Canine Behavior/Snapping

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Question
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.

We have a 3 year old Boxer/Pit Bull mix that we got from  the shelter in May of 2012. She is very hyper and energetic. We took her to training classes and she did alright. She is not aggressive towards people normally, but there have been a few incidents where she has snapped at people. The problem is that there are no signs of distress or irritation in her when she snaps. Someone can be petting her and her tail will be wagging in a happy manner and then she will all of a sudden snap at them. We can't figure out what sets her off and we don't know the best way to stop her from snapping. She isn't the alpha dog in our family and we don't spoil her. We socialize her regularly. Do you have any suggestions on how we can train her that snapping is bad? She has never bitten anyone, she just snaps.
Thank you for your time.
Lindsay

Answer
Hello Lindsay,

Thank you for your question and for reading my bio.

The fact that you took your terrier mix to training and you write that she did "alright" indicates to me that the training classes either weren't meeting your needs, or that at the time you may not have been able to put as much effort into training as would have deemed ideal, or both.  As well, was the training relevant for you and your terrier mix, which you say is "hyper" and "energetic" (which is not unusual for a terrier or terrier mix)?

If the training class you took was a group class, you might not have gotten the attention you and your terrier mix needed.  You might benefit from private lessons with a trainer well-versed in canine behavior.

When a dog is continuing to do something, which is considered inappropriately aggressive, or any new behavior which is expressing any type of aggression is occurring, I look for two major things:
1.  What might be reinforcing the behavior?  That is, what's in it for the dog that makes the dog likely to repeat the behavior?  Is the behaviornresulting in attention of any type which may be reinforcimg the behavior?  Even negative attention is attention.

Especially when it comes to aggression,  a dog may be expressing the behavior for any number of reasons.  One likely reason is to drive people away.  A dog wagging its tail isn't necessarily a dog that is friendly or even one that desires to be approached or touched.  In order to "read" canine body language correctly, which dogs use to communicate, you need to be looking at, and understanding, the whole dog - the posture, what the ears are doing, what the eyes are doing, facial expression, tail set, and other outward expressions of the dog's inward emotion at that moment.  A trainer expert in behavior can do this and teach you how to do this as well.  It's not as difficult as it may sound.  Dogs communicate very clearly, but most people don't know what to look for until they're taught.

If your dog is trying to drive people away, then a trainer can help you identify possible reasons and help your dog feel better about being approached.

2.  if a new, undesirable behavior appears suddenly, I look for a possible medical reason.  Dogs which are uncomfortable  often become cranky and may start exhibiting aggressive behaviours.  A medical reason could be anything from an ear infection, to joint pain which can occur even in young dogs, to a thyroid issue.  It would be a good iidea to consult your vet and see what tests s/he may recommend to make sure that the snapping isn't related to a medical condition of any sort.

I'm wondering, too, if the snapping is directed toward any specific age group, such as children or adults, or any specific types of people.  If you can identify a common thread as to the people at which shechooses to snap, this may be helpful.  If she's only snapping at children or teenagers, I always ask if the dog is being left outside for any period of time unsupervised and if it's possible that the dog is being teased or harassed  The most likely suspects are children or teenagers, but certainlly adults may be teasing a dog as well.  If you use a walker or dog sitter, or board your dog, ornuse a groomer, and the snapping has coincided with your dog's exposure with any of these people, I would make sure that your dog is being treated well by them.  Unfortunately, not all groomers, walkers, etc., are reputable or will be skilled in handling a hyper, energetic dog in a positive way.

Another thought I have is about equipment.  Are you using a choke or prong collar on your dog, or other equipment, which may be causing her discomfort?  Most dogs experience the effects of such equipmemt when they move forward from you to approach people or other dogs.  If this is so, then she may be starting to perceive the approach of people as something she associates with discomfort or pain, and certainly snapping could be a result.

I would also look for possible stressors in the dog's immediate environment, such as nearby construction accompanied by constant or loud noise, new roommates, or roommates moving out, other pets from which the dog may be experiencing stress to the point of distress, and more.  Again, a private trainer can help by looking at your environment and asking you relevant questions about possible stressors .

As far as her not showing signs of distress when she snaps, any signs may be subtle.  Pit bulls, of which your pet is a mix, are known for giving very subtle signs of aggression when they do behave aggressiively.  Their reaction time is generally also so quick that many people don't notice the signs.

Until you can get to the bottom of what is causing the snapping and resolvemit, I would caution you to not only protect your dog by giving her some space from peoplemright now, but also protect people from a possible bite by suggesting she not be petted or approached until you can receive help with which comfortable and in which you have confidence and trust.  Above all, make sure that whomever you work  with uses only positive, cooperative methods and doesn't rely on anything painful, threatening, loud or scary to your dog.

I hope I've addressed your questions and given you some food for thought which will direct you to answers.

Best regards,
Madeline Friedman, M.A., at AlExperts

Canine Behavior

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Madeline S. Friedman, M.A.

Expertise

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.

Experience

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.

Organizations
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

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

Education/Credentials
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 www.ny-njDogTrainer.com 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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