Aggressive Dog

Updated on February 22, 2008
M.H. asks from Minneapolis, MN
12 answers

We have a 3 1/2 year old miniature pinscher that has recently become aggressive. It's typically food motivated. He also does not like strangers. I adopted him from the Humane Society 2 1/2 years ago and the previous owners never socialized him or paid much attention to him. He was tied up outside all day and only let in to go to bed. I'm just wondering if anyone else has had this problem with a pet and what their solution was. I really don't want to have to find him a new home or put him down but will only as a last resort. Has anyone ever used a dog trainer for behavior problems? What does that cost? Any advice would be much appreciated.

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answers from St. Cloud on

I am not much of a animal expert, children are more my department.
I thought you started at a young puppy stage, petting them when they eat, so they don't become aggresive later.
As for adopting older pets, I think I agree with anouther post about taking a chance...
I wouldn't having children, adopt older pet or keep a aggressive pet.
My children's saftey comes first. It sounds like you feel the same way.
I really feel for animals that do come out of abusive homes. Its not thier fault, and do deserve good homes.

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answers from Minneapolis on

My dog is aggressive when it comes to his food also. We switched to feeding him on a schedule and only put his bowls down when it is time to eat. Not only did it solve the issue but it also helped him lose weight. He is a Mini Rat Terrier who was really overweight.
Another thing you can try is to get him used to you being right next to him when he eats. But regardless, kids should never be around an animal when it is eating. They do not understand that the kid really doesn't want its food.
You could also feed him in a different room, away from the kids and family.
If these things don't work I would suggest calling your vet to get some ideas. My vet has always been a good source for working on behavior problems. Good Luck!



answers from Eau Claire on

You have to be calm and assertive!!! Dogs can sense ANY vibes of nervousness or fear.... This causes them also to become nervous and fearful, causing them to be aggressive. You need to do LONG controlled walks, and rule your house, the dog is confused as to who the "leader" of his pack is.... you all are his pack. Do NOT hit or YELL, always be calm and the leader!!!



answers from Minneapolis on

One recommendation - Marilyn Tokach of Pure Spirit at ###-###-####. She does animal communication, training and behavior solutions. Her web is

I used an animanl behaviorist several years back when our husky developed some aggression and fears. It was amazing to watch the change and have the support to go through the process. Marilyn is not who we used because I can't find that person's info anymore (many years back and was referred by the UofM) but I met Marily and have kept her card assuming I would need it again at some time.

Good luck.



answers from Minneapolis on

have you ever watched cesar malone on the dog whisperer. he has awesome teaching for dogs like yours. this show is on the animal plant on satalite or cable. i know how to work with a dog, but first he needs to know the dominence thing between you and him. i recommend tim or robin hiltz they work for 1-a animal training 8857 xylon ave n brooklyn park, mn ###-###-####.
good luck



answers from Madison on

It sounds like you need to teach the dog who is the alpha dog and who is at the bottom. You need to do stuff to tell the dog that he is below you and the kids. Feed the dog after everyone has eaten, make him wait behind you while you go through a door any door. Also, I would feed him away from the kids. He hasn't been apart of a pack before so he doesn't know the chain at your house. He wants to be alpha dog. You just need to keep on telling him that he is not and that you are. I would get training for him. I heard PetSmart has that. I don't know how much that is. Keep an eye on him when he is around the kids. If you have someone over lock him up in another room. I have to do that with my dog with certain ppl and if my husband isn't home. Both of us have to be home and have a happy baby for my dog to stay calm with strangers. He is just being pertective.



answers from Rochester on

Hi there. I used to work at a humane society until my son was born. The only advice I have for you is, every time a new baby or person comes into the home, it completely turns a dogs life upside down. In the wild dogs are in a pack and in the pack they have an order, and in that order each one knows where they stand and what their jobs in the pack are. With bringing a new baby home, your dog probably does not know the new order and where he stands...that puts major stress on a dog. My son is 8 months old and we are still faced with behavioral issues in out dog, it is a challenge. What kind of issues are you having with your dog?



answers from Milwaukee on

I have found that teaching children to stay away from all animals when they are eating is the key. With so many animals, it seemed the only safe option in my house. Your children are young, and that may be difficult right now. You may want to consider feeding him in another room with the door closed (including treats, bones, etc) so that the kids can't wander up to him while he is eating. Limit his eating time to that room ONLY...don't leave food or treats out for him to grab as he pleases.

As far as the stranger situation...what does he do? Does he bark or bite? My cockers bark like crazy when new people come in, it sounds ferocious, but they would never just come up and bite. If he's just barking, I'd give him some time to get used to the new person...he should settle down after establishing who's boss, LOL. If he is biting, you can either use a kennel when others are over or find him a new home (pretty soon you will have children coming over to play, having a biting dog is not a good thing).

I have a friend who did use a dog trainer - her shih tzu poo is one vicious animal and did wind up biting a child who was just sitting on the floor. IMO, it did not help. He listened to the trainer, but will not accept that my friend is the alpha 'dog'. They still have him, they are just careful when others are around...they keep him kenneled, etc. I don't believe it was too the humane society - they usually have classes. Just because it did not work for them does not mean it won't work for you.

If this doesn't work, there are so many senior homes who would love a dog like him - no need to put him down. Just specify when you take him to the humane society that he needs to be in a quiet home with no children.

Hope this helps!



answers from Minneapolis on

This may sound very hokey but have you ever seen The Dog Whisperer on The National Geographic Channel? His name is Cesar Milan. He also has books and maybe even DVDs. I just went through this so this is going to be a long post :)!

We adopted an English Setter 18 months ago who had never been out of a kennel run for the first year and a half of his life. He was a mess and I got a lot of flack for bringing an unpredictable dog into our home with 3 children (two under 4 yrs. old at the time). He had never been on a leash, had only been in a vehicle a couple times, never been in a house, never seen stairs - you name it, this dog had to learn it. He was VERY terrified of everything - mostly children. I worked with him every day a little bit. I learned alot from the Humane Society classes and the Dog Whisperer and I combined what I thought worked for us. Here's a couple ideas:

A couple of commands that you should work really, really hard on with him are: Sit/Stay and Leave It.

No Free Lunch concept: The dog learns to sit whenever he wants/gets something. It's like a Dog version of "please". That's the sit command. He has to remain in sit until you release him (pick a word and use the same one. We use "OK"). So before receiving any treats, his food, at the door to go out and come in he sits and holds it until you release him.

Alpha concept: He is not pack leader (that sounds weird but go with me here) Your family is the pack and you are in charge. If you are all going out together, he is the last to go through the door. He must walk beside you - not in front of any family members on the leash. When the kids are a little older, they walk him and learn to give him the sit/stay command too.

Also, because you are Alpha, you get to give him things and you get to take his things. Maybe not with food right now but if he has any toys, practice "Leave It". He sits, stays, you release him to have it again.

Counter conditioning: This is a little harder to explain. If your dog is doing something negative, you replace that behavior/experience with something positive - most often food. For us, when we would first walk, if someone approached us, my poor dog would turn tail and run like crazy. Of course, he was on a leash so he would just be frantic. I would bring a baggie of treats (he got tiny bits of cooked chicken thighs) along with us. The second I saw someone coming, I would start giving him treat after treat after treat until they passed. I would ignore the person completely. You could also treat when you are making the sound. My dog is completely unafraid now. He's still not fond of kids but I haven't worked that hard on it - I just tell kids 'no' they can't pet him. He LOVES my children- they can hang on him, put blankies on him - whatever they want and he takes it.

Most of all, you have to stay calm and assume leadership of the situation. If you are nervous when people come to the door or at mealtime, he will assume you are not in charge and he better be.

This sounds silly but you need to come up with a sound that stops him in his tracks. It's not an angry sound, it's just kind of like a little "Mmm Hmmm". Don't use it with the kids - just him. I use a little "CHHH!" Or snapping my fingers does it too. If I snap my fingers a couple of times, no matter where my dog is, he will come and sit in front of me because he knows that sounds means I want his attention. You can't use your dog's name - just the command. They'll tune you out.

Where the sound comes in is you watch the dog for heightened sense of aggression or barking - whatever the problem is and BEFORE they get into crazy mode, you make the sound. Once they are crazy barking, they are out of control and there isn't any use trying to stop them - just put him away because the moment is lost for now. My dog is starting to be quite aggressive at the front door. So, if I know someone is coming and I see him perk up (ears up, chest out, fixed attention, starting to tense up), I make the sound. He snaps out of it for a second, starts going into the tenseness again and I make the sound again. You just keep doing this until he completely relaxes through the whole scene.

I also will tap him firmly on the chest or shoulder if he isn't listening. Never hit a dog - especially one who has been neglected/abused. And, my dog weighs 50 pounds so you will have to tap lighter :). I make my hand like a letter "C" and give him a tap. Then he knows I really mean business because I hardly ever do it.

Teach people - especially children- to ignore your dog completely when they enter your home. I make my dog sit/stay until they are in the house, shoes and coats off. He's a hunting dog so he has to sniff everything so I usually ask people if that's OK but tell them to completely ignore him. I can't believe the number of people who think they can just put their hands on any dog (usually their face) without permission. I won't lie to you, my dog bit two people while he was early in his training. He was a fear biter but we lucked out that they were OK. He never bit a child because I was VERY harsh on him whenever he showed any signs of dominance. If your dog humps a child (we call it a "special hug"), they are showing dominance, not sexual preference :).

I thought all this was pretty harsh at first because I am a Mommy to my dogs but I saw really quickly how this dog was more confident when I was in control.

Most importantly, you must teach the children that they can only touch the dog when you or your husband are nearby - NEVER leave them alone together. It's not worth it. Kids and dogs want to be together but in this case, it's too soon for that.

OK, lots of information but it works. You have to be consistent (I always hate when they say that). My dog would have been one that people thought it was humane to put him out of his misery because he was terrified 24/7. If you came to my home now you would never EVER guess where he started from. The people who rescused him say he won the "doggy lottery". But it took ALOT of work and patience and vigilence.

You can do it - for your family but also for that little guy!



answers from Milwaukee on

Hi, you should get the book written by the "Dog Whisperer" Ceaser Milan. He is wonderful and quite frankly can really transform your dog. I am using some technique's of his that I saw on his show (cable chanel, I think he is on the Discovery chanel) on my spoiled little Yorkies, and it is working!! (one of my dogs is aggresive and doesn't like people he doesn't know either). Since you have two little ones, you should see if he has a book on tape, or try to catch his show since I'm sure reading a book might be difficult right now. Good luck, C.



answers from Madison on

Hi MH-
We have 3 dogs--2 large ones and 1 medium one and are extremely diligent about supervision of our 27 month old son. My brother's seemingly well adjusted Visla bit his son at age 3 and was showing food aggression at the time. I believe that your dog's behaviors can be changed through proper training and follow through. Ask your vet to recommend one to you. He/she may know who might suit your dog's specific issue. In the meantime, please, please, please supervise your dog and children. You don't want to have to go through what my brother did with his dog, who was 10 at the time and difficult to rehome. Dogs and children are natural choices to be pals, but never assume that you can predict with 100% certainty the behavior at any given moment of your dog OR your child.
Good Luck!



answers from Minneapolis on

My experiance is that a dog or cat needs to be socialized with people and most specifically with children from the very beginning as a puppy or kitten or from my experiance they NEVER learn to like children. I've seen this over and over again and it's sad but usually the best bet is to the find the animal a loving home with someone who doens't have children. It's like they're set in their ways and you can't change them.

I had this cat when I moved out on my own for the first time that I LOVED. I spoiled her and let her eat dinner with my fiance and I at the kitchen table etc. I know very weird. She was the happiest, friendliest cat in world. I LOVED her. I made the mistake of never having her around any kids at all. When I was pregnant and sick she was right there by myside and could sense it. When the baby came home... the cat was not having that. She peed all over the babies clothes, the crib, and her perfect behavior just flipped. I ended up having to find another home for her. It broke my heart and still does to this day and this was 5 years ago.

Still heart broken when my daughter was 2. I adopted a full grown cat. This cat HATED my daughter and attacked her and wouldn't give my daughter a chance. So she had to go to a new home also.

Then we adopted a baby ferret not that long ago. The ferret LOVES my daughter, the first pet we've ever owned that hasn't been aggressive or mean. The ferret is very very friendly with everyone. I think most of that is finding a pet with the best tempermant at the store (we didn't look at color or cuteness) and having the animal socially interacting from the very beginniing of their life with people and children.

I was just watching animal planet last night some show and when the animal police took a pet out of a home for whatever neglectful reason they would test the animal for aggressive behavior specifically by using a stick with a fake hand and to pet the dog while the dog ate. If the dog attacked the hand or showed aggression it was not placed for adoption.

You children's safety must come first. I myself have had to find a new home for 2 pets because they weren't child friendly pets. It's a tricky situation but you also don't want to be sued by a neigbor or another child coming to viist etc. Or your children could be bit or attacked and need stiches or even worse.

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