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Canine Behavior/dog behaviour


QUESTION: i have a 9 week old female 3/4 shih tzu and 1/4 cairn terrior. she is a lovely dog but the last few day we have noticed her being quite fiesty and snappy, nearly becoming aggressive. we are doing everything by the book but nothing seems to work. is it normal for pups to be aggresive and what can be done to help them?

ANSWER: Please describe, in detail, "feisty and snappy, nearly becoming aggressive": under what circumstances, what time of day, who is handling the dog, who lives in the household (any young children?)  I need a complete description including when this behavior began, what you mean by "doing everything by the book" (what "book"?)  It's highly unlikely that a nine week old neonate will actually demonstrate true aggression unless out of absolute fear/terror.  It is more likely she has no bite inhibition (the result of improper breeder management).  But I need as detailed a description as you can give.

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

QUESTION: she would try to bite our legs, but not in a playful way. she regularly bark and growl again not in a playful way either. we hve gotten shih tzu books and frequently ask advice on how to react to such behaviour, and trying different methods but none have helped. i have two children ,15 and 11 years old who are both very calm around the puppy and know how to deal with her as they are very mature. im not quite sure if she is in pain but she has been checked by the vet and seems to be very healthy. she is in a loving home.

ANSWER: It's unlikely that any puppy at this age (which is, actually a neonate) would be doing anything aggressive.  Biting legs may be a reaction to activity around her she has not been exposed to.  I still need more questions answered (and you may have to start a new thread, don't know how many followups are allowed)
: did she come from a puppy mill breeder?
:  Did you see her parents?
:  How many puppies were in this litter?
(If you did not get her from a "breeder" where did you get her?)
:  Has this behavior been constant from the beginning, or is it recently developed?
:  I still don't know what "by the book" means and I have no idea what "advice" you're received, all of which (if wrong) would actually worsen the problem, so explain, please
:  "Checked by the vet" could be a cursory exam.  Many small breed dogs and their hybrids ("designer" dogs) have orthopedic issues and often at a very young age.  Association of pain with human interaction would cause a neonate to become defensive.  Who is your vet, how qualified, what sort of exam was done and is s/he aware of this problem?  What happened when this puppy was on the examination table (I once treated an Akita whose veterinarian responded with fear when the puppy, age ten weeks, growled at her on the exam table and she acquired a strong conditioned response to women who LOOKED like the vet!)

This puppy is NOT a Shih Tsu and how can you possibly determine the degree of hybridization as 3/4 to 1/4?  Some hybrids make very difficult dogs.  There is a huge difference between what one can expect from a Shih Tsu and from a Cairn Terrier.  Who, and how, identified this hybridization to you?

What do YOU DO when she snaps at legs or "barks and growls"?  Do you stop?  Do you back away?  Do you yell?  Do you say "NO!"?  What is the puppy's body language?  See this site to learn to read it:

I can hazard a few guesses here but they could be totally wrong once I have a lot more information.  (1) The puppy came from a fearful situation where her dam was under enormous stress and her fear of humans, especially in certain circumstances, was communicated to her puppies.  (2) The puppy has fear issues (a temperament flaw) that were contributed to either by mismanagement or acquired from her place of origin.  (3) If she is the product of a kill shelter rescue, much of what you see is understandable.

All of it can be remedied but it will take work, time, and money.  Please answer more fully.

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

QUESTION: yes her parents are perfectly cared for in a good home where their own breeds dogs. she is a very respectable breeder. in the litter there were 3 dogs, two of which were male and she, the only female. only recently she has started this behaviour. by the book means advice given from various dog owners who have dogs who are well trained. for example tapping her nose, saying no, ignoring the problem she was checked through many times and no problems occured. she does not know about the problem but i may take her to the vet again if she continues. we cannot determine the exact degree of hybridization but he father is a full bred shih tzu but her mother is shih tzu cross terrior. 1/2 shih tzu from her father, 1/4 shih tzu and 1/4 terrior from her father. we stop and say no and if she continues we just ignore her. i can assure you that our puppy is well looked after and is very sociable but only at certain times she shows this side of her. maybe she isnt show true aggression but she does seem to be quite fiesty.

"Quite feisty" LOLOLOL!  To say the LEAST!!!!  I had a JRT (Jack Russell Terrier) and believe me I know exactly what you mean!

OK: three pups, two male, this bitch got testosterone in utero which may make her a tad more likely to present with male-related behavior problems.  AND....such hybrid will be quite reactive to "chaos" in her environment (by that I mean normal comings/goings if you have a busy household with kids who laugh LOUDLY and their friends lolol).  Yes you are giving the puppy an excellent home.

Go to Turid Rugaas site as suggested in first answer, you will learn to read her body language (very important) and use the house tab!  Simply pick it up, hold her at arm's length, no eye contact, no words spoken, and WAIT.  She will "think" this through (this is most likely a very smart puppy, hybrid mix suggests that, and smart dogs get into trouble lol) and, at some point, when she CANNOT react by mouthing/biting (which sounds more like confusion and a fight/flight response), she should sit (as a signal that cognition is now engaged) or at least stop and stare at you (calmly).  Look at her, praise briefly (so long as she remains calm), drop the house tab, go on as usual.  You and all members of your family must do this until this puppy has learned to "think" and the fight/flight reaction has extinguished.

Meanwhile: Study how to use positive reinforcement to train her.  She needs "work", she needs mental exercise, she's too smart for her own good.  I suggest you see the following sites:

As she learns (and she will, and fast), when she has "settled" (or if this "aggression" stops altogether), ask for "sit" before giving her any attention, letting her in/out, and feeding her.  This will help her be calmer.  If she growls or barks in a manner that alarms you, turn your back to her.  If she comes around to face you (which she most likely will) and has learned "sit", ask for "sit", praise, go on about your business.  Do NOT reward any negative behavior (giving any sort of attention to it, even yelling, is a reward).  Reward what you want in the adult dog, ignore or use behavior modification to stop, what you don't want in an adult dog.

Feel free to ask further questions.  Patience, calm environment, consistent treatment by all Humans in household, good training, and time will equal a wonderful, smart adult dog.

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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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