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Canine Behavior/Small Dog attack


Hi! Whilst a friend and I were sitting outside a cafe eating breakfast, my small dog (west highland terrier x staffy)lunged after an innocent man walking calmly past. He clearly tried to bite and attack the man, causing him to fall over and hurt himself. My dog fairly quickly backed down after i pulled his leash back. It was a horrible situation and he has never done anything so aggressive like that before. Sometimes he can growl at certain demographics ie. old people and large men. I find it very difficult to pinpoint who he feels threatened by and am not sure if he is nervous/aggressive/dominant etc. He is quite spoiled and well loved but he is trained and well behaved around most people and all dogs and has been exposed to many situations. I am terrified to have this happen again or it to spread to all people or children. He may be somewhat insecure because he lives between 2 houses due to a family separation- do you think this could contribute to the problem? I really hope you can help! Thank you.


Above, you will find referrals to three sites for Australia (the last is international) in order to find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.  98% of dog to human aggression is fear based.  Your report is alarming.  The dog needs to be evaluated IN PERSON by a CERTIFIED APPLIED ANIMAL BEHAVIORIST (NOT a dog trainer).  "Dominance" aggression does not demonstrate in the manner you describe and is quite rare (normally occurs in household settings).  I can't see anything from here.

Until you find a CAAB, DO NOT repeat ANY situation wherein your dog has demonstrated the aggression you described.  There is a remote possibility that some demeanor of the passing man (as the demeanor of an aged person or a "large" man) elicited this fight/flight response.  I can't possibly know that from here.  Until you are able to locate a CAAB, avoid any situation where you are "passive" (otherwise engaged, as in conversation, eating, etc.) and cannot observe the dog's body language.  You must observe your dog's body language carefully and, if you see he is about to react (ear set, tail set, hackles might be raised, a growl will come up the leash) simply begin to CIRCLE in large circles, left, right, all the time using an upbeat patter (i.e., "come along now, be calm, watch me, let's go).  When the dog is clearly DISCONNECTED from his fight/flight response (and you will know this), stop, ask for "sit", praise lavishly, go forward.

You don't say how old this dog is.  This might be an isolated incident but I very much doubt it considering your description.  You MUST find a CAAB.

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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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