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Canine Behavior/Aggression in Potential Adoption Dog


I am looking for some advice or experience. My family had picked out a Shepherd mix at the shelter to adopt. She was pregnant, so we had to wait until she had puppies and then was spayed in order to take her home. She had her puppies around 5 weeks ago, and was back in the main kennel out of medical holding this past weekend. We spoke with the vet and the vet said that she had become aggressive with one of her 10 pups and had hurt the pup, so they decided to remove her from the litter early. Is this a normal or common thing? Is this aggression something we need to worry about in the future? Will she display this aggression with us?

Some other things to note, every volunteer at the shelter says that she is the sweetest dog, and when we go out to visit her, she is always friendly with us. She doesn't seem to be dog aggressive to any of the dogs around her in the shelter. And we will be taking her to obedience training classes. She is also young, and didn't know if that had anything to do with her aggression toward her own pup.

Any advice?

Give this dog a chance and God bless you for it.  She will die in that "shelter".

It is not unusual for a dam (mother) to show aggression toward one (or even all) of her puppies given the age of the bitch and her overall experience in life, so far.  This is not an indication of any future problems.  When a very young bitch is pregnant, it is because she was "at large" and bred by multiple males.  Ten neonate puppies is an enormous number.  Her aggression toward one might actually have indicated that one neonate's inability to survive or some underlying problem she could "scent" or "perceive" that most people are unaware of.  I don't blame the shelter for removing the puppies, but bottle feeding any puppy is a tricky thing since the people doing it need to absolutely UNDERSTAND how the dam would normally "wean" her puppies.  Some bottle fed puppies become food aggressive.

Understand this:  if you fear your dog, your dog will fear you.  There is no such thing as "socialization" in an adult dog.  What you are doing is counter conditioning and, hopefully, some desensitization.  I would NOT rush into any form of "obedience" training until this dog has been in your home for at least three months.  You also must understand that "obedience" training is nothing more than teaching "tricks" to a dog and must absolutely be done in a non-threatening environment with other dogs who are totally without dog to dog aggression or any serious behavioral problems, and ONLY WITH POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT TRAINING, NO CHOKER COLLARS, NO PUNISHMENT.

Take the dog home.  Put on my Separation Anxiety protocol.  This will help her to understand her "place" in your social hierarchy and feel more comfortable, faster.  Do not "coddle" her, treat her with respect and compassion, but remember that the "future dog" depends upon what you do once you take her home.  Do not introduce her to other dogs in your home.  This should be done with the dog on leash on walks and she should be closely observed for body language.

I've taken many dogs out of kill shelters, lived with them, rehabilitated them, and placed them in lifelong homes.  And I've also kept at least two such dogs with wonderful results.  A dog brought into your safe keeping from a dire circumstance has the potential of being the absolute best companion you may ever have.

1.  You can create an emotional independence in the dog by conditioning a "time out" article.
Simply place the chosen article (something you don’t use for any other purpose, like an odd garden statue) in full view of the dog every day for thirty minutes to one hour and call a "time out", during which you actively ignore the dog.  When you remove the article, reward the dog with praise, but don’t overdo it.  Over the course of two weeks, your dog will begin to recognize the article and begin to acknowledge your unavailability (many dogs go to a corner to lie down, or their favorite couch spot, etc.)  Once you observe your dog’s recognition of the article, put it in plain sight about ten minutes before leaving the house (but NOT in the room the dog is confined to, the dog will lose its conditioned response.)  In other words, use the article as a CUE to the dog that you are not available.

2.  Make your dog earn everything for about one month, including pats, entering/leaving the home, etc.  (This is called “Nothing in life is free”.)  You will be promoting yourself psychologically, which will help the dog to feel calmer.

3.  Purchase Turid Rugaas' book, “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming signals” or go to her web site  Observe the dog’s behaviors before you depart to determine if your departure rituals are creating anxiety.  Use calming signals just before leaving the house WITHOUT saying “goodbye” to the dog (which can set the dog up for emotional distress.)  Dogs instantly respond to these signals and you’ll begin to see that response immediately.

4.  Change your departure rituals so you do not inadvertently "cue" your dog.  This means doing things differently EVERY day during treatment (which should last about two to four weeks.)  If you put your coat on last, put your coat on five minutes before you actually leave the house; if you pick up your keys last, put them in your pocket ten minutes before leaving the house, etc.  Again, given two weeks (at least) of this treatment, along with the others, your dog’s extreme sensitivity to your departure rituals should diminish and/or extinguish.  When you RETURN home, ignore the dog for a few seconds, and then ask the dog to “sit” and acknowledge him/her; keep your homecoming attention short and sweet.  If there is any destruction around (torn objects, etc.) IGNORE IT.  What you don’t want is the dog to fear your RETURN as much as s/he fears your leave taking.  

5.  Do not allow the dog free “run” of the house when you are gone; this places a heavy emotional burden to “protect” on the dog, and might increase stress (which accounts for excessive barking!) Put the dog in a protected space (kitchen, well ventilated and spacious laundry area,  etc., NOT the basement or the garage).  Keep “special” toys there the dog doesn’t have at any other time, like a “kong” with a ½ teaspoon of peanut butter, a Buster Cube which holds a portion of the dog's daily food and which the dog will roll around to obtain it, a squeaky toy, etc. The dog will begin to anticipate this treat and associate it with your leaving the house.  Leave a radio playing (on soft music or calm talk shows) and a light on when you are not home, and if possible move your answering machine (at full volume) into the room with the dog and leave your dog "messages" during the day.

Dogs that have been rehomed often develop separation anxiety; dogs that have been heavily bonded to a person that is then “lost” (not seen again for whatever reason) can suffer serious anxiety at the leave taking of the “new” human caregiver; dogs that have moved with their human family to a totally foreign environment are emotionally “lost” and may develop separation problems.  Some dogs are generally anxious or high strung and have a greater tendency toward emotional distress.  Ask your veterinarian if your dog may benefit from a course of medication while you are using behavior modification to change his/her separation related problem behaviors.

Do not hesitate to contact me with further questions using Followup so I can see original Q&A.  I will be on vacation from March 1 to March 11.  

Canine Behavior

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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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