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Canine Behavior/bite inhibition


QUESTION: Ms. Connor, in a nutshell, my little girl has not lost her bite inhibition. We've been thru numerous "trainers"; techniques like dropping coins or air horns or loud voice commands have not worked. Now it seems these days, most trainers, for my situation, are simply saying - "use a shock collar or e collar ( might be the same thing). I refuse to do that. Bottom Line: she lunges and snaps at any dog that gets close to her - AND - she will snap and bite any human being that gets close to her as well. She has been on Reconcile for several years - but it doesn't take away the above described behaviors. Our vet says we need to see a Veterinary Behaviorist. Do you feel that should be our way to go - vs. a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist ? We have our little girl 5 years now. We have not given up. We've been extra careful to keep her and everybody else out of harms way. Thanks much Ms. Connor. Steve

ANSWER: I think you need a CAAB.  The Veterinary Behaviorist is in a clinical setting, you will just get more drugs (and the dog most likely has to be very very slowly weaned off the Reconcile at this point, it may be contributing to the problem.)  A CAAB with an experience in fear aggression (which is what you are describing) will "interview" your dog, you, everyone in your household, observe the dog under circumstances that promote the fear, and over time (most likely at least several sessions) achieve a diagnosis and behavior modification protocol.

Unfortunately, the "trainers" and their techniques made it worse: the dog is lunging out of fear.  Adding to it only worsens it.  Using a prong or E collar would most likely force this dog into a state of cognitive dissonance.  Picture this: you are afraid of spiders.  You are so afraid of spiders that you practically become paralyzed when you see one but you definitely show great emotion (hysteria).  I hit you over the head with a rolled up newspaper; I yell at you and call you names; I then use a tazer.  Does this make sense to you?  Of course not!  What WILL work: counter conditioning, slowly, observing you closely so as never to engage your fight/flight response.  Will you ever keep a Tarantula for a pet?  HECK NO.  Will you "learn" to redirect your fight/flight response:  yes.  Your dog can learn to redirect.  Another dog approaches, your dog has been walked in circles, taught with positive reinforcement to "pay attention", "sit" on command; you observe the dog until the body language clearly indicates the dog is thinking and not reacting: you ask for "sit", you go forward.

The "snap and bite" at "any human being that gets close to her" might be a chained fear response to the methods used BY human beings when she was reacting to oncoming dogs.  This is called "superstitious behavior" are trying to "teach" one thing, the dog is "learning" another.

Find a CAAB.  NO MORE TRAINERS.  Dog to dog aggression (fear related) is one thing: dog to human aggression (fear related) is another.  It requires eyes on, hands on, educational and real world experience.  See if you can find a CAAB from the sites below.  Meanwhile, ask your veterinarian to instruct you on how to wean this dog OFF that medication.

MEANWHILE:  if a person attempts to approach your dog while she is on leash, shake your head vigorously NO and then IMMEDIATELY circle the dog (so the dog cannot observe the oncoming person's body language response)  left, then right, then left, etc., remaining calm, until she is visibly calm.  Stop.  Verbally praise as soon as she looks AT YOU.  See this:

It may be necessary for your dog to wear a head collar but NEVER USE IT without a buckle around collar and TWO leashes: never lead your dog by the nose.  Let's see what your CAAB wants to do.

As far as other dogs go: she will react.  Simply STOP WALKING and turn your back to her (keep her on short leash but don't make a big deal over doing that) until she stops, then continue forward.

What we are trying to do is to keep this fear aggression from getting worse until eyes on by a pro.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Ms. Connor,
I'm beyond thankful for your most unbelievable advice - and the time you spent replying to me - all without even seeing my little girl ! CAAB is what I will do. One quick, last question: is the best thing for me to do when we're out on leash, and other dogs approach - is to avoid them altogether by
walking her on my other side, and that way it'll be much harder for her to lunge and growl ? If yes, should I also say NO while the other dog gets closer - or just keep walking and say nothing ?
Thank you.

Watch her carefully for subtle body signals: perhaps hackles will raise slightly, ears will go back, tail will sink/lower.  BEFORE it progresses any farther, circle her as if following a hoola hoop:  left, right, left, right.  In a sing song voice say "here we go, here we go".  Do not reprimand: she is in fight/flight mode, a reprimand will make her fear greater; do not attempt to avoid other dog, it's giving her the clue that there is something to "fear".  Circling changes brain wave patterns in her AND in you.  At some point, she will LOOK at you, then cognition is engaged.  Ask for sit, praise calmly but lavishly, go forward.  Hope that helps.  I haven't seen the dog but this can't make it any worse.

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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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