You are here:

Dog Training/Dog gets aggressive when I leave the house.

Advertisement


Question
I really hope I can get some help. Six weeks ago I moved to a host-family in Spain as an exchange-student in hope of learning more Spanish. I'm supposed to stay in the same family with the same two dogs for about 10 months.

The family have two small dogs, about knee-high and the older one is the younger one's mother, I don't know what breed.

First of all, the dogs always get very anxious and barks very much every time someone leaves or comes home and they always attack the door after you've closed it. Four weeks ago, the younger dog started biting the lower legs of my pants very aggressively when I left the house but since it was just me and no one else seemed to be bothered I guessed it wasn't going to get worse. My mistake. Three weeks ago it bit me the first time. I still have bruising left so it was not a soft bite.

After that day it has only gotten worse. It gets more and more aggressive each day and now it even runs out of the house, trying to bite my legs on my way down the stairs to the gate. It never did that before ether. One week ago I asked the host-family for advice and they told me to give the dog a slap when it tried to bite me again. Even if I didn't feel like hitting a dog would be a resolution for me I tried it once. That only made both dogs even more aggressive and they tried to attack me.

We continued trying to solve the problem by taking the dogs into the kitchen and shutting the door only while I left the house. That worked for me except that the dogs are getting smarter and now they have started to bite my legs while I'm closing the door to the kitchen as well. One time it even trapped me in the kitchen by standing in front of the exit and trying to bite me every time I tried to walk pass it.

I've also tried to push the dog away with my foot when I'm going through the door but the problem is that there is a wall right beside the door to the left, witch make it even harder because the dog is already waiting for me when I leave my room and I can't get between the dog and the door without getting bitten.

This problem is only with me and no other members in the family or even strangers. I've already figured out that it has something to do with that they feel more dominating than me and like they are more in charge.
I can't help myself getting more and more scared of the dog and I'm always terrified when I need to leave the house. I'm 17 years old and have no idea what to do. Please help.

Answer
Hello, Lina. Thank you for contacting me. I will try to help you.

First of all, never respond to aggression with punishment because as you found out, it will only result in worse aggression. Please refer to this article, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090217141540.htm and this one, which is the original research article, http://vet.osu.edu/assets/pdf/hospital/behavior/trainingArticle.pdf. Even a verbal reprimand can aggravate aggression.

The way to modify behavior is by addressing the underlying emotional response of the dog and by teaching the dog alternative behaviors. so, for example, if as you say the dogs are anxious, we would take measures to reduce the anxiety while teaching the dogs something else to do when you are exiting the door.

Placing the dogs in kitchen was a good idea but as you found out, they seem to want to go after your legs no matter which door you go out. It was a reasonable thing to try, but didn't work, so we know what doesn't work. That helps.

I am trying to imagine the relationship you have with the dogs and I have a lot of questions in order to better understand this situation. do I understand correctly that the dogs exhibit this behavior when anyone enters or leaves the house or is it just you? Also, what relationship do you have with the dogs? Do they like you? Do you like them? Do they display this behavior at any other time? Do you have dogs at home? Do you like dogs?

It sounds to me as if the dogs are having anxiety about being left alone. In that case we would implement a behavior modification plan to reduce their anxiety when left alone. Typically this consists of making the leaving and arrival of people anti-climatic for the dogs so that the environmental cues they are picking up on now that cause them to be anxious will trigger less anxiety. These cues might include your picking up your coat, keys and purse and then heading to the door.

So, what you might do is first think about your routine for leaving and the steps you go through. If the first thing you do is go pick up your keys, go pick up your keys walk away from where you picked them up as if you are going to the next step and then walk back to where you picked them up and lay them down and don't go anywhere. The keys then become less of a predictor of your leaving and they will signal less cause for anxiety. Do this with each of the steps of your departure. You may include more than one step, but you want to stop before the dogs get anxious. Sometimes you may actually leave, but the environmental cues for your leaving, if you practice this will become less of a cause for anxiety.

Also, try to make your coming and going as non-chalant as possible, I realize with the dogs' behavior this may be difficult, at least at first, but try as much as you can to avoid giving them too much attention for their behavior. Try to avoid giving them any attention other than to say a quiet hello when you arrive home and for at least 15 minutes after you arrive. Depart without having given them any attention for at least 15 minutes. Giving the dogs attention may actually reinforce, or strengthen their behavior and encourage it to continue.

You must tell your host family about my recommendations. It is very important that they do not punish or use any force with these dogs. They need to understand that this will only make matters worse. I suspect that since they told you to slap the dogs, they have done this before and this is part of the reason the dogs act aggressively.

We need to take the opposite approach with these dogs. Rather than punish them for their behavior, which does not address the underlying emotional condition of the dogs, we need to address their emotional state and change it to a more positive one. Instead of seeing people come and go as a reason to be upset, they need to see people coming and going as a positive thing. Your arrival and departure needs to change from being a cue that triggers anxiety and aggression to a predictor that something good is going to happen.

So, what I would recommend is keeping a stash of treats on you, such as pea-size bits of chicken, liver, beef, hotdogs or cheese and just before you head out the door, either toss a small handful of treats or hand them to them if you think they can take them nicely, one at a time. They should be sitting and under good control though to receive their treats and it sounds as if these dogs may be lacking in some basic training, so I might tend to toss them. Toss them away from your body to keep them busy and away from you as you exit. Do not toss the treats if they are jumping at you and biting! Otherwise you will be rewarding this behavior and reinforcing it or making it stronger. Wait for them to cease their lunging, biting and barking.  You can do the same when you return home. Avoid a lot of attention, but toss the treats, waiting for them to be quiet and stop lunging and biting.

You could tether the dogs in place, each on a rug and toss the treats onto their beds or rugs. I recommend using harnesses for tethering since I don't like the dogs to jump and lung with a leash attached to a neck collar, which can traumatize the neck. A body harness distributes the pressure across the thorax rather than the sensitive neck and spine. You can also give the dogs Nylabones or Kongs, stuffed with a little peanut butter or spreadable cheese or something on their rugs or mats when you leave. The point is to teach them that they will be rewarded for going to their places when people leave or come into the home by making the beds or mats a rewarding place to be. Dogs repeat what is rewarding and don't repeat what is not rewarding.


It is important to understand that this whole issue has nothing to do with dominance and to attribute it to dominance is to misunderstand dog behavior. About 13 years ago L. David Mech punished a paper about the roles of wolves in which he clarified the roles they have in the pack, that rather than unrelated members vying for the top ranking role in the group, they are actually a family and the top wolves are not the alphas, but rather the parent wolves. There has been so much misinformation stemming from the prior assumption that dogs are pack animals when they really are not, including ideas that we need to dominate our dogs to "show them who's boss." This is harmful and counterproductive.

For more information, see the following articles:

1. Whatever happened to the term, alpha wolf by Dr. L. David Mech: http://www.4pawsu.com/alphawolf.pdf

2. Alpha status, dominance and division of labor in wolf packs by Dr. L. David Mech: http://www.4pawsu.com/267alphastatus_english.pdf

3. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statement on the use of dominance theory in behavior modification of animals: http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/dominance_statement.pdf

4. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statement on the use of punishment for behavior modification of animals: http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/Combined_Punishment_Statement

In addition to the above recommendations I would suggest that the owners of these dogs

1. Make sure the dogs are getting a minimum of a once daily walk off the property for the purpose of mental stimulation and their emotional health as well as physical exercise,

2. Make sure the dogs are being a nutritionally complete diet without artificial additives such as dyes and preservatives,

3. Order and use Anxiety Wraps on the dogs - according to manufacturer's recommendations. I have used the Anxiety Wrap for the last several years on my own dog and recommended it for my clients' dogs and it is a wonderful product. It works by applying constant or "maintained" pressure and acupressure to help calm anxious animals. Don't confuse it with the Thundershirt. The Thundershirt is a knockoff product that is not as effective. You can read about how the products compare in this article I wrote: http://anxietywrapsays.blogspot.com/2012/02/comparison-of-anxiety-wrap-thundersh.  You can read more about the Anxiety Wrap and order it on the company website: https://anxietywrap.com/default.aspx

Another product that the company, Animals Plus LLC makes in addition to the Anxiety Wrap is the Calming Face Wrap, now renamed, the Quiet Dog Face Wrap. I have seen this product working amazingly well with dogs that have anxious barking. It calms them down, helps them focus and stops barking by eliminating their anxiety: https://anxietywrap.com/Store/Product.aspx?prod=f67528f2-e8a0-4611-8ab6-4c43ddc6d557

4. Clicker training. You may not be interested in learning about dog training, but if you have any inclination at all or the dogs owners are interested, here is an article I wrote about clicker training: http://www.animalinfo.com.au/fact_sheets/view/2/25/175/What_is_Clicker_Training.  It differs significantly from traditional training in a lot of ways, only one of which is the absence of correction an punishment: http://www.animalinfo.com.au/fact_sheets/view/2/25/175/What_is_Clicker_Training.  You can use clicker training to teach a dog or other animal to do all sorts of things. I also use it for behavior modification. Here is a video which shows how you can use clicker training to modify biting behavior: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR7TvrUQ_1k. It sounds like these two dogs could benefit from some regular exercise and reward-based training.

I hope these suggestions help. Feel free to message me again if you need additional help.

Good luck!

Cindy  

Dog Training

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Cindy Ludwig, M.A., R.N., KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA

Expertise

My specialty is clicker training. I'm a Karen Pryor Academy graduate and Certified Training Partner (certified clicker trainer). Karen Pryor was a marine mammal trainer and one of the early proponents of force-free animal training who helped popularize clicker training in the early 90's. I also do behavior modification with dogs that have fear, anxiety and aggression. I work with service dogs and was a certified therapy dog evaluator with two other organizations before starting my own therapy dog program, the first of its kind requiring all dog candidates to be trained with force-free methods and all evaluators to demonstrate a commitment to force-free methods. I made weekly visits with my own therapy dog to a nursing center in Dubuque, Iowa for four and a half years. I have an undergraduate degree in science and am a registered nurse with a previous specialty and certification in critical care, so I can answer questions pertaining to biology, behavior and pharmacology but because I am not a licensed veterinarian I cannot legally or ethically answer questions requesting a diagnosis. I have done graduate work in animal learning and wolf ethology, and have also completed coursework in dog biology, behavior and pet nutrition at regionally accredited U.S. universities. I continue my study of applied behavior analysis with top experts in the field. For more information and to schedule a consultation or enroll in classes, see my Canine Connection website: www.click-r-train.com.

Experience

Prior to becoming a full time professional dog trainer in May 2009 and opening my business, Canine Connection LLC I worked part time as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and also volunteered at humane societies in several states over a period from 1992-2009. My previous full time occupation was in the medical profession. I have completed various continuing education programs including but not limited to the Purdue University Veterinary School Principles and Techniques of Behavior Modification course; Clicker Expo; undergraduate courses in dog biology, behavior, and pet nutrition; and graduate coursework in wolf ethology. I was a Field Representative for Paws with a Cause for 3 years and train service dogs. My Golden Retriever that accompanies me in my work as a Field Representative is a "career changed" dog from the Paws breeding program that I have clicker trained as a demonstration service dog. This same dog I trained to earn the first Dog Scout title in the State of Iowa. She and I were also members of the Badger Kennel Club Drill Team and performed with the group annually at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. My dog, Ginger and I provided weekly pet therapy visits to a local nursing center for the past three and a half years. I continue my education by participating in seminars and class offerings provided by such notable experts as Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr. Ray Coppinger, Michele Pouliot and others. My services include in-home private training and behavior modification, group classes and pet sitting. More information is available on my website: http://www.dubuquedogtraining.com.

Organizations
Founder and owner, Canine Connection LLC; Founder, Canine Connection Positively Trained Certified Therapy Dogs; Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT); 2010 APDT Education Committee; Truly Dog-Friendly Trainer Coalition; Doggone Safe; American Kennel Club

Publications
Top Tips from Top Trainers: 1001 Practical Tips & Techniques for Successful Dog Care and Training (March 2010); The Golden View; Family Connections; WQAD.com; Animal info Publications; HubPages; Finding Fuzzybutt Four Blog; Petopia Newsletter, Galena, Illinois; Suite 101; Livestrong.com; eHow.com; Dubuque 365 Ink Magazine; Dubuque Telegraph Herald; Columbia Business Times; Columbia Senior Times; Columbia Missourian; Columbia Daily Tribune; Graphic Education Corporation; Belson-Hanwright; Critical Care Nurse; Journal of Emergency Nursing; Home Healthcare Nurse; Nursing; Journal of Emergency Medical Services; Shape; Houston Community College Egalitarian; Findlay College Obelisk

Education/Credentials
B.S., Science; M.A., Higher & Adult Education with graduate work in animal learning, canine biology and behavior, pet nutrition; Graduate, Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior; Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner; Diploma, professional nursing; licensed registered nurse (R.N.); Paramedic completion program; previously licensed paramedic in Texas and Missouri

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.