What's the best approach when my puppy growls and snap at people and other animals?s
July 19, 2012 4:07 PM   Subscribe

What's the best approach when my puppy growls and snap at people and other animals?

I have a toy breed (minpin) puppy age 10 months. He always had issues with other dogs, and would bark, growl, and lunge at them at every opportunity.

We've been taking training classes with him, and although this behavior has lessened, I'm not sure that he'll ever be very comfortable around other dogs, and he still snaps at them if they come very close. (There are two neighborhood dogs he knows very well who he gets along with just fine, even off leash.)

More alarming is that he has now developed the habit of growling and snapping at people who ask to say hello to him.

I have made a lot of effort to socialize him, have him greet people, have him be around animals, walk him in crowded places, take him to stores, etc., and as I said we have done several levels of puppy classes.

How should I address this behavior? I think that he gets fearful and anxious, and unfortunately, he reacts with aggressiveness.
posted by mintchip to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You need to be his alpha. The training classes will help, but you must do many things, daily, that assure and reinforce to your dog that you are in charge, and will protect and care for the pack.

-Alpha dog eats first. You can give him small nibbles of food off your plate after you have finished, and don't allow him to eat until you've given him the command. Some people also spit in their dog's food, though I am unsure of how well that works.

-Alpha dog leads. Do not let him race up the stairs ahead of you, pull the leash, or go through a doorway first. You always go first, and train him to walk at a heel.

-The Roll. Some people think this is cruel, but it worked beautifully for me. When your dog is behaving aggressively, roll him onto his back and put your hand on his neck. Hold him there and look him in the eye. Do NOT yell or raise your voice while you do this. This is not about harm, or fear. This is you asserting your dominance. In dog language, it communicates, clearly, "Step off. I got this."

Your dog is anxious and fearful because he does not perceive you as a strong leader, so, in his little puppy brain, he thinks it's up to him to be that leader. Prove him wrong, and you'll have the dog you want.

I went through this with a 70# rescued pittie mix. I saw a trainer and read several books. She's an absolutely awesome dog now, well mannered and beautifully behaved. It took about a month to curb the dog-aggressive behavior, and she still requires a strong hand- I can't ever let up on all the little habits that let her know that I am The Head Dog In Charge- but she is a wonderful pet and I am a happy and fulfilled owner.
posted by Athene at 4:57 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Our 8 lb Maltillion is like that, too. He is sweet with us but a terror with dogs and other people.

He had a bad experience as a puppy when we took him into a store and the owner had a bulldog puppy who, unfortunately, lunged at him. Ever since he has a "thing" about other dogs.

We just decided to make our lives easier, to accept him as he is.

Great dog for a us but we minimize situations with animals and people as they just cause too much stress.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 5:03 PM on July 19, 2012

This would be a good time to speak with an animal behaviorist. Not an obedience trainer, mind you, but someone who specializes in behavior, specifically fear-aggression. This is not a training issue, and while obedience training is always good to have, it will probably not help.

Does he react this way to new people when you're not around? He may be protective of you rather than just fearful of others.

Don't scold him or comfort him for growling. The former will only teach him to stop warning people, and he may go straight to biting them seemingly without provocation in the future. The latter will teach him that reacting that way to strange situations leads to rewards in the form of cuddles. If he growls, get him away from whatever he's growling at immediately. Don't wait for him to snap - if he snaps without giving any warning signals, remove him similarly.

Fear aggression is an extremely varied issue, which is why I don't want to give specific advice here. Every fearful dog has different triggers and causes. Some dogs are tense because they don't get enough exercise, while others have trust issues, and still others have health problems that cause discomfort, which leads to feeling vulnerable, which leads to defensive aggression.

Generally, the two best (in the sense that they apply to the most situations) tactics for dealing with fear-aggression are teaching the dog to ignore the stimulus and building up a positive association with it, one usually coming before the other in the training process.

General advice for the former: When a dog becomes aggressive, it tenses up and stares before beginning to growl. That should be your very first cue to interpose yourself between the dog and whatever it is locking onto before it gets zeroed in. For example: You're standing and talking to a friend. Someone else with a dog starts to approach (I'm assuming that he doesn't just go nuts lunging at everyone who walks by when you're in crowded places). Your dog freezes and begins to stare. You step in front of him, getting his attention with a clap of your hands and a light-hearted, "Let's go!" and immediately walk away with him. Walking in the same direction as the approaching dog, but in front, is fine. Practicing this with a friend who is unfamiliar to your dog is a good idea as well.

The latter: This is as close to a training technique as you will (probably) get with fear aggression. Pick your dog's absolute favorite treat of all time. From now on, he only ever gets that treat when he sees - and does not react to - something that would normally set him off. Let's say it's peanut butter. In the example above, it would go something like this: Strange dog approaches. Your dog notices. You immediately step in front of him and proffer a little dab of peanut butter on your fingertip, while giving praise. Do not offer these treats if your dog is growling. I've seen owners letting their dog gnaw on a favorite treat while the dog or person they're training with slowly gets closer and closer. Inevitably, this leads to the dog growling even as it gnaws on said treat, then "unexpectedly" lunging at the offending thing.

Timing is extremely important with these kinds of issues, and demonstration works much better than just reading the one-paragraph description I wrote above. Consult a behaviorist who has a policy of positive reinforcement only, and bear in mind that not all people who work with dogs are actually any good. If someone isn't helping, find another behaviorist to work with. I'm a certified dog trainer, and the woman I mentored with was an excellent obedience trainer - but had an awful tendency to make dogs' aggression issues worse rather than better.

If you have any questions, feel free to MeMail me. :)
posted by Urban Winter at 5:05 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is fearful behavior. You need to learn to read your dog so that you can let him stay within his comfort zone (i.e before he reacts), and start gradually classical conditioning to help him learn good associations for the things he is scared of, thereby reducing his fear. Urban Winter's approach is spot on. The only cure for fear is gradual desensitization, accept no substitutes, and you can never make a reactive dog not a reactive dog, but you can teach him better coping skills. Do not EVER, EVER punish growling, growling is how your dog communicates that he is feeling stressed and uncomfortable, telling him not to growl is telling him to bite without warning. He is not reacting because he thinks he's "in charge", he is reacting because he is reactive.

Scaredy Dog and The Cautious Canine are great books, but I really suggest you enlist the help of a behaviorist or good positive trainer to address this specific issue. I have a nine year old dog who has been reactive his whole life, I have been where you are.
posted by biscotti at 5:21 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

By mefi law you are required to post adorable pictures.
posted by elizardbits at 5:37 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Our Vizsla was like this.

A place in town offered puppy play dates. It's a supervised area for puppies seperated by age/size/temperament can play together.

After a few weeks of that, he was way less assholish. Ever since, he's been great with almost every other dog. He sometimes gets grumbly and cranky - and in those cases, he gets seperated or put away for a time out. Or redirected.

Dogs can be like people - and sometimes they just don't like other dogs.

Redirection works pretty well too :

For example, if this happens when your out on walk - carry treats with you. When you see another dog, redirect your dog to pay attention to you with treats/rewards. He should come to think that other dogs are good things, not bad things. Basically - give your dog something else to do besides get nervous about the other dog nearby; and paying attention to you is a great thing to do instead.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:45 PM on July 19, 2012

SOOOO completely seconding The Roll as mentioned above by Athene. We had similar issues with our partially-min-pin mutt... walking down the street he would go apeshit when another dog passed by. Once we started doing The Roll, he calmed down almost immediately; we could not believe how effective it was. He basically just needed to be told that there was no reason to get so feisty and defensive because WE GOT THIS, YO, IT'S ALL GOOD. And then he was chill.

('cept that the person who taught us this said "Don't look him in the eye". Ignore him. Don't talk to him, don't look at him, just hold him there on his back, by the throat (gently) and even let the other dog come over to sniff him.)
posted by armoir from antproof case at 10:21 PM on July 19, 2012

Also, FWIW: with the same dog, we had to also do as Athene described re: the feeding. Our dog was really hesitant to eat until we started making ourseles part of the process & extending an invitation to him -- by picking up a little food & bringing it over for him to eat, then making him sit & STAY until we told him it was OK to come to his bowl. It was an unexpected and bizarre discovery but once we did this, he began to eat his meals less tentatively.

I guess I'm just sharing this to second how completely I agree with Athene's recommendations, I think they are spot on, so hopefully you will want to give The Roll a shot. Seriously, it was like magic.

Good luck!
posted by armoir from antproof case at 10:30 PM on July 19, 2012

My cairn is like this. I use the "look at me" command while holding a treat. It works very well if I time it right. Timing is everything. It is quite embarrassing when your small little dog becomes a frothing beast at the end of the leash. My favorite dog behaviorist book is "The Other End of the Leash", I think the author's name is Patricia McConnel or something close to that.

I am not a huge fan of the alpha roll thing with terriers because I have seen it increase their fear and aggression. I have seen it work well with the bully breeds though.

Finding the training philosophy that works for you is the most important thing. You can see in the answers a range of opinions. I have been to obedience and worked with a behaviorist with my dog and he still wigs out in certain situations.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:50 PM on July 19, 2012

Seconding biscotti and Urban Winter. Also, explicitly: please, don't get caught up in that alpha roll/role bullshit.
posted by Good Brain at 12:44 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thirding biscotting and Urban Winter. And yes, that alpha stuff is nonsense.
posted by nanook at 7:56 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

10 months of age leaves you a lot of time to continue socialization. I agree with biscotting and Urban Winter; an animal behaviorist would help immensely. Also, Nthing the disagreement with the dominance and alpha roll crap. Those methods of training have been thoroughly debunked for almost 4 decades now. Not only are they terrible methods for training, they're downright dangerous. I can't believe they have persisted into the 21st century.
posted by jms18 at 8:05 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Athene: -The Roll. Some people think this is cruel, but it worked beautifully for me. When your dog is behaving aggressively, roll him onto his back and put your hand on his neck. Hold him there and look him in the eye. Do NOT yell or raise your voice while you do this. This is not about harm, or fear. This is you asserting your dominance. In dog language, it communicates, clearly, "Step off. I got this."
Tangent: When a dog insists on barking at a noise outside the house, instead of reprimanding the dog, praise it. "Good boy! I heard it too! Thanks!" Often, acknowledgement of The Important Message the animal is trying desperately to communicate will satisfy them.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:25 AM on July 20, 2012

(But barking viciously at other people and animals on the street can be fatally poor behavior for a dog, since the next step might someday be actually attacking, and "Thank you!" is the wrong answer to the OP's question. Definitely do The Roll.)
posted by IAmBroom at 10:27 AM on July 20, 2012

« Older Is my garden poisonous?   |   Apple Airport failure Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.