Suddenly, my dog hates me!
October 5, 2010 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Rescue dog with some aggression suddenly showing very aggressive guarding behavior towards ME! What gives and how do I fix it?

We adopted an adorable, loving, 5- to 7-year-old Shih Tzu about 4 months ago from the local rescue. They told us that he has food aggression and some possessive behavior, but we actually have not seen much of that since we brought him home. Recently, however, things to be spiraling a bit out of control between myself and the pooch.

At night, he generally sleeps on a pillow on the ground beside the bed I share with my girlfriend. He knows the bed is not his space and only comes up when we wake up in the morning. When we're both in the bed, he's totally fine. But if I get up to take a shower and come back to the bed, he gets really aggressive -- growling, sneering and snapping if I get too close. I think he's guarding my girlfriend, for whatever reason. He'll show the same aggression at the bathroom door while she's taking a shower.

It's funny because this is a fairly recent behavior. Not sure what I did to become a threat or what she did to make him feel such a strong attachment, but we really need to find out how to remedy the situation. We're going to have a behaviorist come in at some point, but I wanted to see if anyone has any first-hand experience or sage advice to share.

Thanks in advance for your answers!
posted by kmtiszen to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't think it was a guarding behavior - I think it is a dominance one. When you get up and leave the dog is taking the alpha spot, and is challenging you for it when you get back. I wouldn't be letting him up on the bed at all, ever.

At least that is what my pop dog psychology would tell me.
posted by procrastination at 7:53 AM on October 5, 2010

Yea, my inner Victoria Stillwell is saying you're giving the dog mixed messages by having it sleep on the floor but then allowing it up on the bed. How much of a role do you take in the dog's care? Feeding, cleaning, walking etc? You might be able to reassert your position of authority by, for example, being the one it relies on for food, for example.
posted by londonmark at 8:23 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Stop, stop, stop allowing him on the bed at any time.....period.

Do not invite him up on the bed, do not allow him up on the bed (or other furniture for that matter). You did not "do" anything, he has become comfortable with you and is trying to elevate his status in the home (or pack if you want to look at it that way). Don't allow it, you are the human and you are the boss of him.

Do a Google Search for Nothing in Life is Free (or NILIF) and follow instructions carefully and consistently. Good Luck!
posted by labwench at 8:26 AM on October 5, 2010

Brace yourself kmtiszen: "Just how your dog will react to ...pregnancy will vary according to your pet. Many women report that their once husband-loving pet has now abandoned that man for her and her pregnant belly. Often becoming more clingy and protective, dogs have been known to stay directly beside mom’s side, even waiting outside the shut bathroom door or next to the tub while you bathe and sleeping beside your bed every night, for the full nine months. Other dogs may be more vocal in their protection, barking or growling at anyone who approaches the pregnant woman, sometimes even physically blocking people from the mom-to-be."
posted by rongorongo at 8:43 AM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

That would earn one of my dogs a time-out, either in down/stay with the ones that have been through obedience, or in their crate if not. It would be very clear that it was a disciplinary action, and the steps would look something like this:

1) "OFF" the bed (off being a command to get off the furniture.
2) "DOWN"
if the dog downs: 3) STAY
4) go make squeaky happy play noises in bed with the girl while the dog is down/stayed. If the dog moves, correct it by putting it back in it's place and reiterating the stay.

If the dog does not down/stay, then it gets picked up and pretty much chucked into it's crate with lots of loud stompy slammy noises, and all the toys get pulled out first. My dogs get fed in their crates and are crated most of the day while I'm at work with their toys, so they have no hesitation about going in there and no anxiety about being in there... they know when they're in trouble and when they're not.

Repeat as necessary until the dog doesn't growl at you. Note that a lack of growling might transition to NOT growling and just biting. Your response should be the same as above. Since I have larger dogs, we work on bite restraint first before I do anything like this.

However -- when the dog doesn't growl at you, reward it by inviting it to play in the squeaky happy fun times with your girlfriend and to stay on the bed.

Dogs *are* social creatures, even if our concepts of their social system (packs, alpha, dominance, etc.) is a little skewed from a half-century of mistaken research on wolf packs and way too much Caesar Milan. They like being included in social times, and I hope that everyone does something fun and social with their dogs every day no matter what. They also dislike being specifically dis-included from social times and a time-out is just as effective of a punishment for an adult dog as it is for a young human child.

I wouldn't chalk it up to dominance or pack rank or anything like that unless it makes you feel better. To me, he's just being a little shit. That's why they call them shih-tzus.
posted by SpecialK at 9:13 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

SpecialK...."pretty much chucked into it's crate with lots of loud stompy slammy noises,"

This advice doesn't sit well with me. My reading has almost always pointed to the fact that a crate shouldn't be used as punishment (not if you want the dog to actually see the crate as a safe-place/den. There's also some mixed messages there...sometimes it's OK to get on the bed, sometimes it isn't... That might be problematic.
posted by HuronBob at 2:30 PM on October 5, 2010

Yeah, don't make "loud stompy slammy noises" if you use the crate. We sometimes use the crate as a "time out" spot for our dogs if they've been aggressive (they don't get aggressive toward humans, but sometimes they do toward each other). We simply say "No!" to get their attention and stop the behavior, then lead the offender to the crate, quietly but firmly. The crate should always be seen as a safe place to relax and calm down.
posted by amyms at 4:36 PM on October 5, 2010

Oops, hit "post" too soon. I wanted to add that using the crate as a "time out" has been very effective for us in stopping/correcting certain behaviors. One of our dogs will even go to the crate all by herself when she knows she's in trouble. It's kind of cute, actually, and I have to stifle a smile when she does it so that I don't give her mixed messages.
posted by amyms at 4:40 PM on October 5, 2010

rongorongo: "Brace yourself kmtiszen: "Just how your dog will react to ...pregnancy""

OK, this has me dying here already. If the dog can sense the OP's girlfriend is pregnant before either of the humans knows, I am going to be impressed. Sure, sure, it can happen, blah, blah, blah... I'm going to need to know if there is a (currently) unknown pregnancy in this particular instance. Help a guy out and post a follow up, please!

If rongorongo called that the dog knew, that's a double points cool event.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:34 AM on October 6, 2010

I totally agree with londonmark. If your girlfriend is doing most of the feeding (and possibly walking and/or playing, if those are high-value activities to your dog), then what he is probably doing is resource-guarding. He's "guarding" your girlfriend against anything/anyone, even including you, because she's the one who gives him what he wants/needs, and that's the greatest resource of all — and it kind of goes along with the warnings about food aggression and possessive behavior.

If this is the case you have to establish yourself as the one who usually feeds him, or is in charge of giving him (or not giving, depending on behavior) what he most wants, without entirely eliminating your girlfriend from that picture.
posted by taz at 8:38 AM on October 6, 2010

My reading has almost always pointed to the fact that a crate shouldn't be used as punishment (not if you want the dog to actually see the crate as a safe-place/den.
Well, I only somewhat agree with the crate as "safe place" thing. Some dogs need safe places (this is two of my dogs), the third needs a cubicle where she goes for 8 hours a day to tear nylabones to shreds. She then heads home for dinner, and after a good half hour barking at the neighbors, puts her feet up on the couch for a whiskey and a cigar while she reads that day's paper. SHE is the only one that gets the stompy noises.

There's conflicting studies, by the way, on how dogs perceive the crate. Canis Familiaris don't den up on their own; they want to be near people for the most part. Wolves den up. The idea of giving a dog a den is, in my mind, yet another one of those leftovers from social research done on wolves and applied to other canids. But, crating works really well, as long as the dog is socialized to it.

I agree on feeding the dog. That builds a bond like nothing else. ;)
posted by SpecialK at 10:25 AM on October 6, 2010

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