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Canine Behavior/Rescue dog snapping


"Dear Madeline, I have read you biography and I promise to read and rate your response within three days.  I understand that your time is valuable, that you are most likely spending at least 45 minutes of your time in response to my question, and I understand too that when questioners read and rate your responses fairly that you make random donations to animal shelters to help homeless animals.  In the interest of being appreciative of your time AND helping shelter dogs and cats, I agree that I will rate your response and give you fair feedback."

I adopted a year old Saint Bernard from a rescue today and he snapped at me twice.  The first time was when I gave him a biscuit and he dropped it and I picked it up.  That was probably food aggression and I should have known better.  But the second time I was just patting him and he went to bite.  There was no reason I could see.  I don't know much about his background except that he was in a foster home and the foster didn't mention any problems.

What could be causing this?  Should I return him to the rescue?  Or should I work with him to correct this and if so, what should I do?  Thank you in advance for your time.

Hi Kate,

I appreciate your taking the time to read my bio and agreeing to the virtual contract in it.

At this point, it would be speculative on my part, at best, to try to guess what may be causing the second snapping incident.  I couldn't begin to know without seeing the dog and/or having a more detailed history about him.  

I would suggest you contact both the foster again, and the rescue, to find out if the dog was behavior evaluated, and other details which may lead you to more information.  

As well, perhaps the rescue offers trainer assistance to people who rescue dogs who are experiencing this type of situation.  I don't know what experience you have with dogs that display aggression, so I can't counsel you as a volunteer not knowing what your level of experience is with aggression or your potential capability to do so, both financially and experience-wise.  If you plan on keeping him, I would contact a trainer with significant canine behavioral experience asap. You can ask local vets for a name, or search the Internet in your local area.  If you know others who have worked with a dog trainer, it would be helpful to ask them.  Personal referrals are usually the best.  I would inform the rescue and see if they will pick up some of the cost, explaining that you are motivated to keep and work with the dog, if, indeed, you are.

As to whether you should return him, that's a personal decision you need to make based on how safe you feel with the dog, your motivation to work with him, and your level of experience in dealing with dogs with such issues.  Understand that dogs tend to deteriorate behaviorally if they get passed from home to home, and the more time they spend in a shelter environment.  As well, and I don't mean to put pressure on you, but you should be aware: many shelters will euthanize a dog returned for biting or snapping.  However, your safety and well-being need to come first, and if you're concerned about what may happen to the dog, ask the rescue what they do when a dog is returned for snapping behavior.  Sometimes a staff trainer will work with the dog, and include you in the training.  At a time when the trainer decides the dog is safe to adopt out, the rescue may agree to return the dog to your care and ownership.

I don't know the dog's age, but if he's on the young side, training and behavior work bodes quite well for him, and for you.  If he's older, I would look into a possible medical condition which may be causing pain, and which would lead a dog to snap, ranging from joing pain, especially since he's a large breed; hypothyroidism; ear infection (to name a few); and, have a vet look into all the possibilities after informing the vet about what has occurred.

I would agree that the first instance of snapping sounds as if it might have been resource guarding.  As for the second, if the snapping was very close in time to, such as immediately following, the guarding incident, and/or the guarded item was still in the dog's view, it may have been a "spillover" snap resulting from that because the dog hadn't recovered yet from the initial guarding incident.  Barring that possibility, I couldn't really offer any guesses about the second incident without having seen what happened and knowing much more.

Hope this helps, and best of luck.  I hope you don't give up on him and choose to work with him.  Thank you for going to rescue for a dog.  People who do so help raise awareness about rescue organizations.

Madeline, Volunteer at AllExperts

Canine Behavior

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Madeline S. Friedman, M.A.


I respond to public questions only. I'm not a veterinarian & do not respond to medical questions.Suggestions: Submit a question in one area of priority, as what I am able to address in this venue is limited. Provide as much detail re: the behavior & issue as you can. Tell me how & if behavior is a change from previous behavior & when the changes occurred. Let me know what you think may have triggered such changes & what you have tried so far to resolve it, & what the results were. Let me know what you want help with & what are your concerns & questions about the behavior. I have set up a payment/donation to myself for responding to questions. I donate most of it to animal shelters & rescues. I keep a small portion for my time. The minimum donation is $25.00 on PayPal. When I see that a donation has been made, I will respond to your question. You will be prompted to make the donation before submitting your question. When you have read & rated my response fairly, which must be at the time you read it, I will refund $5.00 back to you IF YOU REQUEST that I do so in your rating comments. If I ask for more details, please respond as a "follow-up" & not as a new question. If I don't respond to your question, I will refund your donation less $5.00. DO rate me fairly at the end of our exchange. I will be pleased if you DO nominate me for volunteer of the month - why not, if I was generous in my response? I may suggest something you were not necessarily ready to hear, but I am honest in the interest of helping your dog, & that is my goal. Please keep that in mind. Please do NOT contact me privately about Allexperts questions through my e-mail or website unless I have invited you to do so. That is an invasion of my privacy - thank you for respecting it. If you would like to contact me for actual dog training & behavior consulting, you may contact me through my Web site.


Own & operate dog training & behavior consulting businesses, Hoboken Dog Trainer, and ny-njDogTrainer, in the NYC & NYC Metro areas since 2002. Work with thousands of dog owners & their dogs, & shelter & rescue dogs. Active volunteer in dog shelters and rescues (rescues being "no kill" and shelters being municipality-run urban shelters that can and do euthanize dogs). AllExperts volunteer in "Dogs, Category 701" and "Dog Training" and "Canine Behavior" since 2006. When you submit a question, please make sure it's being submitted in the appropriate category as I volunteer in two different categories. Make sure you agree to the Virtual Contract (the instructions I outline for question submissions) and agree to read and rate my response when I answer in the body of your question. I make donations to various animal non-profits based on YOUR ratings. If you don't rate my response, or rate it unfairly, you have just denied a dog rescue org or shelter a donation. Keep that in mind.

Professional Member of APDT for five years Founding Member of Animal Behavior Associates Behavior Education Network Former Board Member of IAABC, appointed by Founder Former Member of IPDTA in Canada Founding member of Behavior Education Network

Chronicle of the Dog (APDT, peer publication, numerous articles) Popular Dog Series magazine, numerous entries AOL in Tonowanda News Morris County News Vermont News Boston NOW New York A.M. Polo Trace Newsletter The Dodo AOL

Counseling Psychology, Caldwell College Animal Science, Rutgers University Master of Arts Degree Permanent New Jersey State Teaching Certification (teach public school and university level) Numerous workshops, lectures, and seminars on dog training and behavior Ongoing self-motivated study in my area of expertise

Awards and Honors
Best Canine Coach Award, 2006, Rondout Valley Instructor's Training Course Society of Illustrators, second place international competition Jellybean Photographics, second place international competition Fashion Institute of Technology "Commitment to Illustration" award

Past/Present Clients
Testimonials from a number of clients appear on my Web site at under "Reviews." My customers include: Puppy owners wanting to get their puppies off to the best start; owners of mature dogs who want their dogs to have more obedience skills; fosters and owners of rescue dogs or shelter dogs; customers with special needs who need to train or retrain their dogs; housetraining and housebreaking; owners who have behavioral issues with their dogs such as house accidents, aggression towards humans, aggression towards other animals, inattentive dogs, unmotivated dogs, overly-exuberant dogs; and, more.

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