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Canine Behavior/Dog guarding and snarling at family


We adopted our 5 year old dog from a local shelter 6 mos. ago.  I had a DNA test done on her and she is pure Boxer on one side and Siberian Husky/ Giant Schnauzer mix on the other.  She is bright, listens to commands such as sitting and waiting before exiting and entering the house.  She will sit and wait for her food just waiting for the command to begin eating.   Unfortunately she has issues with guarding.  It started with barking and looking straight into my eyes whenever I hugged my husband.  She also does this if anyone touches my daughter.  She bit my husband once when he disciplined her for going after the cat who was too close to her bowl.  Since then she looks away when a cat walks by her or sits at her bowl.   She has steadily improved as we have put a lot of work into her.  We live on a large plot of land and she runs daily.  

Here is my issue.  Last night I was tucking my 10 yr. old daughter into bed and the dog laid on the floor and refused to leave her bedroom when I told her to.  I told her again and she snarled at me.  I held firm and made her leave by telling her to get moving.  She left unwillingly and kept turning her head back like she was really irritated.  I am so concerned because she guards me and my daughter when we have company.  She will lay outside my daughter's bedroom door if she has a friend over.  She pants and seems anxious.  She is always at my side, following me everywhere but seems to really worry about my daughter.  There is no violence in our home.  She has no reason to worry about my daughter.  I cannot tolerate a dog who snarls at me.  I am very firm with her but she seems to rebel.  What do we do?

Most aggression, about 98% of it, is fear based.  What, how, why I cannot tell you because I can't interview this dog, observe her in your family environment, or talk to each of you individually.  Guarding a food bowl against another animal (a cat, as you stated) is normal behavior for a dog not heavily habituated to other animals (even other dogs).  I don't know what "disciplined her" means but I can tell you that a fear response is easily acquired by a dog toward a person who physically "disciplines" a dog.  There are other means to divert a dog from food guarding in the presence of another animal.

Breed mix is a problem: the breeds you mentioned (I'm impressed you did DNA!)  are incompatible in temperament and purpose.  I would think it not unusual for the progeny of such hybridization to have aggression issues, although of course all of this could be dissuaded and changed by environment (from neonate period).  This dog is five; she was in (presumably) a "kill" shelter and she was there for a REASON.  It is quite unusual, and highly unlikely, for a dog to "bite" a human with the first display of defense aggression.  Aggression normally progresses through several stages before an actual bite occurs (if, in fact it did).  A "bite" means the dog deliberately, with intent, came forward (without warning or with peremptory warning) and connects (tooth or teeth to flesh), leaving at least a scratch (optimally), a bruise (secondarily), a break of skin with tooth mark(s) (thirdly) or full out puncture with several tooth marks.  Very unusual for any dog to "bite" in such a manner as to leave marks for THE FIRST TIME so we can assume, reasonably, this dog has bitten before and that is why she was in the "kill" shelter.  When people surrender a dog, they LIE.  They lie for many reasons: potential liability (if the dog has bitten someone in their home), embarrassment, or fear the dog will be destroyed (which is what most municipal "kill" shelters do with any owner released dog who is reported as aggressive).

The guarding of your daughter appears, from this distance, to be rank opportunism or a really strongly conditioned fear response.  DO NOT use your hands to move this dog.  Put a house tab on her (leash with handle cut off), pick it up, tell her to "move", and wait.  If she growls, do not move, break eye contact, turn your back.  Turn toward her again (holding the leash), tell her to "move".  If she growls and comes forward, drop the leash, turn your back, do not run and do not threaten her.  You must wait (no matter how scary this is for you and it would be) until the dog has simply STOPPED.  Clap your hands, have a "party", pick up the leash, lead the dog out of the room, "sit" her at the threshold on command, praise her response, take her out of the room.

If she's truly bitten once, she will do so again.  You absolutely require a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) with a strong history of treating aggression (NOT A DOG TRAINER).  The psychological treatment of aggression is long and complex.  I can't see anything from here.  To find one in or close to your area, see the following sites or call the veterinary school in your geographical area and ask for referral:

Not all dogs can be "saved".  But it is your responsibility as a moral and humane person (which you obviously are), especially with children in the home who are observing you as a role model, to give the dog every chance at survival.

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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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