Dangerous and capable. Severe aggression help.

This is a place to gain some understanding of dog behavior and to assist people in training their dogs and dealing with common behavior problems, regardless of the method(s) used. This can cover the spectrum from non-aversive to traditional methods of dog training. There are many ways to train a dog. Please avoid aggressive responses, and counter ideas and opinions with which you don't agree with friendly and helpful advice. Please refrain from submitting posts that promote off-topic discussions. Keep in mind that you may be receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist!

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Barked: Fri Nov 9, '12 3:28pm PST 
I didn't see it mentioned at all by any other members, but Atlas may have a mental problem.

You say he's lovey "normally". He was socialised, and trained. Maybe you used some methods not everyone agrees with, but they certainly don't seem bad enough to elicit the response he's displaying. He seemingly escalated overnight from a docile dog to a vicious attack hound. Maybe he had some bad behaviours- guarding, reactivity, mouthiness- but they don't add up to sudden violent displays. Resource guarders don't attack the farthest thing from them, unless it seems the most threatening. Is your little brother threatening? I had a neurotic guarding dog in the past, the kind you couldn't walk past when she had food, and the key thing about the guarding is that SHE WANTS IT. She's not going to run away from it to chase even the biggest threat, because she's abandoning the thing she wants.

It honestly sounds to me that there is some kind of switch in Atlas' head that is going off, and he's losing it. Coupled with poor pre-existing behaviours and his knowledge of what he is NORMALLY allowed to get away with, something is breaking and he's just exploding on you. I cannot imagine being attacked not once, but multiple times by any dog- let alone a large, powerful breed!- and being able to function normally with him. You are an extremely strong person and a very tough family. If you think you can do it, I would consider bringing Atlas to a vet to run tests. Make sure his thyroid is in order. Test for epilepsy (This could actually be the issue, epileptic seizures can cause extremely aggressive behaviour in dogs who just "clock out" while having or coming back from one) Contact a behaviourist and find out what else you might have to look for.

Muzzle him. It might seem cruel, but it's best. You're protecting yourselves, and Atlas. He won't have a chance to bite an outsider, or continue to escalate the behaviour. Management may end up being your only option if he's just an angry dog.

And finally, if it comes down to it and you don't think you can do this for another 10-15 years, and feel it's too dangerous to give him to someone else, you can euthanise him. We take in animals to give them the best lives possible. Sometimes, that means saying good-bye. We have unfortunately irreparably damaged many breeds of animal with our need to create the perfect specimen, and sometimes, that means a dog is a terrible temperament, but hasn't got the social mores that humans have that keep him in check. Or maybe he has a chemical imbalance, but has no way to express that to you.

I hope you can help him. I really do.

I'm a hot mess.
Barked: Fri Nov 9, '12 3:33pm PST 
Thank you everyone for your responses. This is by far the most helpful community I have encountered. This is the first time I have found a place where I can discuss this problem openly and not have responses with people shaming me and assuring me that we must have physically abused our own dog.

First, I would like to give an update. Earlier today, there was a bowl of cat food on the floor for our eldest cat. We typically keep the cat food on a raised counter so that it cannot 'trigger' Atlas or be eaten while we are out of the house. My mother took a long stick that used to be a broom handle, stuck it into the bowl, and slid it away from Atlas. He did not respond at all! He continued licking the floor where little pieces had fallen out of the bowl, but did not try to chase the bowl or even pause to look at and acknowledge the stick.

Second, before I answer some of the more specific questions, I would like to make clear my intent. I not not with to put this dog down, I do not wish to relocate him. I don't believe relocating for a dog with these issues is even an option. I am not at a place mentally where I could bring myself to having him put down. My family has considered this option, and it temporarily caused a bit of a rift. During one of Atlas's attacks, my older brother, being very protective, grabbed a sledge hammer. I was in a position where I was standing with my back to my dog, who was biting my hands and legs, guarding him from own brother, who my mom lead away from the scene. I cannot blame my older brother, he is as aware as I am of what Atlas is really capable of, and those scenarios are treading a fine line. But I am not done fighting for this dog.

My judgement may be clouded. I do not dismiss those who have suggested putting him down maybe the best option at this point. That may very well be the case. But I need to be entirely confident that I have exhausted my other options.

On to some questions, there were a lot, please bear with me, I will try to cover them all:

Exercise- We take him out once a day, weather permitting; like most bullies, his short snout does not perform well in the heat. We try to take him out at night, and usually have more than one person present when he is being walked. When we cannot take him outside, I try to do alternative activities with him indoors. There are stretches of time every now and then where he irritates an injury in his leg, where he pulled a muscle. When he is limping, we cannot take him for walks. I try to increase his training during these times. I have not noticed an increase in aggressive behavior during these times; fortunately that injury is almost completely healed and these times are now very rare.

Reacting to Strangers- When I have a friend over, Atlas is immediately excited and wants to rush at them. I distract him with a treat, corral him into the family room, and have him sit. I then have the guest give him treats as rewards for commands. If I do not run through this procedure, he will jump and bite at the elbows and hands of guests. After someone has been to the house multiple times, this 'introduction' procedure is no longer necessary. We had an incident when a new vet was hired at our usual veterinary place. She came in, greeted him in a him, excitable voice, and made eye contact . He immediately tried to snap at her face. He didn't catch her, but we had to muzzle him, and the visit was very stressful. With out usual vet, who we always see now, and who is calm, Atlas is fine. He even commented once that Atlas we the nicest American Bulldog he had ever met. It tears my heart in two just thinking about it, particularly when I think of the wonderful, life changing relationship my whole family had with our last AB.

Muzzeling- Thank you for this suggestion. We did try putting a muzzle on him once, he was so obsessive over it and continued to paw at his face until he was bleeding which only took about two minutes. Does anyone know of any brands or unique kinds of muzzles that may be more comfortable than others, or less likely to cause him to scratch his own face? Has anyone had experience getting dogs accustomed to muzzles?

Treat distraction- This works so well on him, but not when he's near cat food/cat throw up/anything cat food related. I can hold his otherwise favorite treats, wave it near, call him and the treat name that he knows, and he will not even blink if he is near cat food. I have started using pieces of cat food sometimes when I train him, to try and make it more of a 'normal' substance. Is this a good or a bad idea?

Training Progress- Someone asked where he is in his training, I'll answer as best as I can. Atlas responds better to visual than verbal cues, whether he is being aggressive, excited, or calm. I have a hand motion associated with each command. Sometimes he will not respond to the verbal command if there is no motion, but he almost always responds to the motion even if nothing is said. I typically have him Sit, Paw, and "Belly" where he rolls over and exposes his belly for a treat. I had someone previously recommend the belly trick to reinforce submission, but I believe someone here suggested earlier not to have him roll over like that any more, as it may promote insecurity. I will stop using the belly command for now.
With Cat Food, which is the ultimate trigger, if I am using it as a treat, I can have him sit and lay down, put cat food on the floor two feet in front of him, walk slowly away and out of the room, and have him not move to get the food until I return and clap.

Breeder- Some asked if I know the parents. We got Atlas from Mullen's Windy Hill Bulldogs. We drove about four hours south to get him, because it was the nearest reputable breeder we could find. At the time, we had another dog, and with the cats and active household, wanted a puppy to raise as opposed to a rescue. We knew we wanted an AB because the loss of our last one devastated our family, and we wanted that experience again. The mother was extremely gentle and kind. The Male bulldogs were kept in the back, in large caged areas while they were separate from the families and puppies. The father, named Magnus, was a jumper, like a kangaroo, I had never seen anything like it, just straight up a good three feet. But he did not bark or growl or seem aggressive. The breeder assured us there was no history of aggression, and told us that all of their dogs were extremely well socialized. I cannot find their web site, but I will see if I still have their phone or email to ask them for advice.

I apologize if I missed any questions, or if I was unclear- I will look back over the posts and see if I can find something I missed, and if anyone would like more details, please ask.

A special thank you to Tiller, it really helps hearing from someone with experience with the breed.

I would like to note that there are no small children living in the household, the youngest is 21; if there was, I feel that putting him down would be our only option.

I'm a hot mess.
Barked: Fri Nov 9, '12 3:42pm PST 
Additionally, since I did not see Peach's post before writing the above;

I have considered that he has mental issues. It is something I am hesitant to say because it often mocked and not taken seriously. In other forums I was accused of looking for an 'easy way out' of being a bad owner for suggesting it. I am not sure how to bring it up to the vet. I feel very much as though I am in one of those families with a dangerous teenager. He's my responsibility and I love him, and the jarring contrast of being attacked by him feels so wrong, and of course left us shaken.

Jax (earned- her wings- 5/30/12)

Give me your- toy.
Barked: Fri Nov 9, '12 5:44pm PST 
Have you discussed his behavior with your vet? You said he's an angel in the vets office (with your regular vet). As someone suggested, maybe it's a health issue, chemical, etc. Also, I know that most dogs respond better to hand signals and body language, but are you sure his hearing and eye sight are good? Growing up, we had a Doberman that had sudden aggression issues. You could be all lovey dovey with her, leave the room, come right back and she would growl, bark and lunge at you. We found out she was going blind. I agree that if he wanted to do damage, he would have already done it, not to say that it couldn't happen in the future if his behavior continues to get worse. My heart goes out to you. My Jaxey wasn't nearly as bad as you describe, but when we first got her, everyone including our vet told me to put her down. With an enormous amount of work and patience, she became the best dog I ever had. So, I completely understand wanting to exhaust every option available. It's never an easy road to figure out why they behave like that and find the solutions to fix it. Some you can help and some you can't. I hope you find a way. Like others have said here, no one will judge you on this site if you decide to euthanize him, or choose to work with him. It's your choice. There are a lot of very knowledgeable people who gave you advice. I really hope you take them up on it. If anyone can help you, it would be them. Best of luck to you! hughug
Shiver Me- Timbers- "Charlie"

My Little Dog, a- heartbeat at my- feet.<3
Barked: Fri Nov 9, '12 7:19pm PST 
You said that he's like this with cat food, right? What about using the cat food as a reward, seeing as it's the most high value food item to him? It would essentially replace anything of lesser value for him, to reinforce good behavior.

For muzzle desensitization, did you introduce it to him with rewards? Hold it out, let him smell it, reward. If he touches it with his nose, reward. Use cat food if it helps! You would eventually want it to build up to him believing that the muzzle would mean he would get cat food. One piece at a time from your hand of course, to prevent him from feeling the need to guard any of the food. You could use a teeny tiny bit of soft food inside of the muzzle for him to stick his nose in(on his own, do not force him) and reinforce the muzzle going over the nose. Basket muzzles are best, as you can still reward him through the muzzle, and he can still drink water, pant, etc. Using a muzzle like groomers use that prevent the mouth from opening can lead to insecurity, dehydration, and heat exhaustion dependent on the circumstances they're used in and for how long. If you use a basket muzzle, you're also far more able to reward him throughout the day for good behavior without him being able to seriously harm any people. You essentially want him to see you pull the muzzle out, and know it means he gets a treat. There are probably some youtube videos you can find for good muzzle training too. Example: Muzzle Training

If you haven't already, I definitely recommend a Vet check too, to rule out any other potential possibilities that could be causing the aggression.

Barked: Fri Nov 9, '12 8:10pm PST 
You're getting some really solid advice. I'd like to add to the ideas on management - You say food is his primary trigger in the household, and describe several incidents caused by Atlas finding food before the humans came across it.

Part of keeping your family safe, and helping him learn to relax, is going to be becoming completely over the top about keeping tabs on food in your house. I would literally create an area (likely the kitchen, maybe dining room depending on how your house is set up) where the humans prep and eat food and it goes NOWHERE else in the house, period. Put him in a safe place while food is out, and when you're done putting groceries away/eating/etc do a sweep of the area to be sure nothing was dropped.

It will be a lot of work, but it's necessiary. With bites as bad as you've described, you can't risk leaving triggers around. There will be a time in his training that you will need to tackle this issue, but there has to be a slow build up of counter-conditioning and trust while you gradually work up to having him around food.

FWIW, I agree with seeking information on medication in this situation. Look for a vet that specializes in behavior - some links have already been posted. That's the first step. Any vet CAN prescribe psychological meds, but not every vet is well-versed in finding the correct med and dose, or knowing if and how to wean off them.
Shiver Me- Timbers- "Charlie"

My Little Dog, a- heartbeat at my- feet.<3
Barked: Fri Nov 9, '12 8:36pm PST 
I just thought of something too... Is the food that's dropped, typically in the kitchen? Cat food, etc? If so, what about gating off the kitchen while you try to work through his food aggression in a more controlled setting? Baby gates MAY work for this if he won't jump it. But you can easily build one for super super cheap that could be higher in order to prevent such jumping too. Management with food will be key here, especially, as this is where his main aggression comes into focus.

Also, when working on him with food, and his aggression with it, I'd tie him up to something, so that if you need to move away to avoid a bite, you can. I used to do this with my foster when working on him with his Leave It and his impulse control with guarding the food.

Miss- Pig!
Barked: Sat Nov 10, '12 4:58am PST 
I don't know how significant it is to his behaviour but i'd have his leg thoroughly checked over by a vet if it hasn't been already. Especially as you say this is a recurring issue at times. It could be linked to his aggressive behaviour if he's in any kind of pain.
Miyu CGC

Bow down to the- Princess Brat!
Barked: Sat Nov 10, '12 11:19am PST 
I can't give anything that tops what the VERY knowledgeable and compassionate people have already stated here, so I'll just give an e-hug. You are very brave, and you can get through it.

And like other posters, I will also second the fact that nobody, including myself, would condemn you for going the euthanasia route, if it has to happen. Good luck, and please do keep us posted. We're rooting for you.

I am the Sock- Bandit!!!
Barked: Sat Nov 10, '12 12:35pm PST 
Tiller: "He is getting all of you out of his space so he can go under the table and get the food. If he were lashing out, he could do far more damage than he is doing. He is practicing his aggression way too much, knows how to get you where he wants to, has the unspent energy, the emotions from being scolded, all these defensive drive actions."

I agree. The first thing I wondered about was a possible injury. An injured leg causing pain, typically leg issues get reinjured in large breeds so...there might be a series of intermittent pain episodes as well. That can be a huge trigger for an AB. Still this is a dog that is actually not using all of his destructive capability. He's measuring. That says a lot to me, it can generally be worked with. I wouldn't recommend were there small children in the home, but since the youngest is 21, there is room to deal with this somewhat safely. I'd vet check again on the leg especially before beginning the rigorous exercise program this dog needs, seriously look into finding a veterinary behaviorist because they can evaluate in person and prescribe for the leg at the very least, long line and muzzle. The management suggestions regarding the tight control of food would probably be safer, nothing left out where he can get to it restricts his access.

There are excellent veterinary behaviorists in the northeast, some of the very best. No matter what you decide to do, you'll know that at least you got a full evaluation to inform your decision. This should be done in your home where the incidents take place. Their recommendations are generally in the form of a behavior plan worked out with you so that you can decide what you are comfortable doing. Also, it's hard to do, but consider your own level of fear; how you manage that (or not) effects the dog. ABs are very sensitive, it's been mentioned but bears repeating. If everyone in the household is sending out fear, that can cause a dog to escalate. That is also why having a subjective third party evaluate can help, not just the dog but the dynamics of the people around the dog. Again, best of luck to you and Atlas.
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