aggressive behavior with newly adopted male--Jekyll and Hyde
Hi, I've been reading many posts on here and want to say thanks for those who take time to provide thoughtful responses. As a result, we are going to seek assistance from a behavior specialist. That said, I wanted to share our experience with Remi, our newly adopted 10 month old male.
We previously owned a Chow-German Shep mix for 15 years and she was absolutely wonderful. She had similar personality traits as far as being protective of her "herd" but she was very easy to manage and at 45 pounds, not a mortal threat to our family or guests.
Remi has been with us for 2 weeks. For the first 5 days he was great and didn't care who was near him during feeding time. On day 5, he growled at us while enjoying a pig's ear treat and when I stepped up to intervene by verbally reprimanding him he lunged at me. The next day he brought his rawhide treat up to me and dropped it in my lap so I thought he was demonstrating remorse and not being possessive of his food/treats. However, the behavior expanded to include him growling whenever anybody in our family approached him while eating from his bowl. So we moved his bowl to a less trafficked area of the house.
He does not guard his toys. He plays with them and we can take them from him at any time. For now...
His aggression has gone beyond food now although that is his most consistent time when he will growl. He was once sitting on the couch with my 13 year old son and my wife was in another chair 10 feet away. He started to growl at my son for no reason and then snapped at my wife when she stood up to protect our son. My wife only verbally scolded Remi--no physical contact.
A short time after that--in the evening well after he had dinner--we were petting him and he was in a great mood and my 16-year old daughter walked up near my wife and Remi growled at her. I gave him a firm No! and he turned and growled at me, lunged, and gave me a half-bite on my forearm which left a few scrapes and a pretty good bruise. Immediately after, and this always happens, he transforms into this remorseful, apologetic dog that appears to understand 100% what he did was bad and that he feels terrible about it.
Last night we were doing the same thing, giving him some loving and petting after my wife brushed him. He growled at my daughter (who was in there with us the whole time), so she backed away. Remi then went right up to her with his tail wagging (as if to say I'm sorry) and she was able to pet him no problem. A few minutes later, she was sitting on the floor petting him and he instantly snapped and growled and lunged at her. She put her arm up to protect her face and he mouthed it but didn't bite down. And again, immediately after, you could just tell from his body language that he felt terrible. We let him outside on our deck and he curled up and wouldn't come inside when we called him. Like he was in self-imposed exile.
Once the resource guarding behavior started I began researching like crazy. I'm using Dr. Yin's techniques to de-sensitize him during his feedings. He is a super smart dog and has been very easy to train. He has sit, shake, and understands the non-verbal "say please by sitting" method which I use to get him to sit when I put his bowl down.
It's the unpredictability that bothers me. Our youngest is 10 years old and Remi outweighs her by a few pounds. If these incidents were strictly related to food I would feel confident that we could manage the situation until our training techniques achieved the desired conditioning. But the non-food related issues are not good.
The Jekyll and Hyde thing is the weirdest part. Almost without fail, immediately after he growls/barks/lunges/bites he will look absolutely devastated and want to come up to us to be petted. I don't get it.
Thanks in advance for any advice or tips we need to heed until we can get plugged in with a behavior specialist. I've contacted one in Boston which is only 2.5 hours away.
Old Dawg (Senior Member)
Going to see a behaviorist is the best thing you could do, I'm so glad to hear that you guys are already in the process of getting an appointment. I have a few suggestions based on a somewhat similiar experience. I have male Pyrenees who has shown equally unpredictable aggression towards family members with only a few discernable triggers. For mine, he was great with all dogs until after a year, and good with people until around your dog's age when he got very frightened of strangers, and that fear grew and grew until around age 2 when he started having aggressive outbursts. For mine, it's anxiety/fear based and mostly genetic-- the behaviorist examined reports on the behaviors of his parents and littermates and looked at his history to figure out the causes (another reason a behaviorist is such a great choice, they can offer a wealth of insight!!). We have had great success with Prozac and managing his interactions (we don't let strangers pet or handle him, he's muzzled at the vet, and we all got instruction on dog body language and know to watch for warning signs when petting him).
One thing the behaviorist told me that came to mind when reading about your situation is that you should never scold a dog for growling. A growl in itself is not acting on aggression, a growl is a warning, it's a way the dog communicates to let you know that he is feeling threatened by something. If you scold him when he growls and don't listen to what he's trying to say, it can teach him that you aren't going to listen to his warnings, so they'll be more likely to stop growling/warning and go straight to biting to get their message across. My dog doesn't usually growl before lunging (he growls in the process of lunging) which is one area that makes treating him very difficult as we all have to learn body language really well to be able to read the "quieter" signs he sends when uncomfortable. I would recommend, based on my experience and what I was told from a behaviorist, that when your dog growls, to have everybody quietly move away and give him space and then immediately write down EVERYTHING that was going on right before the growl. The behaviorist will most likely want a really detailed report of each incident and it will help so much to have all the details written down, because the behaviorist will likely be able to look at each incident and find a common thread between them that will help with a diagosis and treatment. While growling does mean he's feeling threatened and he has shown he will act on it, I wouldn't worry so much about getting the growling taken care of-- what you want fixed is his willingness to use his teeth to get his message across. The behaviorist can show you ways to lessen his discomfort, which will make him less likely to growl in the first place, but as odd as it sounds, him growling is actually a blessing in disguise because it gives you a really great way to read him before he bites which will help so much when you're working on rehabilitating him.
I would be very careful with your 10 y/o and him. Only supervised interactions and the second your pyr starts looking upset -- or growls-- end the interaction. I like to end interactions with my dog before it gets to points of discomfort (so if a family member is petting him and he yawns and licks his lips-- an early signal of discomfort-- I end the interaction on a positive note before it escalates, because every time dogs act out aggressively it will cement that reaction and make them more likely to do it again in the future).
The Jekyll/Hyde thing makes me think it's possible your dog is also doing all of this out of fear, but only the behaviorist will be able to say for sure. Until then, I would personally keep a close eye on him, document every thing you can about every time he growls (where everybody was in the room in relation to him, what everybody was doing right before he started growling, how he was acting immediately before and immediately following, how everybody responded, etc), and try to end all interactions with that very first growl (or, ideally, before he progresses up the aggression ladder even to that point-- I've attached a photo of the ladder so you can see the steps that lead up to a growl) so you can prevent it from escalating into another bite. The behaviorist I went to wanted my dog to have a full medical work up before the appointment, so if yours does too and you haven't already talked to your vet, I would use that appointment to tell them everything that's happening so they can judge whether or not they think there could be a physical cause. Thyroid, tick-borne diseases-- these can on occassion cause aggression-- and pain is a well-known thing to lower dogs' frustration threshholds.
I wish you the very best of luck! Let us know what happens.
EDIT: forgot to add that crating him while he eats/has treats would be a great thing to do if he is crate trained. If not, I'd use a baby gate to close him off in a competely separate room every time he has something he's known to guard.
Also, I wanted to comment on this:
Him approaching her afterwards with a wagging tail sounds to me like, at best, nervous appeasement more than him seeking out for affection. Wagging tail does not always mean "happy dog", and in fact, many dogs wag when feeling threatened. There are a few great posts on here about this but I can't remember which threads they are in. For my dog-- tail up in the air and wagging is him alert to a possible threat, tail down and relaxed and wagging in big wags from side to side with his entire body relaxed is a "happy wag". I use my dog's mouth to read his mood but this might just be specific to my dog- when he's happy his mouth is almost always open and when he closes his mouth and stares intently at someone when being pet, that is his first aggression sign. In the beforementioned situation, I would keep contact between the dog and the person growled at to a minimum directly following an outburst...him attacking later suggests he wasn't as over it as he appeared and still viewed her as a threat (dogs can pick up on cues we can't even discern and decide people are 'threatening' them, from scents (my dog's issue), to posture, to their own emotions (if you feel nervous they can key off on that), etc). I do wonder if he's guarding your wife; a lot of his outbursts include her being around and often times currently interacting with him or having just finished. The behaviorist should be able to tell for sure based on reports of past experiences.
Last night we were doing the same thing, giving him some loving and petting after my wife brushed him. He growled at my daughter (who was in there with us the whole time), so she backed away. Remi then went right up to her with his tail wagging (as if to say I'm sorry) and she was able to pet him no problem. A few minutes later, she was sitting on the floor petting him and he instantly snapped and growled and lunged at her. She put her arm up to protect her face and he mouthed it but didn't bite down.
Old Dawg (Senior Member)
Rachel gave some great advice and insight.
While you wait to consult with behaviorist, I would encourage you to research dog body language. A dog that growls usually would give warnings prior to the growl. The warnings could be very subtle and so unless you know what to look for, you may easily miss it. Dogs use ear positions, head positions, lips (pulled back or scrunched forward), mouth open or close like Rachel described, tail carriage (high or low), arc and speed of tail wags, and eye expression to convey messages.
I very much second Rachel's recommendation that your children interact with him only on a supervised basis.
Rachel and Jewel,
Thanks to you both for taking time to write. I did download the dog body language app that details 60 different clues and will share it with my entire family. We'll also start watching him much more closely when he's getting attention from us so we can start to ID when it's time to back off & give him some space...end the interaction on a high note, as Rachel said.
Appreciate the tip on not verbally scolding a growl. That's tough because I'm a bit on edge now after seeing what he's done and MY instinct is to react in order to protect my family. But I don't want to let my emotions get away and exacerbate the situation and make it that much order on him and us in the long run.
We are trying to desensitize the food issue by letting him eat a small handful out of our hands before putting some in his bowl--with constant praise while he's doing so. When I do put some in his bowl I make him sit before I set the bowl down. What I've noticed is that as I walk away he gives me a pretty intense look--not overly aggressive but definitely not his "happy face"--I'm trying to praise my way through it by telling him he's a good boy (I'm about 10 feet away so trying not to make him feel threatened) and keep doing it until he decides he'd rather eat than look at me.
I don't know if these are good adaptations of the training techniques I've been reading or if I'm changing things up too much or whatever. He's such a smart dog that anything we try seems to work right away...but hard to know if it's helping with the overall situation to know when we'll be able to declare victory (if ever) on his aggression.
Anyway, we'll keep at it and hope for the best. Thanks again!
Old Dawg (Senior Member)
Welcome to the forum, Derek and Remi!
I agree 100% with what Rachel and Jewel have said.
As far as dog body language goes, I wanted to direct you towards this app, from which I think your whole family can benefit: http://www.dogdecoder.com
The app is illustrated by Lili Chin (The same artist who did many dog behavior illustrations for Dr. Sophia Yin), and has detailed drawings of a dog in many different emotional states, as well as explanations of what the dog's body language is trying to say. There is even a quiz section for you to test your knowledge.
As far as what Rachel said about writing everything down, I couldn't agree more. My non-Pyr, Chester, is currently in treatment for severe Separation Anxiety. Now we're to the point where we are having far more good days than bad days, but something as simple as me showering in the guest bathroom can cause a setback with him (that exact thing actually happened yesterday). I would put one person in charge of keeping the main journal - you or your wife, preferably, but put a notebook somewhere accessible to the whole family so that other family members can write down anything they have noticed. Be as detailed as possible - what was the immediate trigger of the behavior, to whom was the behavior directed, what was that person wearing (seriously), what was the weather like, did anything unusual happen that day, were there any guests in the house recently - all of this can help to develop a pattern.
Chester also has a history of aggression towards other dogs, even dogs that he had once considered to be friends. Normally, he is not frightened by thunderstorms, but back in January, we had a storm so severe that Sebastian, Chester, and I were all frightened. It was so bad the city sounded the tornado sirens, which frightened Chester even more. About a month later, we had a sunny but windy day. We were all in the living room when Sebastian, my Pyr mix, decided that there was something in the yard that required immediate attention, and he started barking, as he always does. Normally, Chester does not respond to Sebastian's barking, but on this day, the wind had already gotten him worked up inside. Chester started in on Sebastian in a way that looks like he is trying to play, but in reality, he is trying to boss Sebastian around (a behavior first pointed out by our most recent behaviorist). Sebastian responded to Chester by giving him a Pyr-paw to the middle of his back. At that moment, Chester's body went completely stiff. He turned his head away from Sebastian as his hackles raised, and the corners of his mouth moved forward. I quickly called Chester to me for a cookie and some petting. The last time Chester had that body language, he attacked the dog closest to him. Once he attacks a dog, he hates them for life.
The reason I am sharing this story is that, in this case, the wind played a major part in getting Chester so nervous that he thought about attacking his big brother - a dog twice his size whom he normally worships. Sometimes, the details we are most likely to overlook are playing a huge role in our dogs' emotional states.
I have two books that I would like to recommend to both you and your wife. I really tried to figure out which one I thought would help you most, and I can't decide. I don't think either book directly addresses the specific problem that you are having with Remi, but I think both books will help you to understand him better. I keep both of these books on my phone, and reread them from time to time. Both books are by the same author, and are available on iBooks, if you have Apple devices, or on her website, patriciamcconnell.com. Her website also has a wonderful blog, as well as an archive of articles she has written.
The first book is "The Other End of the Leash" by Patricia McConnell. This was recommended to me by a dear friend on this forum when I was having problems with both Sebastian and Chester. I found it to be life-changing. This book is mostly about learning the art of two-way communication between dogs and humans.
The second book, also by Dr. McConnell, is "For the Love of a Dog". This book is about understanding the dog's emotions, and how it relates to his behavior. I just finished rereading this, and I am so glad that I did. Chester and I have a follow-up with his Veterinary Behaviorist next week, and I am now full of questions I want to ask her.
Finally, given that Remi has made contact to human skin with his teeth in a non-playful way, I wanted to share this article with you by Dr. Yin. In the article, Dr. Yin talks about her modified version of Dr. Ian Dunbar's Bite Intensity Scale. It will help you to determine where Remi is right now, and will help you communicate that to your behaviorist.
I can't thank you enough for giving Remi a loving home, and getting him the help he needs. I hope that you are able to work through his issues quickly.
Please keep us updated on your progress with him, and let us know if you have any questions in the meantime!
Old Dawg (Senior Member)
You've been given some excellent advice for Remi that I can't agree with more. The only thing I would add is that I would not advise working on his food issues until you've had the behaviorist evaluate him and get a better idea of what is going on. With resource guarding, prevention is so far beyond cure and I would be concerned that you know what is happening and the best way to work on this with Remi before you start trying to address it. I would suggest that Remi have a private and secure place to eat his meals where no one will disturb him and that he not be given any treats or food-related chew toys until you have a plan worked out with the behaviorist. I think you and Remi will both be best served by not pushing the issue until you have a better idea what is happening with him.
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