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Canine Behavior/My dogs issues


QUESTION: *******verry sorry if I allready asked you this***** (trying to get allot of expert opinion)

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: Thank you for your question. I'm sorry this young lady had such an unpleasant start in life. It is true that early experiences can shape her behavior for the rest of her life. If she lived with young children who treated her poorly (grabbed at her, stepped on her, pushed her, hit her, etc) as children will do when not taught how to interact appropriately, then she may have developed a life-long fear of children. The fact that she continues to give only warning snaps and not make an effort to cause damage tells me that this behavior has been successful for her in the past - she has growled or snapped and it worked to get the children (or others) to back off and leave her alone. That's actually GOOD. It tells us that she has learned that communicating works and so she continues to communicate. All too often dogs are punished for growling/communicating and they learn that telling you they're uncomfortable doesn't help them. Those dogs are the ones who "bite out of the blue with absolutely no warning". So you are in a much better place with her.

Because her discomfort is directed mostly toward children, I cannot in good faith try to walk you through a protocol in this forum. It's one thing for an adult to take the risk of being bit while trying to help the dog feel safer. It's quite another to put a child's safety at risk. For this, you will absolutely require some assistance from a professional in person. I encourage you to seek out a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) or a trainer with experience in fearful/timid dogs, specifically with fear of children. You may want to find someone familiar with the training technique known as BAT (behavior adjustment technique), which works through a series of steps to help the dog feel better about being near children.

When interviewing professionals with whom you and your family may work, you want to hear words like: counter conditioning, desensitization, conditioned emotional response (CER), positive reinforcement.

You absolutely do NOT want to work with anyone who suggests the use of: electronic collars (shock, vibration or citronella), choke chains, pinch collars, alpha rolls, forced submissions, etc.

It's important to understand that her behavior stems from a learned fear. In her youth, she was mistreated and learned that she couldn't trust certain people. If we approach this from a position of forcing our will on her, her distrust will not only grow toward children (increasing the likelihood of an actual bite), but it will also generalize to include those who are forcing their will on her. You want to help her develop an increased trust and this means going out of our way to teach her that children are safe, that she'll never be forced to be close if she doesn't want to, she will always have an escape and that it pays to be near children because wonderful things happen (e.g. she gets hotdog or cheese or some other really awesome treat)!

Vet Behaviorist:

CAAB / ACAAB (associate):


Check with your vet for referrals to other local trainers or look at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) website:

When interviewing professionals to hire, keep in mind that letters after the name does not necessarily tell you what methods they use. The link below is to a page on the American College of Veterinary Behaviorist website - information for the public. Near the bottom of that page, there's a link to a PDF called How to Select a Trainer . That PDF walks you through a series of things to AVOID in a trainer. They also make the very good point that if a trainer ever does to your dog, or asks you to do something to your dog that makes you uncomfortable, stop working with them immediately and do not schedule any further sessions with that trainer. End the session right then. Your dog's safety (emotional and physical) is the top priority here.

I also encourage you and your family to get and read On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals , by Turid Rugaas. It's a very easy to read book that will teach you about many, many very subtle signals that dogs give to communicate how they're feeling. Some of their signals are signs of contentment, some are designed to appease others, some to defuse tension and avoid conflict, some to express their uncertainty/discomfort/nervousness. And of course, there are the very clear distance-increasing signals that we're more aware of (snarling, showing teeth, growling, snapping, biting, lunging - all the stuff that makes us nervous). Once you know what cues and signals you're looking for, and what they may mean, it will make it significantly easier to know at any given moment how your dog is feeling. If you see those very early signals that she's uncomfortable, you can intervene to help her feel more comfortable/safer before she ever feels the need to give a warning snap to anyone.

Lastly, as to her dreams. All mammals twitch during their REM sleep (rapid eye movement). It occurs because the brain is doing two things simultaneously. The first is that it's released chemicals that temporarily paralyze the individual so they don't get up and act out anything they might be dreaming. But at the same time, the brain also takes this opportunity to check in and make sure all the connections are working and so it fires signals to the various muscles, which makes them twitch. It can be very mild to very agitated by the look. Often it doesn't even coincide with an actual dream. Some (people and animals) "talk" in their sleep by vocalizing in various ways. My own dog, whom I've had since he was 5 weeks old (he'll be 5 years this month), talks in his sleep. It ranges from soft whimpers to whinnying that sounds like a horse. He's growled in his sleep and even woofed. I have no way of knowing if he's actually dreaming in that moment or not, or if the dream is happy or scary. Most dogs will wake up immediately after a dream (just like humans) because the brain waves when dreaming are nearly identical to those when awake (this is why we often incorporate the sound of our alarm clock into our dream and fail to wake up...). So, it's not surprising that she may look a little disoriented when she first wakes up because she was "just somewhere else entirely!"

Is it possible that she's having nightmares about her past? I'm sure it's possible. Does this mean that every time she's twitching in her sleep and wakes up looking disoriented she was just afraid? Not at all. In fact, dogs are very much "in the present" and while a trauma from long ago may periodically haunt her, it's far more likely that she's dreaming about the most recent meal or play time that she had. Don't worry too much about her twitching. It tends to ease up as the dog gets older (just like human babies vs. adults vs. seniors). If you do a YouTube search for dreaming animals, you'll find all sorts of videos of dogs twitching and whimpering to various degrees. There's even a couple of dogs that sleep walk - running into walls and waking themselves up. It's funny initially until you realize how dangerous it is (the dog could get seriously injured) and how confused the poor dog is. This is a situation where the paralyzing chemicals fail and so the dog is able to get up and act out what they're dreaming about (just like humans who sleepwalk).

I hope all of this proves helpful to you. Good luck. If the dog is quite happy, other than with children, and you're unable to get professional help for her, then your best option is simply management. She should just never be close enough to children to make her nervous. This may mean children don't come to your house, or that she doesn't go to public places where children are likely to be, or she's kept at least 10 feet away from children and the children are heavily supervised so that none wander any closer than that.

Good luck. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thankyou!  That information is helpful!  Now I have. Few more questions because we also have another dog and the issue is that Leah(the other dog) is the top dog and I don't want charity to feel left out in that heirchical system. Also I feel sorry for Leah because when we got charity she feels replaced and has become antisocial when in reality I have one hand for both of them.  I miss the days they would both come running when I got home.  Also do dogs watch tv or hear our music?

It can take time for dogs (new and existing) to find their dynamic with each other. If they were getting on before (and both came running) then there may be something else going on that is causing Leah to behavior differently. Whenever we see a sudden behavior change, it's prudent to have a complete veterinary exam, including blood work, to make sure there's nothing physical that could be causing the behavior change (and there are a LOT of medical issues that affect behavior).

If both dogs have a clean bill of health, then I would encourage having some private quality time with each dog independent of the other. This could be taking one into a bedroom and closing the door for a private snuggle or wrestle/tug with a favorite toy. Or it could be taking them for walks in the neighborhood separately from each other. When together, make sure that one is not disrupting the love-fest you may be having with the other. Make sure that you give roughly equal time to both during a play session. In my home, this frequently involves playing tug with my little on with one hand while just holding the toy that the other one is chewing on. Simply holding that toy means that I'm engaged with it and with the dog, so in this way I can keep the two dogs on opposite sides of me, and engage with both with games that make each one happy. They also get walked separately and have periodic private training sessions in the house, but in a room they don't have ready access to. This way each gets undivided time with Mama.

AS to the other question - yes, dogs hear our music and watch our TV. Dogs have more acute vision for movement than we do and so back in the old days of analogue TV, our film was always 32 frames per minute to give the appearance of fluid movement, but dogs can see something like 36 or 37 frames per minutes. This means that dogs could see the images we saw, but they also saw the blank spaces between frames, so it didn't appear as fluid movement to the dog. Now, with digital TV, it appears much more fluid to the dogs. Many dogs will actively watch TV, some don't seem to give a hoot about it. My older dog couldn't care less about what's on TV, but my younger one will leap off the couch and charge the TV, barking his head off any time there's an animal on screen - whether it's a live animal, a statue, a cartoon character, etc. Even if the TV is paused, if it's paused with an animal on the screen he becomes quite worked up about it. We're working on that and it's improving, but it's definitely still there.

Dogs can (obviously) hear our music. I think the better question is do they find it pleasant to listen to? Some research has been done and they've determined that there are certain rhythms and keys/pitches that appear to calm dogs while others agitate dogs. You can buy CDs of music designed to calm/soothe anxious dogs. The one I own is called Through a Dog's Ear . It is a collection of classical music (instrumental only) that contains appropriate rhythms and pitches to calm dogs. My little one fell asleep to it every night for the first 6 months that he lived in my house.

Good luck with these two. I'm sure you'll be able to help them both feel loved and fulfilled. Please don't hesitate to seek out in-person assistance if you need some extra advice, specific to your dogs and their relationship. It's difficult to really make appropriate suggestions without observing the individuals in question.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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