cocker with a temper!

Posted by L-A
Jul 4, 2008
hi there

I have a 6 month old cocker spaniel, and most of the time she is a lovely little girl. there are some situations where I really struggle wtih her though....

1) Bath time. She's fine with the water, but she's not happy at all with me soaping up her legs and washing them. I've used the same pressure on her legs whilst cuddling on the sofa, so its not hurt. We have a bathmat in the bath, so its not slipping either. This was the first way that she displayed aggression towards us. When you're half way through bathing you kind of need to keep going. So we deal with this by trying to distract with treats so she doesn't snap in the first place, or if the mood kicks in, we will time her out. She doesn't respond well to being held in a submissive position though

2) Grooming. She's casting lots at the moment, and I need to brush her. but she will not let the brush near her, she bites and snaps at it. We get a little brushing done by distracting her with treats, but an end-point of her being happy to have it done seems a long way off She also can't bear being towel dried.

3) When she really wants to be on the bed or sofa, she will snap at us if we try to move her. We don't put up with it, and move her anyway. But I'd prefer her to be obedient! We use time-out in her pen if she gets particularly nasty.

4) A new one in the past 24 hours. She loves swimming and twice now she's jumped in the river on walks at a place where she struggles to get out. She whimpers for us to help, so we do... and what do we get? a Snarl and a Snap as we go to grab her to help her out!

For (1)-(3) I'd have said its about dominance aggression and wanting her own way, but the last one has thrown me a bit. Maybe they aren't linked! But its definitely her natural response to snap when the control has been taken away from her.

I'd love some advice as to the way forward... I've "bought the book" today from the website, and am planning to read up this weekend for any advice in there... she's a lovely little thing really, but would be even nicer if we could get rid of the behaviour I describe above...

Thanks for any help you can offer,

Posted by Todd
Jul 16, 2008
Hi there and thanks for the question.

I think you have hit the nail on the head with what you think is going on. This sounds to be a bit of dominance aggression and maybe also some aggression for other reasons. I think she resents being handled in certain areas (who knows why!) and this is why she snaps out.

Firstly cast your eye over the alpha training bits in the book. If she knows she is the bottom of the pack she is less likely to snap out at her pack leaders.

Secondly obedience is very important so work with her daily on sit, stay and come. The better behaved she is the easier she will be to control.

Now to the few issues you have been having. These are all linked so don't think that she has a million problems that you will never fix.
She sounds grumpy about being touched - and seeing as you can pet her here some times i doubt it is a medical problem.

1) When she comes to see you in the house give her a few pats in the areas where you think she may snap. Only a few pats to start with. If she is good praise her and encourage her, if she responds to treats great!

2) After a few days of managing this give her a few more pats on each occassion but stop short of the number that will annoy her. If she snaps do as you have been doing tell her off and give her time out in a dark room with no toys.

3) Slowly over time build up how much you can pat her in these areas.

Now to the bath and brush issues.
I think if we try and introduce her to these things gradually plus some obedience and alpha training we can get her used to these.
What we want to do is to put these things in a non threatening situation -

1) Brush
Start to leave the brush out in areas she will come across it eg by her bed, toys and food bowl. You can leave a few treats beside it so she is encourged to get close to it and used to its presence and smell. Then start to play some games with it (up to you what ) and encourage relaxed behaviour.

After a few weeks of getting her used to it try to use it again. Do it slowly just like getting a horse used to a saddle.
Start with the smooth plastic side of the brush on areas where she is not sensitive. Use it for a little bit all the while praising her then stop.

Do this over and over again over a few days. Then move to a very soft bristle brush that won't hurt. Again short sessions frequently.

Over a few weeks move back to the original brush, praising and telling off as appropriate (never use the brush to frighten her). And make the sessions longer.

2) The Bath

The same sort of principle is important. Take her into the bathroom while leaving the door open so she doesn't feel trapped. Let her smell and look at the bath and leave a few treats beside it. Praise her when she is good, if she gets to much take her out to her time out (try not to tell her off).
After a few days of this put some treats on the edge of the bath to encourage her to get closer to the bath.
After a few days of this encourage her into the empty bath. Try get her in without lifting but you may have to. If she wants out let her out.

A few more days later get her to sit in the corner of the room and run the water in the bath. Praise her and give her treats. Stop the water and let her go up and sniff it. Then let her out.

A few more sessions later get her closer to the bath with the water running, slowly does it.

The tough bit is making the transition to the bath. Have her standing in the bath a slowly add water from jugs into it (often the taps scare dogs). Make sure it is warm and only fill it up to just over her paws. If she gets snappy tell her off and take her away for 10 minutes then try again.

Slowly build up the water level over a few sessions.
Do the patting training first and then extend it into the bath situation

The bed issue is an alpha issue so working on this will help. Leave a lead on her so you can easily pull her off. Ask nicely first and if she growls tell her off and remove her. Then time out.
If she is too rough to get near ban her from bedrooms by closing the doors until she learns they are a privilege

Good luck with her and please tell me how things go and ask for help as you need it

Posted by L-A
Jul 18, 2008

thanks for the advice, things are coming along. She's getting off the bed just fine now, and not snapping as much.... actually, I took her to the Vet too cos she was rubbing her rear end along the ground... she might have been feeling irritable because of full glands. We are doing better at being alpha I think, and we've completely banned tug games, as I think that wasn't helping either.

I bought a different grooming brush, and she's now letting me use that on her back at least (haven't tried the legs again yet!). I'm doing it outside to make it 'different' to being in the house. And of course... treats are involved when she's good

Bath I haven't tried yet! But she is pretty good at getting close to it, and even licking water out of it! She did snap again when she got stuck in a river again this week, but I'm thinking I need to take something for her to grab onto. It might be hands she has a problem with, and if instead she's got something to grab onto it might be fine. That's what I'm trying next anyway...

Thanks for the advice again,