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Canine Behavior/Dog Issues - Need Some Advice

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Dr. Connor,

I’ll try to keep it as short as possible, but this is our situation…
My wife and I (and 5 year old daughter) are having some problems with our dogs.  I’m not entirely sure what we’re doing wrong, and while there is a lot of information to be found online, I’ve had limited success with it.
I will start off by saying that neither of us really have any prior experience with larger, more athletic/confident dog breeds – this may have been where our first error in judgment occurred.

At any rate, about a year ago, we adopted a cross-breed puppy.  She is an Argentine Dogo / American Bulldog (Scott Type) mix.  At the time we were hoping she’d grow to be Dogo size, but in hindsight I think we’re probably both glad she leaned more toward American Bulldog, coming in at around 55lbs.  She’s been well taken care of, current on all her shots, micro chipped, and we live in a home with plenty of space for her to run and get exercise (3.25 acres).  That being said, we just don’t seem to be giving her something that she needs, or at least that’s my in depth analysis (for what it's worth).  She has a lot of issues with jumping and barking incessantly.  I’ve tried many different ways to correct her, including both a calm type of approach, as well as more aggressive (really, yelling to be honest) methods.  The former she seems to ignore entirely, and the latter she just thinks I’m trying to play with her and escalates further.

So, fast forward a year.  We eventually came to the conclusion that she needed more physical activity than we were providing.  We both work, so as you can imagine there are some time constraints.  We talked it over many times over a period of months, and eventually decided that what she needed was another dog – a playmate, a buddy to have fun with and help drain some of her energy level down.  Eventually we found someone that needed to re-home their dog due to moving into an apartment.  He’s a purebred Johnson Type American Bulldog, also about a year old, and ~75lbs.

Both dogs are fixed, but we’re off to a pretty rough start with the two of them.  They are like a tropical cyclone tearing through the house, knocking everything in their path down (including people).  At first we thought they were trying to kill each other, but eventually we realized they were actually playing, albeit extremely violent play.  I hope they are anyway, still not 100% convinced because I do see hackles from time to time, and the female can be downright nasty when provoked.

The playing by itself would probably be ok, possibly something we could manage, but there are other more concerning issues – as best I can tell they seem to be territorial problems.
The female we’ve had for a year seems to have laid claim to certain areas of the house, most of them family areas where she would’ve normally sat down to spend time with us, and the other being her food bowl.
While all the people in the house can do anything they want to her food, she guards it to the death anytime another animal gets near it.

Sorry for the novel.  I wouldn’t say we’re quite at our wits end with things just yet, but it’s clear we need to make some changes.  I'm just unsure what those changes need to be.  I’d rather consult with someone that has dealt with these types of issues and can provide some sound insight and recommendations.  We’d really like to see this work and be able to keep both dogs.

Thanks in advance for your time.

Answer
You have a volatile and unstable situation with a dog breed/hybrid that is quite difficult, a challenge to own, should not be in the average home, and requires an experienced dog owner.  Your five year old child is at risk here.

In New York (don't know where exactly you live) there are many Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB).  Your dogs are out of control.  The male may (may) be trying to acquiesce to the female (as is the culture in dogs) but there's far too much going on here than I can determine without eyes-on.  You MUST find a CAAB - NOT a dog trainer.  Sad to say, the situation might resolve into re-homing (or worse) one or both dogs but that's not my final word, it's just my knee-jerk reaction.  And re-homing this breed/hybrid will be quite difficult.  The child's welfare is FIRST AND FOREMOST.  There is an apparent struggle for social hierarchy between these two (it was a huge error to bring in another dog) and children are perceived as quite low in social hierarchy and therefor the first (usually) to be "disciplined" (in such a manner as to cause injury or worse).  Your child must NEVER be left alone with either dog for one second. A dog can react (in a "normal" manner in its culture) so fast that you can't get out of your chair to help your child.

To find a CAAB:

http://certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com/page6.html
http://www.animalbehavior.org/ABSAppliedBehavior/caab-directory

If you are downstate, you can also call the Animal Medical Center, 212-838-8100 for referral to a CAAB within the downstate (or even upstate) area.  If you are in the Mid Hudson Valley area (regardless of distance) you can call Cornell Veterinary College, Ithaca, NY, (607) 253-3570.

FYI: research VERY VERY CAREFULLY any breed dog that attracts you.  Do NOT "adopt" from Petfinder or Craigslist ads.  Choose a breed that is known for friendliness, easily trainable, and child friendly and then find several breeders (by going to AKC web sites) within your geographical area and VISIT THEM.  There should be a WAITING LIST for puppies from an excellent breeder.  There should also be MULTIPLE AKC breed championships, field trial championships, obedience championships.  Wait until your daughter is at least eight years of age.

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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