Aggresssive towards family member

Posted by cbraun
Nov 14, 2007
We recently adopted a one year old cocker spaniel from the humane society and have been working with him over the past month to curb his fear aggression. When he is with my wife, he will often become very protective and lunge at and bite (once) me. I am looking for some input on what to specifically do when he growls and lunges. We have been instructed to grab him and force him to the floor but that does not seem to be having any impact as he still does it. I can't find anything specific as to how to react in that situation in SitStayFetch. Any suggestions?
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Nov 24, 2007
Hi there,

I wonder if the situation got any better since you posted this issue.
If it hasn't I would like to suggest a totally different approach as follows:

Call your doggie when you and your wife are sitting next to each other on a sofa or on the floor. You should have some treats in your hand.

Ideally, place your doggie in between you and your wife and have your wife tell him be nice to you as you give him treats little by little. This is to reassure him that you are not a threat to him nor to your wife (I know this sounds ridiculous.

Keep doing this until he learns that both you and your wife are the human members of the family, who are equally caring him. It would help a lot if you feed him all his meals, instead of your wife.

Also, make as many opportunities that you and him being alone without your wife. A best thing is to go dog training classes but just being home playing together is fine too.

I hope this will help. Good luck!!
Posted by ilikthtbet
Jan 6, 2008
fear aggression

We have just adopted a mixed breed (Rottweiler Mastiff ?) dog from the pound. My wife has made great strides in getting through this fear aggression stage with her but I am having difficulty. Dog tends to growl at me and will snap on occassion. I am trying sweet talk and reinforcing poitive behavior and hand feeding her when I can get her to be calm and hang out with me. However it is giving my wife a stomach ache to see the dog behave so well with her but treat me poorly. Kathleen (wife) has been able to bathe the dog and basically has worked through the fear aggression. Now I have to. HELP please. The dog has been with us since Friday evening around 6:00 and this is about 1:00 on Sunday. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks so much. Have you had luck and if so How...Thanks

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jan 6, 2008
Hi ilikthtbet!

I am glad that the Rottweiler Mastiff mix found a home and your wife can handle her so well.

Generally speaking, fearful dogs can do better with women. Men's voices are deeper and their bodies are bigger so those dogs have more fear towards men.

Also, I don't know much about the breed Rottweiler and Mastiff except for they are both recognized as being protective, not friendly to strangers. Since you and your wife adopted her only Friday so I bet you are still a stranger to her.

You didn't mention how old the dog is but if she is a puppy it will be easier for her to get used to you. If she is a full grown then you might want to reconsider adopting her. You might want to learn about those breeds first. They are not kinds of breeds that can be friendly with anybody like a Golden Retriever or a Lab. Usually pounds don't let those dogs get adopted by families not familiar with those breeds so you and your wife might be familiar with the breed. If so, please ignore my comments.

Since your wife managed to get through the dog's fear, I assume she has experience treating and taking care of dogs. When you are afraid of dogs, they will quickly feel some uncertainty and act either to be aggressive or to be fearful. In contrary, if you approach dogs naturally, they tend to accept you better. But it is all depend on each dog's personality so I don't know if it works for your dog or not.

I really hope your dog is still a puppy. If so, he will have a plenty of room to get socialized from now on.

In any case, it has been only a couple of days and you said you had been hand feeding her so my suggestions are:

1) If the dog is an adult dog and you and your wife don't have much experience with raising dogs, return the dog and get another (more friendly) breed. Otherwise, both you, humans and the dog will be unhappy, and the worst case a third person if the dog bites someone.

2) If the dog is a puppy (up to 4-5 months), study about the breed and take puppy training classes (hopefully both you and your wife participate together). Keep hand feeding her whenever possible. Take advantage of all the occasions you and your dog can be together alone without your wife. Also take every opportunity for your puppy to get socialized; towards other dogs, other humans, all kinds of noises, smells, etc. that we human beings take for granted.

3) If you and your wife adopted the dog because you both like those breeds, I assume you are more familiar with the breeds than me so please ignore my comments.

I personally don't believe in Alpha Techniques so I don't recommend them but it might be beneficial to correct some behaviors. I strongly believe that dog-human relationship is not the one based on dominance but with understanding and trust in each other.

I with you and your dog the best!
Posted by Todd
Jan 6, 2008
Hi John
Thank you for your question. Fear aggressive dogs can be very challenging to desensitise and yes as Max says you are more likely to pose a 'threat' to her.
But i would tell you not to give up, getting through this stage can build a very strong bond with your dog and some of the most obedient and loving dogs i know have had fear aggression issues.
So here we go.
1) What you have been doing sounds brilliant. You have the idea of ignoring the wrong behaviour and reinforcing confidence.

2) As Max also mentioned, with fear aggression you have to be careful that you do not over-assert yourself and your family as the "alpha dog ", as it may only exaggerate your dogs lack of confidence. Your dog should know that it is bottom of the pack, but if you can make your dog feel a little more like a member of the family than what you already do, it will help build confidence.

It is important that you communicate to your dog that it is at the bottom of the pack, but at the same time your dog requires a confidence booster. I suggest you not have your dog on the furniture, on your lap, or on your bed. Your dog needs to know that it is not in charge.

However, if your dog does seem to be acting submissively, I suggest you just ignore it. For example if you growl at your dog and it acts afraid or submissive (e.g. rolling on its back, licking you, looking away, or growling) then just ignore it until it has calmed down. Do not look your dog in the eye, but between its feet (this is part of predator-prey psychology), get down closer to your dogs level and talk gently until it seems confident.

3) At any stage where things are getting too out of hand there are a number of things that you should consider. Firstly is a muzzle, the last thing i want and you will want is anyone getting hurt. The second item is D.A.P this is a dog appeasing pheromone that basically relaxes the dog and makes them feel more comfortable. Lastly other medication may be required but your vet will be the best person to contact over this.

4) The key to preventing your dog from being fearful is by positive reinforcement. This will take a great deal of time and patience, which it sounds you have a lot of. Firstly you should never give her any attention when she is being fearful eg hiding under a table, in a corner or not coming to her name. Turn away and look away till you can hear her moving towards you, don't speak to her or comfort her when she is hiding. Once she comes out praise her by saying "Good Girl", patting her and playing with her. Correcting can take a lot of time. It is a step by step process, and reprimanding or reinfoicing fear can reverse the whole process.

5) Once her confidence builds it is important to start socialising her. You must be careful not to throw her in the deep end in an environment with a large number of other dogs. You can ask a friend to bring over their dog and slowly introduce the dogs. If she starts being fearful take the other dog away and ignore her as above till she starts being more confident. Again this process can take a long time and should be gradual.

Dog Parks and Puppy Classes are great places to socialise as she will get a chance to meet humans and other dogs. Don't put her in large groups of animals. Introduce her slowly to the other animals and make sure not to reward fear. It is best to put her on a leash to meet other animals, if she hides behind your legs ignore her and make her stand beside you.

All you are doing is great and you are doinf everything right. Just be patient and take your time. I'm sure things will go well. Good luck.

Kind Regards

Todd Field
Kingdom of Pets Team