Snapping Mastiff

Posted by andmel
Oct 8, 2010
I have a 4 year old English Mastiff who has been slowly showing signs of agression towards people other than my immediate family over the past 6-8 months. Things began slowly with little signs such as a single bark at my kids' friends or a low growl at visitors. We generally put him in another room when we have company (which is not very often) because his size unnerves some kids (and adults). This summer we had family over and he actually snapped at my nephew who was merely petting Titan. This has happened on a few different occasions including his coming through a screened window at company. He is wonderful with my children, ages 7-18 and seems to have no problems with other dogs though he doesn't get to play with any other dogs very often. He has been through basic obedience class at 6 months of age and does well on lead and in public as long as no one tries to pet him. We took him to the beach this summer and he became "nervous" when people came up to talk. I had a dog trainer eval him and she does not feel it is fear aggression. She feels he merely "gets tired of the situation and is controlling the situation by snapping". She has recommended continuing to work on obedience daily and having him out of the area when people come over or have him on leash and do not have visitors attempt to pet him. Basically it sounds like I am supposed to keep him away from people and if out on a walk tell people he is not good with strangers. I am definitely alpha in his eyes but the trainer feels he treats my husband and kids as "lower members of the pack". Any suggestions other than just keep him away from people for forever???? It hurts me that he is such a wonderful dog but I can't share that with anyone for fear he will bite. If he does bite anyone, I would be forced to put him down as he would really do damage at 170 lbs.
Posted by kjd
Oct 8, 2010
Hi, Andmel.

It is tough to have a dog you are unsure about around other people. I'm glad to hear he is OK with your immediate family.

I find the comments of your trainer rather confusing. Your trainer is saying your dog "gets tired of the situation" as soon as another person comes up and attempts to pet him. Sounds more as if he is stressed by the situation (maybe your diagnosis of fear aggression is closer than the trainer's). Can you get another trainer? One who would help you help Titan to accept other people? Keeping him away from them will keep him from biting them, but won't help socialize him. Also, if you think of him as a semi-protector, a dog in the other room is no protection against a stranger who suddenly becomes violent.

One thing you can do on walks is muzzle him. Tell people not to pet him, but to ignore him. Watch his responses to them. You may find what exactly sets him off. He may gradually become accustomed to people. Regardless, you won't have to worry about the person who ignores you and starts petting Titan -- a muzzled dog may scare them, but he won't hurt. At home, you can have him in the same room but have him "stay" across the room from others. They might casually toss treats in his direction, but not talk to him or make eye contact. Again, this is getting him to see other people as friendly.

One thing that bothers me: You said he was good as long as people didn't try to touch him, yet he came "through a screened window at company." That is attacking -- why did he do it?

Also, have him thoroughly checked by a vet. Since this just started over the last year, there could be a medical reason for Titan's actions. Ear problems; eye problems; brain cancer; joint problems; hormone problems -- so many things, many of which are easily solvable, could be changing his disposition.

Those are my suggestions: ditch the first trainer, who really doesn't seem to have helped, and find a new one; and visit your vet.

When a disposition suddenly changes, especially in someone older, a good first step is always to see the doctor! (Note this goes for people as well as animals.)

Posted by andmel
Oct 9, 2010
Hi kjd,
Thanks for the response. I am going to try another vet check....took him about 2 months ago but he took a bite at the vet so she didn't touch him again and they didn't have a muzzle big enough for him. (I now have 2). I am not so much afraid of him biting someone while out on a walk as he doesn't seem to mind people, only if they try to pet him and truly most people will not walk up to a 170lb dog and try to pet it.
I want to get him more used to being in a room with visitors,unfortunately keeping him in another room doesn't do much for his being able to behave if he is out.

As for the trainer, I'm not 100% sure I buy all she said but I live in a very rural area where any trainers would be about an hour away and would cost a lot to come just for an eval mtg. These days and times I can't afford to keep hiring someone to come and look at him. I do plan to do another obedience class at some point (also limited in this area) to help him learn to behave more around people and dogs he doesn't know. He gets a little excited and doesn't listen as well in more busy situations though he is very well behaved at home or in low stimulus situations.

As for why he went through a window at guests, he was outside (as usual when children are in the house now). He has a habit of standing outside the window when he wants to come in (he hates being outside when we're home). He would bark (1 or 2 woofs) when my family would come into the kitchen and we would tell him no. I had told my children not to go up to the window as I feared this would provoke Titan because he was anxious from being outside. My oldest dtr, who should've known better, went up to the window and spoke to Titan. I'm not sure if any of the other kids said anything but he lunged at the window and tore the screen.

I don't know what to do as we don't have many visitors and no one who comes by on a regular basis to help get him used to people. I don't know where else to go............
Posted by KOPCaroline
Oct 9, 2010
Hi andmel,

Do you have any idea what started this behaviour, or when it started showing? Trying to identify the start of the problem can help when you're trying to fix it.

As far as getting him used to people in the house, try having friends and family come over randomly, and if you only have a few people who can make it (being in a rural area), ask them to use different colognes/smells, and act a bit differently each time they come over (one time being quiet and well mannered, the next being loud and boisterous, etc). Have them wear different accessories (hats, ties, heels, sneakers, have an Ipod going, etc)

Its probably a good idea to start Titan in the same room with a muzzle on, just as a precaution. But the visitors should always just ignore him, and so should you. If he barks or whines, ignore it. Don't approach him at all, let him make all the advances toward the visitor and you. If he does start to get too anxious about the situation, give him a sit command, tell him good boy once he does it, and then show him out of the room, preferably to a quiet area. You want his attention to not be focused on how he doesn't like the situation before he leaves it, which is why giving him a training command can help.

Its basically all about desensitization. Getting him used to the same stimuli (someone driving up the road, coming to the door, ringing the bell/knocking, coming in and interacting with you, etc, etc) til he doesn't respond with anxiety anymore.

Be sure, after he's started making progress, that if hes behaving calmly with visitors, as in lying down and not paying attention to them or similar behaviour, that you tell him good boy and give him a pat. Positive reinforcement helps cement lessons in dogs' heads.

For when he's outside and you're in, its better if you can keep him away from the window where he'll just work himself up. Even without the kids speaking to him, all the noise and the fact that he's seperated from you will only give him reason to be anxious. Can you tie him up in the backyard, away from the house? Or put him in a kennel and run? I'd really advise this. If you do tie him up, ignore it when he barks, and only go out to him to let him in once he's quiet and not focused on the house where you are.

Hope you make good progress. I definitely second the idea of another vet check, and second opinions from other trainers/owners.
Posted by kjd
Oct 10, 2010
OK, Andmel,

I understand the money problem. The vet, however, is important, and I'm glad you are going to do it. The fact he took a bite at the vet may even point to a physical problem. Lots of times, when we are in pain, we cannot handle strangers -- we snap!

As you could probably tell, I didn't think much of that first trainer/evaluator. Obedience class will probably give you someone just as competent to make an evaluation -- maybe even more so.

KOPCaroline has given you some excellent advice for exposing Titan at home. You might also try watching "The Dog Whisperer" or "It's Me or the Dog" for ideas. I prefer the second, as I don't quite trust what Cesar Milan does off camera. Victoria Stillwell, the star of "It's Me or the Dog," comes up with great advice. One major difference between the two is Cesar usually "solves" the problem, then hands the dog off to the owner, with the admonition to be calm/assertive. Victoria gives the owner the solution that they must apply to solve the problem. The best thing you can take from Cesar is to be calm and assertive when dealing with Titan. I think Victoria will give you much better practical advice. Neither, however, would agree with that first trainer, who basically told you to live with Titan as he is.

That trainer reminds me of the only puppy I raised. One of the last two of a backyard breeder's one breeding (probably to show her children "the miracle of birth"), she took one, I took the other. She advised me to keep the puppy away from visitors, so she wouldn't become friendly, and would thus be "more protective." [I ignored the advice.] Met her a year later. My dog hung out the car window to say hello. She told me her dog had gotten so aggressive towards people she had to be put outside whenever anyone came over! Whose dog was more protection? These were German Shepherds, not as big as your mastiff, but still frightening to most people. So I believe your instincts are correct. Titan may never become lovey-dovey with people, but he should become comfortable around them. If he doesn't want to be petted, the proper response is to back off -- not to snap.

Here come my wishes to you and Titan: May your vet find an easily-fixed problem and you return to tell us Titan now carries the neighborhood children around in a cart.

Posted by kjd
Oct 10, 2010

When I recommended you watch "The Dog Whisperer," I hope you noticed I only like his "calm, assertive manner." There is an article, [url=]Experts Say Dominance-Based Dog Training Techniques Made Popular by Television Can Contribute to Dog - Blog - Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS[/url], that is much stronger in stating things I dislike about Cesar's methods. A true leader leads, he (or she) does not have to drag, pull, hit, or hurt. You want to be Titan's leader, not his jailor. This particular show always has a warning in the beginning as to not applying the methods without a trained professional. Victoria Stillwell's methods don't need that warning.

Sorry, I had to add this to be sure you didn't think I was recommending his methods -- just the attitude you should have.