Rescue Terrier Possessive Aggression

Posted by laurag
Aug 25, 2010
I adopted a rescue dog that had been dumped in my neighborhood about 4 months ago (a small mixed terrier about 10 pounds). Gus is extremely dominant and can have aggressive tendencies when not given boundaries (the week he was found, he bit one of his rescuers for giving too much attention to another dog in their house). He used to go "postal" quite a bit.

After going through obedience classes and a personal dog trainer lesson, he is now doing brilliantly... with me. He obeys my commands, will let me put him in any submissive position, waits for my command before going out of doors, getting on the couch, eating treats or eating his meals. He's not behaving this way towards other dogs or humans though. What do you suggest I do to help train him to see all humans as alpha and dominant to him?

I'm a one-pet household, so he's not getting socialized as much as I'd like. Have considered doggie daycare, but am concerned that he might get aggressive there and that I need to correct his behavioural issues first.

Here are a few examples of his behavior:

* Is extremely possessive of his crate space (where he spends a lot of time when I'm gone). Certain times of the year, I work late and have a friend come over and take care of him. He's been snapping at her when she comes to get him out of his crate and she must find a way of getting him out & then closing the door so he can't get back into his "safe zone". After that, he is usually very good with her, she says...obeying her, playing fetch with her with another dog in the same room, not snapping, etc.

* Sadly, he ended up biting the same friend yesterday in her own house when I was holding him and she put out her hand to sniff and then pet him...almost as if he was being possessive of me. She said when I'm not around (and he's away from his crate) he obeys her, plays with her, takes corrections and never gets this way...almost like he is "confused" where he is in the pecking order when she and I are both in the same room. She can give him a command in front of me and he'll give her a deep-throat growl. I'll give him the same command and he'll react immediately. We've worked on having her correct him in front of me so he could start seeing her as dominant, but doesn't appear to be working. Should I be correcting him at the same time?

* He doesn't really socialize with other dogs. He never plays/romps around with other dogs at dog parks or in the neighborhood. If a couple of dogs are playing right next to him, he can sometimes snap at them - possibly out of intimidation/fear...especially with larger dogs. He's gotten to the point that most of the time he'll ignore those dogs on my request and sit or lay down. In big group settings/crowds in a dogpark, he usually doesn't snap. He loves to play fetch, though, and could go 24 hours straight if you let him. He'll even drop the ball at a stranger's foot to see them throw it. (Again, maybe a dominance thing?)

Would appreciate any feedback or help you could give me on training methods I could use with him.

Posted by kjd
Aug 25, 2010
Hi, Laura!

Thank you for taking on this little dog! He obviously sees you as the center of his life. I suspect most of his problems are fear, not dominance. My rescue has refused to obey my instructor -- and shows she is stressed by refusing food from her too.

It is possible he bit your friend, not because he was being possessive, but because he was afraid she was going to take him away from you (that is, you are another "safe place," like his crate).

When you are with him and your friend, praise him for any interaction he initiates, but don't force him. If he ever actually obeys a command (like "give me the ball") from her, praise him like crazy.

I know Cesar Milan likes to push the dogs to accept what scares them; I prefer to let them learn on their own schedule -- just give them plenty of opportunity to meet and greet others without forcing them.

You can get him out of his crate with no problem because he trusts you. He isn't as sure of your friend, so she has problems doing it. I would keep taking him to obedience classes for socialization. My problem with doggy daycare is you don't know how they will handle his problems. I like to know how my dog is being corrected and for what.

Other than that, I will leave it to those more experienced to give you some ideas of what to do.

Thanks again for giving him the love he deserves,
Posted by KOPCaroline
Aug 25, 2010
Hey Laura,

Your case isnt necessarily uncommon. A lot of abandoned dogs, especially smaller breeds, can tend to latch onto one person (their rescuer) and be hesistant to befriend anyone else. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for a situation like this.

Definitely keep going to obedience and training classes. Sounds like Gus could use more dog interaction, but again, until he's better in public, having you there with him is probably the best bet.

As far as your friend goes, you're just going to have to keep working with Gus and her together. Have her keep giving him commands, and when he growls, corrent him with a stern "NO", and have her try again. It'll take time, but Gus needs to learn that growling is the incorrect response. When he does respond to her, give him so so much praise and attention! Have her always be the one to give him treats, but you should probably be the one to pet him outright, at least in the beginning. Just keep at it as much as you can, and start with simple commands (sit, stay) and work up to others (come, when he's in his crate).

Once Gus is better at listening to her, have your friend come over and work with her getting Gus out of the crate while you're there, so that its easier when it comes time for you to be at work and her to be on her own. Again, have her ask him to come out, correct any undesirable responses, and just work at him coming out calmy, on his own - dont pull him or reach for him, this will only startle him more. Speak in quiet tones, have a treat out where he can see it and sit a couple feet back from the door of his crate. Once he's out, give him the treat and praise him, still in calm voices, but dont reach for him or the door to the crate. If you immediately try to block access to his safe place, this will only stress him more as he'll feel like he doesn't have a good place to go. Its almost like tricking him to be in an uncomfortable situation, and its unlikely he'll be more willing to come out the next time. If he goes back to his crate, fine, get up and ignore him in there for a few minutes, then repeat the process. Eventually (especially if you keep treats on you and give him a few more for more time spent out of his crate) he'll hang out outside with her. Again, give him words of encouragement, but don't get too excited and startle him. This process is all about being calm and not making a huge fuss of his being out of his safe zone. Startling him will only send him back to square one. When he does come out and stay out, you can give him treats, but overall carry on like its not a big deal. He'll learn that coming out with your friend asking him to really isnt a huge thing, and its ok to do it.

Bottom line here is patience and teamwork. It'll take your corrections and your friends perserverance, but I think Gus will respond well. I hope these tips help, let us know how it goes!