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Canine Behavior/excessive aggression


We adopted a 5 week old puppy from the shelter who is a spaniel mix. The relevant details of her mix are unknown. She is extremely aggressive and bites too hard. We just feel like its so much more than rough play. If you say NO she will charge at you, jump and try to bite. If she gets hold of nothing, she will bite your feet and legs to the extent that my foot was bleeding. If I give her a toy instead she throws it and growls and charges back. If she is pestering while we eat, and we say NO she  gets really angry growls, barks, and when ignored gets to her water bowl spills the water gets drenched and comes right back at us. We do take her out because she is happy socializing, but the moment she gets back home she is a totally different being. She even bit my nose so hard that it started bleeding and that too in her sleep, she has been awake ever since. I do not know if it was intentional. She refuses to eat anything but chicken and throws a fit everytime we try to replace her food with any form of wet food. The vet says she is 'teething' and we should tap her on her nose and hold her mouth when she bites. The point is that she will come back at us if not right then, sometime later. I do admit I slapped her a bit if she was being super aggressive and she did stop then! I guess she was just afraid. She is usually okay when we leave her home alone for an hour and also give her treats when we are back. Today while I was trying to train her with treats she behaved perfectly for about ten minutes and soon she flipped to the extent of biting me and chasing me for more treats. When I refused she sulked and started growling and biting her toys real hard.
We tried putting her into obedience classes but everyone including the vet say its too early. I just feel time is slipping out and with every passing hour she just gets more and more angry. She is not a happy dog. She gets irritated when we cuddle with her and bites. She rarely licks us or wags her tail. She does for a minute when my husband is back from work and also when she is out and sees people around her. If any outsider does not stop by to give her attention she starts throwing a fit.
I do not seem to understand and her behavior and most importantly do not understand how to deal with her. What am I doing wrong? How can I make her happy? Please help me as I do not want to give up on her.

My best, educated guess:  this puppy's dam was in the street, at large, or in a setting where people were terribly frightening and she had no trust.  She may also have had multiple puppies, more than she could handle, who had to fight one another to get to the teat to survive.  On top of that, the dam was (my guess) captured by animal control or trapped by a humane organization; the dam was perhaps quasi-feral or at least terribly fearful of humans.  Puppies learn from observing their dam.  A tired, starving, confused and frightened bitch will not be able to manage her neonates.  Five weeks of age is FAR too young to separate a puppy from littermates which makes me wonder if she was bottle fed (weaning from bottle feeding is a science, most people don't do it correctly) and also never learned any bite inhibition.

She is far too young for even puppy kindergarten.  She is not sufficiently protected by vaccination since I very much doubt her dam had been vaccinated and therefor she did not receive any immunity from her dam.  She is demonstrating extremely abnormal behavior for a puppy this age.  Your veterinarian is absolutely WRONG: one does not meet aggression with aggression since most dog to human aggression is fear based.  One does not force a dog's mouth closed when it mouths or uses its teeth inappropriately.  This is not a puppy that will ever be "Lassie" and willing to cuddle unless, before age 14 weeks, you intervene in a VERY SERIOUS WAY and that absolutely requires AN EXPERT IN CANINE BEHAVIOR (NOT a dog trainer!)  This means, you must find, ASAP, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who has educational and experiential credentials which you must CHECK.  This expert will evaluate the true nature of this situation.

By cooking for her (especially at this young age) you are essentially raising the "bar" when it comes to diet except for one important thing: human food does not adequately supply nutrition to a dog, especially a young dog, and some of the behavior you are seeing my be related to nutritional deficiency.  The remainder of the behavior is related to:

Her experience as a neonate and her dam's circumstances
Your past attempts to thwart her misuse of her mouth
The acquiescence of others to pay attention when she misbehaves
A real and understandable lack of comprehension regarding the development of behavior in dogs

You cannot make her happy.  SHE must become a companion for YOU.  This is not a Human child, it is a dog, with its own culture and psychology.  If this situation is allowed to develop, you will have a dangerous dog on your hands in the next year.

Find a CAAB by calling the veterinary college in your geographical area or from the following sites, even if it means you have to pay someone extra to come to your home on a continuous basis for the next couple of months:

In future, obtain a puppy only from a breeder that can be trusted and for which you will have to join a waiting list, in a breed that is suitable to your lifestyle.  If you want to "save" a dog, go only to rescue societies that are Federally acknowledged and who have foster homes and a behaviorist/trainer (doing pro bono work).  This puppy is more than you bargained for.  In a home where there is an expert, she might be salvageable and become an excellent companion.  In a home where there are kind hearted, loving people such as yourself who want the dog to be "happy", without professional intervention this just won't work and you may find yourself facing the ultimate price: euthanasia of the dog.

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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