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Canine Behavior/Golden Bit My Wife

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Hi Dr. Connor,

My family consists of my wife, 1 year old son, myself, and our dog. She is a 2.5 year old golden. We have always known her to be a little high strung, we call her the 1 in 1000 dog, because every time we go to the vet or she has to take medicine we get the caveat of "oh maybe 1 in 1000 dogs will react to this" or "goldens don't do that" and sure enough it happens.
She's the most amazingly friendly, loving dog 99.99% of the time, but its the other time that is killing us. She has bit my wife twice last time was over a year ago on the hand (I wasn't there and my wife said it was a snap and release) and then last night. She has snapped a handful of times, but only ever connected to with my wife's skin on 2 occasions. When it first happened we took her in and had her checked because she went through a growling and snapping phase for a week or two after being fixed and we chalked it up to stress, pain, and meds. She loves to play with other dogs when she initiates it, but she has fought a handful of times with my parents dog (westie). She doesn't seem to attack but her threshold for play seems to be low, she looks scared when they try to coax her into playing and it turns violent, and honestly if I am not there to stop it I don't know how far it might go.
So last night..at night she sleeps on the foot of our bed for about 2 hours before she'll jump down and get into her bed. She likes to lay in front of our fan we run all night on us. She always asks my wife by going to her side and putting her paw on the bed. Then my wife will let her up. Sometimes she will come in between us and get loved up then settle into the foot of the bed and sleep. Well last night she appeared that she wanted some loving and came up between us, and my wife smooched her head (as usual) and she jumped up growled and bit her on the neck. I was able to throw her off, but again no idea how far it could've gone.
I took her in today to get a full blood panel done and am going to speak to a vet on Friday with "Behavior Training" credentials. My fear is that our child which she seems to adore is getting mobile now and an attack such as last night could be devastating if turned on him. Have you ever heard of anything like this and is there any way to keep her (everyone keeps telling us no). If it was just my wife and I we wouldn't be so distraught as we can adjust our behaviors and monitor our actions, but with the baby its gut wrenching because we know he can't. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I feel like my shadow for the last 2.5 years is being ripped away.

Thank you very much.

Answer
Unless a veterinarian is a specialist: veterinary behaviorist, no veterinarian can advise you properly.  Even a veterinary behaviorist (unless s/he goes into homes rather than confines treatment to clinical setting) may not be well equipped.

This dog is a clear and present danger to your wife and your child. She has lost bite inhibition. She should not be sleeping in your bedroom. She should not be allowed free interaction with your baby. You ABSOLUTELY need the help of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.  Unfortunately, the Golden Retriever developed tendencies toward fear aggression and even rank opportunism due to overbreeding by backyard breeders and puppy mills.  They are not the breed they once were.  This is why acquisition of any purebred dog must be done quite carefully, researching the breeder through the AKC web site, visiting the breeder's home, looking at five generation pedigrees, and then getting on a list (which might be quite long) of people waiting for puppies from legitimate breeders.  Breeding for type, health, temperament is the top goal of any legitimate breeder.

In the State of CA, you have Dr. Ian Dunbar at Berkeley.  He will know EXACTLY to whom to refer you.  If you are fortunate enough to live in that area, you can have the benefit of his staff.  Be extremely cautious about who treats this dog's behavior problem because it is quite serious.  The CAAB must understand aggression, how to diagnose cause, what sort of aggression s/he is dealing with, and have a full history of complete veterinary examination.  Your dog may be suffering from any number of physical problems (including seizures) or the result of severe illness as a neonate (about which you would know nothing).  Here is how to contact Dr. Dunbar's office:
http://www.siriuspup.com/about_founder.html

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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