Speaking of Dogs: Aggressive Behavior

My 3-year-old fox terrier (whom we have had since a puppy) bit my 9 year old daughter. My daughter simply walked near our dog as she was by the garbage. Normally you can approach or even take food from the dog without incident; so what happened this time? Andrea H.

What you’ve described sounds like “possession aggression” or “resource guarding,” a complex behavior problem that demands immediate attention before anyone else gets hurt.

Often, aggression that appears “suddenly” has actually been brewing for some time, unbeknown to the humans. Please don’t assume this was a unique or one-time incident. Without proper intervention, aggressive incidents usually increase in frequency and intensity.

Possession aggression can be particularly dangerous because you never know what the dog will decide to guard. Children are at greater risk of being bitten by a resource guarder because most dogs view children as subordinates.

Warning! Punishing the dog for resource guarding is not a solution, and in fact can escalate the aggression.

Some mild forms of possession aggression can be remedied by taking steps to increase your leadership and gaining the dog’s respect. In these cases, the dog who has been allowed more privileges than she can handle is placed on a “nothing for free” program. The dog is asked to perform simple obedience tasks for all the good things in life: food, belly rubs, attention, toys, and access to favorite places. The “nothing for free” program reduces the dog’s status in the family pack, making her less apt to try to exert authority.

We urge you to seek professional help immediately to evaluate your dog and outline a training/management program for your family to implement. We recommend you consult one of us or another Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Go to www.apdt.com to find a trainer in your area.
Other Resources include:

· The Animal Behavior Department at UC Davis for an in-depth behavior analysis.
· Suggested reading: “MINE! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs” by Jean Donaldson. Available through Dogwise.com.

(Editor’s note: This is from anewscafe.com’s best-of archives. It was first published in January, 2008.)

Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training.  You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the website, or call (530)365-3800.
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Carla Jackson
Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training. You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the Jackson Ranch website, or call (530)365-3800.
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4 Responses

  1. Avatar Suzie says:

    I have to disagree with the advice given to Andrea. First, this is a three year old dog. Is it an "intact" male?? This is a Terrier and if the dog was not neutered by 18 months, you are seeing "alpha dog behavior" for sure. A smaller percent of females will show "alpha" behavior. Second, have the eyes been checked??? Cateracts or other eye diseases will cause a change in behavior for obvious reasons. However, this is a Terrier, regardless of size. These are tough dogs, bred to go underground after a fox or badger or hunt and kill rats. Bred NOT to give in easily. I would take a totally different approach, based on what the dog was bred for and 30 plus years of owning and breeding a large guarding breed. Males are usually far more "alpha" but I would have flipped that dog on it's back and held it there until he relaxed at the moment of defiance!!! If the dog actively tries to bite you, you already have a very serious problem and should hire a professional that is used to dealing with aggressive dogs. Growling or even showing of teeth is no reason to let the dog up. It may have taken one minute or twenty, but until that dog relaxed and acknowledged ME as the leader, he/she would not be allowed up. Once you do let the dog up, ask the dog to sit, down, heel, or whatever the dog already knows before total release. Showing fear of your dog, or backing off will only reward him/her and reinforce to them that they indeed are in control. Ideally, this would have been done when the dog was still a puppy. ANY show of defiance (growling or showing teeth with bones, toys, food or the bed) with a dog of any breed should be dealt with on the spot– it is not cute, even for a puppy.

    Also, for anyone thinking of getting ANY dog. Please, please please, study what the breed was bred for. If you are a "softie" DON'T get a Terrier or a Working breed!


  2. Avatar Jim Burwell says:

    I agree the dog was resource guarding. I also agree that this behavior was a culmination of long standing mixed signals being given to the dog as to its place in the pecking order. Being a strong but benevolent leader to your dog does not mean that at any time you need to be hard on your dog or yell at your dog. Dogs are big readers of body language and a strong alpha knows that a series of alpha movements with your dog such as going out the door first, eating before your dog does, making your dog earn pets and praises goes much further and last a lot longer than confrontation. Leadership role with your dog needs to be understood and put in place from the beginning. Even dogs who are not "alpha" need a strong leader. It is an intrinsic part of their wellbeing. It's certainly not to late to turn this dog around, but change of behavior and leadership role on the owner needs to start immediately, before this dominant behavior on the part of the dog gets even worse – and it will.

  3. Avatar tomncp says:

    Yes I do agree with the advice given to Andrea…

  4. Avatar Rita says:

    I fear that somehow both one of my dogs and one of my cats have contracted rabies. They are both acting weird and my dog has become much more aggressive in the past few days. I think I should take them to the veterinarian but I'm not sure if I could get them under control enough to get them in the car. Any suggestions on what I should do here?