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Canine Behavior/dog snapping family members dog


Hi there, I have a 5 month old staffy who loves other dogs when I walk her. I took her to my mother in-law's house a couple of weeks ago to get her used to their 9 month old german shepherd as we have to go ther xmas day. They were both on leads and were fine together. We took her a second time on the weekend and again they were fine until my neices went in the pool and the shepherd was also in the pool area. When it came out of the pool arae my staffy went crazy and started sanpping at it and wouldn't stop. Therefore we had to leave. Do you think the pool was the trigger and should I take her back again? Many thanks, Tammmy

Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, I don't really have enough information in this question to provide you any solid thoughts on the issue.

Was your puppy playing? Part of play is wrestling and mouthing and puppies are still learning to control the pressure of their bites (bite inhibition). How was the GSD responding to this snapping? Was he agitated, trying to get away, getting angry and body getting tense, play bowing, going away and coming back, trying to go away and stay away?

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if a behavior is playful (high energy) or if it's agonistic (ugly/aggressive). We often need to look at the recipient dog to determine the motivation. If the receiving dog is happy and engaged and continues to come back for more, then it's play - even if it's rougher than we'd like. If the receiving dog is not enjoying it - if the tail is tucked, if they're growling, showing teeth, trying to get away and stay away, if they're response is getting more agitated, etc. - then it's not play (even if the displaying dog thinks it's play).

Without more information I can't tell you if you need to leave the puppy  behind when you visit your in-laws. It might the pool, especially since your puppy wasn't invited to be in that area and so he could have gotten very excited/overly aroused watching and then had to expend that energy somewhere. It may be enough to just keep them (or at least your pup) on leash so you can prevent him going over and bothering the resident dog. It may be that you can give him a quiet time activity (such as a Kong loaded with yummy snack and frozen so it lasts him a bit of time) out of sight of the pool when it's time for swimming. This can give him a chance to relax, keep him engaged and out of sight of the activity that got him so agitated.

I'd try a visit with no swimming before Christmas to see if they get along when the activities are calmer. Then be prepared to separate him either into a room where he can't see the pool, or into a crate if he's comfortable in a crate, or tethered in an area he can't see the pool (don't leave him tethered unattended - this may mean positioning yourself so you're at the edge/corner of the house so you can see/participate in the back yard activity while keeping an eye on your pup who may be tethered on the side of the house far enough down that he can't get a visual of the pool.

Or it may be best to leave him at home so he doesn't have to be exposed to the activity that seemed to set him off, nor does the resident dog then have to put up with his rude behavior.

Activity in pools can get dogs excited as they see people/other dogs jumping in and swimming. Voices are often raised, movements are a bit frantic (flailing arms, kicking legs, splashing water) and weird for the dog because you might appear to be just a floating head moving along with no legs... Some dogs love pool activities, but others seem very upset by them. So it is definitely possible that this triggered your dog's behavior. It's also possible that he was just jealous if he couldn't be in the pool area and the GSD was. But without seeing it or getting much more detail, I can't even venture a guess as to his motivation for his post-pool time behavior with the GSD.

I'm sorry I can't offer a definitive solution here. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.

Happy holidays.

Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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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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