Is it possible to stop this aggressive behavior?
*Two year old, neutered, male beagle.
*Husband who has been slow to accept that dogs need limits.
*Wife (me) who believes that dogs should be loved, but that there need to be limits and expected behavior.
Dog went through some training with my husband, to teach basic commands. The dog does understand and follow simple vocal and hand commands of -sit-down-stay-wait-okay-drop it.
No aggressive behavior around his food dish. Where the aggression comes in is if someone drops something, be it food or say a tissue, and you tell him to drop it and he doesn't. My husband will actually remove it from his mouth and typically the dog doesn't react. But, if I tell him to go to his kennel, (without taking the object from him), he will growl and try to bite me. He also will take food out of my 3 year old grandsons hand. My husband says it's fair game because the child shouldn't be running around with food where the dog can get it. I say a dog should never take what hasn't been given to him. The dog will also take items off the coffee table, and again, my husband says that is fair game. I obviously disagree. I have been trying to teach the dog to stay out of the kitchen when we are in there preparing food. I walk him over to his pillow, instruct him to lie down and stay. He will either absolutely walk back into the kitchen, or continually edge himself off of it, until he is back into the kitchen. This results in continually walking him back to the pillow and repeating the process. This has been going on for months. I finally decided that if he wouldn't stay after the first instruction, that he would need to be removed from the area and taken downstairs and confined to his kennel. I simply take him by the collar and walk him down, (no yelling, admonishing, shaking, hitting)and put him in. Now he knows this is going to happen, and he's taken to growling and attempting to bite me. This is a big problem for me. It's causing arguments and I would really like to find a solution. Is there any way to get this dog on track? One other note, that my husband argues is irrelevant. My husband gets on the floor to do stretching. While down there, he will allow the dog to get on top of him, straddling him. I say that is showing the dog that he is dominant..my husband disagrees. I'm being accused of being a dog hater, and that is simply not true. Please help us with a solution.
Thank you for your question. It sounds a bit like you and your husband are on opposite sides of the field with regard to dogs, dog behavior and obedience. Luckily, the truth lies somewhere in between and it shouldn't be too difficult to resolve the main issue you're having.
First, I want to address your dog with your grandchild. Dogs are scavengers and will take any food they think they can. It's a hard-wired trait and a difficult thing to truly train out of a dog. In my house, with my nephews, the rule is simple: no food in the same space as both dog and child. If the dogs are eating, the kids aren't in that room (it only takes about 90 seconds for the dogs to eat). If the child is eating, they sit at the table (and when my rainbow bridge dog was still alive - dogs were on the other side of a closed door while my nephews were eating because she would guard food and try to snatch it if any fell to the floor). My current 2 dogs are not resource guarders and can safely be in the same room, but the kids still must sit at the table. Absolutely NO RUNNING AROUND WITH ANY FOOD IN THEIR HANDS, PERIOD
. And when they child is done eating, hands and face are washed to lower the inclination of the dog to spend too much time trying to lick the child's hands/face clean.
Dogs and children must always be supervised by a fully present adult. This means that an adult is not only in the room and not only watching the interactions between dog and child, but that the adult is actually educated in how children should and shouldn't interact with a dog as well as what canine stress/fear behaviors look like so that early intervention is possible. Children get bit more than any other group of people. Children who get bit mostly get bit in the face because they are so close to eye-level with dogs. And no matter how much we know, love and trust a dog - children are unpredictable and can create stress or fear in a dog in an instant, and if nobody is there to help protect the dog (redirect the child), a bite can happen before you know there's a problem.
In your case, you have concerns about this dog's behavior and so it's even more important that the child is never unattended with the dog and that the child never has food in his hand while running around. It's simply careless and could fall under abuse if the child gets bit because nobody bothered to take the food from the child.
At the end of this response, I'm including links to some really useful educational posters that you can download and print for free that will educate you and you can use them with your grandson to teach everyone about how to behave with the dog.
The second issue I'd like to address is the use of the crate as punishment. The reason your dog growls and tries to bite you right now is because you're crating him as punishment after he's failed to obey. The reality is that if he's disobeying your request for him to stay put on his bed, or at least to stay out of the kitchen, it's because the motivation to be in the kitchen outweighs the motivation to stay on his bed. It really is as simple as that. When we train, it's all about motivating the dog to do the desired behavior and then make the consequence of doing that desired behavior so reinforcing (rewarding) that we increase the odds of him doing that behavior again in the future. That's really all training is - a process of increasing the odds that the dog will repeat a desired behavior and decreasing the odds that he'll repeat an undesired behavior. The difficulty comes in when what we feel is an undesired behavior is super rewarding (reinforcing) to the dog. Then the onus is on us to find a way to make an alternative behavior even more rewarding than the undesired behavior.
Regarding keeping out of the kitchen while you cook, there are a couple of approaches. In my home, the dogs are not allowed in the prep area of the kitchen while we're cooking. If one wanders in, I tell them "Out" in a normal volume, but firm tone - I put a period at the end of the word and make it a statement rather than a question mark. I also hold my arm up and point in the direction that I want the dog to go. If the dog doesn't actually go out, I will walk toward the exit of that space, essentially herding my dog to where I want them to go. I never actually touch the dog during the process at all.
Once they're on the other side of the restricted area, I praise them. When I first taught the skill, I'd even ask for a Sit and then toss a treat or two behind them. As they approached the kitchen again (after getting those treats), I'd tell them to Sit again before they came back into the kitchen. Once they sat again, I'd toss another couple treats behind them. This process teaches the dog that staying politely outside the restricted area will be rewarded. Initially (the first several days to a week), I might be tossing treats every few seconds. But then I start asking the dog to wait for 10 seconds between treat tosses, then 20, 30, 45, 60, 90, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, etc. At this point my youngest is 2 years old, and I never toss treats to either dog at all. They may make a second effort to come back into the restricted area, but I simply remind them to get "Out" and they will then stand on the approved side of the kitchen and watch me without trying to come back in. It did NOT take 2 years to train this. It probably took about 3 or 4 months to have it really solid.
Another approach is that when it's time to cook, you get out the things you plan to use, put them on the counter and before you begin cooking, you get a food-stuffed Kong toy or a Bully Stick or other long lasting chew that will take the dog 20 minutes to 1 hour to enjoy, and you lead him to his bed, ask him for a Down and reward him with this awesome thing to engage with while you're busy. Getting your stuff out (pots, pans, food from the fridge) first and then leading him to his bed with an activity will result in the pots/pans, etc becoming a reliable predictor of good things on his bed. You'll likely see after a couple weeks that he'll go to his bed to wait for the goodie the moment he hears the pan come out of the cupboard.
Initially you may need to tether him so he can't wander away from the bed. This is easy to do. The dog should be wearing a body harness if he's to be tethered. We should never tether a dog by his collar. You can use a hands free leash such as the Buddy System from Amazon (link below). You can put the waist belt around a sturdy piece of furniture and tether him to that. Or you can install an eye-bolt into a stud near his bed and then attach a carabiner to the eye-bolt and a leash to the carabiner. If he's likely to chew through a leash, you can go to a hardware store and get a length of coated steel rope (like the tie-outs used for dogs outside) and have them attach a 360-degree rotating leash snap to both ends. The rope should be about 4 feet long. This gives him room to get up, reposition and be comfortable, without being able to get far off his bed.
If he has a harness on already, or if the harness going on reliably predicts something wonderful - a walk, a car ride if he likes those, training, food, etc., then he shouldn't mind having it put on. Then, before you start cooking, you tether him to his bed with something wonderful to engage him while you're occupied. Soon, he'll be looking forward to being on his bed while you cook because he gets something very cool for himself. After probably 3 or 4 months, you won't even need to tether him anymore because the habit will be created that his bed is where he enjoys those items (bully stick, food stuffed Kong, etc) and so even if you just hand him the item, he's likely to end up on his bed to enjoy it.
His crate should only be a place of quiet, happy retreat. It should be a safe place for him. If it's used as punishment for behavior you don't like, he will continue to fight you about going in there.
The reason your husband is able to remove items directly from his mouth and you can't is because there's now a dynamic between the dog and you that your hands reaching for him sometimes (and always in that circumstance) mean punishment and so he doesn't trust your hands - especially in that circumstance. His behavior is defensive. From his perspective, you are (in that moment) assaulting him by way of physically forcing him out of the area and into prison - taking by collar and escorting out of the room and into the crate. The best way to fix this part of your relationship is to change your half of the conversation to one that gets your needs met without causing him to feel defensive in the process. I will explain this below with the Drop It command.
Personally, I don't encourage anyone to pry open a dog's mouth to remove anything unless it's a truly dangerous item and could damage the dog if swallowed. But a tissue isn't likely to damage him - even if it is a gross habit on the dog's part. Instead, I encourage you both to work on improving his Drop command. We do this best by making trades with the dog. Set the dog up with something he likes and that's OK for him to have. Let him engage for a bit, and then ask him to Drop. If he doesn't drop after 2 seconds, hold up a tasty tid-bit just in front of his nose. When he stops chewing on the object to take the treat, move that hand slightly up and away from the object. Take the object while giving him the treat. Let him finish the treat and realize you have the object. Then tell him sweetly, "Take it" as you hand it back. Repeat the exercise. Make sure that he gets to enjoy the object for a random length of time - anywhere from 10 seconds to 3 minutes before you ask for the Drop. If you practice by saying Drop every 10 seconds, he'll learn the routine and will stop chewing at 8 seconds in anticipation. In order for him to learn the command, we must vary how long he gets to enjoy so he never knows when it's coming.
Use a food that's sufficiently exciting that he will readily drop the object in his mouth to get it. But make sure it's not so exciting that he doesn't care about the object because he just wants the food. I often use string cheese for trade. But some dogs are so taken with the cheese that they no longer have any interest in the bully stick or pigs ear or hoof. So then I'll back off to a dog treat I know they like, but that isn't quite as exciting as the cheese. It may take a little trial and error to find the right balance that you have a worthy trade, but not $100 you're trying to trade for $10.. you need his object and the trade to both be worth the same to him. I hope that makes sense.
Build the Drop into games. I use it during Tug (see video below) to work on impulse control and to practice Drop during a high energy activity. I also use it during games of chase. I let the dog get a toy they like and then I chase them around with crouched body, saying "I'm gonna get you!" in a playful voice. Then, after a bit of time, I stand tall and still (body language saying I'm done playing) and say "Drop." Once the dog does, I praise. I may reward with food or love/affection, then I toss the toy to restart the chase game.
I will also just randomly ask for a Drop of things the dog is readily allowed to have such as any chew toy available to them. When the dog does, I'll take it, look at it and then give it back to them with an "Oh. You can have that" in a sweet tone. By building it into all sorts of nonthreatening moments, and then using the same nonthreatening tone when it's something he's really not supposed to have, I have much greater success when I need it.
The key to training this is to teach the dog that you're not stealing his stuff. He gets it back 99% of the time, and on top of that, he ALSO got something wonderful (a tasty treat, or a game or affection).
Real-world example: Several years ago, one of my dogs came into the house and stood in the entry staring at me in the Family Room. He had something in his mouth. From across the large room, I said, "What is that? Drop it." and he promptly set it down in front of him and took two steps back. I walked over to find it was a dead squirrel. It had fallen out of our 40-foot tree. Now, most dogs would find a squirrel to be very high value and would try to eat it, and certainly try to guard it. But this dog is so well practiced with Drop that even that, he was willing to just set down knowing that all would be all right. I got a bag and removed the squirrel and my dog got some string cheese for being so polite.
Finally, I don't think your dog is trying to show 'dominance' by that interaction with your husband on the floor. Your husband is getting on the floor and inviting the interaction. If he'd objected the first time, it would never have happened again. I don't see that as any more of an effort to take the dominant role than I do my 10-lb dog sitting in my lap as I type this answer. Dominance is not a personality trait. It's "is defined as a relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission, to determine
who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates
(Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993). A dominance-submissive relationship does not exist until one
individual consistently submits or defers."
This quote is from the American Veterinary Collage of Animal Behavior position statement on dominance. http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/dominance_statement.pdf
That in this single instance, your dog is on top of your husband speaks more to a social/affiliative behavior than it does to any effort to be in charge. After all, he's not being aggressive in this interaction with him. And, humans, by default of our opposable thumbs are automatically the dominant one in that relationship because we provide the food (kept in a sealed container or behind a closed door), access to outside, access to toys, access to sleeping areas, etc.
Video - Hagrid Practicing Drop It/Take It
(note that my timing is off - I should say the Drop before I present the treat rather than simultaneously, but it still works)
Video - Hagrid and Chewie playing Tug/Settle
(working Drop into a high energy activity helps impulse control and also helps to generalize the Drop command to items other than those used during formal training)
Posters by Dr. Sophia Yin (veterinary behaviorist) you'll need to provide some basic information in order to access the downloads, but she does NOT spam at all.
How Kids SHOULD and SHOULD NOT Interact with Dogs
- this is two posters
How to Correctly Greet Dogs
Body Language of Fear
- this is an important one because you'll be better able to know when your dog is stressed and avoid the growls and snaps. My guess is that before he growls at you now, he probably pulls his ears back (as much as beagle can), averts his gaze a bit, possibly even does a lip lick or tongue dart out/in his mouth. . .
Handout: The Safety Zone - Happy Kids, Happy Dogs
Buddy System hands free leash (useful for keeping him tethered to you or to tether him to his bed with a yummy long lasting chew to occupy him and help him be successful in staying out of the kitchen while food is prepped or eaten.
So, in short: I agree with you completely that dogs need to know what's expected of them in order to behave as you'd like. I agree with your husband, that if things are left within reach of the dog, then they are rather fair game for the dog to take. Management is a big part of owning a dog. If we don't want him eating used kleenex, then we must put them in a trash that he can't access (either with a lid, up off the floor or inside a cupboard). If we don't want him stealing food, the food should not be put within his reach unless you're doing formal training for Leave It. It's important that we help the dog succeed and not set him up to fail by putting something super tempting within reach well before he's able to behave appropriately. We can and should teach a proper, solid Drop It and Leave It command so that if he does get something he shouldn't, we have a way to keep him and our stuff safe.
The dog should have a safe place where the child is not allowed to go at all, so if he needs it he can take a rest and so you can encourage him to that place with something wonderful to occupy him if you need him out of the way - that doesn't isolate him and punish him by being excluded (out of the room) when he wasn't actually doing anything that's not appropriate dog behavior. (see above handout on safety zones).
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist