Is this Fear-Biting or Dominance Biting?

Posted by qkwyler
Mar 29, 2008
I am new to this forum and to the site. I would like an answer from one of the staff persons, but would certainly also appreciate input from other members as well.

I have 2 male Coton de Tulears. Sam is almost 2 and Pistol is 16 mo.

Sam is a very easy dog. Very calm and affectionate - loves everyone - kids, dogs, people everyone. If only this were true of Pistol. He is the youngest but he is bigger than Sam. Sam weighs 10 lbs and Pistol weighs 16. I think that Sam has allowed Pistol to be dominant over him because of his size.

Don't misunderstand - Pistol is also a very sweet dog. However, he is aggressive when we meet dogs on a walk and he also has biten the meter reader, the cable repair man etc. We have found that if we know someone is coming into the house, we must pen him up. This is not true of everyone. If someone comes in who is a "dog person" and pays positive attention to him right away, then he is fine with them and wants to "lick them to death". But if they ignore him, he waits for them to turn their back and then chases them and bites their legs.

The most distressing problem is that he has also bitten children. Thankfully he has never broken skin, but I know it may just be a matter of time. When we go to the home of our grandchildren, he is fine with them, but when a neighbor child comes into the house he is aggressive toward them and will bite if not controlled.

We spent Easter at my dad's house. Their were - get this - 10 dogs in the house when we arrived. He was fine with all of them. He was fine with all the adults. But when my sister brought her grandchildren in, he immediately began barking at them and bit one of them.

When we meet dogs in the park he will kind of run sideways away from them while he is barking at them. This makes me think it is fear, but then if they come face to face, he becomes extremely aggressive and would attack if I let him.

He doesn't seem to me to be dominant with me. He doesn't growl over food or treats - doesn't growl if I move him out of my way on the couch or anything. If fact I can easily remove something from his mouth if I need to. He has never shown any aggression of any kind toward me or my husband. That is why I think his agression may be out of fear.

Sorry this is so long, but I am extremely distressed about the biting and know I simply must get it under control, but I need to know what the cause is first.

Thanks for any help.

Kathy in Oklahoma
Posted by zeusmommy
Apr 1, 2008
Sounds like fear biting to me. Has he/she ever been around children before? Have they abused him/her in any way? My best advise would be to have the new person show positive attention towards your dog.
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Apr 1, 2008
Hi Kathy.

Too bad no moderators are responding to your posting.
I am not a moderator but I want to share what I think about Pistol's behavior.

I am afraid Pistol was not exposed to many people when he was a puppy. I mean, all kinds of people; male/female, adults/kids, people in uninforms, with sun glasses, baseball caps, with beard, etc.

People who loves dogs or experienced handlers of dogs have confidence when approaching dogs, in other words, they don't send the message that they are afraid of dogs or they don't know how to handle them, virsus those who are afraid of dogs send some suspicious feelings to dogs, which cause fear for dogs.

As for children, maybe your dog had an experience that made him learn that childrens' behaviors are not predictable so it is better to be away from them.

Also, the age of 1 to 1 and a half old for dogs is a transition from puppy to an adult dog and it is likely that they become more protective/cautious and somtimes aggressive towards other dogs and people.

Is he neutered? If not it might be a good idea to neuter him. Also, it looks like you are controlling Pistol when you are around so I think you might want to get him exposed to as many people as possible under your supervision.

It is widely said you should not comfort your dog and instead should ignore him when he is showing fear or uneasiness but I disagree with it. One of my dogs had a fear aggression towards dogs. I pet him and kept talking to him, and even gave him treats when another dog was approaching him. Since my dog responds to my verbal commands very well (such as "be nice" "easy" "it's okay", etc.) he sometimes showed his teeth but he tried to calm down and not to be aggressive to the dog. I am suggesting this to you since you said that you can control your dog very well. If you don't have confidence, please disregard what I just said.

Anyway, the key is to teach him he does not need to be fearful to people and kids. It might take time but I hope Pistol will get over this stage.

Good luck
Posted by Todd
Apr 2, 2008
Hi there Kathy and sorry for the delay in replying.

I understand your frustration but i will do my best to try and help out as best i can. As the other people who have posted have mentioned the problem may be fear isn't classic fear aggression but it is still very close to it.

Now MaxHollyNoah mentioned the classic way we treat fear is by ignoring but yes i agree that this isn't always the perfect way. if the aggression is serious then they may need a more'active' approach.

I am very glad to hear that you have your alpha training under control and i am sure his obedience is as good.

I will try and discuss how to deal with each issue separately so you can kind of get an idea what to do.

Children -

Kids can be very confusing for dogs. They are small, they are unpredictable and often they do mean things like pull hair and poke them. Your boy may very well have had a bad experience as mentioned before.

The best way to introduce dogs to children is a very gradual process. Make sure the children know that the dog may get a bit snappy. Prewarn them to be calm, gentle and quiet because loud noise can fighten dogs.

Now when pistol is going to meet these children make sure that he is on th lead. Get the children to sit calmly a few metres away from Pistol. Make pistol sit at your side, if he sits and behaves he can appraoch the children.

If at any stage he gets agressive eg barking, nipping etc growl at him and squirt him with a water pistol. This will let him know the being naughty is not okay
After you tell him off make him sit and wait. The more behaved he is the more he can advance. When he gets near the children stop the session.

After another session then he can play with the children. Keep him on the lead for safety. Make sure the children give him lots of treats and let him sniff them. After a few minutes let the kids pat him but only gently and for a short time.

Keep going on with these sessions slowly letting the children play more and more with him. Remember if he gets aggressive tell him off and stop the session

repeat this over and over with different childrens and in different settings and see how things go.

Strangers -
The same method of reprimand is needed for strangers but this is hard when you are not around.
If you are around try and get people to greet him when they come onto the property. If he gets aggressive tell him off.
It may be good to keep him on a lead and practice with people walking away from him. If he goes to nip give him a tug on the lead and a stern reprimand. At the same time get the person walking away to turn at him.

Again repeat over and over with different people etc.
If he does it when you are away try and keep him in the back yard away from where they may get to him.

We need to socialise Pistol with dogs as well s children etc. Use the same method as you did with the kids where he can approach if he is good and gets told off if he isn't.
Let them meet after a few sessions. Only the 4th or 5th session let the two dogs play together but with both on the lead. Reprimand him if he gets aggressive.

Next try a clear nylon line attached to his collar. This is a way of reprimanding him without touching him as such. When he misbehaves give him a quick yank on the line and a telling off.

You can also use this line in dog parks etc. With time and repetition he will learn to behave with other dogs.

At some stage Pistol may need some medication to help relax him. I like using Rescue remedy and DAP as these are natural alternatives. If this doesn't seem enough try and ask your vet about the other options they might use.

At some stage he may need a muzzle to make sure noone gets hurt but we will see how things go.

In general we want to socialise him more, reprimand him when he is aggressive and make him a happier dog

Again i am sorry for the delay. Let me know if i can be of anymore help and how things go with Pistol.