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Canine Behavior/Sudden Attack


QUESTION: About two months ago my mother decided we should adopt a dog from the shelter near town (a 9 year old Jack Russell). At first all was great, except maybe the extreme pulling and barking when we took him out for walks. He wants to attack all other dogs, and once even had my grandmother's dog in his jaw. He pulls so hard on walks that we had to get him quite a few other leashes since he was beginning to damage the skin of his front pits.
My mother then bought an electric shock collar hoping it would teach him to stop barking. (She did this with good intentions, someone having told her it didn't really hurt the dog.) This was no real issue at first, he simply understood that each time he barked he got shocked, although he did not see where it came from.
One day, the collar moved to the side of his neck, becoming useless, and as he was barking my mother moved it back to his throat, and since he then got a shock just as she touched him we believe he began to associate the pain with her, whether she was there on walks or not.
He never truly got angry at her until the first time she washed him after she began using the collar.
As she dried him with a towel, he began to growl and a few seconds later bared his teeth in a snarl and moved menacingly towards her.
My mother got frightened, especially when he started snapping at her, trying to bite her. She managed to isolate him in another room and considered bringing him back to the shelter.
In the end she decided to keep him, and stopped using he shock collar.
After she stopped, washing him became no problem, and his aggression vanished, although the barking outside returned.
A couple of weeks later, when he began to bark for absolutely no reason, inside or outside, my mother began using the collar again for walks.
And when she then attempted to wash him and dry him off again, the menacing dog appeared again in him. Although he did not try to bite directly, he did seem dangerous and did scare her, so she pushed him away when he sort of lunged at her.
After that, he calmed down and everything seemed normal.
I then took him for a walk with the collar that evening (he barked a lot at one dog and therefore got shocked quite badly), and as he walked back into the living room, and my mother started to rub his belly, he began to growl quietly.
We thought it wasn't dangerous, but then he bared his teeth again, growled gutturally and plain out lunged at her again. He grabbed her pants in a bite, she pushed him away, and then he bit her hand, leaving a relatively bloody wound.
We put him in another room and are leaving him there for the night.
He has never attacked anyone but my mother, and we can all approach him without problem, but my mother is scared to come near him.
We are bringing him back to the shelter tomorrow, even though it hurts us all. We came to love this dog, and feel terrible that we allowed a stupid collar to turn our dog insane.
It is obvious the dog always knows he was wrong after he gets like this, since he begs for forgiveness and shakes in fear (we think this is fear of being abandoned), but we can't keep him and risk him attacking my mother again.

Could it be that it is indeed because of the shock collar?

ANSWER: YES, in my opinion, that idiot who recommended the shock collar to you KILLED your dog, because, as a biter, he will almost certainly be put to sleep soon after you leave him at the shelter.  I would suggest calling a competent trainer to see if this can be reversed if you haven't turned your dog in yet.  I'm just sick thinking about this.  It isn't your fault, and I apologize for an industry that is so unregulated that sadists get to call themselves trainers.

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QUESTION: Following this, I have bad news and good news.

We obviously stopped using the collar, however, the problem didn't go away. In fact, it worsened. The barking returned, and the attacks happened just as often.
We called in a dog psychologist who eventually came to the conclusion that the dog wasn't going to change anymore. He was taken away from us for our safety, and although he was going to be put down I used my debating skills and managed to convince the shelter to get a CAT scan done to determine if he has other types of problems.
They wouldn't at first, because of the price, but I convinced them to pay half and I would pay the other half myself. The CAT scan did not really uncover anything concrete, but that uncertainty was enough to keep him alive and positioned in the shelter.

Now my question is, do you think he would be hurt if I went to see him?
I sort of think he would believe I was there to take him back with me, and would get false hope followed by sadness.

I do think it would hurt.  Dogs that are abandoned by their owners WAIT for them to return, and the kindest thing you could do is let him continue the grieving process, if he's even still alive, which I doubt.  You can kid yourself about the dog not changing, but a REAL animal behaviorist (that means someone with a Ph.D. or DVM) would have explained to you that behavior can be modified, but what isn't usually modifiable is the level at which a dog will bite if he is pushed over his threshold and actually uses his teeth again.  There are many dogs that escalate behavior because it works (after all, if he bites, your mom stays away from him).  That does NOT mean that removing the shock collar would eventually have had no effect.  It takes a dog a while, with significant help from someone who understands dog behavior, to effect change.  But, the FIRST step would certainly be to inflict no more pain on the dog.  
Just who do you think is going to adopt a biting dog anyway????  The dog has probably already been put to sleep, and I have a hard time believing that any shelter would pay for even half of a CT scan on a dog that has been surrendered.  Can you tell me which shelter was kind enough to do that?

Canine Behavior

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Anne Springer, B.S., Dip., CAPCT


I am happy to answer questions about: dog behavior and training, therapy dogs, training disabled dogs, training recently rescued dogs, and managing off leash play groups.


Professionally involved in teaching private and group lessons, and doing behavior consultations. American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, Therapy Dogs, Inc. Tester/Observer. Special interest in pet/elder issues, and in therapy dogs.

Truly Dog Friendly Association of Pet Dog Trainers International Positive Dog Training Association Therapy Dogs, Inc.

Gloucester Times Cape Ann Beacon Ipswich Chronicle Beverly Citizen Salem News

Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, Cum Laude. Diploma in Dog Obedience Instruction, Graduate of NY School of Dog Grooming, Certified Advanced Pet Care Technician - American Boarding Kennels Assn., Certified Pet First Aid & CPR, American Red Cross

Awards and Honors
2002 Caregiver Award from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, for Pawsitive Connections Program (pet/elder issues)

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