Please Help with My Rescue Dog

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!


Barked: Sun Sep 30, '12 9:33pm PST 
He is a 9 m/o american cocker spaniel. I adopted him at four m/o & he was extremely anxious, timid, & terribly afraid of men. I noticed the beginning signs of aggression but he was young, they were manageable & didn't escalate. He would snatch toys away from my other dog but was always okay with me and anyone taking toys away from him or taking his food etc. He went through a phase of attacking my other dog (snapping at him) & getting too aggressive. That stopped as he became more comfortable with the environment and less reliant/dependent on me. Then one time I was punishing him, I said no and shook my finger in his face, and he went to snap at me. Yesterday he got groomed (the groomer actually came to my house) and he seemed very odd after his grooming. He kept attacking my other dog the way he used to, and when I went to say no to him, he lunged at me, tried to bite me several times & was growling furiously. That was the first time he's ever tried to bite me or anyone else but it seems like a glimpse into my future with him. I have used four dog behaviorists, spent so much money and no one has helped. He is still aggressive and so afraid of men. I love him very much, and of course, giving him away isn't an option. I adopted him to give him the best life possible, even though he was shaking in the back of a cage when I got him. I am just left clueless as where to go next. Any help and advice are so appreciated.

Let's play tug!!
Barked: Sun Sep 30, '12 11:16pm PST 
It sounds like saying no is not a discipline style that's working with this dog. I struggle with the urge to correct aggression too, but it's a pretty good bet that when he's at the point of snapping, he's not processing things that are said to him, and your posture, facial expression, and finger in his face are probably escalating the situation. When it's at that point, the best thing you can do is nothing. When he seems riled, I would recommend either putting him in his crate for a break/timeout, or, if you can't safely do that, remove your other dog from the room and give him a few minutes alone. Teaching is done sub threshold. It will help if you can try to identify the triggers or signals that come before that, so you can call him and remove him from the situation before it gets that bad, and eventually teach him to use his own socially acceptable ways to get space, like walking away. With some dogs the signals are subtle, especially if they've been corrected for aggressive behavior, but I've found a hard stare with ears up to be a pretty good indicator of discomfort. It may be that grooming was really stressful for him, and his anxiety bubbled to the surface when the ordeal was finally over. I think I've seen that with Smokey. I took him to the dog beach today, and he did beautifully, but it was clear that he was doing a lot of mental/emotional work. Being in a small area with so many other dogs caused him stress, even though he had enough self control not to act aggressive and was even able to play intermittently. When we got back in the car, he barked at people walking by, at a distance that he wouldn't usually react to. I think it was sort of a way of redirecting, and those people on the other side of a barrier were a safe target. I think you would find it really helpful to read a book or two on dog body language. It's amazing how you realize there can be a whole string of behaviors that come before snapping (or going over threshold in general, whatever form that takes). Smokey will yawn and lick his lips incessantly when he's a little nervous, when he's more nervous, he will freeze and stare (often several mini sessions of this come before a reactive episode, so even my slow self has time to notice) and he will hit the end of the leash more often. He's actually a great walker when he's calm. Even if I miss all of those, if I've done my job with management and he's not already stressed, he will often even give me a few long low barks, before he gets to the point where he is lunging, growling, and unresponsive to commands. If he's playing, I will see the play start to look less reciprocal and more tense. Every dog is a little different, and at first it always seems like they're giving no warning, but if you educate yourself and keep watching him, you will very likely find some warning signs when he's getting upset.

Barked: Sun Sep 30, '12 11:36pm PST 
Thanks for responding! I definitely do notice those warning signs. His pupils completely dilate and he sort of freezes. It's just getting to a point where my other dog is afraid to go near me because he thinks the cocker will attack him. You can feel the tension in the room. My poor other dog sits in his dog bed crying because he's too scared to walk over to me. He's learned that in this situation the cocker will lurch over and snap at him. I feel so bad for my other dog, it's so unfair to him. I definitely think this is one of many signals that the cocker thinks he's alpha... but I'm not certain on how to correct it


Let's play tug!!
Barked: Mon Oct 1, '12 12:12am PST 
It may be helpful, rather than thinking in terms of alpha, to think in terms of conditioned associations and emotional states. A dog who resource guards his owner is probably just plain-old insecure rather than dominant. In some primal part of his doggy brain, he feels that your attention is a scarce resource- and since you're the giver of all wonderful things (food, affection, walks. . .) he wants to keep that attention for himself. You might try simple counterconditioning. When your other dog approaches you, toss a treat so that Cooper turns away from you both to get the treat. And when you're done petting your other dog, give Cooper some affection. It will take some time, but he'll learn to see your other dog approaching you as a predictor of treats and affection.

we will dance in- the ring without- words
Barked: Mon Oct 1, '12 3:19pm PST 
Ditto on everything Smokey said, it is good and sound advice.

Barked: Tue Oct 2, '12 6:34am PST 
hugAt 9 months old he is a teenage hooligan, all dogs go through this, him being extremely anxious, timid and frightened of men will be a lot worse during this period.

99.5% of aggression is fear, I no longer think of this type of behaviour as aggression but as a very frightened dog and have found it a lot easier to deal with. In order to help dogs like this we need to change our own thinking.

As he is an American Cocker Spaniel he will need a lot of exercise both physical and mental, how much exercise does he get? I know from my own Working Cocker/JRT just how much the right exercise helps dogs. I am disabled and couldn’t give her enough physical exercise until I got a mobility scooter, it goes at 4 miles an hour on the flat but it isn’t fast enough for her.laugh out loud

How did you stop him from taking things from your other dog?

You say he has always been good with you taking toys away from him or taking food, is this something you have been doing? If so stop doing this now, all you are doing is increasing his fear of humans and he will eventually bite. The best way to take things off a dog is to manage the problem by doing a swap for something of a higher value to him while you teach him to “Drop” on command. You have to manage this until the “Drop” is nearly 100%.

Why are you punishing him? Why are you saying no and shaking your finer in his face? What would your reaction be if someone did that to you? I know what my reaction would be, I would respond with more aggression, that is normal behaviour for us as well as dogs. NEVER USE AGGRESSION to solve problems, it just escalates the aggression.

Dogs are not humans, they don’t understand words until we teach them, we don’t always understand if someone says “No” to us because it means so many things, no you can’t have a sweet, no you can’t go out to play, no you can’t do this and that, we very unfairly expect dogs to know what we mean when we say “No”.

Please don’t take this post as attacking you, I am not, I am trying to put over as clearly as possible what is happening and how to try and solve this, if you were talking to me what I am saying would be a lot easier. Trying to put into the written word is a lot harder than talking.

##Yesterday he got groomed (the groomer actually came to my house) and he seemed very odd after his grooming. He kept attacking my other dog the way he used to, and when I went to say no to him, he lunged at me, tried to bite me several times & was growling furiously. ##

You said the groomer comes to your house, you are very lucky, were you with your dog and groomer all the time?

How many times has the groomer seen to him? Many dogs find this type of grooming very stressful and our dogs have to learn that it won’t hurt them. A nervous, stressed, frightened dog may show this behaviour after they have been groomed.

You say you have had 4 behaviourists to him, what have they told you to do? This is really important because many cause the problems to escalate. I fostered a lovely dog, Bertie was a Maltese/JRT, his owners adored him and brought him from Australia to the UK were he had to go into quarantine for 6 months. During that 6 months he changed from the loving boy he was into an dog that started to bite. His owners couldn’t cope with him and let him go to a rescue were they used old fashioned methods to try and sort out his behaviour, in stead he got worse and several fosterers ended up going to A & E with the bites.

I was asked to take Bertie as his last chance, if I couldn’t he was going to be pts because he was so bad, so many people were terrified of him. He arrived and the first thing I did was put a house lead on him, this only came off when I was leaving him on his own. With the house lead I had full control over Bertie, if I wanted him to do something I just picked up the house lead and lead him, so much easier for me and Bertie. Many people get hold of the collar to lead a dog but to the dog that is an aggressive act because they get hold of the collar at the back of the neck, with the house lead I never had to get hold of the collar.

Poor Bertie, he had a lump on his ribs which the vet said looked like he had been kicked and not treated, Bertie was terrified of men and would attack their feet if they came into the house. I rehomed him to one of my neighbours who carried on the work I started, he has teeth marks in all his shoes but eventually the attacking his feet stopped. It stopped because Bertie was put behind a gate for his owner to put his shoes on and go outside, when he was outside Bertie didn’t attack his feet, Bertie started to trust his owner and became a very loving boy.

You can turn this little boy round as long as you use positive reinforcement methods only, that does take a lot of work on our part but well worth the effort. Bertie taught me a lot, I was all for positive reinforcement before he arrived but he strengthened my belief in it because previously he had been heeled, prodded and rolled by his fosterers to get him to submit, when he realised that that had stopped he started to trust. The fosterers were working on the advice given to them by various behaviourists who were still in the stone age.

One of my dogs Tilly used to be terrified of men, I live on my own so the only time she sees men is when we are out, when I see her tense up because she has seen a man I stop my scooter and get her to sit, give her a treat then I ask for “Watch me”, each time she looks at my eyes she gets a treat. I do this until the man is far enough away from her. This past week she as trotted past a couple of men without me having to stop, it has been a long time but at last she doesn’t show the fear she used to.

Your dog is lucky to have found you but please only use positive methods on him, dogs are supposed to have the mental capacity of a 2 or 3 year old child so when I go to do something to one of my dogs I ask myself “Would I do this to a 2 or 3 year old child?” If the answer is no, I don’t do it to the dog, if it is yes, then I will do it to the dog, if it is don’t know, I do a lot more thinking.

Like Tilly your dog will never be right but he can improve a lot and become quite a confident dog most of the time like Tilly is.