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Dog Behaviour Problems: Your dog's behaviour

Biting, Snapping, Growling:

Question: I recently moved house and my boxer bitch went to stay with a relative who has her sister. However, since she has returned, she has become very nasty, growling and snapping, particularly at children.

She has also taken a severe disliking to my cat and collie, both of whom she previously adored.

I am considering using a muzzle to try and control some of the behaviour. Do you think this will work and can you suggest anything else that I could try to get my old dog back?

Answer: I think it would be worth trying to tactfully find out what happened at your relative’s house and how they treated her. It sounds like she had enough bad experiences there to shake her confidence and feel, suddenly, that the whole world is hostile.

This doesn’t mean that they were unkind to her, but they may have unwittingly allowed her to become very frightened. This could have happened, for example, if she was bullied by another dog or a teenager.

You don’t say how old she is and she may be at a vulnerable age (e.g. puberty, adolescence, old age) which could have contributed. Is she unwell? It may be worth taking her to the vet just in case ill-health is contributing to the problem.

Time and kindness will help if she is recovering from a traumatic experience. Build her confidence by using reward-based training and keeping rebukes for bad behaviour to a minimum. Give her time away from your other pets for a while and gradually reintroduce them as if she was a new dog to the family.

If her behaviour hasn’t improved after a few weeks, it may be a good idea to contact a member of The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors to get help with finding out the cause and solution to this problem.

Question: My cocker spaniel, Toby is now five months old but, ever since we got him at eight weeks, we have seen some early signs of aggression and unwanted sexual behaviour he will try and mount almost anything and then attack it. When we play with Toby with toys, he can become very aggressive.

If you make eye contact with him, he will growl, snap and sometimes bite. It is sometimes possible to calm him down by asking him to sit and calling him gently by his name, however his behaviour is very unpredictable.

We are taking him to training classes and the teacher there has suggested that, as Toby comes from trial winning working stock, he may be frustrated by his position as pet rather than working dog. Do you have any suggestions ñ we don't know what to do for the best.

Answer: It sounds as though Toby may not have had the best start in life. Many cocker spaniels are bred for looks rather than their temperament these days and they can be very difficult for normal owners to rear easily. The struggles you are having with Toby are not uncommon, but they are unnecessary if puppies are bred from stock bred for good temperaments.

Dogs that are bred to be working dogs can be even more difficult as they will have all the energy and persistence needed to win trials with an experienced owner. In addition, many working dogs are kept outside in kennels and not adequately socialised or habituated for life in a household.

I would suggest that you get professional help to sort out Toby’s problems now before they get any worse and he gets any older. Finding positive, non-aggressive ways to deal with the problems will prevent his aggression developing.

Please contact a member of the The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors or ask your vet to recommend someone in your local area.

Question: My dog recently attacked my nephew for no apparent reason. He went to sit down next to him on the floor and began to stroke him when it happened. This is very out of character as he has never done this before. Do you have any possible explanation?

Answer: You don’t say how old the dog is or give me many details to work from.

All I can say is that dogs that have been perfectly okay with people (and nephews) in the past and then suddenly develop problems are usually not well. Pain or illness can make dogs more grumpy and unable to tolerate handling or close contact, and it would be a good idea to get him checked out by the vet as soon as possible.

Aggression that comes suddenly out of the blue is usually a sign that all is not well physically, but can also be the result of a bad experience (consider this if your nephew has been left alone with your dog at any time).

Alternatively, if your dog is new to you or your nephew, it could be that he may have been just coping with being with him in the past, but, for some reason, on that day, could not.

If this is the case, it would be wise to get further help before reintroducing them (try The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors)

Question: A five-year-old Westie has become aggressive. Would neutering him help this? So far it is only growling, but we are afraid he might bite.

Answer: You don’t say who or what he is being aggressive to. However it is unlikely that neutering would help. Before you do anything else, get him checked out by your veterinary surgeon.

Aggression problems that begin suddenly or after years of ‘normal’ behaviour are often caused by medical conditions that need veterinary treatment. They can also be caused by changes in the household in which the dog lives or by frightening experiences.

Try to think if there have been any changes for your dog that have coincided with his aggression. This will help you to establish the cause that will make it easier to decide upon treatment.

Ask you veterinary surgeon to refer you to a pet behaviour counsellor or contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

A pet behaviourist will help you to determine the exact cause of the problem, explain why it is happening and give you a programme of treatment to follow to put it right.

Question: I have an english bulldog who is very docile and a cocker spaniel - both males and have not been neutered. On three occasions Benson has bitten Henry over food, Henry does not retaliate at all - its very upsetting - what can I do to prevent this happening in the future - other than these incidences they get on very well although it is obvious that Benson is the most dominant.

Answer: Feed them in separate rooms so that the opportunity for aggression from Benson does not arise. Only let them back in together when the bowls have been removed and no food remains on the floor. You may also need to go through this procedure when you give them chews and bones. Don’t give them titbits when you are eating and make sure visitors or children in the family do not either. Otherwise you risk big fights occurring when visitors come round!

If you feel mean not giving titbits, leave some on the side of your plate, but only feed them from their bowls in separate rooms. In this way, your dogs will learn that there is no need to compete over food and you will prevent the fights.

Make sure that they are kept out of the areas where you prepare food so that they don’t fight over bits that drop to the floor. When you have food in other areas of the house, teach them to go and lay on their beds so that they are not near enough to begin to compete for bits that may come their way accidentally.

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & helping correct this behaviour.

Question: I have an eight week old jack russell pup and when my three year old son played with him, the pup growled and went to go for his face. While playing with a toy, if you take it away he growls, what can I do to nip this problem in the bud?

Answer: You will need professional help from a Pet Behaviour Counsellor to prevent it developing further (contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors).

Your puppy may just be playing, or he may be a bit frightened of your son. Teaching him to play properly with toys is a first step.

Growling over toys is part of playing, so don’t be too worried by this.

Make sure, however, that you are in control of the games and can remove a toy from your puppy when you want to (ask the Pet Behaviour Counsellor to show you how). Play regularly and often so that you can teach him the rules. You will need to make sure, also, that your son does not pick him up or hurt him in any way. Constant supervision will be necessary to ensure good behaviour on both sides.

You may like to read The Perfect Puppy which has more information on understanding & helping correct this behaviour.

Also see Gwen Bailey's article on Ingredients for the Perfect Puppy

Question: Why after two years does she keep being aggressive towards Amy, our other dog, when they have always been the best of friends.

Answer: When two dogs live in the same household, one is the leader and the other is subordinate. With a good leader and an underdog that knows its place, fighting or aggression is rare and unlikely.

However, if something occurs to destabilise the pack, the hierarchy is upset and aggression becomes more prevalent. Things that upset the hierarchy are house moves, time in kennels, old age or illness weakening the leader, changes in the household or changes in the attitude and temperament of the humans in the household.

Any of these could have destabilised your pack and made it more likely that Amy would be aggressive to Kola. To resolve a hierarchy dispute, it is important to help the natural leader to regain control by reinforcing their position and putting them first in everything.

Question: My great dane is 3 years old. He has never bitten people before, he has always had a gentle nature. He has not been neutered. We recently moved houses, and the last 6 months we have had some close calls with our dog. He is frequently attacking neighbours and he especially dislikes children.

We are worried that sometime we may not be there to intervene. What has caused this sudden change in character, how can we teach him not to bite? Thanks

Answer: Great Danes that attack people are no joke and it is your duty to always be there to intervene.

It is also important to get professional help from a Pet Behaviour Counsellor (contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors) quickly before he hurts or terrifies someone.

Until then, do not leave him loose in the garden unsupervised and if you have little control over him, don’t allow him out without a strong lead and a muzzle. Make certain all your fences are secure.

It is likely that the house move has reduced his feelings of security and that, consequently, his fear of strangers which would always have been inside him, has now manifested itself as aggression.

He may always have had a gentle nature with your family, and perhaps people he has known from a puppy, but I would think that he probably did not have enough socialisation as a puppy and has a mistrust of strangers as a result.

Since he is now a young, strong, confident male, he is taking the option of trying to do something about it, rather than hiding behind you and hoping that what he sees as a threat to his home and family will go away. You will need help to discover the exact nature of his fear and to set you a programme to help desensitise him and make he feel more comfortable with strangers, particularly children.

Question: We have had our border terrier for two weeks and he has shown some aggression when being handled. We took him to the vet last week and it was difficult to get him properly checked as he was growling so much.

We got him from a farm and think that, although he is used to people, he probably wasn't handled very much. We are trying to overcome this aggression by holding him a lot ñ is there anything else we can do?

Answer: It is normal for terriers to quickly resort to aggression when they are worried. If he hasn’t been used to being handled, he will see it as threat, particularly if he has been mistreated. He needs to learn to trust people and surrender control to them.

Begin slowly, never pushing him into aggression. If you are concerned he may bite you, use a padded stick to touch him gently all over. As he begins to accept this, make the stick gradually shorter until you are touching him with your hands. Get him to accept being held in the same way, using a lead to restrain him at first and then your hands.

Never let him go when he is struggling, but hold him gently and firmly and release him when he is calm. Use plenty of praise and titbits to help him to accept all of this.

Once he has learned to trust all members of the family, repeat with other people until he can accept everyone. This may take a long time, but it will be worth it in the end. Until then, get him used to wearing a muzzle so that you can safeguard the vet and so he can give him a thorough examination in case anything is wrong.

If the nurses at your practice are willing to help, they may be kind enough to have him in to the surgery on a regular basis for handling exercises with plenty of titbits until he learns that there is no need to be afraid – but only do this once he has learnt to trust you.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: We have three golden retrievers two male and one female. The oldest male (aged 8) began fighting with the youngest male (aged 2) about ten days ago. Up until then, they had been inseparable but now, if we sit at the table, a fight will ensue.

As soon as we stop it they are fine again and start playing together. However this sudden change in behaviour is worrying me. Do you have any idea why it is happening and what I can do to stop it?

Answer: There could be several reasons and finding the root cause is the answer to stopping it. Since it is a problem of sudden onset, it is a good idea to get both dogs checked by the vet as there could be a problem with one of them (e.g. the older male may be top dog but the younger male may have spotted a weakness due to oncoming ill-health and is taking advantage.)

If this is not the cause, have a good look at anything that has changed recently in the family. House moves, visitors, changes in routine etc. are often enough to upset a delicate hierarchy. If the fighting is around the table only, is it connected with food? Is either dog suddenly more hungry for some reason? Are both getting a full share of food?

Once you have sorted out the reason, the answer should be obvious. If you need further help, please contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

Question: My Doberman has a tendency to growl or try to bite me when I say no to him; for example when he is playing with one of my shoes. What should I do about this?

Answer: You don’t say how old he is or give me enough details to give you a good answer. Dobermanns tend to have strong natures and it is not uncommon for them to want to rule the pack if they get a chance.

If he has been challenging you over other issues, such as getting off beds or sofas, laying in doorways, or being groomed, it is possible that he is trying to take control. You will need one-to-one advice from a pet behaviour counsellor to stop this from escalating and to learn how to become a more effective leader. (This isn’t done by intimidation, but by a system of winning encounters.)

Alternatively, if you have used threats or intimidation to retrieve objects from him in the past, it could be that he is simply protecting himself. Dogs usually begin to assert themselves when they are about 7 months old, and if you used force to get him to do things for you when he was a puppy, he may have grown into a defensive dog that growls and snaps when you frighten him.

Either way, it is probably best to see a specialist before this gets out of hand. Contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors

Question: My 7 month-old dog, Willow, is starting to growl at his mum, Susie. He does this when she looks like she is going to eat food or treats that he has left on the floor, or when she wants to climb onto my lap. They get on very well apart from this, but I do not want him to become aggressive towards her. How can I resolve the matter?

Answer: Usually, it is best for owners to stay out of it as much as possible and let them resolve their own differences unless fights are occurring. Dogs, as you probably know, live in a hierarchy and while Willow was growing up, he will have watched his mother and made some assumptions about where he will fit into the pack.

At 7 months old, he will test those assumptions and challenge her to find out where he stands. It is probably best if you can support his mother by putting her first in everything, including letting her up on your lap. Push him away if Susie is with you so that he knows you will not back him up in his challenges.

Don’t allow food, treats or chews to be left lying around for now until the two dogs have stabilised their pack structure as they could result in a fight. If you have left some down accidentally and you see them getting cross with each other, walk away and call them with you away from the food.

If it becomes clear that Willow has become the leader (can take the best sleeping place, gets the toys and the chews, walked through doorways first, etc), you will need to being supporting him and putting him first in everything instead.

Unless Susie is quite timid, she is unlikely to relinquish her top spot easily, so continue to support her if you are not sure.

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & coping with this behaviour.

Question: My German Shepherd is 10 months old and is quite aggressive towards other animals (he has attacked another puppy), and sometimes people. I was wondering if neutering him would solve the problem, or if he requires proper training? I think that most of his aggression is a result of fear ñ he does most of growling from behind my legs.

Answer: Neither neutering or training will help. The answer lies in helping him overcome his fears by gradually desensitising him and making happy associations with them instead. He will need a structured plan of treatment to ensure that you make steady progress before he matures fully.

Please contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors to find someone who can help you.

Until then, stop him from getting any worse by accepting that he is frightened and not forcing him into situations that he can’t deal with. The pet behaviourist will help you to treat his fear by teaching you how to gradually socialise him with other dogs and people, using food and toys to speed up the process while ensuring that no dogs or people get bitten or frightened. Good luck.

Question: I have a 5 month-old Schnauzer/German shepherd cross puppy. She is generally well behaved and has a lovely temperament. But when we are on walks, she barks and growls at people in quite an aggressive manner. Also, she will only go to the toilet inside, on the paper provided. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: At 5 months, the aggressive behaviour towards people is worrying and I would advise you to do something about it quickly. Both Schnauzers and GSD’s have a genetic make-up which makes them natural guard dogs, but if they are not socialised well as puppies or they have a few bad experiences, this trait can cause them to be so mistrustful of people that they may bite someone.

You need to start a planned socialisation programme now, introducing her carefully to a sequence of people who she can get to know well. If she makes about 10 good friends of strangers, she will begin to generalise and begin to greet others in a positive manner. You will need to do this in a way that doesn’t overwhelm her with too much at once, but gradually introduces new people who bring treats and fun in the form of games with toys. You will need to do this both in her home environment and out on walks where you currently have the problem.

Since you are at such a crucial stage in her development, and it is important that you get it right straight away, I would suggest you find a good behaviourist who can help you. Ask your veterinary surgeon for a recommendation or contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. They will also be able to help you with the toileting problem that you have.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: My border collie/springer spaniel cross is just over 5 months old and I thought he was well socialised with other people and dogs. However, when we're out and I stop and talk to people he sometimes barks and growls at them, pulling on his lead. He goes to the door when someone comes into our house which is fair enough, but is he guarding me from the people I meet in the street as well? If so, how can I get him to stop?

Answer: If he has been well socialised and is very friendly and playful with people when he meets them inside and outside the house, the aggression could be due to the frustration of not being able to get to the person he wants to play with.

If this is the case, you will need to help him learn how to deal with frustration. Do this at times when you are not talking to people at first. Tie him and let him watch you playing with his favourite toy or whatever else makes him excited.

Continue until he can cope with the frustration he is feeling and relaxes. When he can easily cope with his, try it out with people in the street.

Alternatively, it could be that he is afraid and has been hiding it well. If he is aloof with strangers and keeps his distance if allowed to, you will need to help him overcome his fears.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

It could be that he has become worried about people that you stop to talk to because they petted him as a puppy when he couldn’t get away, and now, at 5 months old, he is just getting enough confidence to try and make them back off instead. If this is the case, you will need help quickly to stop it progressing. Please contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors

Question: My 7 month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy bites and jumps up. This has become a problem, especially because of his size. Is there any way to stop this without using toys, as every toy that has been given to him has been demolished within hours. Your advice would be much appreciated.

Answer: It is likely that your puppy is doing this because it is his way of trying to get you to play. Young Ridgebacks have lots of energy and if he doesn’t have any toys and you do not play with him, he will have no outlet for this.

Get him some new stronger toys so that you can play with him, but don’t leave them with him to be destroyed. Keep them around the house in special places so that you can take them out and have a quick game with him every now and then. Put them back out of his way afterwards.

Sometimes take him out into the garden for a more vigorous game to use up more of his energy. Play, particularly, when he has been good for a while and has not jumped up so that he is rewarded for his good behaviour. Keep toys by the door so that you can play with him when you come in to prevent him biting you.

After a few days, his desire to play will be more satisfied and you can begin to correct him for play-biting at other times. If he stops and is good, reward him with a game.

You will also need to get him some chews and strong toys for exercising his jaws. Be prepared for him to chew a great deal until he is about 18 months old.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: Jake is a 1-year-old GSD. We rescued him four months ago & he had been kept in a small kennel and we believe he had been beaten.

He is great with the family, but would eat anyone else! He is very close to my husband, Billy, and behaves more aggressively when they are together.

A behaviourist has been working with us for about four weeks now and there has been some progress. She is trying to lessen the bond between Billy and Jake, and teach Jake to accept new people more readily. Sometimes we seem to be winning with him, then suddenly he seems to go backwards. The behaviourist can only work with him when he is muzzled and says that we cannot rush things. What do you think?

Answer: Unfortunately, there is not quick way to overcome fears, especially those caused by lack of adequate socialisation or mistreatment during puppyhood.

Slow, but sure is the only way. You can expect little setbacks along the way, so don’t raise your hopes too high too quickly. As long as you have made some progress at the end of each week, that is enough. Muzzles are necessary to start with to prevent injury, but your dog should never be pushed so far that he is forced to show aggression.

The only way to overcome fear-based aggression is to systematically desensitise Jake to the things he is scared of, pairing small amounts of concern with lots of pleasant experiences to help he realise that people are good news rather than bad.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & helping correct this behaviour.

Question: please help! my dog has recently become agressive towards my husband. He will no longer obey him. Patch has always been tempermental a think it is because he was beaten as a puppy by some kids.he doesnt like to be bothered by my sons but he has only warned them off and if they never moved he would move, recently he bite my husband and now my husband said if I cant sort him out he must go.Please heip me as i have had him for four years and dont want to loose him.tank you carol.

Answer: If you want to sort this problem out properly, you need to seek advice from a Pet Behaviour Counsellor. They will help you to decide whether this is a fear-based problem or whether it has something to do with an in-balance in the hierarchy within the household.

If Patch is only aggressive to your husband during incidences where your husband wants Patch to do something, and Patch avoids him is he can, it is likely that your dog feels intimidated by your husband and bites in self defence.

If this is the case, your husband will need to understand this, be more gentle with him and will need to learn more reward-based methods of getting Patch to do what he wants.

If, however, Patch is the one who seeks confrontation with your husband and children by deliberately putting himself in situations where he gets into trouble, there may be a dominance issue that needs addressing.

Either way, a Pet Behaviour Counsellor will help you to understand the problem and come up with practical ways that get rid of the problem before you have to get rid of Patch.

Question: We have 4 dogs = Choc Lab dog 7 yrs, Choc Lab spayed bitch 6 yrs, Clumber Spaniel dog 3 yrs 8 months, Clumber Spaniel dog 20 months. The youngest Clumber (Muffin) appears to be dominant dog in pack. Muffin shows spontaneous agression toward the other dogs (but not the bitch)on an increasing basis. This often leads to serious fights when agression is towards the other Clumber - to the point where I am the only one who can separate them; others, including my wife, fear for their own safety during such times.

Increasingly Muffin seems unrepentant, and even when I repremand him, he continues to growl at me, thinking is is dominant over me. However, I continue the reprimand until he submits to my dominance - he is then OK, until something triggers him again, which my be hours, or days later. The trigger can be over toys, food, or position for attention. Why is he like this and what should we do?

Answer: It is normal, although not desirable, for Muffin to growl at you if you interfere (whether he has attained pack leadership or not) as he will be all worked up for a fight at this time and frustrated that he cannot fulfil his intention.

You should go to a professional pet behaviour counsellor and get help to sort out your pack’s hierarchy.

When you have a number of dogs, relationships become increasingly complex and an outsider will be able to take an objective view of the situation and help you decide who is really in charge and what to do.

It will then be necessary to reinforce the position of the dominant dog and help him or her to keep the others in line.

It is not always obvious to owners which dog has taken control of the pack, and which would like to! A professional will help you work out a peaceful solution. Please contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

Question: Every time I try to brush my Yorkshire terrier's tangled fur he goes for me, becomes very upset and shakes a lot. How do I solve this problem?

Answer: The hairs in their coat are usually fine and easily tangled and their skin very sensitive. So you probably frequently hurt him without realising. Since he cannot say ‘oi, that hurts!’, he has to put up with it until it gets too much. This is why he shakes – he will be anticipating the pain, be upset that he has to be aggressive with his friend, and probably also be worried that you will get cross too.

To overcome this, try to groom him little and often, perhaps 2-3 times a day for a few minutes. Be very gentle and hold the base of the hair firmly if you are teasing out a knot so that you don’t pull his skin. Do a very small patch at a time but keep the sessions going until you have groomed him all over.

Start with the easy bits first and gain his trust before you tackle the difficult bits. If he is very knotty, you may have to consider having him clipped out by a vet or groomer. Once this is done, it will be very easy for you to brush him and win his confidence.

The secret is patience and trying to imagine what it feels like to be him. You could also try bathing him with shampoo designed to prevent tangles in children’s hair or spraying on a coat conditioner that will make the hairs slip over each other more easily, making him easier to groom.

Question: My terrier cross is a rescue dog. He is sometimes aggressive towards other dogs and often pulls on his lead. What are the reasons behind this behaviour, and how can I correct it?

Answer: Terriers are renowned for being aggressive first and thinking later. If presented with what they see as a threat, they will readily go into ‘attack’ mode before thinking of other options such as moving away or appeasement.

If your dog is aggressive to other dogs to the point where he would bite them or frighten them, I suggest you seek help from a pet behaviour counsellor as this is not an easy problem to solve (for The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors). They will help you to learn what to do when you see another dog coming and teach you to focus your dogs attention on you rather than on the other dog. They will also help you to introduce him to friendly dogs and increase his circle of friends if this is going to be possible.

You don’t say if your dog pulls on the lead all the time or whether it is only when he sees another dog. If it is the latter, he probably feels that the best form of defence is attack and pulls forward and puts up a good display to ‘see the other dog off’. If he pulls on the lead all the time, he probably just wants to go faster than you do.

This may be especially true if you don’t let him off the lead because of his response to other dogs. The way to stop him is to safely make sure he has enough free running exercise and then to teach him to walk on a loose lead. This is not difficult but you will require someone to teach you have to do this. Contact your veterinary surgery who should be able to recommend a good dog trainer in your area.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & helping correct this behaviour.

Question: We have had our Yorkshire terrier, Jasper, for eight years. Recently, he has become aggressive, and has tried to bite us on four separate occasions during the last 6 months. We are becoming somewhat wary of him, and would not feel comfortable leaving him in anyone else's care. His brother, who is one year younger, is very well behaved. What can we do?

Answer: If he has been well behaved for 8 years and has only recently become aggressive, it is important that you get him thoroughly checked out by your veterinary surgeon as there could be something wrong with him that is causing him to be bad tempered.

This is the usual reason for dogs that have been well behaved becoming snappy. However, it could also be due to changes in circumstances.

Have you moved house recently, had any additions to the family, changed his routine, or has he had any other experiences that could have made him react in this way?

If the answer is no to all of these, it brings us back to physical problems in his body being the most likely cause for changes in his behaviour.

Question: Bailey is aggressive in the home and towards the family. But is not at all to any other dogs or outside the home. Please help?

Answer: Dogs that are aggressive to family members but not to visitors usually have a dominance problem. They consider themselves higher in status than the humans and will challenge and bite whenever their owners transgress pack rules that they didn’t even know existed!

If this is the case, you will need to get professional help to sort out the problem as trying to do it with just a little bit of advice can make the problem much worse.

Ask your veterinary surgeon to refer you to a professional pet behaviour counsellor or visit The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

Question: Hattie, my 10 month old Bull Terrier has started growling at Molly, my 3 year old Bull Terrier. It started during her first season, which has just finished. She has always shared her food, bones, beds and everything with Molly. Now, when Molly is sitting on one side of me on the sofa and Hattie is on the other, Hattie will growl.

Should I leave them to sort it out themselves, or should I intervene? Should I punish her, if so, how? Molly is very docile and submissive, but I’m beginning to wish she would teach Hattie a lesson or two.

Answer: It is usual for bitches living in the same household to begin to compete with each other around season time. Nature has equipped them with a desire to pass on their genes to the next generation and it is important to them that they are the ones to have puppies at this time rather than their rivals (in the wolf packs of their ancestors, there would usually only be enough resources available to feed one litter of puppies at a time). This makes them difficult and competitive with other bitches in the household during seasons and accounts for Hattie’s change in behaviour.

During her puppyhood, she may have found that Molly is gentle and submissive and no match for her in terms of pack leadership. As she has matured and come into season, she could have tried to take her rightful place at the top of the pack. You don’t report any aggression elsewhere in the house, or when they are left alone, so I suspect that Molly has either accepted this or Hattie hasn’t quite won the battle yet. I also suspect that you try to treat both dogs equally, and this may be upsetting the fragile balance that now exists. This means that the dogs are okay with their roles until you interact with them.

Then you probably accidentally reinforce Molly’s status by petting her in equal amounts to Hattie. This effectively demotes Hattie which forces her to growl at Molly to try to retain her uncertain new role as leader. I would suggest that you reinforce Hattie for a while, putting her first in everything, particularly giving her attention and affection first. Push Mollie away from you when you are sitting on the sofa and make a fuss of Hattie (if you feel bad about this, give Hattie lots of fuss, then take Mollie out and give her all the attention she needs behind closed doors.

Make a fuss of Hattie when you go back in, before you let Molly in to keep the pack order stable.) Try not to intervene too much in any squabbles, and don’t shout or punish as this raises the emotional temperature and may cause the dispute to escalate. Keep toys and bones out of the way for the time being until things have settled down.

It may be necessary to have Hattie spayed before her next season to prevent any further unrest during the next and subsequent seasons. Expect another 3 months or so of ‘difficulty’ between them while they settle down and establish a proper pack order.

They should gradually find their own stable pack structure, but if you have any further difficulty or fighting occurs, ask your vet to refer you to a good pet behaviour counsellor (or visit The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors for a clinic list).

Question: I hope you can help me. I have a 15-month-old lurcher who has become aggressive to other dogs recently. I think this is due to the way I behave around him, and the fact that we have recently taken on an abused rescue dog that is very nervous.

I think that my lurcher thinks he has to protect us, because of our rescue dogs problems, and because he grew up in a very difficult time in my life. I became ill from depression when he was only 3 months old, and he spent a lot of time comforting me, which put to much pressure on him. Since the aggression started, I do get nervous when I see another dog, I try to hide that from him, but he is so in tune with me emotionally I can’t fool him.

He was well socialised as a puppy, although he was very submissive. I think I probably misinterpreted this and that he was afraid, but deals with it differently since he matured.

He only has a problem with dogs that are bigger than him. As he doesn’t react badly when my husband walks him, we are trying to address possible dominance issues, although this hasn’t made much difference yet.

He is my first and I feel very ashamed to have pilled all of this stress on to him, and to have let him down like this. He is a wonderful, affectionate dog in every other way.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Answer: I must start by telling you that you have not let your dog down! It is easy to think how we could have done things differently with hind sight, but you did the best you could then and, more importantly, you are trying to make things better now. It sounds as if you have all had an unpleasant time in the past, but maybe, in the case of your lurcher, it is time to look forward.

You noticed your dog’s fear of other dogs when he was a puppy, and it is likely that the same fear remains in him today. The reason that his approach toward dealing with his fear has changed is because he is an adult now with more confidence, and is therefore better able to cope by doing something more confrontational. From your description, he seems to become overwhelmed by larger dogs, and as you are not very confident during these times, he feels that he has to take things into his own paws and do something about it!

You mentioned that your husband has more success walking your lurcher. I think it would be a great idea to start accompanying him, and stop walking your dog on your own for the time being. Start by letting your husband lead the walks until you feel more confident, and then start to take more control, until you are leading your dog without worrying too much about meeting other dogs. Walking together in this way would be good for both you and your dog, as there is truth in the saying that there is ‘safety in numbers’ and your dog will feel more secure if you are all out together.

Try building up steady and regular play sessions at home with his favourite toy. You can start playing these games outside as a means of keeping walks upbeat and fun. This will increase his focus on you when outside will help both of you relax and become more confident.

The addition of latest rescue dog maybe a contributing factor towards your lurchers behaviour towards other dogs, but as any problems that you have with him have not been mentioned, it is difficult to know how much he is affecting the situation. Care must always be taken when mixing a dog with a nervous disposition with a dog with an existing behaviour problem, as you want to avoid the newly rescued dog learning any unwanted behaviour. I think it would a very beneficial to find a good Pet Behaviour Counsellor to help focus on this problem in more detail, and give you the appropriate support. Ask your veterinary surgeon to refer you or contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: Six months ago, we gave a home to an 8-year-old Pointer called Barney. He looked ill treated and thin, and when taken to the vet had to have two teeth extracted due to a huge abscess in his mouth. He had a tendency to bite us when we try to put our hands near his head, although other parts can be approached without trouble. We think he has been teased by the previous male owner. He prefers me to my husband and is very protective over his food. So much so that my husband has to stay out of the way when he is eating as he growls and snarls if he walks past. We would be very pleased to have your advice on these problems.

Answer: Dogs that bite usually have a very good reason and it is not hard to imagine Barney trying to protect himself from the intense pain caused by people touching his face when he had tooth abscesses, especially if he had little trust in his previous owners.

When pain is very intense, it tends to leave very deep impressions and anything associated with that pain will be remembered long after the reason for that pain has been taken away. So it is likely that Barney has learned to associate hands approaching his head in a certain way with pain and so is prone to biting to try to defend himself whenever this occurs.

It may be that he has only linked the pain with fast moving hands, or male hands, or hands that come down from above him, or hands that reach for his collar. If you know the particular actions that trigger this defensive response, you can work specifically on them. If you don’t, you will have to work on a more general approach.

If Barney is biting in earnest, you will need to seek professional help from a Pet Behaviour Counsellor to ensure you do not get bitten and injured during the desensitisation process.

This process will require you to teach Barney that your hands come to bring good things rather than pain, and will help you gradually gain his trust so that he learns that your hands will never hurt him.

You will need to begin by keeping your distance and letting him come to you. Keep stashes of treats and toys around the house so that every so often you can offer something he likes.

Once he is approaching and taking things from your hands, gradually build on this until you are taking things to him. Then work on massaging him around the neck area with one hand, offering small titbits for tolerating this for a few seconds. Leave him free to walk away if he chooses, and gradually progress over many sessions until he will allow you to touch his head.

This is the difficult bit and you may need professional help to ensure you read his signals correctly and don’t push him to the point that he feels threatened and reacts defensively. Properly done, this process can achieve remarkable results in a short time and the end result will be a trust between you that will make both of you feel better.

In a similar way, it is likely that Barney growls whenever your husband walks past his food bowl because a man has been aggressive to him when he was eating or he has had to fight for enough to eat at some time in his life. The simplest way to deal with this is to put him in a room on his own when he is eating and call him out of there when he has finished so that you can go in to pick up the bowl.

If you want to get rid of the problem, you will need professional help again to ensure no one gets bitten. The cure will involve teaching Barney that humans go past the food bowl in peace or, when they approach, they don’t come to take but, instead, to give extra tasty titbits. Please visit The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

Question: I own three dogs, a 5 year old collie who is top dog, a 2 year old GSD who is second in line and a 3 year old collie who is bottom of the pack. My GSD was attacked by 2 male dogs 6 months ago. She fought back, although they were not injured and I was able to stop the fight easily.

Since then I have put her on a lead when other dogs run towards us. She does not like seeing other dogs (including my other two) running around. If I let her join in she catches each dog and pins them down by the back of their neck. She does not injure them but only wets their hair on their neck.

She loves me to throw a kong for her and she is only allowed to do this outside on a walk. If another dog takes her kong she runs after them, catches them and pins them down until they let go. Then she picks the toy up and runs back to me.

Also, if I stop and talk to friends, I put her kong away and she makes a terrible noise and nips the back of my youngest collie’s neck. If I continue with my walk and get the kong out again, she is fine. I do not know if all these problems are a result of her being attacked or if they would have developed anyway as she got older.

Answer: Since your GSD has grown up with two other dogs, she will know their body language well and will easily be able to read the intentions of other dogs she encounters on a walk. It also sounds as though she has lots of confidence in her dealings with other dogs, being brave enough to tackle them when they take her toy.

For this reason and because it does not sound like she is attacking the dogs she chases, I think it is unlikely that the chase problem is due to fear. Being a herding breed, German shepherd dogs usually love to chase, as you know from games she likes to play with her kong, and I think it is more likely that, when she sees other dogs running, she wants to play her favourite game. During her puppyhood, I expect she played plenty of these games with your other dogs.

Your number 3 collie may have been too placid to stop her from grabbing her and pinning her down, especially as she grew bigger. I also suspect that she played this game more than she played retrieve games with you because the other dogs were always available. Consequently, this has become her favourite game. Since it is an unacceptable game as far as other dogs and their owners are concerned, it is important that you put a stop to it, as you have partly by putting her on a lead when other dogs come close.

It is also important to solve the problem before she meets up with a dog that responds to her form of rough play with severe aggression that may, in turn, cause her to become defensively aggressive during her ‘games’. In addition, it sounds as if she is not getting enough outlet for all her physical and mental energy at the moment and this is why, when you stop to talk, she is desperate to continue playing. In her frustration, she redirects her activities onto the only animal present that will put up with it.

I suggest you spend more time playing with her with her toy so that she uses up more energy and so that games with you start to become more important to her than the games she plays with other dogs. I would also stop her from playing with other dogs, including your own, until you have solved your problems so that she becomes even more fixated on games with you. Once she is interested in the toy to the exclusion of everything else, you can begin to use the game to get her attention when other dogs are nearby.

Start when they are at a distance and work with her until you can keep her attention on you whenever other dogs are close by. Keep her on a lead at first until she is more reliable. In this way, you will be able to prevent her from getting into trouble with other dogs – unless they are very quick and steal her kong before she can get to it! (take care how you throw it and teach her to deliver it to your hand so that there is less chance other dogs can pick it up).

Once you are giving her more exercise, teach her to sit and wait beside you with the toy out of sight, firstly while your other dogs run free so she cannot get to them. Reward her with a game for a few seconds of good behaviour and gradually build this up. Practice later with your other dogs present and correct her if she shows any sign of nipping your collie. Again, gradually build up the time she can remain quiet and good, rewarding good behaviour with a game, and finally, practice with a friend who stops to greet you.

Question: I recently purchased a clicker via Dogs Today to assist with training Harvey, my 6 year old Weimeraner. The reason I decided to try the clicker was Harvey has a very annoying habit of barking persistently in the car, getting louder when the indicators are used. I had hoped that I could use the clicker to try to deter this. Unfortunately, looking at the information given with the switch, I am unsure how to go about this.

As Harvey already responds quite excitedly to the indicators making a noise, I am concerned that clicking and giving a treat when Harvey stops barking for a few seconds might be interpreted as praise for barking in the first place. Harvey is very quick to learn and definitely a creature of habit. I would be grateful for any advice as I am loath to use a Mickey Muzzle as recommended by his breeder.

The persistent barking is a relatively new problem. Initially, Harvey used to pace very forcibly in the car (causing it to rock), and only barked when he recognised where he was going or when the indicators were used. To stop the pacing, and Harvey damaging himself in the boot of my estate, I ordered a dog guard. This stopped his pacing, but he now just sits and stares at me through the mirror and barks instead. Whatever pleasure Harvey got from the pacing seems to have been replaced by the barking.

Answer: The difficulty with this problem is that we do not know why Harvey is barking in the car. I suspect it is because he is anticipating exercise, which is a powerful reward for an active dog like a Weimeraner. The indicators could be acting as a signal that you are about to turn into a place where you will stop the car and let him run free. The pacing and the barking when he gets to somewhere he recognised seems to indicate this too.

Preventing this pacing with the dog guard has led to him barking as a way of dealing with the frustration of not being able to get out to exercise more quickly. Alternatively, he may be worried about the movement of the car, the indicators could signal that the car is about to lurch sideways and the pacing could have been his way of coping with his anxiety

Unfortunately, using the clicker as you proposed is unlikely to be effective. The conditions for training a dog are not ideal in a moving car as it is such a complex environment with so many other influences. Properly used, the click becomes a signal that behaviour is correct and a reward is about to be offered.

However, Harvey’s mind is likely to be focused on where he is going (or on staying safe), and the click will either be ignored or will just signal that treats are on their way, thereby adding to the excitement. In addition, the reward of getting out and exercising (or staying alive) is likely to completely overpower the reward of a few titbits. Working for titbits is, therefore, probably not high on his agenda.

A better way to tackle the problem is to reduce the motivation to bark rather than trying to control the behaviour. If we assume Harvey is being taken for walks by car regularly and so is barking in anticipation of the exercise, we need to find a way to make car journeys less exciting. I would recommend that you exercise Harvey well in the garden retrieving and playing with toys before putting him in the car.

Take him on journeys that don’t end in a walk as well as walking him to the park more often and, when you do reach a place where you are going to walk him, take a magazine and read for a few minutes before letting him out. When you do let him out, keep him on the lead for a while and do some obedience exercises before letting him free. In this way, he will begin to view car rides as more mundane rather than as the prelude to the highlight of his day.

You could use the clicker to help you teach him to ‘speak’ and be ‘quiet’ on command. If you reduce the motivation for the behaviour in the way described, asking him to be ‘quiet’ if he begins to bark may then have some effect.

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & helping correct this behaviour.

Question: Can you settle an argument. My wife says it's wrong to hit the dog for being naughty. But I will still slap our children if they are doing something dangerous like playing with electric plugs and it certainly stops them ­ so why shouldn't we hit the dog if we catch him doing something really annoying ­ like stealing or chewing something? I think we've all gone too soft ­ but my wife says she'll thump me if I so much as raise a hand to our dog!

Answer: Humans are quite aggressive as a species and it is quite natural for us to lash out when we are frightened or frustrated. Children and animals usually get hit for these reasons rather than as part of a calculated discipline intended to make them behave better.

It has been proven in scientific experiments that punishment is a very ineffective way of helping animals to learn, particularly if it happens long after the behaviour started or worse, after it has finished. A nasty experience that happens at the same time as the behaviour begins and ends when the behaviour stops is effective, but this is difficult to get right in practice. People often go way over the top which often results in the animal becoming frightened. And frightened animals are thinking more about survival than they are about learning how to behave.

With our pet dogs, punishment often spoils the relationship we have with them and makes them mistrustful of people. From my experience with ‘problem’ dogs, I know that dogs that are punished a lot learn to bite rather than learning a different way to deal with their problems. Owners who don’t punish usually have such a good relationship with their pets that they respond well to a little scolding when necessary. It is important to have boundaries and to make sure your dog is not allowed to cross them, but this can be done with peaceful means even if you do need to be quite forceful.

So what do we do instead? Well, dogs are creatures of habit and once good habits are in place and are being rewarded, they are less likely to behave badly. To do this, think ahead and prevent bad behaviour and then reward the good behaviour when it happens. For example, if your dog wants to jump up to greet you, prevent him from doing so by holding his collar or turning your back until he has calmed down, and then reward the good behaviour by getting down to his level and making a big fuss of him.

It is also important to make sure that all of your dog’s species needs are met, for example, that he has things to chew other than the carpet, that he gets enough exercise and mental stimulation. A contented dog is usually a well-behaved dog so rather than shouting or hitting, think about why your dog is mis-behaving and teach him to behave better or attend to his species needs instead.

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & learning how to relate to your dog.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: I have a 10-week-old Bull Terrier pup that loves to chew and bite. The problem is that she is biting too hard and no amount of discipline with stop her. She is worse with my boyfriend and jumps up at his face or arms with mouth open ready to bite. If we push her down or try to restrain her, she growls and tries to bite even more. When visitors come to the house, she attacks their clothes that they don’t appreciate. How can we teach her to stop when we tell her? I’m sure she thinks she is playing, but I am worried it will get worse and out of control as she gets older, - or will she grow out of it?

Answer: At such a young age, she is just playing. However, she is learning patterns of behaviour now that will stay with her for the rest of her life, so it is important that she learns the right things. Many owners tolerate bad behaviour from puppies thinking they will grow out of it and end up giving them up to rescue societies when they have a large, full-grown delinquent on their hands and can’t cope.

In the litter, terrier puppies will play rougher games that litters of, say, gundog puppies and, in addition their mother will be rougher with them too. Since Bull Terriers were originally bred to use their mouths to hang on and not let go, it is not surprising that this genetic trait is to being played out in your puppy. It was also important for Bull Terriers to not feel too much pain so that they would carry on despite being injured, so they are, as a breed, relatively insensitive to pain themselves and so do not learn to be too careful about biting each other when playing.

When your puppy came into your home, you became her substitute for littermates to play with and she has learned that you are available for play whenever she can get hold of you! Yelling and shouting, or even smacking serves to make the game more exciting and, hence, more rewarding. It’s never a good idea to punish puppies as this only teaches them to be defensive and aggressive.

With some puppies, you can cry out loudly to let them know that you have been hurt to stop the game, but this seems to excite terrier puppies even more. Her behaviour will be worse with your boyfriend because he is likely to play more roughly than you and hence be more exciting.

Since humans have soft sensitive human skin, they make very good ‘toys’ since they wriggle and flap around enticingly whenever she puts her teeth on them. If she cannot manage to get hold of a piece of flesh, pieces of loose clothing are kindly provided with which to have a nice game of tug-of-war.

The answer to the problem is to teach her that ALL play with humans happens with toys. No more biting humans or their clothes. For the next few weeks, whenever you interact with her, always have a toy ready. Keep stashes of them around the house, particularly at places where you greet her.

Make sure they are soft enough to encourage her to bite onto them, big enough so that you can hold one end and she can hold another, and small enough so that her little mouth can hold them easily. Wriggle them enticingly to begin a game and make sure you play short games often with her throughout the day.

If she gets hold of your hand, make a fist and keep it as still as possible. Wriggle the toy frantically with the other hand. She should leave your hand and transfer to the toy so you can have a game with her as a reward. When she grabs clothes, gather up the extra material and hold it firmly so she cannot tug. Again, use the toy to elicit a more rewarding game instead.

With older puppies, it may be necessary at first to restrict their access to you with a lead attached to a fixed object while you teach them to play, but this shouldn’t be necessary at 10 weeks of age. You may, however, like to leave her lead on so that you can pull her away from your hands for long enough to get her interested in the toy if necessary.

You should also teach her the ‘leave’ command so that, later, you can ask her to let go when she has grabbed the wrong thing thinking it was a toy. Do this with titbits, concealing them in your hand so that she cannot get them. The instant she gives up trying to get it and takes her nose away, say ‘leave’ and offer the titbit. After several sessions, she should begin to understand what is required.

When visitors come, put her on the lead and do not let her greet them until they are in and settled. You can practice good behaviour when greeting visitors a little later but for now, it enough that she learns not to bite their clothes but to wait for a game with a toy with them instead.

Also see Gwen Bailey's article on Ingredients for the Perfect Puppy

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: We have a six-year-old rescue greyhound called Brin, whom we have had now for four months. Brin has not had a very good life before we took him in and we know very little about his past, except that his ear had been ripped in half from a dog fight he had whilst in rescue kennels.

He is a very quiet gentle, loving dog, very loyal to us and patient with our four young children.

The problem started when we were out walking. On the third day we had him he pulled from his lead and attacked and bit another dog, therefore we cannot let him off the lead, this seems a shame, particularly to a greyhound.

The aggression in him when he sees another dog is terrible. He growls, snarls, barks and frantically pulls on his lead, he is very strong. The vet recommended a halti, which we use, but does not stop his aggression.

I’ve tried rewarding him with treats if he happens to ignore another dog, this worked for a while, but now he seems worse than ever. Walking is getting to be a nightmare, as we cannot walk past another dog on the same pavement, we have to cross the road, which is a nuisance when I have the children with me.

It was mainly Collies, Golden Retrievers and Labradors at first, now it is every dog. Training classes wont help him as they say he is too old to teach and sounds too aggressive to have with other dogs.

Please can you help, we don’t want to re-home him, as we all love him and want to do our best for him in helping him overcome this problem.

Answer: It seems that Brin is not coping at all with other dogs at the moment having probably decided that they are so dangerous to him that attack is the best form of defence. His previous home or the rescue kennels in which he was kept before you took him on will have played a big part and the incident where his ear was ripped in a fight with another dog will have made a big contribution to this problem.

Although rescue kennels do a wonderful job in helping to re-home unwanted animals, an unfortunate consequence of keeping a large population of dogs in one area is that sensitive or frightened dogs learn very quickly to protect themselves by using aggression. This is especially so if the design of the kennels is such that they are often confronted by others. As kennelled rescue dogs cannot escape this unforgiving environment, they often become aggressive in an effort to deter unwanted attention from strange neighbouring dog. Many of these dogs carry these unpleasant experiences and negative perception of other dogs into their new homes, where new owners are left bewildered and unsure about how to tackle this unwanted behaviour.

Contrary to popular belief greyhounds do not demand as much physical exercise as the more higher endurance breeds such as the Border collie. Greyhounds are designed to spend the majority of their energy in short bursts of explosive running and tire quickly. At this time, if we consider life from Brin's perspective, walks are very scary as he is taken to the very place where other dogs appear to lurk ready to get him.

For the time being, I would stop walking him on your regular routes where you will come across other dogs. If you can, take him to places where he can run free away from other dogs, making sure he wears a suitable box-type greyhound muzzle just in case. If not, exercise him well in the garden. By doing this the problem will get no worse and Brin will begin to relax in the absence of hostile encounters with dogs outside.

During this time, make a list of five things that make Brin’s tail way and offer them regularly at home and in the garden. You will find that as his stress levels go down, he will begin to focus on you as a source of the good things in life and his relationship with you should improve.

The next stage will involve taking him out to meet selected dogs in a safe, controlled manner, while using some of his favourite things to help him overcome his fear. Since it is quite complicated, I would recommend you contact a member of the APBC (www.apbc.org.uk) to give the appropriate support and discover a safe way forward. If this stage is done well, Brin should begin to build up a small circle of doggy friends who will help him to get his confidence back.

The first stage is the easy part, and it sounds as if you could all do with a break. Good luck and stay with it – it will be worth it in the end.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & helping correct this behaviour.

Please also see Gwen Bailey's articles on A Greyhoud or Lurcher in the Family and Predatory Aggression in Lurchers and Greyhounds

Question: I have a 7-month-old Lhasa Apso. She does occasionally growl and snap at me when she doesn't want to do something (i.e. when she is told to get off the sofa or when I pick her up to put her to bed at night). Yesterday, when I tried to wipe her face after her dinner, she turned nasty and bit me quite badly. When she growls or tries to bite what should I do to teach her not to do this? I have heard that shouting or smacking is the wrong thing.

Answer: I think it is time you got expert help for your problem. It is likely that, at 7 months, your dog is challenging you for the top dog position in your household. Status-related aggression usually begins to be shown around 7 months of age. If you have had her from a puppy, she will have been watching and taking note of all the encounters you have had together.

At 7 months, she will have enough confidence to begin throwing out small challenges (probably when you ask her to get off the sofa or try to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do such as going to her bed at night). If these are won by her, or she notices that you only just win, her challenges will increase.

What you need is expert help to help you to see where, in her eyes, you have been going wrong so that she begins to see you as a strong pack leader rather than a weak one. Shouting and smacking is not the answer, but finding out how top dogs keep control of their pack without resorting to violence is. I would recommend you get further help (contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors).

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & correcting this behaviour.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: My 2-year old beagle bitch recently bit my 15-month-old son. Until this happened, she has been really good with him and they have played together continually - it is completely out of character. Now I don't know what to do - is it likely to happen again and should I consider getting rid of her?

Answer: If it has happened once, it is likely to happen again given the same circumstances. However, without knowing all the details, it is not possible to say why she did it. Since it hasn’t happened before and they have been playing well together, it is probably not necessary to get rid of her, but you will need to think carefully about preventing it from happening again. You didn’t say whether she actually bit him or whether she snapped at him and caught him by accident. If she bit him and left a deep wound with bruising, I would be very careful with her in future.

If, however, she snapped at him and caught him with a tooth, she may have been taking it upon herself to ‘discipline’ him when he got too rough, as she would have done with a wayward puppy. This brings me to the question ‘how much attention were you paying at the time? If you were there watching, you will know exactly why she did it and can make a good decision about how safe she is to have around.

If not, I would recommend not leaving them alone together in future and paying attention when they are playing together. It should be you that stops any unwanted behaviour towards her by your boy (and vice versa) rather than leaving it to her to make him stop. If you cannot control your son (difficult, I know, at his age), consider the use of a baby gate so that she can be safe from him but not shut away from company.

To be on the safe side, I would recommend you get professional help (contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors).

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & correcting this behaviour.

Question: We have only had our rescued five-year-old GSD bitch for two weeks but she has started to become very aggressive to visitors. We didn't have any visitors for the first week until she had settled down and she reacted well to our first few visitors. But now we have to physically restrain her as she really wants to kill them.

After a while she settles down but continues to guard them, reacting to any movements by threatening them with growls and stares. She reacts aggressively as soon as the doorbell goes. Please help as none of our friends want to visit us anymore!

Answer: I think it’s time you got professional help. It’s not unusual for GDS’s to behave like this, and it is usually due to a fear of strangers, even if it doesn’t look like it. It takes about 2 weeks for a new dog to settle into a home and until then they don’t really have the confidence to begin guarding.

If you had known what to look for, there would have been signs early on, but now the signs are more clear!

It’s difficult to know whether she would bite, but I wouldn’t take the chance at this stage. Just being barked at by a big GSD is scary enough for most people, so shut her away in another room when visitors come to be on the safe side. Also be careful with her when she is out on a lead as she obviously has a fear of people that may cause her to lunge or bark at someone if she feels they are enough of a threat.

Then ask someone for help. Look on the website of The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors or ask your veterinary surgeon for their recommendation.

A competent professional will help to determine how bad the problem is, and will give you a detailed plan to help overcome it. Make sure they use kind methods and don’t take advice from anyone who tries to make you intimidate her into changing her behaviour. A systematic programme of desensitization and counter-conditioning will probably be prescribed.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & helping correct this behaviour.

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