Canine Behavior/Problem


QUESTION: I just took my dog out and she was playing with a small maltese and a large golden. The Maltese started to mount the golden then ran over to my dog, sniffed the ground and started mounting nothing (mid air) then turned to my dogs leg and started mounting her. She actually didn't do anything (I was jogging in her direction to get the dog off) but as I was about 5 feet away and after about 10 seconds of the dog mounting her, she attacked it, pinning it with her front legs, and mouth, then she grabbed ahold of it and started shaking the dog while pinned on the ground. Luckily the dog was wearing a jacket and harness so my dog only had that in her mouth, or the neck. It lasted about 5-7 seconds then she let him go and he yelped and walked away, the owner gave a quick look and we started walking, then my girl went to go play with him again - like nothing happened.

This scared me, she has always been very snappy when dog's mount her, but she has NEVER tried to shake a dog!! The dog was fine, no fur flying or punctures but it terrifies me that she would even do that. Does this mean simply she's aggressive or prey instinct kicked in? Or is this semi-normal? She's very playful with 99% of dogs as long as they don't mount her or ram her with their bodies.

She is a 4 yr old, Border Collie cross with Australian shepherd. She has been attacked by a JRT as well as a white fluffy small dog  and german shepherd before (bit her, but didn't draw blood). But she's never been a aggressor, she would rather avoid and run to me.

I'm scared that this will be permanent. She's always SOOO good with small dogs.

Thank you

ANSWER: Your dog is presently NOT A CANDIDATE for a dog park or any venue where dogs are off leash (and neither is that Maltese!)

Her behavior was a bit over the top and could have resulted in the death of the other dog.  However, you report that she was "attacked" by two "small" dogs so this might explain her over reaction.

I suggest you look for a positive reinforcement training venue (with a nationally credentialed trainer, and check the credentials and ask for references).  See if you can find a "growl class" where counter conditioning is done as seen here:

This might be more easily "said" than done as it requires you live in an area that is heavily populated and/or has a more sophisticated approach to dog "training".  Take a look at this video as well:

If you are unable to find a "growl class", I suggest you hire a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) to evaluate your dog and observe her among other dogs (on leash).  You can hopefully find one in your area from the following sites:

Meanwhile: on leash only, if you see another dog coming in your direction (on leash also), circle your dog (as if following a hoola hoop), first left, then right, then ask for "sit" and praise A LOT.  This will immediately change any conditioned response your dog has to an approaching dog (on leash or not) as well as your own response, since circling changes brain wave patterns.  In this way, you will be desensitizing your dog AND yourself so as not to communicate your anxiety (natural and to be anticipated) when confronted with another dog in approach on leash.

Remember: should your dog cause the death of another dog (regardless of the circumstance), you are legally liable.  Your dog can be seized and killed in the municipal animal "shelter" or dog control center.  Don't take the chance.

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A growl class wouldn't work, I've taken my parents dog to one for them, but he was reactive at dogs. My dog LOVES dogs, she is 99% fine and greets dogs just fine, rarely ever snaps or growls at dogs (only if they jump on her or mount her).

That day we weren't at a dog park, we were out with her friend and some lady let her Maltese off leash with ours before asking unfortunately, I don't bring my dog to dog parks. But my dog is FINE with dogs, it's just this is the first time she has reacted so violently.

She is calm and happy around dogs when she's on leash, everyone who meets her says how sweet she is, how nice she plays with their dog. She ALWAYS loves small dogs, even when attacked, she still stayed very lovely towards them. This incident was extremely scary and I will find a behaviourist but I want to ask if it's even possible to change her reaction once she reacts like that, goes into attack mode? Or would it be more effective to avoid all small dogs from now on?

I'm willing to do either for the safety of other dogs and so my dog never has to experience that immense reaction again.

btw, she is very well behaved with obedience, she comes when called even during play, she stays put when asked. She's perfect. this is the first REAL issue I've ever had, how do you teach a dog to do LESS of a correction?

The growl class you attended wasn't properly conducted by a real expert, or it would have worked (or, the dog you took would have disqualified itself and the person conducting the class would have recognized response perseverance.)

Yes, it is possible to slowly counter condition the dog to "small" dogs.  It will take time, it will take effort, and it will require that you be calm and not communicate anxiety to the dog (they read our body language constantly and anxiety goes right down the leash).  If you find an actual CAAB, your dog can be evaluated and taken out to observe body language.  You can then redirect (circling and trained behavior for reward) when the body language indicates a response is imminent (before the actual response).  Given the fact that you report your dog is happy and well socialized to other dogs, I think the counter conditioning will eventually extinguish any conditioned response the dog has acquired.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


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.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, 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.

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

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

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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