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Fear, agression, or play?

March 30th, 2008, 03:44 PM
I'm a wee bit overprotective of Tommy with all he's been through health-wise, and I can't figure out if the behaviour he is now showing with other dogs is normal or a result of fear or what.

He's always been very scared of other dogs. We kept him in lessons for months and months just so he could see the same doggies every week and hopefully learn to play with them, but he was always scared as soon as they looked his way... he would get excited to see them, and sniff around them as long as they weren't facing him, and then panic when they moved.

He's been around my mom's dog fairly often lately and he doesn't run from her anymore. She's huge compared to him, and just wants to play, so she'll nudge him with her nose to get him to play with her (she has the patience of a saint with him, and she's sooooooo gentle!). Tommy has started growling/barking at her, his teeth bared with his mouth closed, and get right up in her face. At that point she'll just play bow at him, or lie right down on the floor in front of him with her tail wagging. No bites occur, and Ebby (mom's dog) seems to think this is perfectly acceptable.

At first I thought he was scared and just standing his ground, but he'll do this when they are all over at our house - he has a million places he can go to get away from her if he wants, and he stays right near her instead. At one point they were just a few feet from his crate, he could easily have gone in there if he wanted to escape, but he doesn't. They actually ended up falling asleep on the couch beside each other at one point.

At Mom's house this Easter the two dogs were about a foot away from each other and Tommy was snarling/growling and Ebby was rooroo-ing and they kind of danced in front of each other for a good few minutes. It just seemed that Tommy was attempting to play in some way, but just didn't know exactly what to do.

Later in the day the doggies were both way overtired and you could tell that the growlies from Tommy were not quite the same - he was annoyed and tired and I separated the dogs before something happened. They're never unsupervised anyway, we're always around with them.

I can't make out if this is an improvement for Tommy, if he's trying to make contact with Ebby, or if it's a bad step and is some kind of fear aggression? I know dogs often snarl/snap/bark when playing, but since Tommy's never played with any I can't tell what his snarlies mean, I don't have anything to compare it to. He's certainly never tried to actually bite her, and she doesn't seem to think it's rude at all - I know it's hard to tell from just a description like this, but is this acceptable behaviour or should I be stopping this? I haven't stopped it yet simply because it doesn't go too far and quite frankly, I'm pretty happy to see Tommy do ANYTHING other than run and hide from anything on 4 legs (and, since he's been spending time with her, he seems less scared of other dogs he hears or sees on our walks, too!).

Any ideas?

Blech, just realized how long this post is, sorry!!

March 30th, 2008, 05:11 PM
It's hard to tell , but it sounds like fear aggression. If he's not wagging his tail while he's growling AND he shows teeth , sounds to me like aggression. :shrug:

Sam does that with new fosters but only when they get too close while I'm preparing their meals. He doesn't growl anymore because I don't tolerate that kind of behavior at my house. :o But he will still show teeth , thinks if he doesn't growl I won't notice , Sam gets time out and has to wait for his meals in another room everytime that happens (and it's only with new fosters) Now Nelly can circle around us while I'm making their meals and Sam is ok with her.

March 30th, 2008, 05:23 PM
So, if it IS fear aggression, should I keep them separated? Or should I keep them together as normal and just keep an eye on things and stop him when he gets too out of hand? I'm not quite sure how to help him get better at this... if it's due to fear, then reprimanding him might reinforce that fear. Normally I would just let him go somewhere else if he wanted to, let him lie in his crate or wherever he was comfortable, but he seems to WANT to be near her, so I'm just baffled.

March 30th, 2008, 05:31 PM
I don't know what to tell you because I try to not give advices with something I haven't experienced myself. With aggression , it's better to give time out every time he does it. But with FEAR aggression , I don't know if it's the way to go. :shrug:

I'm sure someone with more experienced than me will come along with good advices for you. Because I feel you need to correct this , one day he might meet a dog that won't back out and just get into a fight with Tommy. :sad:

March 30th, 2008, 05:38 PM
Because I feel you need to correct this , one day he might meet a dog that won't back out and just get into a fight with Tommy. :sad:

That's EXACTLY my fear... and he's only 1 and a half years old now, it's probably easier to fix NOW... I worry that if we wait much longer the behaviour will be very difficult to change.

March 30th, 2008, 08:46 PM
It might be easier to tell what's going on if we could see the behavior, Tommysmom. Any chance you could post a video? I won't be able to download it, but a lot of the members can. Maybe someone who has a lot of experience with aggression will be able to tell.

April 6th, 2008, 04:59 PM
I think I might have found my answer, LOL...

Yesterday we took Tommy out to a JRT breeder a little ways in the country (not our original breeder, but a truly amazing local one with lots of great, healthy, titled doggies). We took a long walk with another doggy, off leash, through miles of fields. Once he got over being scared - omg, Mom, where are the sidewalks!! - he did GREAT! It was fun having him off leash too, since there's no way I could ever do that anywhere else.

Anyway, he was a bit scared of this other doggy (of course), but after a while he got used to her and was following her around a bit... and then he did his growly thing... AND THEN HE PLAY BOWED:D. Twice he play bowed, with his little stumpy tail a-wagging! So, I think he might just be trying to figure out how to speak dog. He IS scared of other doggies, but not as much as he used to be, and his signals just seem to be confused.

At any rate, yesterday really showed that he's improving and that he CAN get along with other dogs... and get over his fear. I'm so glad! The breeder gave me a few pointers too, and a bit of insight into his behaviour (and mine) when he was snarly, too, and it was a really positive day:thumbs up.