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Canine Behavior/Aggresive Behavior in a Cavachon


Today we had a very upsetting event that provoked a neighbor to ring my doorbell and plead with me to never let my dog attack her dog again.  What happened?  My daughter opened the door just as a dog was walking past with its owner.  Our Cavachon bolted out the door,  across the street, and began aggressively nipping and growling at the dog- much bigger dog, I might add.  My daughter had to pull him away back to our house.  The lady, needless to say, was very upset.  I don't blame her.  This is not the first time this happened.  
We have small children and lots of kids around. Our dog never acts aggressively.  He may give a low growl if the 4yr old lays on top of him, but nothing more.  He's generally very loving.  We've worked to train him in basic obedience...sit, stay, come, walking etc.  However, sometimes when he sees another dog, he goes bolistic and will not listen.  He's walked past other dogs and done the normal sniff and seemed fine, but several times has acted in this very aggressive way towards other dogs.  It worries me that, if he does this one more time, a neighbor may call the humane society and have him taken away.  He barks too much at noises, but otherwise has been a sweet family pet we all enjoy.  Please help!

No dog warden will respond to a situation where any dog barks, growls, but DOES NO PHYSICAL HARM and they CANNOT REMOVE YOUR DOG. If they attempt to do so, call the police.

The Cavachon is a hybrid of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Bichon Frises.  Both breeds are known to have various sorts of acquired stranger aggression and (in the case of the Bichon male) can be (despite their adorable appearance) quite territorial and rank opportunistic.

This dog is growling at your four year old.  That's a far worse problem than the dog demonstrating a common problem of under-socialization to larger breed dogs.

I can't see anything from here.  Four year old CANNOT BE ALLOWED to interact with this dog in a manner that allows him/her to "lay on him".  A growl is a warning: the dog DOES NOT UNDERSTAND the object of its warning does not comprehend it.  The next step is a disciplinary "nip".  Now: such a disciplinary nip from dog to dog would do no damage but it would alert the "nipped" dog that it has overstepped its boundaries in social hierarchy.  However, such a nip can do some damage to a child (unintended damage) and your dog will then be dead.  If a dog in my household left physical injury on my child, there would be no alternative.

You need to find a certified applied animal behaviorist to evaluate this dog's temperament, examine his pedigree (what breeder, did she evaluate breeding stock for temperament and inherited diseases and conditions, or was she just making money while taking advantage of this relatively new trend for "designer" dogs).  NOT A DOG TRAINER, a CAAB:

This particular "designer" hybrid (which refers to any purebred dog breeds deliberately bred together) is not any guaranty of a cuddly pet; it all depends upon the breeder.

Make it IMPOSSIBLE for your dog to "bolt out the door".  Set limits on your children: they are to notify you before leaving the house (or consequences: no TV, no video games, etc.).  You will have a house leash (lightweight leash) on the dog.  When the child leaves, you will stand on the house leash (do not pick it up, make no eye contact with the dog, do not use his name) and ask him to "sit" (using positive reinforcement only) for a treat while the child leaves. He has now learned how to "escape" and will look for EVERY OPPORTUNITY.  Be certain he is calm, not focused on the door opening and closing, before asking for trained behavior and reward.  At one time, I had a house with 11 dogs in it.  They were all prevented from entering the room with the front door by a "dutch door", door cut in half, which protected THEM from strangers and also prevented any of them from bolting.

Do NOT allow other people's children to interact with this dog until an expert has evaluated his temperament.  Meanwhile: send a note to your neighbor apologizing for the incident but explaining to her that, had your dog intended harm, her dog would have obvious injury and that you intend to work with your dog so that future incidents do not occur.  This will ameliorate the present situation (that owner obviously over reacted and how HER dog has a problem).

The fact that your dog "goes ballistic (sometimes)" when he sees another dog is NO INDICATION OF BAD TEMPERAMENT OR ANY INTENT TO DO SERIOUS INJURY.  What it means is this: your dog has not been properly socialized to other dogs at a young age (neonate through 18 months or longer).  I have a 7 pound Toy Poodle who demonstrates this sort of behavior because I acquired her as a rescue from an abusive home when she was 27 months old, far too old for socialization.  This is what I do when I see another dog coming and what I suggest you do:

Upon sighting another dog, DO NOT PICK YOUR DOG UP.  Instead, take a detour, circling left, circling right, doing a figure eight, all the time with an upbeat voice saying "come along" (happy upbeat voice) until your dog is CLEARLY following your signal, then stop, ask dog for sit, praise, go forward.  DO NOT praise if your dog "locks on" to the oncoming dog (who should be long gone by then).  Crossing the street to avoid other dogs only tells your dog there's a problem, further fueling his reaction (which is fear related).

The fact that your dog can calmly greet other dogs normally is GOOD, VERY GOOD.  YOUR dog is perceiving (in those dogs he considers a threat) BODY LANGUAGE that you do not READ because you do not "speak dog".  If you think back (so far as you are able) to the dog(s) your dog has reacted negatively to, you may remember the other dog's ears were forward, tail up and over his back, perhaps hackles raised, and poorly directed by his owner.

I think one or two sessions with a CAAB will put your mind at rest and equip you with the skills needed TO KEEP YOUR DOG SAFE from the things other people's children do when we're not watching (which is why I urge that he not be exposed as some sort of play thing) and the hysteria of neurotic women in the neighborhood.  :o/  

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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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