Canine Behavior/My dog

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Question
This story starts sad. In Texas a family have a bunch of little children and they abused my dog named charity for a long time.   After a few years of physical abuse my uncle brought her in and took care of her.  She lived with 2 other dogs but she had a problem,  she continued to bite people if they were short or bared resemblance to little kids.  These bites were not like let me eat u bites but warning bites.   Her problems allmost whent away when my uncle passed away and we shipped charity on an airplane form Texas to Washington state.  It must have been a emotional rollercoaster because the visited 2 different homes to get to our house plus being scared to death in an airplane.  Now she has been home with us for many months and has acted aggressive towards 4 kids so far and bit 1 (again not to the death bite). Also she Howells like she is howelling at the moon whenever the door is open.  Also when she takes naps I notice violent twitching (normal?) and when she wakes up she looks lost.  Is it possible she's re dreaming her horrible past.  We believe have decided putting her down is not an option cause its not fair because those kids were out of control and she is a perfect loving dog when she is with us.  Is their any way we could make her be better around kids and be better when people are at the door?

Answer
You cannot improve this dog's behavior around children nor would I allow her to greet people at the door.  

The dog must be protected.  Let's not even get into a discussion regarding your legal liability (which is substantial) should she bite anyone.  This dog has had a seriously abusive past.  Overcoming the conditioned responses to this abuse will be impossible.  Desensitization, which is required in order to attempt to rehabilitate a dog to certain situations, is very difficult even with an in-person certified applied animal behaviorist in charge of the situation.  In dogs that are older, it becomes even more difficult.  When a dog has been routinely subjected to frightening, confusing and anxiety producing stimuli, such as your dog has, it is most likely impossible.

I suggest, if you are able to find a veterinarian with enough sophistication, that the dog be put on propanolol.  This is a beta blocker which, at doses prescribed just for the treatment of fight/flight in dogs, truncates the rush of adrenaline.  It will not "cure" any behavior problem but it will make the dog less anxious, overall, which is a good thing.  There are PDR's for veterinarians and the use of propanolol for this purpose is well annotated but you might require a veterinary behaviorist.  Try to find one from the following sites or by calling the veterinary college in your geographical area:

http://www.veterinarybehaviorists.org/
http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/

Meanwhile: purchase a Buster Cube (this is a "toy" that dispenses a portion of the dog's two daily meals when the dog rolls it around) and find a secure room (with lock only YOU can open) to confine her in when visitors are expected.  Confine her well before they arrive (ten minutes) with this toy, fresh water, a radio playing music and lights on (if it is dark outside).  Be certain no one can intrude on her.  If children are expected, make it a rule of the household that the dog is so confined.  If your home is not fenced in, you must WALK this dog on leash, NEVER tie her up outside where children can approach her.  A tied dog with a serious fight/flight response will worsen in aggression toward the feared "object".  You are protecting the dog, keeping her calmer and happier, and keeping yourself safe from litigation.

Dreaming is common in many species.  Dogs often bark, whimper, "run", etc. while dreaming.  Perhaps the dog is confused and disoriented because you, out of kindness and concern, are waking her.  Dream state is deep sleep.  Even a human when awakened in REM state is confused.  It isn't necessarily a sign of fear or stress that she "runs", whines, barks, etc. in her sleep.  Under no circumstances should you awaken her suddenly or attempt to comfort her because you are anticipating that she is having a "nightmare".  It's more likely she's responding to something that occurred in the few hours before sleep, something benign.  The fight/flight mechanism requires an immediate stimulus and I'm not implying that dogs have no memory (because they do), but the fight/flight mechanism does not involve cognition, it is an automatic response.  Let sleeping dogs lie, as the old adage says.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.

Expertise

I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.

Experience

30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for ThePetChannel.com for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, K9Shrinks@egroups.com. Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Organizations
Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Publications
Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Education/Credentials
Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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