Canine Behavior/Aggresive behavior in a bassett hound
We have a 6 year old bassett that was rescued from the shelter. He was very gentle and loving and playful...bonded perfectly with my lab mix who is 7. We adopted home 4 years ago. I also foster dogs for the same rescue and he has always gotten along well with every one. About a year ago he started to lunge at my husband if he leaned over me while I was sitting and such..I have always corrected this behavior and my husband stopped doing the action that caused him to lunge...then it move to the bed..the dogs have always slept in the bed with us with no problems at all but recently if my husband got out of bed at night our bassett would lunge barking and growling aggressively at him when he went to get back in...that started about 6 months ago. Since then it has progressed to anyone or any dog coming on he bed (he doesn't even have to be on the bed he can be on a chair or on the floor and he will still do the same thing...it keeps getting increasingly worse...now it happens at random times for reasons I can not figure out. Most recently this morning our foster was under a blanket next to me and beau ( our bassett) came from no where and lunged at me and the dog and when I pushed him away he actually bit me...any help would be very appreciated pleas.
Thank you for your question. And thank you for fostering dogs in need while they wait for their forever homes. That's a much needed service and not many people are willing or able to do it.
It sounds like your bassett is experiencing something called Resource Guarding. This is the process by which an individual feels that a prized possession is in danger of being taken and so the individual feels compelled to protect it (often with an offensively aggressive display). The major thing to keep in mind is that Resource Guarding is a fear based behavior
. This is critical to understanding what's happening for Beau because the best way to deal with this will feel rather counter intuitive to you.
Often, when a dog growls, barks or snaps, our instinct is to scold the dog, yell, swat, hit, force to the ground in a so-called 'alpha roll', or isolate them as punishment for daring to express themselves. But, growls, barks and even snaps are a form of communication that are meant to tell us that the dog is uncomfortable and needs space. Those behaviors are, in fact, called Distance-Increasing behaviors because they're meant to cause the other individual to move away so that the dog doing the behavior can avoid an actual confrontation.
Now, frequently, and specifically in the case of resource guarding, the dog is behaving out of fear. If we punish the dog when he's telling us he's frightened, we only confirm for the dog that he's right to be frightened, that there is in fact a threat and he does need to protect himself or his prized possession. The result of this interaction then becomes an escalation of the behavior. Where it may have originally been only one specific circumstance (e.g. your husband leaning over you in one location), Beau learns that he must make his offensive strike earlier - as your husband approaches you, rather than once he's leaning over you. And he may generalize the response to other situations as his sense of being threatened continues to increase.
So the best way to help a dog feel less threatened in these circumstances is actually to reassure them. Ideally, we set up a situation where Beau might normally show resource guarding behavior, and then, BEFORE he sets off, we reassure him that he's not being threatened. And then as he demonstrates a greater comfort in the situation, we begin to increase the criteria until he's comfortable with the thing that used to make him feel threatened.
Here's what a set-up might look like:
You're sitting on the couch and Beau is near you. Your husband walks in your general direction, being careful to not make direct eye contact with Beau and being sure to stay far enough away that Beau barely registers your husband's approach. That may be 3 feet or it may be 20 feet. Beau gets to decide this, so you must pay attention to Beau's body language. We want him to remain relaxed, with a soft body (no stiffness, no hard stares, etc).
From that distance where Beau is still comfortable, your husband tosses Beau a bite of chicken breast or string cheese or whatever is Beau's absolute favorite dog-safe human food. He ONLY gets this food during these training set-ups. After he's tossed the food to Beau, your husband just walks away.
Pause for about 15 seconds, then repeat at the same distance. Continue this exercise at this distance until such time that Beau is looking up at your husband with happy anticipation as your husband approaches. At that point, do at least 6 more trials at that same distance - just to really drive home the comfort level.
Then, the next trial your husband will come a bit closer. How close depends on Beau. It may be 6 inches, or it may be a couple feet. Err on the side of smaller change than you think he can tolerate. And repeat the whole process until such time that Beau is happily anticipating your husband's approach.
It may take just a couple sessions or it may take several weeks of twice-per-day sessions before your husband can lean over you to give you a kiss on the cheek or say something to you and Beau is comfortable. When you get to the point where your husband is standing next to you, take it slow. He should not go from standing near you to kissing you on the cheek in one movement. Break it down. He should perhaps start with just nodding (looking down from the chin only), then bend just a few inches, then a few more, etc. until he can be cheek-to-cheek with you. All the while giving Beau his favorite dog-safe human food, and then your husband walks away again.
Then you can repeat the whole process in another location (should go much faster) such as your bed, since he's generalized to there as well.
The purpose of this exercise is to help Beau understand that your husband is not only not a threat to him, but in fact, that your husband's proximity to you means wonderful things for him. During this process, you can quietly reassure Beau, "Look at that. Daddy gave you chicken. Yummy!" You don't want to ignore him or he'll see your husband's proximity as a loss of your attention, but likewise, you also don't want to smother him with attention as that could undermine his ability to register what else is going on in the environment - namely that your husband is the bringer of manna from heaven.
There's a great book by Jean Donaldson called Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs
which provides a more in depth understanding of the underlying cause of this behavior and walks you through a protocol for addressing the issue. It can be translated from the food bowl to whatever the dog is guarding.
Take note - he's not guarding you out of love and a desire to protect you from the big, bad, scary world. He's protecting you the way he would a bone or other high value item. I know that takes some of the romance out of it, but it's important to understand the motivation so we can address it properly.
As for his behavior with other dogs, I would encourage you to take a break from fostering for at least a few months while you help Beau feel better in general. You can still do this work with other dogs (both dogs on leash, each with their own handler, and essentially do the same thing so that the foster dog approaches only so far, Beau gets yummies and then handler and foster dog retreat), bu it is more complex because now you have to also keep a close eye on the stress level of the other dog and make sure they're comfortable. And you can't control the body language of the dogs between each other, which can be quite subtle and be missed by the humans - eye contact, quick shows of teeth, etc. It can be done, but it requires much more vigilance on the part of the people. So it would be helpful to work through the issue with your husband first, so you both have the rhythm of the exercise down before you up the ante by bringing in another dog.
And remember, bringing another dog into the mix, will require starting with a much greater distance (potentially double the distance) and so you may need to start outside so that everyone stays nice and relaxed.
Depending on Beau's response to the work, you may need to stop fostering in your home. This is Beau's home, after all, and it's important that he feel safe and secure there. He's older now than he used to be, and he may just not have the tolerance anymore to host strange dogs in his home for extended periods of time like he used to.
If you can't take a break from fostering, I'd change up the home environment so that foster dogs sleep in another room. Beau should be allowed to have some time off from hosting and a place he can go without having to put up with visiting dogs that are not part of his family. So, either have the foster dogs sleep in a different room, or have them sleep in closed crates in your bedroom so that everyone gets some proper down-time.
The behavior began just a year ago. At 6 years old, Beau is certainly in his middle age, if not pushing his senior years. Bassetts are known for back troubles as well as other health issues. Many dogs will become defensive and lash out when they're feeling less than 100%. If his joints or spine are sore, if his reflexes have slowed, if his hearing or vision are deteriorating at all, he may be feeling more insecure and therefore be more inclined to offensively tell others to back the heck off, rather than risk a potential confrontation that they aren't sure they can defend against.
For this reason, I strongly encourage you to get Beau a thorough medical workup, including a complete physical exam and a full blood panel, including the detailed thyroid panel (not the in-house over view, but the one they send off to the university that is much more complete). There are a number of medical conditions that can cause an increase in aggressive behavior displays. If Beau is suffering from an ailment, then treating that will likely go a very long way toward helping reduce the behavior issue you've been seeing for the last year. Dogs are quite stoic and not likely to tell you that something hurts. You may not see them limp. It may be subtle, such as taking an extra moment to stand up from lying down, or a couple extra tries to get his feet under him on slick floor. Or he may tire just a moment sooner during a game, etc.
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Agneles Behaviorist