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Canine Behavior/My dog's Aggression

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Question
Hi,
My dog who is a mix breed(German Shepard and Labrador) is acting very aggressively.
He has been staying with me and my family since he was 5 months old and now he is 2 and half years old.
He has bitten me thrice and my father, sister once.

Most of the time he bit us because we touched his food or we stopped him from doing something, the most common being barking at strangers. If we try to stop him he gets very aggressive and bites us.

As far as his food is concerned, on many occasions I have myself fed him with my own hands and the other times if I tell him to eat his food and if I touch his bowl he starts growling. And then he advances to bite me.

Please suggest something as now he is biting everyone on very petty issues and he tends to forget me and others on some occasions. Like today I was standing near him(near the main door) and when my sister came to hand me my mobile, I stepped outside while receiving it and when I took it into my hands(the mobile), he bit me.

I play with him, I take him on walks and most of all I love him but because of his aggression everyone in my family is against keeping him.
Please help
Thanks

Answer
Hello and thank you for contacting All Experts,
It's good that you are seeking help for your dog, but please be advised that it's very difficult to guide you through behavior modification from a keyboard thousands of miles away and without seeing the behavior. The best and safest approach is therefore having a trainer or behavior professional help you out. So I want to put out a disclaimer, making you aware that behavior modification comes with risks and you should be very cautious in approaching your dog. Have a professional guide you through . My answer posted here is therefore not a substitute for an in-person professional assessment and behavior modification plan.

You are claiming that this dog has now bitten you and your family several times. This is a dangerous situation and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. It's always a good idea to have your dog see the vet to rule out medical causes of dog aggression. There are several conditions that can put a dog more on edge and make him prone to acting aggressively. I am not saying your dog necessarily has any of these, just stating that it's not a bad idea to have a vet rule these out. Both the German shepherd and Labrador breed are prone to thyroid problems, here is a list of some medical conditions known to cause aggressive behavior in dogs.
http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Medical-Causes-of-Aggressive-Behaviors-in-Dogs

First, I want to address the barking at strangers. It's likely that when your dog is barking at strangers he is at a very high arousal state. He's totally focused, doesn't listen to you and is very reactive. Touching him or interfering with his behavior when he's in this state as you have seen triggers a bite. This is often referred to as "redirected biting". You need to be very careful, because when a dog is aroused so much he also loses some ability to inhibit his biting which means he may hurt more than he would when he's in a calmer state. This is a long article, but I recommend you read through it because it explain territorial behavior, why it happens and the dynamics behind it. There's also a video on a behavior modification exercise and a behavior modification plan, but I wouldn't recommend trying it without the help of a professional, especially since your dog's arousal levels are so high. When he's barking he is waaaayy over threshold and therefore he needs help lowering those arousal states first through desensitization done at a distance where he's much calmer. You'll need a professional to find this calmer state distance, and likely, you'll need to use a muzzle for safety (one that allows him to still eat) as sometimes there may be situations that aren't under control. Here is the article, and I recommend reading also all the links posted to go more in depth.

http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Why-is-My-Dog-Territorial-at-Home

When it comes to biting when you feed him, ***no more touching his bowl***. This is telling your dog that you are actually trying to take away his food.  Instead, you want to teach him to trust you near his food. Here is an article on the top mistakes people do in trying to correct food aggression. These are things you definitely DON'T want to do!

http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Make-a-Dog-Food-Aggressive

So no more sticking hands in the food, no more trying to take the bowl away. From now on, you'll be tossing him treats from a distance when he's eating and you're walking by from a safe distance. Keep him tethered for safety, just in case. You also need a professional with this to help you for safety and correct implementation. Following are 2 guides on food aggression:

http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Understanding-Dog-Resource-Guarding-a-Guide-to-

http://www.examiner.com/article/force-free-methods-for-training-food-possessive-

I am concerned about the behavior of him biting when you were passed the mobile. There are chances this is also a sign of resource guarding items. It could be he wanted the item and purposely bit, it could be he was trying to playfully get it and got your hand instead accidentally. In any case, best to play it safe. It would be helpful to teach the "leave it" command along with a professional.

http://www.examiner.com/article/force-free-methods-to-train-your-dog-the-leave-i

Then, always with the help of a professional, you can try using the leave it command with your mobile phone placed on the floor, walk by it, say "leave it" and toss a treat. Repeat several times. Then, repeat the passing the cell phone behavior. Have your sister pass the phone as you say "leave it" and toss treats away from you. Always use high value treats in behavior modification, but have a professional help you as there may be chances he may try to snatch them from you if he's possessive over items you are holding. If it's available in your area I recommend the book: Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson

As mentioned, I am concerned about this dog's behavior. You really need to take steps as these behaviors tend to worsen over time if you don't take action. Seek the help of a professional to help you out. I am not sure what type of behavior consultants are available in your area, but you need to find one that uses gentle, force-free methods If possible, find a veterinary behaviorist. I hope this helped,
Best regards,
Adrienne

Disclaimer: Please consult with a dog behavior professional if your dog is displaying aggressive behaviors. Only a dog behaviorist may see and assess behaviors and offer the most appropriate behavior modification program tailored for your dog. By reading this article and its associated links, you accept this disclaimer warning you to seek professional help and you assume full responsibility for any of your actions.  

Canine Behavior

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Adrienne Janet Farricelli CPDT-KA

Expertise

I can answer questions pertaining dog psychology and general dog behavior. Why is my dog doing this? And what can I do about it? are common questions I am asked. I will not answer questions concerning health problems as this is out of my spectrum, but I can recommend a vet visit if there are chances behavioral problems may stem from a possible underlying medical problem.

Experience

I am a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA) that has attended seminars on dog behavior. I am acquainted with behavior modification programs and have read several books from reputable authors such as Patricia McConnell, Turid Rugaas, Nicholas Dodman and Bruce Fogle to name a few. I have rehabilitated dogs affected by moderate to severe behavioral problems.

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Suite 101 Examiner.com Daily Puppy

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Certified dog trainer (APICC, CPDT-KA)

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Over 800 fans on my blog offering tips for training dogs and treating behavioral problems

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