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Canine Behavior/My New Dog Is Scary


I hope you can help us.
I recently adopted a 15 month old female Collie mix. I was told she was a border but I see a fair old mix of stuff in there.
I was told she had food aggression and had snapped at her families daughter (6 yrs old) but was good with cats and a lovely dog. I was looking for a dog that was young but past the baby stage that I could help and work with as I had always had success in the past with dogs with issues.
When we met she responded to me very well and her family were sad to see her go.
I've now had her for 2 and a half weeks and some rather scary things are going on.
I used a lot of treats and positive reinforcement with her to get her used to me and my son (15 yrs old) and this worked well in getting her to sit and lie down and wait. Its still ongoing but she is naturally for now a little selective. The scary part comes when I try to feed the cat. She goes from a curious stare to snarling snapping fury in one second when the cat gets anything remotely resembling fuss or food. Luckily the cat can escape by spitting and hissing at her but I worry my son might get caught in the crossfire, as she snaps at my hand and the cat at the same time.
Secondly she can be standing very nicely with me if I see someone I can't avoid in the street like my Nana or an old friend, and she is good and quiet. Then suddenly just start jumping up and barking at the person! It scared my 84year old Nana half to death and came from nowhere.
Dogs, again she is nice at first then will snap and lunge. She isn't allowed off lead but there are a lot of dogs not on a lead in my local park and so I need her to be able to deal with it and focus on me.
The clicker training worked really well in the house, but when she is on the lead I feel she is ignoring my commands. She will lunge at passing cars so I am trying to train her to down when we are on a narrow street and they go past or I'm scared she will be hit, even on a very short lead.
These things look trivial but when they add up in such a short time, and I have to think of the cats safety and that of those around me I get scared and worry it will escalate. She just doesn't seem very 'petlike'
I think the family before me freaked out when she snapped at their daughter and left her in the garden or her crate and rarely walked her.
I walk her 3 times a day, am and afteroon is long and in the park and when she's had 40 mins walk she gets half an hour ball and ring play.
At night it is a 20 minute walk round my block just to get her ready for sleep.
I do clicker training with her for about half an hour a day.
She never bothers us when we eat and has stopped pulling on the lead as much, only when she sees a van. She will wait and let me get in the house before she does and is happy to sleep in her crate after the long walks.
She has killed all her toys now and tennis balls and snaps at her ball launcher and lead sometimes as we are walking along. I made a commitment to this dog to make her happy and keep her safe, and am prepared to work at it for the next however many years she has left. I'm forty and aware this is probably my last dog, so I hope you can help us. I'm just scared it is going to escalate if I'm not here and my son doesn't know what to do.

This dog requires in person evaluation and I will direct you to same as, in the UK, you are VERY fortunate to have government licensed behaviorists.

First:  the family lied.  I doubt very much all this dog did was "snap" at that child.  To "get rid of" a "bad" dog (98% the fault of the owner, btw), people will do and say anything.  THEY live in the UK also, they could have asked for help.  She is disposable to them.  Lucky for her, (I don't know why you're "aware" she's your last dog at age 40 which is quite young LOL unless there's an expiration date on the heel of your left foot - joke), she is NOT disposable to you.

Food aggression is always created or the result of seriously improper management by the "breeder" whose dam has had far too large a litter and pups are struggling to survive and not being supplemented.  I can reasonably assume they "messed with" her food: people do this, don't ask me why, and it often results in food aggression.  She is naturally protective of any food resource, including the cat's, since she is basically incapable of knowing which food is for whom (except for people, thank heaven she was never fed from the table!)

Clicker training is "the" way to go but you can make mistakes with the clicker: YOU HAVE TO KNOW what the dog is learning, what the dog is thinking, before the C/T.  I suggest you spend some time studying this training tool at Karen Pryor's site,  There are all sorts of free videos and educational materials available there.

Asking her to go "down" in the presence of a stimulus (car, truck, etc.) that elicits a clear fight/flight response is an error.  There is no cognition involved in a fight/flight response (as you know if you have ever been startled) and the "down" is the most submissive posture.  You'll lose your training if you continue doing this.  The thing to do in this circumstance is first, teach "attention""

It's simple, you begin in a place where there are no fearful stimuli, and then you take it to other places.  As the feared object approaches, she will begin to react.  STOP walking.  DO nothing.  SAY nothing.  Wait for her to stop and look at you, signal "attention", reward it, circle left then right (as if following a large hoola hoop), then ask for "sit" and C/T  (jackpot reward) then go forward.  This is a stopgap measure until an expert has had the opportunity to see this behavior for him/her self.

A head collar (Halti) might be a good choice for this dog, but teaching the dog to wear it and teaching you how to use it is tricky and I think, should your behaviorist think it necessary, s/he will do this.

I would not engage in ANY activity that brings this dog to emotionally excitability.  This is not exercise or "fun", this is somehow disengaging her cognition and putting her into a frenzied state.  (It's possible her former household was chaotic.)  Don't take a ball launcher with you when you walk.  If she mouths her lead, STOP and turn your back.  Wait for her to come around to you, ask for "attention", "sit", c/t, go forward.  If necessary (she might chew through that leash), use hot pepper sauce on the leash (soak the last three feet overnight in a bowl of it so it enters the leather or nylon webbing).  This is a self punishing event for her, mouthing something that is distasteful and causes minor discomfort discourages the dog and does NOT INVOLVE YOU (as it would should you be yanking her leash, saying NO, etc.)

The jumping up suddenly and barking as you described (which scared nana) is simply a result of NO SOCIALIZATION.  This dog must have been a "backyard" dog, rarely (or never) introduced to "strangers", including other dogs.  This is most likely merely excitement or it can be fear (if hackles are raised).  She can be counter conditioned.  It will take time.  The behaviorist will teach you and follow your progress.

There's nothing "trivial" about any of this.  What this is - tragic.  Unfortunately, this sort of thing is experienced by tens of thousands of dogs around the world (this, and far worse).  You're the best thing that ever happened to her.

Feed the cat after confining the dog to another room; put the cat's food on the counter and remove it when he is finished.  No more "toys" to destroy: this dog is exceptionally anxious.  She may never have learned to "play" (which is, in the dog culture, actually a test of rank in the social hierarchy) or her "play" may have been abused by the other household.  Get a Buster Cube: she can't break THAT.  It opens to put a portion of her food into it so that, when she rolls it around, the food comes out through the small holes and it is dishwasher safe. I'm certain you can find one online, if not at a local pet supply store (they might even order one for you).  It's heavy plastic and essentially indestructible (barring nuclear war LOLOL).

Don't panic.  If you start now with a behaviorist, in six months time this dog will have done a remarkable turn around.  Young children in your house should never, for one second, be left unsupervised with the dog (just for the sake of common sense, right now).  Nor should they be allowed to feed her (and she should be fed twice a day, a healthy portion of a high quality, LOW PROTEIN, food that your veterinarian can recommend).  Put her in the separate room during cat feeding with the Buster Cube and remember to subtract what food is in there from her daily portion.

If it takes so long and so much effort to "settle" this dog down for sleep, you are seeing the results of extremely high anxiety.  Your behaviorist might recommend a regimen of medication: I would start with Propanolol, this is a beta blocker which acts on the rush of adrenaline and "truncates" it (keeps it from obtaining full effect).  

Find a behaviorist from one of the following sites:

Be certain that, during initial telephone contact, this person understands there is a created aggression problem (food guarding and possible aggression toward humans) so that s/he can be prepared to determine if his/her skills are adequate.  The first two in this list are the most highly regarded behaviorists in the UK.

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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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