What should I do if my dog shows aggressive, violent reactions to simple removal of toys.
March 26, 2011 9:17 PM   Subscribe

What should I do if my dog shows aggressive, violent reactions to simple removal of toys.

We adopted a Jack Russel, Beagle mix almost 2 years ago. We have a pretty strong feeling he was abused because he was abandoned and taken in by a private shelter.

98% of the time he is extremely well behaved, and loving. However tonight it escalated.

He has always been protective of my wife, for example if I come to bed after she does, he has been known to growl at me, or jump off the bed barking until he realized it was me.

Tonight he had gotten a hold of some rawhide at a relative's house, and when I attempted to take it from him he growled. So I attempted to distract him with real food, so he dropped the rawhide, however when I attempted to discipline him for the outburst he actually bit me, drawing blood.

I'm conflicted at this point. All logic says I should have the dog put down, or taken to a shelter but as it is I do love him. His temperament makes me worry if he were to attack someone who isn't me what kind of trouble (both legally and financially) I would be in.
posted by Hexidecimal to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One of our three dogs gets highly fixated on certain types of toys: soft toys especially, but occasionally she'll surprise us with something else (a rubber pretzel, really?). Another one of our dogs - the one who is rough-n-tumble with the other two dogs but basically melted ice cream with humans, gets psychotic regarding food-puzzle toys like the Buster Cube.

Our solution? They don't get those things.

I had dogs for many years that got pig ears and other chewies. Never in a million zillion years would I start that apocalypse with these dogs, as it would end in bloodshed and some of that would probably be human.

You can certainly find a behaviorist who will work with you (this issue is pretty close to food aggression). I have had many many foster dogs, generally the ones who had nowhere else to go, and I think it's absolutely ridiculous to put a dog down for acting like a dog. You can probably train him out of it if you make an appropriate effort, but the path of least resistance is to just not give those things. In any case, rawhide is a choking hazard (and it is terrifying to watch a dog - who don't generally choke as a rule - gagging and struggling to breathe with a gummy slippery chunk of rawhide in his throat) and you should probably not do that anyway.

A behaviorist might be a good idea, just for the space-aggression. Again, it's a dog acting like a dog, but not necessarily like a *trained, domesticated* dog and it's worth putting a little effort into getting that sorted out. A JRT-Beagle is going to be kind of a high-strung dog, so it would be worth a little money to have some tools in your toolbox for when that rears its head.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:28 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It depends on the aggression. I've gone in two ways with this. For one of my dogs, we don't do a certain type of toy because the behavior he has around it can't be corrected (namely he destroys other toys as well as those toys). With the other dog, I have given him toys and explicitly taken them from him, growled at him, and asserted my dominance when it comes to what I am allowed to do. You are alpha, you should be working towards making sure you can take it out of his mouth if you want. Furthermore, you should be affirming that other non-alphas can do exactly the same thing. (They know not to mess with my 2 year old regardless of what he does - and he's much more apt to take toys from their mouths and food from their bowls before we can stop him.)

I'd also say, if you are at a point of outright aggression to you over anything, you need to establish dominance in the house and realign the pecking order. A professional dog trainer should not be ruled out - some dogs are really tough to crack.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:36 PM on March 26, 2011

I think this is a problem somewhat common to JRTs, especially undertrained and/or abused ones. My parents came into possession of an abused, neurotic JRT who became obsessed with my dad. He would bite me for trying to pick him up if he was cuddling with my dad. He would bite my 70 lb chow chow. Then he would bite me and my dad for trying to detach him from the chow chow. Despite that, I don't think my parents would ever consider putting him down, they just don't bring him anywhere that he would have the opportunity to bite anyone but us. So I don't think logic necessarily dictates that you have to put him down, it just dictates that you have to keep him out of situations where he could attack anyone, or any animal. It doesn't sound like you've considered a trainer at all? Or done any intensive training with him yet? As long as you're keeping him out of potentially bad situations until this problem is resolved, to me, it would be worth it to try.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:44 PM on March 26, 2011

Our dog does this too. It's referred to as "resource guarding," (you should google that) and we were warned about it because he was a former stray.

Things we have learned:
-do not fight the dog for the object; they will believe you are playing a game, and you don't want to play that game.
-trade them the thing they have that is not allowed for a thing that is even better. They have a rawhide? Give them peanut butter and they will forget it. While they're distracted, get the item away from them.
-take them out of their element. My dog is only a small guy, so lifting him off the floor will make him drop whatever he's gotten into his mouth.
-let them get used to the idea that this behavior is never going to work out for them. When my dog starts attacking his bed, it goes away. When he moves on to attacking the cushion in his crate, that too goes away.
-tire them out. A tired dog won't cause nearly as much mischief.
posted by Gilbert at 9:47 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second that the dog shouldn't have rawhide, however I also think you should start working with him immediately to train him out of this behavior. I managed to train my 8 month old pup out of some guarding behavior in one night, with a valuable bone and lots of peanut butter. It might be a little more work for you but consistency and positive reinforcement can work wonders.
Start with a toy your dog is moderately happy about. Let the dog play with the toy. Approach the dog, saying 'give' as you approach, with a treat in plain view. When the dog drops the toy, praise happily, trade toy for treat, then immediately give back the toy.
Work your way up slowly to more coveted items. Always reward giving with a more salient treat. For example, if you are asking him to give you a bone, reward with something better than a bone (liver treat, peanut butter) and always immediately give the toy back.
You are wanting your dog to learn that very good things happen when someone tries to take his toys or food away.
When your dog graduates this stage, you can start approaching without a treat in plain view, but still treat when he gives. You can then approach without saying give, and take his bone, give a treat. Basically you want to slowly work your way up so that under a variety of circumstances and objects, humans are able to take his things without him reacting negatively.
Remember not to try to move too fast. Errorless learning - only advance to the next levels when you're sure he will give the bone up willingly.
Just remember, patience and posiice reinforcement, and always make taking the bone away be a happy thing. Don't ever take it away and leave him with nothing in return.
Finally, over time, phase out treats and replace with verbal praise and physic affection. Always pair these two things with treats throughout the entire process so that they feel rewarding.
If you want further advice memail me. Good luck!
posted by whalebreath at 9:48 PM on March 26, 2011 [14 favorites]

If he hasn't been through some kind of training, do it now! I have a Beagle/JRT mix, and she used to be the same kind of aggressive over some of her toys. While she was in dog training, those toys went away. Once she had finally mastered "Leave it", she got the toys back for periods of time, but only as long as she obeyed when we said "drop it" or "leave it". She finished her advanced training a few months ago, and has not been even remotely toy-aggressive or even regular-aggressive like she was before. (not to mention that training in general has reduced all of her bad traits...our "beagussel" became less neurotic, howl-y, and obnoxious and became easier to live with all the way around)
posted by kro at 9:52 PM on March 26, 2011

Tonight he had gotten a hold of some rawhide at a relative's house, and when I attempted to take it from him he growled. So I attempted to distract him with real food, so he dropped the rawhide, however when I attempted to discipline him for the outburst he actually bit me, drawing blood.

What does this mean? You distracted him with food, he dropped the rawhide, and then you attempted to discipline him? That sounds to me like it wouldn't make sense to a dog. Look into taking him to a professional trainer before further entertaining the idea of having him put down.
posted by wondermouse at 9:56 PM on March 26, 2011 [17 favorites]

Dogs are simple creatures who need only learn that you are the dominant figure in the household. You can do this through conditioning. When the dog does something wrong (bad in this case) just shout very loudly and in a forceful tone "NO!" Rinse, repeat. Oh and it also helps if you're in a dominant stance whilst doing this (eg, towering over them). Conversely, reward good behaviour. Show lots of affection, give treats.
posted by dougrayrankin at 10:12 PM on March 26, 2011

I have a rescue JRT who can be aggressive about resource guarding. A good trainer can help you work on this.
posted by judith at 10:23 PM on March 26, 2011

This is going to be an unpopular opinion but I would have kicked his ass for that. JRTs are not stupid, he's going to push you exactly as far as you let him and so far you've let him do whatever he wants. It doesn't mean he's irredeemably vicious it just means he's not an idiot. Unfortunately for him? he's tiny.

Follow up with real training. And once you get him reliably trained to respond to commands make sure you have other people also work with him so he knows that he has to obey all people, not just you.
posted by fshgrl at 11:39 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Like wondermouse I'm hoping I've misunderstood the sequence of events. Discipline and praise has to be for the last thing they did (and quickly at that!) Ideally for what they are doing at the time in a lot of cases.
posted by sianifach at 12:23 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had two yellow labs, one was from a "good home" and the gentlest thing you could ever imagine. He would growl/bark when you attempted to take rawhide or a large beef bone from him. He would also try to hide it in his mouth, so that we would let him in, knowing full well that we wouldn't let him in with it in his mouth. I'm serious. He was smart enough to try to hide the entire thing in his mouth and sneak in. He surprised us this way, though he never bit or drew blood.

Our other lab is a former stray/shelter dog that was down to his last day at the kill shelter, 40 lbs underweight, having eaten rocks and utensils so that they named him Hoover. Hoover is healthy now and happy but very clearly was abused at some point. You can pet him the normal way, you can pet him down his back quickly, or even slowly, but if you rest your hand on his hips/haunches, he WILL growl, bark, and turn and snap at you. It's fascinating because it clearly doesn't cause any "real" pain in any way, but it's almost reflexive.

We've had him for several years, and he hasn't bitten us during one of these events, but it's fascinating in that it's a guttural growl and snap where he basically stops just short of biting. He HAS bitten two people at some point, both early on in our housing him, and while protective of my mother on a walk. We keep him out of opportunities for this, now, but in your case, I don't think this is a "put down" severity issue, yet.

You need to try to train him out of the protectiveness of your bed and thinking it's acceptable to growl at you. You are his master, not the other way around, and it's important to establish that.

We had a behavioralist help with Hoover with some of his issues, and the strategy was to instantly shout NO (so loud as to startle him) when he did something wrong, immediately followed by batting him in the nose with a rolled up towel. The towel was a good choice because it wouldn't "hurt" at all, but it would shock him for a second and disorient him. Doing this often enough, with the towel-whack coming after "NO" got it so that NO alone would prep him with wincing, but the behaviors quickly subsided. We also rewarded with a clicker for good behaviors.

The rolled up towel is bound by rubber bands, so it really doesn't hurt at all (much less than your hand, and you don't have the direct connection of slapping your dog or anything), and the startling component is effective without being cruel.

Again, you'll want to talk to a behavioralist about this stuff and things like resource guarding, but it's not "instant kill, no return" at all.
posted by disillusioned at 12:58 AM on March 27, 2011

Until your problem is solved, I would suggest that you to keep your dog on a short leash whenever you take it outside.

Keep in mind that there are people who do not share your love of dogs, who have small children who are easily scared of aggressive, small dogs, and for the safety of your pet will not hesitate to stomp on it if threatened.
posted by three blind mice at 2:59 AM on March 27, 2011

oh good lord..

Please don't "kick his ass" for that behavior. Violence begets violence, it never ends well.

And please don't buy into the "be the alpha" stuff.

Here's the way the dog saw what happened.

hey, i have rawhide, i like rawhide, i don't ever get rawhide!!!!!!

hey, big person wants my rawhide....NONONONONO you can't have my rawhide!!!

what???? food???? sure, take the rawhide!!! thanks for the food!!! (happy dog face)

Bad??? I'm Bad??? for what, why are you disciplining me????


The dog was being a dog... your solution (offering food) worked, it was a good exchange in the dog's mind... then, completely detached from the growling, after you reinforced him with food, you yelled at him...

I would agree that taking the dog to some obedience classes would be a good idea...
posted by tomswift at 5:17 AM on March 27, 2011 [15 favorites]

Here is a book on resource guarding: Mine! by Jean Donaldson

I agree with those who said to keep the rawhide away until he has gone through some training. There are ways to teach the dog what is acceptable and not (the post you marked as a good answer, for instance).

I don't think physical punishment or yelling will would help. You might want to look into getting a good trainer to help you correct the situation without making it worse. A dog that is already likely to bite you, will be even more likely to do so when it is afraid- so proceed with calmness, care, and gentle authority. Good luck!
posted by catrae at 5:20 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Parts of the question and some of the answers here are making me wince HARD.

A behavorist is an excellent idea and working with one is practically imperative from what you have written. The Jean Donaldson book is a good one for you to read. To get you started, here's a decent article on working with resource guarding: It's Mine.

In my opinion, you really need to work on trust and communication with your dog. Learn his body language, learn his triggers so you can better work with him and then set him up for success.

Anything that involves physical discipline is extremely likely to be read as escalating violence by your dog and should be avoided completely. Do not train your dog to not growl -- it is a communication that you should pay attention to, and the alternative is that he learns to bite without warning.

The goal you should strive for is to get the behavior or response you want from a happy, relaxed dog who regards you as his benevolent leader (there's another useful term for the Google).

Until you do some consistent training, remove the problematic resources -- no bed, no rawhides. In addition, as above, rawhides can be disastrous to feed, both for the choking hazard and the fact that they swell and can cause intestinal blockages. Fully digestible chews are a safer bet -- once your dog has learned he can trust you.
posted by vers at 5:38 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Someone else already asked this, but what in the world does this mean:

So I attempted to distract him with real food, so he dropped the rawhide, however when I attempted to discipline him for the outburst he actually bit me, drawing blood.

In what way were you trying to discipline him, and why were you trying to discipline him when he had done what you wanted? nthing see a behaviorist before you (not your dog - it's not his fault) escalate this cycle further.
posted by srrh at 5:56 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Resource guarding is not a demonstration of aggression that even comes close to warranting euthanasia. With a little work it can be corrected so the dog does not guard either rawhide (or other toys/treats) or your wife.

Google the term "Nothing in Life is Free" and you will find dozens upon dozens of resources for this method of training. Good Luck!
posted by labwench at 6:04 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can personally vouch for walebreath's method. I had a terrier/beagle mix that was extremely protective of anything she considered a resource: food, bones, toys etc. I did the swapping method with her and got to the point where a "leave it" would get her to spit out most anything, even raw marrow bones.

The only thing this didn't work for was dead animals she found and would try to eat on walks. Don't ask me about the time I had to wrestle a days old dead squirrel from her.
posted by ephemerista at 7:49 AM on March 27, 2011

I think it is extremely premature to consider giving him up or having him put down when you haven't told us you've even consulted a trainer about this. The dog makes one mistake (very possibly brought on by your own mistake of "disciplining" him after he obeyed you) and you're ready to put him down?

Please, talk to a behaviorist. There are lots of things you can try, including medication if it's indicated. I have a fearful/anxious dog with similar issues and we've made huge progress with training, management, and medication. Bonus - training is often fun for both dog and human. Good luck!
posted by walla at 11:34 AM on March 27, 2011

By the way, with regards to resource guarding -- he's also guarding your wife as a resource when you go to bed. I had a resource guarding foster who liked to sit on my foot or even on top of me, or under me if I was on a bench and growl if my husband/another dog approached. One thing I did was make sure to not allow him to 'own' me -- if he sat on my foot, I moved immediately. If he jumped on the bed, I'd direct him back to the floor, that kind of thing.
posted by MeiraV at 6:12 PM on March 27, 2011

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