By Daniel Stevens
This dog owner recently adopted a young dog from a rescue shelter and knows nothing about his background and previous living conditions or even his breed! But what she is experiencing is a behavior that many dog owners often fail to recognize or pay attention to, until it is too late. The early signs of dominance aggression should be treated by retraining the dog to understand that his place is at the bottom of the pack.
Dear Daniel and SitStayFetch Support Team,
My name is Gale and I just purchased your online book. I have a husband and 3 children (ages 8, 5 and 2) and a dog named D.J. He was given to us by my dad who adopted him from the pound. We have had D.J. now for about 2 months and my children have fallen in love with him and so have I (I have attached a picture).
The veterinarian thought that he’s about a year and a half old and the pound thought he may be part bearded collie. Our problem is C.J’s nipping. We first noticed the problem when we were trying to comb D.J.’s long hair and get the mats and knots out and he tried to bite me. I just thought that maybe he was sensitive to grooming.
The next time it happened was when he hopped up on my bed (which is a no-no) and my daughter tried to get him off ( he growled and tried to bite her). I figured he was still adjusting to our family and that with love and training he would realize that he can’t boss my daughter around.
The next time was when my 2 year old pulled his tail. D.J. bit him on the arm (didn’t break the skin). I thought, well anyone would get mad when their tail is pulled!!!
Because I can’t groom his long hair without him getting angry and the knots continued to get worse, we took him to a groomer. When we picked him up, they told us that he was a very naughty dog and they had to muzzle him. The owner of the grooming establishment told me that D.J. really went after them and tried to bite while they were grooming him.
Well, now it’s been two months that D.J. has been in our family and the biting still occurs and last night was the straw that broke the camel’s back. D.J. was laying in his dog bed and my daughter was gently petting him and all of a sudden he bit her. And this time it broke the skin. I had no excuse for him this time and I don’t know what to do. We don’t believe in physical punishment, so when the nipping has occurred we have given him a stern “NO” and put him outside away from the family for a while (like a time out).
D.J. seems to be a good hearted dog that loves being a part of our family. When the children play around the house and outside, he trails along like he’s one of the pack and lays next to them when they watch TV. He also loves other dogs and we take him to a local park where a lot of dog owners and their dogs hang out off the leash. D.J. runs around with the other dogs and does not fight. He’s really good on walks when I take him. He stays close to me and doesn’t pull very often (only when he sees another dog that he wants to check out). There are a few other problems like jumping up on us when he gets excited (he has scratched my 2-year-old’s face with his nails) and crying and whimpering when we put him outside. But these things seem minor compared to the nipping. I am very protective of my children and I don’t see how we can keep a dog that is a danger to them, but he has so many other good traits that I’m torn. Because the biting happens only occasionally, it has been easy to rationalize it away until last night.
Please help us. We are broken hearted at the thought of giving D.J. away but I need to protect my children from an unpredictable dog that could bite at any moment. If you could give me step by step instructions to try and stop this aggression I will try it and see if D.J. can stay in our family.
Thank you for listening,
Secrets to Dog Training Reply:
Thanks for your email. Firstly, please let me say that you and your family sound like very caring and responsible people, which is great to hear!
After reading your consultation, it sounds as though D.J. does not see you and your family as higher than him in the pack. Often we inadvertently teach our pets that they are higher than us, or at least our equals by allowing them onto the furniture, or feeding them before the human pack members have eaten. This can lead to a number of problems such as disobedience and aggressive behavior. It is very important that dog owners teach their dogs that they are actually at the bottom of the pack. While this might sound unfair and perhaps a bit mean, we have to remember that dog’s do not think in the same ways that we do – they have a strong hierarchical instinct, and normally dogs that know their place (at the bottom) are happier and more secure because the responsibility of being the Alpha, and therefore the main protector of the pack, can be quite stressful!
Please read and begin using the Alpha Techniques as set out in the bonus book. There are some simple things that you can do to teach D.J. that he is at the bottom of the pack, such as not allowing him on the furniture, and making him wait for all other family members to walk through doorways first. The whole family, including your children should use these techniques consistently in order to re-educate D.J.. I think that without this re-training, D.J.’s behavior will not improve, and may get worse.
You may even like to try the Dominance Treatment Program as set out in the main book. This teaches your dog that he must work for every bit of attention he gets.
Try to have daily obedience lessons with D.J.. Either you or your husband should take initial responsibility for the obedience training, then once he is responding well, have the children join in.
Whenever you see D.J. behaving badly, I want you to make a loud noise, such as clapping your hands, or shaking a can of pebbles, and combine it with a guttural growl (“AAHH”) to let him know that he is in trouble! The growl is very important, because it acts as a warning to stop the behavior immediately – this is the same technique dogs use, so they know the message you are trying to get across! As soon as your dog stops the unwanted behavior, praise him. Just as important as telling him what is not acceptable, is praising him for the behavior that pleases you! Please be consistent with both the reprimand and the praise.
Please make sure that your children do not try to reprimand D.J. until they are 12 years old. Often children will copy the behavior of their parents, but sometimes results in an aggressive retaliation by the dog, so its just not worth the risk.
As for his aggression when being groomed, I think that the use of the Alpha Techniques will help, as will getting him used to being touched. Spend 10 minutes a day just running your hands all over him while talking to him in a happy, encouraging voice. Start leaving his grooming tools around the house so that he gets used to their smell and presence. Then gradually start gently brushing him. If he is badly behaved, reprimand him using the technique above, and praise and reward good, calm behavior.
Good luck Gale, and please let me know how you progress.
Daniel Stevens and the Secrets to Dog Training Team
Secrets to Dog Training – Stop Your Dog’s Behavior Problems!