submissive dog who is aggressive to visitors

Posted by msmillernc
Jun 7, 2011
We adopted an approx. 2 yr old American Eskimo/Pomeranian mix named Lizzie from a rescue org. We've had her for just over a week. She was fearful, nervous, and submissive, especially towards me, rolling over when I approach. She has shown improvement every day in this area, and we are now seeing her playful and happy personality emerge. She still rolls over when I approach, but not as frequently.

Yesterday we had our first visitors. My daughter was taking her out as we'd been gone for a few hours. Lizzie saw our visitors on the driveway and immediately cowered. As they approached she peed on the porch. My daughter took her on out into the yard and I took them into the house. As soon as Lizzie was in the house she became extremely possessive towards me and aggressive towards our guests. Jumping in the chair with me, growling, snarling, barking at my guest. After she calmed down some, my guest reached out and touched my arm while telling a story and Lizzie went ballistic, lunging, growling, and snarling. We were both fearful that she was about to bite, so I removed Lizzie from the room, and put her in the room where her crate is kept. She continued to bark frantically through the closed door and did not calm completely down until our visitors left.

I was reading Secrets to Becoming the Alpha Dog and the last tip was that asserting yourself and family as alpha dog can be detrimental to a submissive dog. If this is the case, how do we overcome Lizzie's aggression towards guests? Lizzie sends such mixed signals between dominance and submission. Perhaps I'm reading her dominance incorrectly, and it is a matter of training. She had few skills other than sit and that has been inconsistent, but becoming better.

Do I follow the advice in Secrets of Dog Training beginning with social isolation and proceeding from there, or do I do need to do things differently? Any any insight into how I handle the aggression would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks -- Michaela
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jun 7, 2011
Hi msmillernc,

Thank you for providing a nice home for Lizzie. One of my foster dogs developed a similar kind of behavior after living with us for a couple of weeks too. She was an outside dog in Oklahoma before we got her and she never had much attention and love when living outside.

As she got used to living with us and our dogs, the fearful dog started to trust me and become attached to me so much that she growled at visitors.

She was fine when I showed her at Petco Adoption event.

What I would like to see is if Lizzie will try to protect you outside of your house or not. Go some neutral places, such as pet stores or parks and start socializing at those places. Ask people not to be pushy and wait for her to come to them and have her give treats. I think Lizzie lacks of socialization and confidence.

Now that she has her own home and her own people, she sees those as her "resources" that she needs to protect/guard. It has nothing to do with dominance.

>Lizzie sends such mixed signals between dominance and submission
Does she ever shows any signs of aggression to you? Can you take her food away? Can you touch any parts of her body? Does she stay or get off the couch when told? If she passes all these tests, she already sees you as a leader so you don't need to worry about making her more submissive by reprimanding her, although I don't like the way she rolls back to you every time you approach. What she needs is confidence. The dog I mentioned above got adopted by a very nice and responsible person who took the dog to training classes and agility classes in order to build her confidence. The dog had grown to be a very calm and confident dog when I saw her one year later.

You need to act as a confident leader. Don't panic or act fearful when your dog shows aggression toward your guests. Just grab her collar firmly and take her away for a time out. Showing her it is not an acceptable behavior in your household.

In the mean time, enroll her to an obedience training class. Usually they will provide a lot of opportunities to socialize, teach your dog to accept the other dog owners to greet her, pet her, give treats to her, etc. This also helps "you" to become a confident owner, so killing two birds with one stone

Good luck
Posted by msmillernc
Jun 7, 2011
Thank you MaxHollyNoah for your helpful advice. My instinct, and what we'd been doing, was to help Lizzie feel comfortable and confident in our family. We were seeing great progress in only a week. The behavior with visitors really threw me for a loop.

You make a good point . . . I haven't seen any aggression when we encounter neighbors or other dogs when were out on walks, but rather some anxiety, which is also improving with each day. We plan on taking her to the pet store, and I'm guessing she'll react the same way.

Lizzie has responded well to the training we've already started, and we plan on enrolling her in obedience classes. My daughter has hopes of doing agility with her, so it was very encouraging to hear how this helped the dog you fostered.

Thank you, again.
Posted by msmillernc
Jun 8, 2011
We have had two outings with Lizzie. The first one was to Petsmart. Too many noises and people. She was nervous, so we made it a quick trip. She did growl at the associate when she greeted us from a distance and again once we were on an aisle. Lizzie was incredibly stressed.

The second outing was to pick up my daughter at 4-H, which was held at a small horse farm. Lizzie was happy to be outside in the big grassy field (on leash), but when we she saw a mom and daughter approaching thier car close to us, Lizzie growled a lot and barked a little at them. They did stop and talk to me, but were respectful to keep a distance. Lizzie quit growling and allowed the mom to get on her level and speak, but Lizzie did not relax. She tolerated the resident dog, until he refused to get out of her space and after plenty of warning she growled and nipped. She of course showed nothing like the behavior she displayed at our house with guests, but was definitely afraid and felt threatened.

This morning she was not as trustful of me. At first she gave me her belly more than I like, and when taking our morning walk she refused to walk past a small peice of road construction equipment. We changed direction, but we had frequent stops and refusals. I finally brought her home. She's now acting happy and playful and isn't rolling over when I look at or talk to her.

I've never had a timid dog before, so any advice to help me know how to build trust would be greatly appreciated. Well, any advice or book recommendations would be great. Thanks!
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jun 9, 2011
Hi msmillernc

Thank you for the update on Lizzie's outings! You did exactly what I would do too and I am sure you are on the right track

I have fostered timid dogs and from my experience they all need to trust YOU first. One person at a time. Sometimes things seem not going anywhere or even backwards but your dog needs to build confidence slowly and gradually. You made your petsmart trip short was very good and you kept talking to the mother of a child ignoring Lizzie is great. Through these experiences, Lizzie will learn that people are not harmful and she just need to relax and wait until you finish your things to do. Having other people ignoring her is the key. I understand it's frustrating to see things are going so slowly but if you flood her with too many people at one time or being too pushy it will backfire her.

If you are interested, there is a journal of my timid foster dog named Dundee at the following link. It took him 3 months to get ready for adoption and I learned a lot of lessons by fostering him.


>I finally brought her home. She's now acting happy and playful and isn't rolling over when I look at or talk to her.

I LOVE this. It shows that she is happy that she has accomplished something. She now knows that you are not someone she needs to show her submissiveness. I think a healthy relationship between you and Lizzie is starting to form Let us know how things will go.

I will be out of town for a few days so I won't be able to reply but I am sure other people will give you more suggestions!
Posted by KOPCaroline
Jun 10, 2011
Hi Michaela,

Reading your posts, it sounds like youre making good progress with Lizzie! Congrats! Timid dogs are a handful, and the key is to be patient and understanding of their anxiety. As MHN says, I would work on your personal bond with her first, and the rest should come easier as she will trust you to look out for her in the big big world

You should definitely keep asserting your alpha status over her, but only when its necessary - when she acts up. Keep taking food/toys from her, and if she growls (which you said she hasnt, but its a good idea to constantly reinforce the idea that you are alpha dog), verbally reprimand her. Obviously raised voices probably will not help her, so just work with her in calm ways in your home and outside. If she acts up on walks in the future, push her just a little more and make her walk past whatever obstacle she's distracted by, even if its only a few paces past it, then turn and go home. She needs to learn to trust you and listen to you, and these kind of corrections are ways that you can both assert your dominance and work on her anxiety at the same time, all the while strengthening your bond with her

I do think her aggression toward your guests is protective - after all, as MHN said, now she has something worth protecting! Usually, time outs can help with this sort of thing. As soon as she starts acting up toward a guests, shut her in her crate, in the dark, and leave her until she quiets down. I know you said she kept barking last time, but let her bark until you're done. If she calms down before you guest leaves, she can come out again, but gets shut away as soon as she becomes aggressive. Again, you have to show her that that sort of behaviour will not be tolerated. As she calms down more and more easily (its a good idea to invite people over with the intention of just seeing how Lizzie does!), try just giving her verbal corrections like "enough" or "quiet", and see how she does with that. If she doesnt listen, she goes into time out. It might take some time but I'm sure the more people she encounters at home and around you, the less she will react.

You're trying to densensitize her here, all the while working on her listening and her bond with you. Keep us updated, I hope it goes well!