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Canine Behavior/Dog agression

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Question
I rescused a 4 yr old Bichon a year ago. He is very friendly and adapted to our home, our other Bichon and me and my husband very well except he gets agressive when some people visit. I cannot pick him up and have to sedate him to get groomed. he bites when they try to cut his nails. We've tried to take him to the vet to be sedated but he won't let anyone pick him up and tries to bite everyone. He now let's me pick him up at the groomer to put him in the tub and is fine until it's time to cut the nails. Groomer has managed on a couple occasions to get a muzzle on him for this and it works, but the other times he tries to bite the groomer.  Vet is concerned about if he becomes ill or needs blood work done how we can get this done?  Any ideas? I would even consider a behaviourist if I can find one nearby that is not too expensive.

Answer
Hi, Lorry. I also do pet grooming and come across this all of the time. But has he always been like this or has something triggered this? How is he showing aggression for visitors? Chasing? Growling? Barking? How long before he calms down?

I'm not sure what the household is like, but it sounds like he needs to understand that his way is not the appropriate way or allowed. There are numerous ways to put you in alpha stance since you stated you even had issued with picking him up. Does he listen to you? My favorite thing to do that never fails is no matter what is being offered, such as food, treats, even attention, has to be earned and they do not get the reward until they are doing what is being asked. And you can do a number of commands or tricks to do this. I typically just use sit. However he has to do a complete sit...and stay... until the food is down or the you give the word that the trick or command is complete.

As for the visitors, the aggression will subside once he realizes who the alpha is and will respond to commands. I would recommend for anyone who comes in to ignore him completely, including eye contact and wait for him to come to them.

As far as the grooming and nail clipping, and I know this may sound harsh, but it sounds like these are harsh times. Go ahead and purchase a muzzle yourself and put it on him at home. The hard part is have the mentality that nothing out of the norm is going on. Remember they feed off of you. If he freaks, let him, he'll calm down. The purpose of this is your to gradually be able to hold his foot with nail clippers in your hand (or anything else he doesn't like) and basically hold onto, not pull back, until he stops freaking out and attempting to bite. Hence the muzzle so you won't get bit. You can slowly start not using the muzzle when you feel confident and begin to trust that he won't try and bite you. Think of him sort of like a child with ADHD whom a parent as needed puts into a bear hug until they have calmed down.

Keep me posted and any other questions that come up. Thank you.  

Canine Behavior

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Melissa Burg, RVT/Behavior Consultant

Expertise

I have experience with multiple obedience issues, including anxiety, different types of aggression, introductions to a new pet and basic obedience situations, such as housebreaking, excessive leash pulling and excessive barking. There are several approaches to each behavior issue, depending on the animal's environment, as well as the breed, sex and age. I can also help you decide whether the problem sounds medical or behavioral.

Experience

I recently graduated with a Veterinary Technician degree with an emphasis in behavior and obedience training. I spent 5 years working in animal shelters where I trained shelter dogs in basic obedience and corrected behavior issues and educated adopting owners how to continue the training at home.

Publications
"Pawfect Pets;" a weekly column on canine and feline health and behavior tips.

Education/Credentials
Associate's Degree in Veterinary Technology from Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa.

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