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Canine Behavior/Rottweiler - Lock Jaw



I am staying with friends of mine and they have a Shiba Inu and I have a Rottweiler/Boxer cross. I have never had a problem with our dog ever being aggressive or starting fights and their dog is constantly attacking ours. I believe he is resource guarding but the Shiba Inu doesn't growl or give any warning, he just attacks my dog. My dog is quite a bit bigger and defends himself and I believe he gets lock jaw because he just picks the dog up in his mouth and I have to pry his jaw open to get him to release the Shiba.

My friends want me to do some research into stopping my dog from getting lock jaw or researching into whether its my dogs bad behavior or not.

I'm just looking for thoughts and advice.

Anything helps.



Thank you for your question.

Lockjaw is Tetanus. It's a disease caused by a bacteria and results (one of many symptoms) in a difficulty in opening the mouth. Your dog does not have lockjaw or he wouldn't be able to open his mouth comfortably to put it on the Shiba.

Here is a link to PetMD with a description of what Lockjaw is, how it's acquired and what the symptoms look like.

It is entirely possible that the Shiba is resource guarding. Many dogs do this and what the dog deems worthy of guarding is entirely up to that dog. Some dogs only guard certain toys or a food bowl, while others will guard people or doorways or entire rooms or yards (territorial guarding). I've even known dogs who will guard leaves and sticks that have fallen into the yard.

Resource guarding doesn't always include growling. Often it includes hard stares with the mouth closed, freezing over the object, showing teeth, generally looking stiff and nervous when a perceived threat is near by. Without seeing it, I can't say for certain. Take note of the environment - think back to the incidents that have already occurred. Was it in a certain space (or two), was it when certain people or toys or other things were present? The shiba may be guarding multiple different things, which may make it difficult to determine, or there may be something consistent in the space each time, which may make it easier to identify what the Shiba feels is so valuable that he must guard it.

If it is resource guarding, then your dog is just defending himself. Has he caused any damage to the other dog? I understand that he's not quickly letting go and you're feeling a need to intervene, but has he broken the skin on the other dog? Has there been a need for veterinary care after one of these moments? If not, then your dog is showing remarkable restraint and bite inhibition and is being as clear as he is able to be (in PERFECT doggie etiquette) that he will not tolerate being attacked, but has no desire to engage in a conflict or damage the other dog.

If that's the case, then your dog deserves massive praise and kudos for being a diplomat! We should all be so lucky as to have a dog who can be that clear and that restrained all at the same time.

Now, there is a chance that it's not resource guarding. It's possible that your dog is giving looks and body language cues that you're not recognizing that are challenging this other dog in his own home and triggering the attacks. But, again, if your dog isn't damaging him, then I'd be less inclined to think that's the case.

The actual issue of him not letting go and you having to "pry his jaw open" is really just an issue of a large square headed dog. The skull and muscle structure of square-headed dogs means that they have more jaw strength than some of the narrower headed dogs. but even chihuahuas sometimes need to have their jaws "pried open" if they refuse to let go of something. We're all able to clench our teeth/jaw, making it difficult for someone else to open our mouth. It's just that the rottie/boxer has a head shape that creates a stronger clench. But it's not actually possible for any dog to physically lock their jaw. And if your dog had Tetanus (AKA Lockjaw) you'd see other symptoms and know that he was really sick. The fact that this appears to be behavioral and contextual to another dog attacking him suggests that he's not actually ill.

Now, what to do about it... Management. If the dogs cannot cohabitate comfortably without getting into an altercation, then they should not be in the same room. Period. If you and your friends want to try to work through the issue and help them at least tolerate being in each other's presence, then there's a great book on resource guarding that can guide you all to some exercises to do to help the Shiba feel better about your dog.
Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs , by Jean Donaldson

This book is meant to deal with a dog who is guarding from humans and so the exercises are with humans. It's more challenging when it's dog-dog because you must be keenly aware of the comfort level of BOTH dogs and watch for signs of stress and help both dogs stay comfortable the entire time. It's possible, but you may need to go slower. And remember to keep all dogs on leash (on body harness - no harsh corrections allowed during this training) so that they can't reach each other during the exercises. And outside of the exercises, they shouldn't be in the same room unless tethered on opposite sides of the room so they can't get to each other.

Another book that might be helpful is Jean Donaldson's Fight! A Practical Guide to the Treatment of Dog-Dog Aggression .

I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


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