Canine Behavior/Aggression


Dear Dr. Conner, I have a male Shih-tzu, not neutered and will be 7 yrs old in Feb. I got him as a pup, he is full blooded, CKC papers. He takes meds during thunderstorms sometimes, due to running around in a panic/whining. He lives inside, but plays daily in a fenced yard. No serious health problems, sometimes ear infection in spring, vet says allergy to some pollen that time of year. Several months ago, while being petted, I touched the top of his head and he attacked/bit me. I tried to tell myself that I must have startled him, or he didn't see my hand, however it drew blood. I gave him "time out" as punishment in his crate. Things were good for awhile, but it happened again. Same scenario, so far I am only one getting bit. He is small, and I don't wish to get rid of him, or put him down. I am certain this is my failure, but am clueless as to how to resolve it. I have been searching the Internet for ideas, and a certified behaviorist in Nashville,Tn area. The only one I could find in Tn charges five hundred dollars first visit. Any ideas/advice would be so greatly appreciated. Thank you.

$500 sounds a tad excessive to me! are dealing with active dog to human aggression.  I'd look around for another CAAB:

Alternatively, any CAAB worth his/her fee would tell you to FIRST have the dog thoroughly evaluated by either a veterinary behaviorist OR a veterinary internist.  Most aggression is fear based and this seems a classic case of same.  The fact that your dog has suffered ear infections in the past, coupled with his apparent fight/flight reaction to having his head touched, seem far too coincidental to be easily dismissed.  Pain is a huge incentive for fear; it can take ten seconds (or less) for a dog to acquire a STRONG conditioned fear response to certain actions or environmental factors.  IF the dog was hurt during exam, he might very well have acquired such a response.  Further, this breed can be snarky.  All the paperwork in the world doesn't prove a pedigree: what proves a pedigree is five generations of proven AKC obedience and breed championships and a long list of people waiting for puppies.  Even then, no guarantees.

Your dog has lost bite inhibition.  This means he has either bitten before, or none of this is in his control (pure fight/flight).  It also means his reactions will get more severe and you could find yourself with a serious injury.

Before we embark on any behavior modification protocol to address this, the dog must be seen by a veterinary expert.  You can forestall the CAAB until such evaluation has been done.  To find a veterinary behaviorist, try the following sites OR call the veterinary college in your geographical area.  A veterinary internist would be my next choice if you are unable to find a veterinary behaviorist:

Meanwhile: confining the dog for "time out" achieves nothing.  It is what occurs within seconds (literally) of the behavior in question that affects the dog.  When you are bitten, you withdraw (natural reaction).  The dog learns that bites work: it stops whatever prompted the aggression.  If the dog pursues you (and he may at some point), then you have a more serious situation.  Put a house tab on this dog (very lightweight leash with handle cut off).  It is easy to step on a house tab to curtail the dog's movement.  Absolutely avoid ANY of your behavior that you know has resulted in this aggression.  Do NOT "pet" the dog on its head.  We can put this dog on Nothing In Life Is Free at a later time but ONLY if it has been proven the dog is free of physical pain, orthopedic, opthalmologic or neurological problems, etc.  Report back using followup feature.  This won't be cheap: veterinary specialists are expensive.  But the dog's life is, literally, at stake here.

Canine Behavior

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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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