Havanese Puppy: Early Aggression

Posted by Codys-mom
Jan 25, 2008
Hello Daniel and everyone,

I am writing because my 8-month-old havanese puppy is showing early signs of aggression. The first month we got him he was great!... a little hesitant toward strangers, but still friendly, joyful, and loving. He is still that dog with me and is very smart! He is well-trained and picks up new behaviors quickly... which is probably why he has started growling and barking at strangers and nipping at their heels. He has learned over the past 5 months that I've had him that these behaviors keep strangers away.

I have started re-establishing myself as the alpha dog. Cody is very well socialized, so this seemed like the only issue. He has never slept on my bed (he is crate trained), but has been allowed on the couches and the bed since he was little. Starting last week, I am the first person to walk through the door, and he must sit and wait until I say, "Ok!" to follow. We are working on him staying off the back ledge of the couch (his favorite look-out point) and keeping him from attempting to stand on us to gain height advantage. Often, we have staring contests and I make sure I always win.

I love my dog more than anything and I would do anything for him, but aggression trainers cost more than I can afford right now. Do you have any extra ideas for us? I think he will learn very quickly once I know the right method to use.

Thank you!

Cody's Mom
Posted by Todd
Jan 27, 2008
Hi there and thank you for your question.

You have made some brilliant steps so far in controlling your dogs problem.

It is great that you have taken the alpha training steps. There are a few other points i think will help with your alpha work.

Here are some ways to reinforce your position-
1) If you come across your dog while she is sleeping or lying on the floor then you can reinforce your position as alpha dog by making him move so that you can pass by.

2) At mealtimes make sure that your dog eats after all of the humans have.

3) Do not feed your dog tidbits or let it pester you at the table. Save the morsels and tidbits for training sessions instead.

4) Do not greet your dog straightaway when you arrive home. Make it wait until you are ready and then call it to you.

5) Whenever your dogs want attention or anything wait till they are sitting and being well behaved.

6) When you give a command make sure that you are in a position to enforce the action that you require from your dog, especially in the initial stages of Alpha Dog training. Also, use the Alarm-No-Command technique as described in the Alpha Dog bonus book to reprimand your dog if it does not obey your command.

The other important thing to complement your alpha training is general obedience. Work with him for 10 minutes twice a day on the basic commands of sit, stay and come. This will help control him in whatever situation you are in.

Now that we have alpha and obedience training under control here are some pointers to help with your problem.

You should reprimand your dogs for unacceptable behavior, no matter what that behavior is. If you do not reprimand your dog's poor behavior then it will feel that it has the right to behave that way and it will take much longer to correct the behavior. What I recommend you do, is the next time your dog acts poorly and exhibits dominant tendencies (growling), saturate your dog with the garden hose or a bucket of water, or if it is inside, throw a heavy blanket over your dog and be sure to reprimand it. DO NOT yell, as this has no effect on the dominant dog. Growl instead, use a guttural growl like " AAHHH!" instead of "No!", as this makes a sharper sound then "No" (If done correctly it may hurt your throat a little).

The next recommendations i would give you would be to practice his behaviour with other people.

*Get an adult friend to come and visit (make sure that you tell them what is happening!).

*As your friend knocks on the door or rings the doorbell, make your dog sit and give it a treat. Then put your dogs collar on and take it to either a crate or a secure room. If your dog is too much of a handful at even this stage then you will have to put your dog away before your visitor gets to the door.

*Sit your friend down in a room that is not often use by your dog. Give you friend some treats so that they can give them to your dog.

*Go to your dog and make it sit. Put a halti or muzzle as well as the choke collar on. Get your dog to heel then take it into the room that your friend is in. Make sure that your friend does not give any eye contact. Act as happy as you can while petting your dog.

*If your dog growls or disobeys your commands at ANY TIME then squirt it with water or shake a pebble filled can to startle it. Have the water pistol or can in your dogs view at all times.

*Make your dog sit quite a long way from your guest, perhaps in the doorway of the room. When your dog is calm get it to heel and move it closer, then get your dog to sit again. Praise your dog when it sits and heels properly.

*When your dog is calm and you have moved it and made it sit within 5 feet of the guest then get the guest to give your dog a treat. Make sure that the guest does not look your dog in the eyes.

This will need to be continued for a few weeks. Once he is well behaved you can try the same sort of thing in an outdoor situation. Once he is behaved here try and get a friend to practice walking away (they will need thick leather jeans or something to avoid getting hurt).

Get them to walk away while he is sitting beside you. If at any stage he stands up growl and make him sit again. If he runs at them get them to turn and make a grrr or ahhh noise while you say NO. You may want a hose also as these are great reinforcer's of poor behaviour.
This will take a great deal of time and patience.

Once he behaves well with people try socialising him with dogs on your property. Do the same as above and let him walk a metre closer then sit. If he doesn't sit or he growls at all tell him off. Never let the two dogs meet on the first occasion. They may meet after 3-4 sessions. From here you can try him when he is out walking.

When he is out walking he should be under your control at all times, when you say sit he should always sit, so keep on with the obedience training. When a strange dog approaches make him sit and wait (keep a tight lead). Once they get closer make sure he is under control. At any stage if he growls or stands up reprimand him firmly as above and make him sit again. This reinforces that his behaviour is bad and that you are in control.

Give him time and patience and im sure you will have success. Let me know how things go.

Kind regards

Todd Field
Posted by Codys-mom
Jan 29, 2008

Thank you for all the tips. He really seems to be catching on to the new hierarchy in our family... so much so that he is starting to have a few accidents in the house. Is this normal? Is he trying to remark his territory?

Cody's Mom
Posted by Todd
Jan 29, 2008
Hi and thanks for the feedback.

Mistakes do happen. Is he being submissive when he urinates or do you think it is just accidents.
If they are accidents this advice will help, if it is the other let me know and ill give you some advice.

You will have to buy a quality DOG ODOR neutralizer, which you should be able to find at most good pet stores. Clean your carpets, with the odor neutralizer, in all the known places that you can find where your dog has been . I prefer SOX but there are a number of other good products out there.

This will help disguise the scent and you will find it easier to catch your dog preparing to go potty before it has the chance to do so inside. No product can take away the scent 100%, however the weaker the scent is made the better, so buying an odor neutralizer will still be worthwhile.

The next time your dog has an accident inside:

*Growl as your dog is doing it. You must reprimand your dog as it is performing the undesirable behavior, because dogs only ever associate your punishment or reward with the very last action they have performed.

*soak up the puddle or pick up the waste with a sheet of newspaper.

*Then clean the spot with your odor neutralizer.

*Keep the soiled newspaper, place any solid wastes or the soaked paper outside, or wherever you want their bathroom spot to be. This will give your dog a place it can return to that is marked with its own scent and therefore safe to use as a bathroom. (keep in mind that dogs mark their territory and therefore claim their dominance as they eliminate, if another dog has been where you want your dog to go, your dog will only go there if it is of a dominant disposition and wish to challenge the opposing 'dog'.)

*Take your dog out every hour on the hour (when possible) to that place where you have placed its waste. Introduce the command "Be quick!....Good Dog" as your dog goes and reward it with treats if you wish. This command is handy, as your dog quickly associates your voice command with the act of eliminating. My dog's will even try and go anytime, anywhere if I give this command, knowing the treats that usually accompany being obedient! (even if they have no juice, I still reward them for their efforts!)

Let me know if this is the problem. The above info is the advice i give to all people in these situations. I hope it helps Good luck

Posted by Codys-mom
Jan 30, 2008
To be honest, I definitely think these are not accidents. He is very good at sitting by the door when he has to use the bathroom and he does not appear ashamed when he eliminates in our living room. He used to hide when he made a mistake, but now he just does it in front of us. In addition, it is not urine, but feces. Interestingly enough, he did learn to hold #2 last, but I still think there is something behind this behavior since when we really got into alpha training he did it 3 days in a row. What do you think?
Posted by Todd
Jan 30, 2008
Hi and thanks for that info.

Okay so maybe it is related to the training. He may be a little submissive and so is getting nervous and urinating.

The first thing to do is to make sure that your dog has been fully checked out by a vet for any possible medical reason for this type of behavior.

As a general rule, keep greetings low key and reward any positive postures that your dog makes.

Make sure that you do not punish your dog for its indiscretions. This will only make the matter worse.

If you feel that he is urinating due to excitement then the same techniques apply, except that you should ignore your dog until it is calm.

Any accidents should be cleaned up with a specific pet odor neutralizer. If your dog tends to urinate in the same place then you could try using the odor neutralizer, waiting for it to dry, then feeding your dog a treat on the spot. That way it will hopefully get the association between food and the area rather than it being a place that it can relieve itself.

Whenever he is being submissive eg rolling on his back, cowering or hiding completely ignore him. This means no eye contact or talking to him. When he shows confidence eg coming to you or not cowering praise him and give him lots of attention.

You may want to hold off the alpha training for a while until you get things under control. As well go back to the way you were doing things before he started having mistakes and see if that helps.

Keep in touch, Todd
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jan 30, 2008
Hi Cody's mom.

I didin't know the breed "havanese" so I googled it and found out it is a small dog.

I think your dog is totally confused by being implemented with the Alpha techniques. Just think what you would feel, one day all of a sudden, your beloved human friend started treating you so differently from the day before. You would not understand what's going on. You might think you might have done something wrong or you might think what you have been doing was not correct.

Please hold off the alpha training and observe your dog very carefully. The first thing you should do to your dog is, in my opinion, to reassure him he is the same good doggie that he was before. You still love him a lot and he should rebuild his confidence.

Barking, growling and nipping - dogs do these behaviors when they are highly excited too, they are not necessarily signs of aggression. Please have someone who likes and know how to treat dogs to come close to your puppy with a treat in his/her hand. I bet you feel uncomfortable to get your dog closer to a person when he is barking so I would like to have someone who is very familiar with dogs, such as dog training class instructors or doggie day care staff, etc. You can also make your dog sit and wait until he calms down before letting him sniff the treat from that person.

In the dog park I often go, there is a Larsa Apso who growls that never lets anybody else pick him up except for his owner. Every time I see him I approach him saying "Hi Junior, you are such a sweet puppy" as I give him a treat. With the dog owner's permission, I pick him up and give him a treat. He still growls but it is not a mean growl.

When a dog barks, people tend to label that the dog is getting aggressive or dominant. However, there are all kinds of reasons of barking. Sometimes it is just an enthusiastic barking, saying let's play!! Other times, the dog has something to say, like "Don't leave me alone" or "A stranger is at the door!".

By looking at your dog very closely, you will know what kind of barking it is. I am posting this response based on what I read on your postings only so I may be wrong. If that is the case, please ignore this.

Good luck and enjoy your puppy
Posted by Codys-mom
Jan 31, 2008
To reply to you both...

When Cody has "mistakes" it is feces, not urinating. He is not embarrassed or ashamed as he used to be when I trained him as a puppy. I can definitely tell the difference between his barking and growling at us in play and his behavior towards strangers. I am writing because he IS aggressive and I need help on how to deal with it... even beyond alpha training.

He is not even like this with other dogs, which makes the whole situation seem like more of a power trip than anything else. I disagree with my vet when she suggested that I muzzle him and have other people pet him until he calms down because I think it would just irritate the situation. On top of this, he continues to growl after 15 to 20 mins that the person is here. The aggressive behavior is not just when they enter the door.

I frequently take him to the local dog park and he growls at everyone who tries to pet him, even after they've given him a treat or two. This is a serious problem which is only getting worse as time goes on ( he was not like this when he was younger). I am trying to avoid paying 500 for agressive dog training by asking the advice of trainers and other dog owners with similar issues in this forum.

Don't get me wrong, however, I LOVE MY DOG and he knows it. Every day we have mandatory cuddle time, we play, we go on walks, we take the occasional trip to the park. He is in a very loving atmosphere in which he is very comfortable. It is when a new person enters his perfect world, no matter how nicely they speak to him, that his amazing personality takes a downturn. He is the nicest and goofiest pup and I wouldn't change him for the world, but I do need to help him avoid these aggressive, and I mean AGGRESSIVE behaviors. He is not urinating out of fear, but pooping out of defiance almost. The havanese breed is very intelligent and Cody is no exception. I can almost see the rebellion in his little eyes which is why I am asking for direction on this. If I ignore his behaviors and stop training he will only get worse.

Please help, but understand that I do know my dog and that I love him very much and he knows that.
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jan 31, 2008
Dear Cody's mom:

I am sorry I was totally off the situation. I believe you because you are the one who knows your dog the best.

I have seen dogs with fear aggression and they got used to other people eventually by getting used to one person at a time. Some of the dogs became aggressive just to protect their owners. Those dogs get more aggressive when they are leashed by the owner, or close to the owner.

When I held the lead of those dogs and the owner disappeared they didn't get aggressive to me, because there was nothing for them to protect. Dogs aggression is not a sign of raising their status but resource guarding, and the most precious resource can be you, the owner.

Anyway, I am not a supporter of the Alpha techniques and the pack rules so I will keep myself quiet. I am sure somebody like Todd will respond to you.

I understand how much you love your dog and I am positive that you and your dog can work out the problem although it might take time.

Good luck
Posted by Todd
Jan 31, 2008
Okay thank you for giving me more info.

I'm sorry it seems like im not answering the question but it takes a lot of info and time to get my head around some problems.
Okay so the problem is aggression to people in a number of situations. Am i right?

I would still keep on with the alpha training as with out it he will as you said get out of hand.

Next you must actively discourage your dog from barking and being aggressive as every time he gets away with it they think it is acceptable. The next time he starts to bark you must scare/reprimand him. The best way to do this is with a tin can filled with pebbles that you throw near him, the other way is to drench him with a hose until they stop. When you do this you must also make sure you reprimand him verbally by making a loud AHHHH or GRRRR when you catch him.

Other than reprimanding him you must always reward him for quiet, relaxed behaviour by petting them, talking to them and playing with them.

Here is a specific program to deal with your dog being aggressive to people.
Remember you must always tell him off for acting poorly.

*Get an adult friend to come and visit (make sure that you tell them what is happening!).

*As your friend knocks on the gate or comes into the yard, make your dog sit and give it a treat. With your dog on the leash make her sit and reward her for being relaxed. If your dog is too much of a handful at even this stage then you will have to put your dog away before your visitor gets to the gate.

*Let your friend in and keep them away form the dog. Give you friend some treats so that they can give them to your dog.

*Make sure that your friend does not give any eye contact.

*If your dog growls or disobeys your commands at ANY TIME then squirt it with water or shake a pebble filled can to startle it. Have the water pistol or can in your dogs view at all times.

*Make your dog stand quite a long way from your guest. When your dog is calm get it to heel and move it closer, then get your dog to sit again. Praise your dog when it sits and heels properly.

*When your dog is calm and you have moved it and made it sit within 5 feet of the guest then get the guest to give your dog a treat. Make sure that the guest does not look your dog in the eyes.

Preferably you will repeat this twice a day for several weeks. That may not be entirely practical for you but will give you the best chance of success.

Hopefully this advice is more what you were looking for If not ill just keep on trying

Posted by Codys-mom
Jan 31, 2008
Thank you both. I did not mean to seem short in the other message, but this situation with my pup is starting to get frustrating. I will try the techniques you suggested and will see how it goes!

Thank you!