfectly trustworthy with one pet parent but react aggressively toward the other or toward young children in the family. Such dogs are often described as “Jekyll and Hyde” because, most of the time, they’re happy-go-lucky, friendly dogs. But if they feel that someone in the pack has overstepped his or her bounds, these dogs can quickly resort to aggression. An aggressive response is usually provoked by things that a dog perceives as threatening or unpleasant, such as:
  • Taking food away
  • Taking a chew bone, toy or stolen object away
  • Disturbing the dog while she’s sleeping
  • Physically moving the dog while she’s resting
  • Hugging or kissing the dog
  • Bending or reaching over the dog
  • Manipulating the dog into a submissive posture (a down or a belly-up position)
  • Lifting or trying to pick up the dog
  • Holding the dog back from something she wants
  • Grooming, bathing, towelling or wiping the dog’s face
  • Touching the dog’s ears or feet
  • Trimming the dog’s nails
  • Jerking or pulling on the dog’s leash, handling her collar or putting on a harness
  • Verbally scolding the dog
  • Threatening the dog with a pointed finger or rolled-up newspaper
  • Hitting or trying to hit the dog
  • Going through a door at same time as the dog or bumping into the dog
Social aggression is somewhat more common in males than in females and more common in purebreds than in mixed breeds. Puppies are rarely socially aggressive with people, but they can be with other dogs, particularly littermates. Social aggression usually develops in dogs between one to three years of age.
It’s important to realize that the complexities involved in social aggression are poorly understood and hotly debated by behavior experts. Some believe that all social aggression is rooted in fear and anxiety, while others believe that it’s motivated by anger and the desire for control. When consulting a professional, make sure you’re comfortable with her treatment recommendations. If the professional’s suggestions consist of techniques for instilling fear and respect in your dog, such as alpha rolls, scruff shakes and hanging, there’s a very good chance that your dog will get worse rather than better—and you might get bitten in the process. Punishment may be appropriate, but only when it’s well planned and limited in application. The judicious use of punishment should always be embedded in a program that’s based on positive reinforcement and trust."

We realized that this situation didn't seem as if it was going to get better or if it was it would take tremendous training and patience, in which wasn't an option at this point to make my mom uncomfortable in our home for however long this training may be. Fortunately, we have since moved Zion back to my boyfriends parents house. He is back with his mom (German Shepard) and is very happy playing in the yard and where he grew up. We are sad to have him go, but we know this is the best possible situation for everyone. Thank you all for your help and input!
 

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I do question some of that article, which seems to rely heavily on the old dominance model - though to be fair it does say that the reality is complex and there's a lot of disagreement about it. But as you say, whatever was at the root of it, it wouldn't be easy to fix so I think you have gone for the best solution.
 
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