Canine Behavior/Snap/Bite


QUESTION: Ms.Connor, thank you in advance for reading my situation.
Can you recommend what you truly believe is the best correction method for a dog that will often - either - show teeth, or go right to a snap and bite. I'm going to contact a caab or veterinary behaviorist from the ones in my area, because my girl also has both - dog to dog - and dog to human reactivity. What should I do with her next time she either shows teeth - or snaps and bites us.

ANSWER: I can't see anything from here and there are far too many questions without answers.

At Berkeley is the world's foremost authority in dog behavior and aggression:  Dr. Ian Dunbar.  I suggest you start there.  His office will be able to direct you to a credentialed, experienced and knowledgeable behaviorist who can do an in person interview, evaluate the dog(s), observe behaviors, look at veterinary records, and then proceed with a behavior modification plan that may, or may not, involve a veterinary behaviorist for medication.  This is one place where you can obtain information on how to contact him:

Meanwhile: the dog in question appears, from your statement, to have gone from "warning" (growl) to actual bite (connection).  The dog also, from your description, goes "right to a snap and bite".  This is a learned behavior.  When a dog demonstrates aggression (now we're talking dog to human here), it begins with a growl.  This is the first stage: at this stage, if the human is the owner and the dog is known to be free of neurological or physical abnormality, the best reaction is to stop: break eye contact: stand still: do nothing: wait for the dog to calm, ask for trained behavior, praise, walk away.  If an owner were to back away at this first demonstration, it demonstrates to the dog that aggression works.  The dog will then escalate to snarling and coming forward, from there to bruising, from there to scratching, from there to actual bite (where there are real marks on the person), etc.  If a dog gets to this point or to any point where it has GIVEN UP trying to "warn", the dog has then been put into a position where it has acquired learned helplessness:  warning doesn't work, next step: moving forward with intent.  This is a complicated scenario and requires in person evaluation ASAP.

DO NOT set this dog up for aggressive response.  Whatever it is that prompts such response (i.e., food guarding, trophying (which means guarding certain objects such as toys, a special spot in a chair or threshold), DO NOT DO IT.  Avoid it at all cost.  This dog will get worse and it will get worse fast.  Contact Dr. Dunbar's office (you can, I'm sure, even find it by googling) and ask for referral.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Ms. Connor, thx much for the very worthy advice. I will make contact with Dr. Dunbar's office. Too bad I don't live in Northern CA where he is based. I'm in Southern CA. If I read you correctly - you're saying that the next time my girl either shows teeth to me - or snaps and bites me - I should stop, break eye contact, do nothing - wait for her to calm, ask for trained behavior, give praise and walk away. This is what I need to do, correct ?
If so, consider it done from now going forward. Thanks ever so much. Steve

ANSWER: Dr. Dunbar will most likely have plenty of contacts in Southern CA.

What I'm saying is: the first time a dog GROWLS, one breaks eye contact, stands one's ground, etc.  Once the dog has escalated to snap/bite, it has lost bite inhibition and this may be an indication of learned helplessness, fear response, etc.  Like I said, I can't see anything from here and an actively aggressive dog is a clear and present danger to everyone.  How many times has this dog connected: left marks?  How bad are the bites?  Bruises?  Punctures?

Make a list of the circumstances under which you have been bitten and send them to me in followup.  You must avoid every single behavior or situation that has caused this dog to demonstrate active aggression until such time as she has been evaluated.  If for some reason followup feature is not available (sometimes they are limited), use the same subject line and post a link to this exchange.

Meanwhile:  Should the dog proceed toward you with clear intention of biting, go down into a squat and put your arms over your head.  I don't know why the dog is biting (I would if I were able to spend time with you and evaluate the dog) so I can't advise whether to proceed forward toward her or to turn your back.  The only thing I can advise is to put yourself into a "protected" posture.  When the dog has backed off and is CLEARLY no longer a threat, remove yourself from the room for ten seconds, go back in, ask for trained behavior, reward.  DO NOT allow this dog near children or elderly.  Until there's a definitive diagnosis, it's just too high a risk.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Ms. Connor, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Computer issues until it was fixed a little while ago. The circumstances we've been bitten:
trying to move her or put a leash on - when she's real comfortable; when we try to stop her from chewing/scratching her paws (we put our hand or fingers on the same spot she's chewing on, and she has snapped and bitten us; I can say that she has no medical issues (recent blood panel terrific) - no physical issues either; our vet has had her on 8 mg Reconcile for close to 2 years now. (not sure if that has made any difference with my 2 main issues, being dog to dog and dog to human reactivity. She's all of 17 pounds but has shark teeth. Regarding your 2nd paragraph, she's connected about 35 times since we've had her, each time broke skin, bleeding, etc.
I hope that gives you more insight and addresses your above questions.
I will follow your advice of break eye contact, stand ground, ask for behavior, reward, etc. And I will continue to keep her away from other dogs and people - until I can find a trainer (finally) that might be able to help me with the 2 big issues. If her growling/showing teeth/biting are fear responses from earlier on, have you heard of cases where that can be either mitigated or cured ? And is there a connection between Fear and her particular reactivity issues ?
Thank you very much for your terrific and honest advice. I wish I was much closer to you geographically so I could retain your services to help my girl.

Much regards Ms. Connor

NOT a dog trainer.  ONLY a certified applied animal behaviorist or someone Dr. Dunbar recommends.

Your dog is apparently suffering from an anxiety disorder (as you describe her licking).  The Reconcile might not be the answer; in fact, side effects of any medication of this type are relatively unknown since the dog can't tell us.  In humans, even anti-anxiety medication can increase anxiety AND SSRIs (as well as other forms of anti-depressants) can, and do, create increased anxiety, agitation, aggression and even hallucinations in HUMANS.  Dogs can't TELL US and that is why I decided (many years ago) never to use them in my practice (along with my veterinary partner at the time).

DO NOT repeat any behavior that has proven to cause aggression.  Do NOT interfere if she is licking her feet since that appears to provoke a response.  Do NOT move if she growls at you UNLESS she is proceeding forward: a fear biter will normally put its ears back, sneer (this is quite different from an alpha snarl), hackles may come up, dog may stand its ground or even back away or wait for you to turn and then attack/chase.  If she growls, break eye contact.  If she comes forward, do as I told you: roll into a ball, put your arms over your head, and remain that way until she gives up and leaves.  This is a totally unexpected behavior that she will not understand, it will (should) stop her and make her "reconsider" meaning: fight/flight mechanism should cease and some cognition should kick in.

Stop asking questions.  Start making phone calls.  The dog has bitten more than 30 times?  Can it be remedied?  Not without sophisticated intervention.

IF for some reason ( I can't imagine what that might be ) Dr. Dunbar is unable to provide you with a reference, here is a list of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists:

You have no time to waste.  The self-soothing licking behavior is a clear indication.  Blood panels don't tell us about mental processes, behavioral issues or even if a dog has a brain tumor (or is suffering from low level temporal lobe seizures).  If the dog suffers or has suffered from encephalitis, a titer should tell you; unfortunately, because dogs are over vaccinated for distemper, et al (and now even for Lyme disease, titers will come up positive even if the dog does not have an active case or has never had an active case.

Your dog will soon pay with her life.  Make that phone call.

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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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