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We adopted Oscar in 2015 as a sweet, shy, 7-month old puppy. He was called a "Lab Mix" by the shelter, but my extensive experience in with dogs tells me he most likely has some pit bull, boxer, maybe some type of hound and something with a curly tail in him. He seemed like the perfect dog for us (me, my husband, 3 kids, and our then-5 year old beagle mix, Marley). He fit right in, was wonderful with our kids and even the baby. When he hit adolescence however, he began displaying concerning behavior that I attribute to protectiveness maybe? He started acting very nervous around certain people and biting them. He bit a couple of kids and we put him in an I tensive training program for behavior modification. He did extremely well and made a lot of progress....but he still bites people. We can't figure out what it is that sets him off. It's men, women, black, brown, white, hats, no hats, adults and children (but never very young children, like under 5). And it's not everyone. He's always been fine with our extended family members he's known since we brought him home, and a handful of our friends. Some people just make him feel threatened and we don't know why. We have resorted to strictly keeping him away from other people, shutting him in our bedroom when people come over (and not having people over often), and not bringing him out in public. I know that's just reinforcing his issues, he needs to be socialized, but I don't know how to do that without risking him biting another person. We CANNOT afford another training program right now. The last one cost $2,000 and that is just not in the cards right now. I have alot of experience with dogs, having worked with them for 15 years, and I think I can handle training him myself, I just need some guidance. I have no idea where to start! Thoughts???
 

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Understanding dog body language: so important with aggressive behavior

As a starter, I would suggest that you familiarize yourself with dog body language if you are not versed in this, or need a refresher!

Knowing how to read your dog's body language will potentially help you to figure out how your dog is feeling about another person, dog, or situation in general. So important.

If you can truly watch and understand your dog's body language and signals, many times you can diffuse a situation way before the dog's aggressive behavior escalates.

Here is a post I wrote to someone else here with similar issues:
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Sorry to hear about your dog biting issues. Very stressful for all I'm sure.

First off, I would supervise all visits with children/people in general. But for now, if I were you, I would simply not have your dog visit with kiddos. For some reason your dog is not comfortable around some kids. Could be something that happened and now your dog is leery. Could be many things.

Yes, you may want to take him to a vet to get checked. If he is in pain or discomfort, he may be less tolerant of kids and their energy and behavior. Maybe he is having sight problems or hearing loss and the kids are startling him?

But super important---DOG BODY LANGUAGE, stress signals, calming signals.

I can't stress enough how important it is, esp for dog owners with kiddos, to really learn about dog body language. Especially if any aggressive looking behavior is showing!!

I watch my dog's body language all the time when they are interacting with people--esp kids and strangers. Always! If they are showing stress signals I remedy the situation by giving space to my dog, or stopping what we are doing, or giving my dog time to reasses the situation as I talk calmly to them, or leaving an area, etc etc.

The sooner you know your particular dog's signals you will be able to prevent many situations before the dog escalates to a bite. The dog usually (not always) gives some signs before a bite, but we humans tend to not notice them or do not understand when a dog is growing uncomfortable.

You can look up dog body language/calming signals online for free. Study them, watch many free videos.

I always watch my dogs for lip licks, whale eyes, sudden stiff body, head turns away, body turns away, lowering of head, ear positions, tail position, excessive yawning, sudden sniffing or scratching, etc.

Once you know the stress signs, I am betting you will be surprised at how often you see your dog displaying these signals, esp around loud, playful, energetic or rowdy kids!! Or annoying adults!
 

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Also, it could be that Oscar is growing a bit more confident about expressing his discomfort or anxiety around certain people, thus biting.

When I hear about a dog that is willing to actually deliver the bite, and not just give a warning I wonder about certain things.

First off, What have you guys done in response to his aggressive behavior? For example, if Oscar begins to growl or show teeth or bark do you guys yell at him or punish the growling? I am not at all suggesting that you are doing this, but so many times it is our instinct to tell our growling/barking dogs to STOP! Esp when they are barking at our friends or family.

This may stop the behavior, but....it never addresses the underlying emotions behind the aggressive behavior, right?
(fear, stress, anxiety, worry, pain, annoyance, frustration....)

Also, think hard if you can about what happened RIGHT BEFORE the bites. Where you guys playing rough, or the person just entered the home, or got up from seated position, or human was near a favorite bone or toy, etc etc.

Ok, and of course, one more question for you. You said you guys did behavior modification with Oscar when he was younger. Can you elaborate on this?

Dog aggression is really hard and scary at times. Very stressful for the humans and the dog! I hope some of this helps to try to figure out why your dog is using aggression to solve his problems...and then put you on a path to safety and stress reduction.
 

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Analyze what is going on when your dog is stressed or aggressive acting

He started acting very nervous around certain people and biting them. He bit a couple of kids and we put him in an I tensive training program for behavior modification.

He did extremely well and made a lot of progress....but he still bites people.

We can't figure out what it is that sets him off. It's men, women, black, brown, white, hats, no hats, adults and children (but never very young children, like under 5). And it's not everyone.
Perhaps you could start a journal (if you haven't already) and log each aggressive event as you remember it.

So for example, think back to the last time---was it Aunt Ida who was visiting from out of town carrying a big purse and walking in your home loudly praising your dog and staring directly at him saying how good looking he is???

Or a teenager who came in the house bustling about and moving quickly and talking loudly?

Or a lil preteen giggling and trying to hug on your dog?

Or a man with a deep voice giving your Oscar the command in a deep stern voice to SIT DOWN!

And think about how you felt about this person that your dog was stressed by?

Were you annoyed at Aunt Ida coming over again?? Or tired of the teenager's rowdy behavior? Or frustrated that the preteen was distracting your kid from doing homeworK? Or put off that the man was talking disrespectfully to your dog?


Dogs feed off our emotions as we all know, so maybe this is something to analyze more than just the basics?

Reminds me of this story...may help you in some way.

My shy Gracie loves to take treats from most anyone I introduce her to. We do lots of tricks and treats with strangers, but in a very controlled safe way because Gracie can be very shy at times.

But one day we met 2 ladies on our path at work that wanted to give her a treat. (Ironically ladies from a lil dog rescue group!!)

One of the ladies voices was very deep, very stern, as she commanded my Gracie to SIT! I never, ever talk to Gracie like this. I usually actually say "Gracie, sit please" , or "Gracie can you sit please?" and she is fine about it. But in this case, Gracie just looked up at me, her big beautiful shy eyes pleading with me, as if to say, "Mom, do I reeeeeaaaally have to take a treat from this scary mean overbearing lady???"

Of course I politely told the ladies that Gracie is used to being spoken to gently and then I showed the ladies how Gracie will sit when I ask her politely. And then I did NOT make Gracie take a treat from her at all. I wouldn't do that to my Gracie, esp if she was feeling uncomfortable or stressed.

Something to think about...
 

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Thank you for your reply. I don't know how to quote so I hope you see this. I have taken a course in dog body language and have worked with dogs for 15 years. I can see his warning signs, but they escalate to the bite too fast for me to react. Like I know he's about to bite as he's lunging and if he's on leash I can sometimes pull him away but not always. He does not growl or show teeth unless he is behind a barrier and can't get to the person. If he can bite, he goes from stiffening and fixating to biting in about one-two seconds. And there have been multiple different scenarios behind the biting. The last time, it was someone coming into the house and I completely failed him that time. He should have been crated. Every time before that, regardless of the situation, it was never anyone I don't like or have any consciously anxious feelings towards. Most of them have been friends of ours. The only thing I can think of is maybe the people had anxious or negative feelings towards us or him. Like, a few of the kids he's bitten turned out to be kids who don't like my son and are mean to him. Maybe he senses that. The only people he has consistently been comfortable with are close family members (except my mom who kind of hates dogs and doesn't like him at all) and babies/toddlers. Babies and toddlers have very neutral energies and don't have preconceived notions of anyone.

I have decided to try muzzling him for socialization work so I can desensitize him to other people and dogs.
 

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Driggydogs, what is your dogs temperament like otherwise? Confident or skittish? Is he very confident in new situations or wary and not so sure of himself? Does he resource guard?
He's given multiple bites- what does he do after the bite? Is it a nip and then he backs off and tries to circle the person or just backs away after? Has anyone reacted in a way after he bit that made him jump away from them like he was scared they were going to kick him for it?
What your dog does immediately after the bite can tell you some things.
 

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He is definitely skittish of new things. I would describe him as thinking he needs to be dominant and in charge, but actually very nervous. He is confused of his role. When he bites, it freaking hurts. Bruises badly and sometimes breaks skin, so yes people yell, cry out, we yell NO!, pull him away. Tensions are very high. I try not to freak out on him but he has just hurt someone so there's no way I'm not going to be upset. He is not attacking though. He doesn't go back for more. He bites and realizes he's done wrong. He does not respurce guard. Anyone he trusts enough be around can take food, toys, etc right out of his mouth and he doesn't care.
 

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Just from the info here I'll tell you what I think. First off, you can probably forget the idea that he's being protective. Really protective dogs are almost always oozing confidence. He sounds defensive to me. Which is just a fancy way of saying he's got some aggression and feels the need to use it to defend himself. The fact that he's bitten people hard repeatedly- he's being put into situations again and again where he feels like he has to defend himself, which shouldn't be happening. What this generally says is that he's not trusting you to either keep him out of those uncomfortable situations or have his back when he is. Therefore he feels he must take care of himself. Nervous dogs that have some aggression will bite- its either fight or flight for them. Are you familiar with the concept of nerve strength in dogs? If not you may want to research that a bit. Its the genetic component that allows a dog to handle stress. You said the magic word- hes a nervous dog. Dogs with weaker nerves just plain have issues dealing with things that a stronger nerved dog wont see as a problem. Here's the thing. If this is the case, training and conditioning can and will help, but it's like a protective layer put over those nerves. At some level of stress the dog is going to fall back on that genetic compenent. I guess what I'm saying is that he's probably always going to need some management. I have a dog thats got some defensiveness to him. He's different in that hes a very confident dog, not nervous at all. Not scared of anything really. But he does take some management for one big reason. He's not nervous or afraid of strangers but he doesnt like strangers touching him. He wont nip or bite, but he will definately " tell someone off" using his bark for touching him or staring him down. Its not even aggressive really but he's a breed that scares people when he does it. He'll tolerate pets from strangers if I make him, but why force it? He doesn't like it so I dont make him. I can say that if he were a nervous dog he probably would bite for real. In your case it would probably behoove you to let him take a break from those situations, step back and start working with him in less stressful places. Gradually work up. If he gets stressed take a step back again. Stop putting him in situations to bite people. You're just letting him practice biting people. Counterproductive. That whole immerse your dog in what scares them until they get over it thing could make things worse if he just doesn't have the nerves to handle it. And start standing up for him so he can relax. He'll be able to relax some if he knows he can depend on you to put a stop to something before he has to do it himself ( even if its just as simple as telling someone no you cant pet my dog ). You said something along the lines of he's trying to be dominant but doesn't know how. I dont think thats the case. I think the conflict you see in him is a nervous defensive dog that doesnt want to act this way but feels like he has to because he's not getting the kind of backup he needs from his owner. I'm not trying to insult you or anything, but this is one of those things that doesnt cross alot of people's minds so I thought it might be good to give you some food for thought. Just my 2cents.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Aggression is misunderstood, it's an outcome of a problem, not a fixable condition. Stop focusing on issues, and try to understand the underlying problems that are causing the dog to exhibit aggression.

He does not growl or show teeth unless he is behind a barrier and can't get to the person.
That is a sign of insecurity, the dog feels protected behind a barrier. People can walk into a scenario with a plan. If that plan fails, generally we can come up with another, and another. Dogs don't have that. They know what works, and they stick with it. When that plan fails, they get confused and not sure what to do. It's negative reward for the dog in a sense, the dog gets put away somewhere, people move away etc, the dog is getting what it expects. Now the dog is being excluded from everything, and you're living in fear. That scenario has to change if you want to move forward or you'll keep going sideways.

I'm working with a dog at the moment that's bitten everyone, owner is in the same state as you are, nobody wants to come to her home because of the dog. Put the dog down is common theme. Met the dog last weekend, it was in the kennel, as soon as I entered the bedroom the dog went into a rage. It's just him and I. Other trainers bolted on seeing that, that's cool. When I squat down by the cage, he got worse. Put my hand on the kennel door and slid the lock over (didn't open the door), the dog stopped. But went into a rage again when it realized I wasn't entering his domain. The moment I opened that door a few inches, and yes my knee was against it, that's the make or break moment. He realized that his typical plan wasn't working, and he stopped. That's insecurity, he's bluffing but he will bite fearful people if they back off or run. I introduced a leash, he accepted it and we went for a walk. He was great on lead.

One instance of a growl when the dog was 9 months old scared the owner into managing aggression, instead of trying to understand it and work with it. Then the dog doesn't get any exercise because the owner is scared to walk him, and it snowballs from there. Pent up energy turns to frustration, frustration becomes aggression and round and round it goes.


I won't be working on his aggression, it's everything else underlying. Lack of exercise, lack of trust, lack of confidence. But the dog needs to give a little bit of trust to someone to lead him.
That is very interesting about the dog in the crate! I do feel he is more driven by people that are already nervous about him. The people he seems the most comfortable with are my husband's family and my older sister, both of whom typically just come into our house (with their own dogs who Oscar loves) like they own the place, too, and don't even give him a second glance until they have settled and can greet and pet him. And he's excited to see them!

Just so you know though, we do walk. Almost every day. I know it could be more, but I do make sure he gets mental and physical stimulation. Its probably not enough though, unfortunately.
 

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If that plan fails, generally we are able to give you every other, and any other. puppies do not have that. They realize what works, and they stay with it. when that plan fails, they get confused and now not positive what to do. it's poor reward for the dog in a sense, the dog receives placed away somewhere, human beings flow away and so on, the dog is getting what it expects. Now the canine is being excluded from the entirety, and you are residing in worry. That situation has to change if you want to transport forward or you will preserve going sideways.
 

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I would tend to agree with a lot of what has been said here; seems to me like you have a case of anxiety and insecurity.

The muzzle is a good tool to transition as it will help you feel more comfortable and confident, knowing that Oscar cannot bite even if he wants to. If you couple the muzzle with counter-conditioning, you could likely get to a place of eliminating the biting.

For my dog, the point of issue has been the doorbell (a very common problem-area, I think), she loses it when the doorbell rings. I began by playing a recording of our doorbell very quietly from my cellphone and giving her tons of roast beef (high value treat, my dog happens to have a poultry allergy) when she perked her ears up but stayed completely calm. I have gradually made the sound louder and did it at unpredictable times of day, maybe 20x per day, until now I can play the bell at full volume without her reacting. Now we're working on knocking :bashself:

Similarly, if you muzzle Oscar and take him around strangers where they won't interact with him; you could employ the people he's taken a disliking to to stand around and ignore him while you walk him and feed him treats when he notices them, but doesn't react aggressively. This could serve both to build Oscar's happy association with the people you want him to like as well as help those people learn to trust Oscar again, all in one fell swoop. I find food and beer can help coerce audience participation, of the human variety, of course. :)

As Oscar relaxes around strangers who are completely ignoring him, you can gradually move to a closer proximity, treating so long as he is ignoring them too, until you can eventually have his least favorite people give him a pat or even just look at him. He's got to learn to trust that you won't put him in the presence of someone who would hurt him.
 
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