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Frustrating behaviourial problems

February 27th, 2007, 09:07 AM
Here is the background of my dog. I got him as a rescue about a year and a half ago. At the time he was about 7 months old... he's a lab cross. The previous family that had him said he had behaviourial problems and was antisocial. I have always thought that that was their excuse for getting rid of him, but now I'm wondering if he does have issues. We've done obedience training and 99% of the time he's a good dog and well-behaved, but then the moments that he's bad he's really bad. I crated him for about a year but in the past few weeks he's finally been out of his crate full-time and he's been fantastic (granted, he's enjoyed eating the mail, but we've found a way around that).

Okay, so this morning he's laying on his bed beside the couch where I'm sitting. We're just playing around (which I think now that maybe I was irritating him and I didn't realize it) and then all of a sudden it switches. He goes from rolling around and playing to snarling and snapping at me. He made contact with my hand but didn't break skin (granted, it hurts!). I'm sure it didn't help the situation, but it upset me and I got angry with him (I realize a bad reaction but I'm human, I make mistakes). We both calm down, but now he goes from being aggressive to being fearful of me. In the past month or so he's gotten more aggressive with other dogs in the park with the odd fight breaking out because they want to take something away from him (a stick, a toy, etc etc). And god forbid I try to take away a new bone from him because he'll growl.

I can never tell if I'm annoying him or not when he's laying in his bed (of even in general for that matter). I'm always worried that what I think I'm doing is right or trying to make him feel loved might be making him feel threatened. I realize that things can be interpreted a different way in their eyes. I've thought about moving his bed away from the couch area and into the dining room (which is just a different corner of the apartment) and I'll just leave him be. I wonder if I should even pet him when he's laying down in his bed... does it piss him off that I'm disturbing him? Ugh... see, I start to question everything I do as whether it's causing more problems then good!!

I know that I'm probably making mistakes with him. Getting upset or angry, I realize, is probably not the best way to deal with it. I don't know if he trusts me or feels he can walk all over me. I've been reading about NILIF and I do that most of the time, but I think I'm too easy on him and then too hard on him when he's bad. He can go from the aggressive dog to the submissive dog. Are these problems reversable!?! Do I have a dog that has serious behaviourial problems? I'm the first to admit I make mistakes with him. Have I made too many to fix the situation? Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't even have a dog... but I'm not about to throw in the towel and give up just because it's difficult. I can't pass the problems onto someone else. He's a good dog and I can't imagine my life without him, but I just don't know what to do. I feel like sometimes my dog hates me. I know I should probably take him to a behavioural therapist, but I've been trying to avoid that and hope that it gets better... but now I wonder if I might have to.

Thanks for listening to me vent. :(

February 27th, 2007, 10:13 AM
You will need to seek out a professional for this. There are questions that need to be answered in detail, probably things you have not thought about.
They will need to know the details of his history. What his daily routine is. When was the first sign of this behaviour, even before it escalated(details). How many incidents. What have you tried for corrections, how long for each. What is your reaction. How much freedom does he get. How much socializing does he do, what kind. This is just a bit of the information they will need to know the answers to as well as much much more in order to really help.
I would also get him checked by a vet to clear him of any medical problems that could cause aggression.

Where abouts are you located, someone here may know of someone you could go see.

February 27th, 2007, 10:30 AM
I'm in the west end of Toronto... in the Bloor West Village area. I realize that he should go to the vet for tests just to rule out anything else. Granted, we also need a vet in the area too as we just moved here in the summer. I wouldn't even know where to look for a behaviourial therapist.

Is there anything I can do at home to help at all?

February 27th, 2007, 11:43 AM
we ALL make mistakes, it's ok. it can be fixed, i'm sure. it'll just take time, patience, and new techniques to build up the trust and respect.

first though, I'd consider having a checkup done. have you been to the vet? there may be a MEDICAL reason behind the sudden agression. maybe have the thyroid checked.

second, I'd establish a routine - more intense walking/running to work off that extra energy, and incorporate some training sessions. sessions where you run through commands he knows, and start teaching new ones, always rewarding your dog for accomplishing a command, and making progress with learning a new one.

third, instead of play or affection for no reason, I'd make him EARN it. have him work for playtime and pats. I used to walk my dog for about 30 min, really working hard on the HEEL command and loose leash walking. once we did the work, THEN we had playtime. it was his reward.

just some ideas...

February 27th, 2007, 11:56 AM
I am sure there is someone here that is also in your area that can direct you to a vet and trainer/behaviour expert.
When finding one you will need to ask many questions yourself. Please don't fall for anyone who will claim to fix your behaviour broblems in one visit/session. Also, ask what techniques they use and their success rate with such behaviours.

If you can answer the questions I posted I may be able to help with some changes you need to do to change your relationship.
The vet check will also be important because if there is something wrong all the training in the world may not help fully.

February 27th, 2007, 12:24 PM
Thanks for your suggestions. I realize I have to be better at home and more consistent. I am going to take him to the vet in the coming week or so just to get a checkup and make sure he doesn't have any underlying conditions. And I've found a couple training places in the area. I'm going to schedule some time for some private sessions to focus on what I need to do to get him to a better place.

I find it hard to train him myself. I can get him to do the commands he already knows since we did obedience. But when I've tried to teach him something new, he seems to get confused easily (or more likely I'm not doing it right) at which point he goes and lays down. And if I try to stop him from doing that he thinks I'm upset with him... which I don't understand because I'm obviously not. Of course I'm using treats but that still doesn't help.

February 27th, 2007, 12:25 PM
What you are describing can be normal pushy/spoiled dog behavior or it can be serious. Your dog needs to be evaluated by a professional who has experience modifying behavior in dogs with aggressive tendencies towards their owners. Here are two behaviorists that I know of:

Sue Alexander, Guelph, Ontario
Nathan J. Penny, Animal Behavior Services, Toronto, Ontario

You may also want to call the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph for referrals in your area.

In the meantime, do not do anything that you think may provoke your dog to bite. Using force/punishment with a dog that does not perceive you as a leader can cause him to become more aggressive. No tug of war or chase games. If he growls, stay still and calm. Remember to breath and wait for him to move away.

Your dog can be helped if you're willing. Please consult with a professional soon. If you are still unable to locate one in your area, let me know, I'll contact our behaviorist for more referrals.

February 27th, 2007, 12:28 PM
I just wanted to reitterate that a regular trainer alone may not be enough. I would stongly recommend a qualified, experienced behaviorist/specialist. Good luck.

February 27th, 2007, 04:49 PM
Move the bed to a quieter spot,

Some of your comments suggest that he might be fear agressive, he may have been handled roughly even prior to you getting him for bad behaviour.

For example when he is laying down you are the time bent over him, and it may be causing him to worry and become defensive. a mistake many people make is thinking aggressive behaviour is the same thing as dominant behaviour but a submissive fearful dog can also show agression as a defense mechanism.

So you need a behaviourist to sort out why he is acting aggressively

if fear related you are going to have to learn ways to gain his trust and learn how to react/discipine so as to get the behaviour you want without causing fear.
Instead of trying to play with him on his bed call him to you, allow his bed to be a safe place to retire to if he is feeling nervous or insecure, if you ever struck him in anger, it will have to stop, your hands should be used only to praise and provide comfort example gentle massages. You will need to learn about dog body posture and how it relates to your own body movements eye contact so you learn how a dog may percieve your own body language as threatening to him.
Learning about dog body language can also help you read your dog better so as to know when he is becoming uncomfortable so you kno when to back off before a growl or snap can occur

I am not saying it is fear related but some comments suggest that it might be including leaning over the dog to play with him while he is laying on the bed, which could cause a fear response

So visit the vet just to rules out health issues and if possibly he may have pain issues which may be making him uncomfortable and leass tolerant (eg hip problems) even if he has please also work with a behaviourist don't allow a medical condition be an excuse for behaviour, it wil also help you learn correct ways to deal with day to day problems with your dog

February 28th, 2007, 09:37 AM
I moved his bed to the corner of the dining room and I think he likes it much more. It's quieter and it's his corner now. After the park last night he wanted to be near me so he laid in front of the couch, but when he wanted to be alone, he moved to his bed and left him. I made a point of calling him to me and getting him to sit and then I petted him and gave him a treat. I'm making a concerted effort to be consistent with him now... making him do things before I give him anything, whether that be a treat, a pet, food or going outside. I think this will help a lot. But nonetheless, we are still going to go to the vet and for some training. I think it will be good for both of us and help our relationship again.

I agree with you though, I need to learn more about his body language and how he perceives mine. I have done some research about this online, but obviously not enough. Do you have any recommended reading that could help? Books or websites for that matter.

February 28th, 2007, 11:04 AM
Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas Look her up on-line, she has a wonderful website.

Don't Shoot the Dog, The New Art of Teaching & Training, Karen Pryor

...and one of my favorites, The Culture Clash, Jean Donaldson

February 28th, 2007, 11:34 AM
Great, thanks! I've actually looked at Turid's website before and it is a great site. I'm going to go out this afternoon to the book store and look at (aka buy) those books! :)

March 3rd, 2007, 10:15 AM
Okay, so here's an update to the situation and a question. After doing much reading and from your advice, I've become much more military in my approach with him (in a good way). To get affection, he has to do something. If he wants to go out to the park, he has to sit for his leash or for me to open the door, for dinner he has to lay down and not touch his food until I give him the go ahead, etc, etc. And what's funny is with just this bit of consistency, he's already getting the idea... which is great. Of course, we're still getting over the incident from the beginning of the week, but that will take some time. I leave him alone when he's in his bed and it's in the quiet corner of the dining room and slowly he's getting back to his usual self.

However, I'm confused by something. I thought that when you bend over them to show affection this can be misconstrued as a threatening behaviour. So that being the case, I've started to kneel and call him over to me to pet him. But when I do so, he lowers his head and then will submissive pee. But I don't understand why he's doing that. (He has definitely been more submissive this week... usually going into the laying position with his back and front legs up in the air.) If I stand and call him over to me and pet his head and whatnot, he's fine. But if I'm kneeling he can't handle it. It's like he thinks he's in trouble or something, which he's not. To him wouldn't it be less threatening if I'm kneeling than standing? I know this is going to take time and patience, which I'm fully prepared for. But this just throws me for a loop. Thoughts? Am I doing something wrong??

March 3rd, 2007, 10:50 AM
I STRONGLY agree that this requires some sort of professional help, but one exercise you can do for the fear is that you don't call him to you from a crouched position for a while, but instead just sit on the ground (NOT facing him, but maybe sideways or with your back to him) and just sort of "play". Get him curious about what you're doing so he comes to you on his own. When he does, don't make eye contact, but instead just use gentle movements to touch him in a positive way without rewarding with physical attention (petting). Physical attention could reinforce his current state of mind (he's still nervous), but a gentle brush with the side of your arm would help him not see you as a threat. Even holding a treat in your hand (not at him, but far enough so he comes to see what you've got) might help calm him down. If he seems even the slightest bit nervous to take the treat however, he doesn't get it (he needs to take it without fear for this to work).

Think like a dog. Another dog in his pack wouldn't turn to a fearful or aggressive dog and say "Good for you for coming close to me". He would simply carry on with whatever it was he was doing, and only pay attention to the fearful dog once it's no longer nervous. Wait until your dog is more relaxed (and hopefully still curious as to what you're doing), then roll away from him before you stand up). This causes the dog's nose to "follow" you in a curious manner (which is the first step you want).

Have you read any books on how to use your body language to communicate with your dog? If you go to and search "The Other End of the Leash", there's a neat little excerpt that talks about it. I haven't' read the book so I won't reccommend it, but I hear it's a good one to have on your shelf. I have it on order to buy for myself because it seems like an interesting read.

Have you also concidered joining an agility class? It's far too soon to jump into that, but I've seen several fearful dogs do complete turn arounds. Agility helps to develop self confidence and self control, as well as helping the dog focus on you to build trust. I think this would be a GREAT step for your dog when he's ready, but right now let's just work on baby steps.


March 3rd, 2007, 11:09 AM
Thanks! I'll try that. I saw that that book was recommended as well in a few other discussions. Where would I go to find an agility class? Again, that has been recommended to me as well, but I've generally only found obedience classes. And one last thing, how do you people know all these things about your dogs!?! I swear you all seem like you're dog trainers or something. Makes me feel like I know nothing about my dog (which evidently I don't). Hehehe. I mean sometimes I feel like I know a lot about my dog and then other times I feel like the biggest screw up and maybe I shouldn't even have a dog. It's frustrating. You think having a dog is simple, but it's really not! *sigh*