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Thread: Darling has become aggressive

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    Darling has become aggressive

    Most people are shocked to hear that my 5yo Jk Russell has developed an aggressive streak. Adopted at 1yo, she was immensely timid. She was the submissive baby in a home with 7 dogs, and the owner thought she would be better in a one-dog only home. When we take her for walks, she would run behind us if another dog tried to greet her. She was never afraid of people. She has always liked everyone, greets everyone, and today...the same.

    FFwd 5 yrs..She has always been allowed on specific pieces of furniture since we have had her. She is allowed on the FR sofa, and allowed to sit on hubby's lap when he sits in his chair. She has now started growling at hubby if he comes near her when she is on the sofa. She has raised her lip at me if I go near hubby's chair when she is sitting on his lap, but only once or twice. She has now started to growl at hubby if he even looks at her when she is on the sofa. If he approaches the sofa, she becomes more intense and has lunged at him with a vicious bark and growl. This behavior only surfaces after 9pm at night. At 6pm or 7pm, she is just as sweet as always. She knows several commands, and listens well.

    She receives canned food in the am, and dry food in the pm. If either of us go near her when she has her canned food, she will growl. Hubby usually feeds her. If either of us puts food in her bowl and tells her to wait, she waits patiently until she is told, "OK". I have had her wait 10 minutes and she sits and stays as directed. Once given the OK, she growls if either of us go near her.

    Hubby is cooperating, for one day so far, with my plan, but he thinks it is counterproductive to the goal. I decided she should no longer be able to get on the sofa at all, when we are around, or not. She has always had the one end of the sofa as "her" spot. My husband thinks that she will not understand or make a connection between her behavior and the permanent removal of her right to be on the sofa. She does have 2 dog beds. 1 in hubby's home office and one in the fam room. Hubby thinks she should be able to have her place on the sofa and be forced to get down if she growls. We tried this, and she was commanded down 6x in one evening, she got angrier, and my nerves were on edge. I felt this was escalating the problem. Yesterday, I blocked her access to the sofa. By day, she looked at the obstacles that prevented her access. By evening, she was obviously puzzled. She cried a bit. I played with her on the floor, gave her treats, and went back to the sofa without her. Neither was she allowed to get on hubby's lap while he sat in his chair.

    We saw no growling or raised lip last night. I believe that she needs to adjust to her place on the floor and in her dog bed. Hubby wants his "baby" to sleep on his lap, and he thinks it is mean to take away her 5 yr habit of sleeping on the end of the sofa. I am afraid the territorial nature will escalate further and the answer is to deny her access. I expect more crying tonight. I know hubby will want to give in. He thinks she is only distressed by the restriction. He wants to let her on the sofa tonight and make her get down as soon as she growls and repeat 20x if necessary. I think his method increases agression. I think my plan sends a message that she is not in charge and establishes her place within the family.

    Help.....her crying to get on the sofa will start in an hour. Hubby will plead with me to let her on the sofa. While she has shown raised lip and snarl at me, the aggression toward hubby has been 30x greater and more frequent. He feeds her, walks her, they go in the car together. It's very strange.

    Help...dusk is coming...and darling becomes a night B.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
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    I think keeping her off of the couch and your husband's lap is a good idea. Maybe once she's comfortable on the floor (a few weeks from now), she can be allowed up with you two, but only when asked to come up. If she's actually snapping or trying to bite, I would definitely not allow her up there.

    The food guarding issue is another problem.. Has she always been like that?
    I would try putting the food down and having her wait. Say ok, let her eat a little and then tell her to sit and put your foot (wearing a shoe just in case) on top of her bowl. Make her wait again, and just keep repeating it.

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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    New Jersey
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    Thanks for your comments. :-)

    She has always guarded prized bones, which are not all bones....the really good ones with smoke flavoring for example. She will wait for her food, she will wait for her bone. I could put the best prized bone on the floor in front of her, 3" from her and tell her to wait. She will wait until I say OK. Once she has it, it's hers and she would bite me if I tried to take it.

    As far as dry food in her bowl, either of us could walk up and she would at us with a soft happy face. If either of us told her to sit, she would.

    Canned food, yet another story. Low level growl if hubby gets anywhere near her while she has canned food. She will wait for him to say OK before beginning to eat. But, once it's hers, she becomes angry if hubby goes near. She doesnt' get angry if I am near, but I touch her while she is eating canned food, she would give a very low level growl. I could sit on the floor next to her and she would do nothing. She would growl loudly at hubby if he got near her canned food.

    She's in the FR now with me, blocked from te sofa. She is sitting on the floor beside the obstacle that is preventing her access to the sofa. She's happy, playful, and seems a bit confused, since she has always been allowed on the FR sofa. BTW, she has never been allowed on the chairs, or the LR furniture, and wouldnt' think of getting up on those items. She was with us 3+ years, on the FR sofa daily before ever showing signs of aggression.

    She's so sweet, it's hard to imagine this behavior is coming from her.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
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    First thing is first, if I've done my math correctly, your pup is ~6 years old. Even though she's a small breed, 6 years means she's gettin' there Get *everything* checked out. Check her thyroid levels, in particular. Thyroid disease often contributes to behavioral issues. Also, evaluate her joints. Arthritis can contribute to growly/grumpy dogs, especially at night and in early mornings, when they expect to be resting.

    So, she may know "wait", but that doesn't mean she understands the concept of "Give". And that's what you need to work on. Teach her "Give":
    - Give her a low value treat, like a carrot stick. Let her mouth it.
    - Hold a high value treat, like a piece of boiled chicken, in front of her nose.
    - As soon as she loosens her grip on the carrot stick, click or say "yes!" and give her the high value treat while taking the low value treat from her mouth.
    - Repeat repeat repeat. Eventually, put the cue "Give" to the behavior.
    This is called "trade-up". If you repeat this many many times, you can eventually fade out the lure/high value treat. And if you allow the dog to give the toy up on her own accord (do NOT force it), you will get a dog who *wants* to give up things in her mouth.

    Then, when your dog understands "Give", begin using it with the bones. Then, put some canned food on a spoon. Command "Give", reach for the spoon, and reward her with something like cooked chicken or beef.

    As for the couch - your Hubby is wrong. Dogs can and will make necessary distinctions. For now, remove your girl from the couch entirely. If she's going to growl, her place is on the floor 24/7. She can earn those privileges later.

  5. #5
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    Mar 2009
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    New Jersey
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    Thanks for the response.

    2 days of no sofa. There was crying and begging to get up on the sofa w/ me or on hubby's lap n his chair. Of course, I wanted to let her up on the sofa. Knowing that it is more important to modify this behavior, I stuck to my guns. Hubby is skeptical, but reluctantly agreeing to go along w/ the restrictions ....so far. If she continues to cry, hubby may not stay on the same page. He also has this streak in him that believes allowing her aggression to come out, and then overpowering it shows her who is boss. To this end, there is part of his behavior which may be instigating aggression in her.

    Thanks for the tips on "Give". I have tried to ask her to "give" me her bone back. WRONG. Not happening. Will try your suggestions; they make sense.

  6. #6
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    Her behavior is normal, but DO ignore her and DO stick to your guns.

    Your pup is crying and begging and will continue to do so for the next few days. This is called an "extinction burst". Think about it: if she has been allowed on the couch for the past few years and you suddenly revoke these privileges, she will try to jump back on because that has been acceptable behavior in the past. But when you don't concede to her, she'll only try harder because experience has taught her that begging and crying used to work. The more you ignore, the harder she tries until she finally gives up. This is the extinction of the behavior. Think of it as a child's temper tantrum

    Re: your hubby's philosophy. I have to disagree with your hubby's training methods and agree with you in that it IS only exacerbating her aggression. Every single time you allow your dog to aggress, you reinforce its behavior. It does not matter if you punish her for aggressing, the fact is that aggression is self-reinforcing. The fact that she displays it at all means that she has inadvertently reinforced it. Your job is to PREVENT the aggression from appearing at all. If you allow her to aggress, you're only reinforcing it.

    A note on punishments: Punishments are often misused and it sounds like your hubby is misusing it. Punishments must be 1) severe 2) lasting 3) occur every time the bad behavior crops up. This makes them very tricky to use. If you punish your dog, but she seems entirely unfazed or she easily slips back into the bad behavior, that means the punishment is neither severe nor lasting. Punishments must be severe to work. That's what makes them so difficult to use properly, and that's why I try to avoid recommending punishments at all. Just reward the good behavior and prevent the pup from aggressing in the first place - and stick to your guns!!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    New Jersey
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    Tks for the feedback and encouragement. Day 3 of no sofa. Puppy continues to look a bit bewildered. Hubby is coming around more to the position of willing and supportive participation in a training program as described in this thread. Puppy does seem very cautious with hubby at night, watching his movements with apprehension.

    We went for a family walk tonight. She has always had lots of walks and exercise, and most walks are just hubby and puppy. We all go together about 2x-4x/month, and tonight we did. This activity is always harmonious. Puppy listens to hubby well during our/their walks......sit, stay, wait, walk, etc. No resistance, no aggression, no problem. Happy puppy and happy hubby and wife. No change in this behavior pattern at all.

    I practiced "give" a few minutes today. I did it with a low level treat which doesn't generate much guarding, simply to convey the message. Puppy did "trade-up" without incident. I will continue this with low level treats for a while before ever attempting this with one of her more prized treats.

    Thanks again for your feedback and encouragement.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by JRHandler View Post
    I practiced "give" a few minutes today. I did it with a low level treat which doesn't generate much guarding, simply to convey the message. Puppy did "trade-up" without incident. I will continue this with low level treats for a while before ever attempting this with one of her more prized treats.
    *applauds* That's is EXACTLY what one is supposed to do. Very good! Keep practicing. Eventually, the hard work and practice will pay off.

    Also, to segue her from trading up dry food (which is apparently low value to her) to canned food (high value), try coating a ball of canned food with kibble. That way, it's easier to grab from her and less valuable.

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