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Long Term Sleep And Space Aggression?


Guest LDR110913
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Guest LDR110913

Hello,

 

Long time lurker, but after our issues with our newly adopted Greyhound I figured it would be a good time to reach out. We recently adopted a retired racing greyhound (about 2 months ago) and it has been fairly good so far. Our dog has been adapting pretty well, but he does have what seems to be sleep and/or space aggression issues as well as possessiveness. After a few weeks of perfect behavior he will have a relapse where he snaps/growls/nips (i hesitate to use the word bite, but he has broken skin, just not a full out chomp, if that makes sense). After each "incident" my wife and I lose trust in the dog and feel like we can no longer be close, pet, or interact with him as the outbursts are so sudden (there is very minimal growling before he snaps).

 

He also seems to be disobedient at times and has growled/snapped at me once during a walk when he did not want to go my way.

 

I have already researched and read the various posts here and have found them both helpful and insightful, but I have heard other information from my own adoption group that sometimes is inconsistent with what I read here.

 

For those who have had aggression issues like these, I would like to pose the question:

1) Can sleep/space aggression be overcome? Is time to warm up/get accustomed to his environment still something we can expect to help?

2) If not, is this just something we are going to have to live with...we do expect to have kids and I do not know what the long term prospects are of us keeping him if he continues to have unpredictable behavior.

 

I know giving the dog back is a last resort and is not something I take likely, however, I do not know how prepared we are to deal with the type of scary behavior that we are seeing and I would not be able to forgive myself if something more serious were to happen.

 

Are there people out there who have dealt with these issues and what outcomes can I realistically expect. I do not want to be naive, but at the same time I do not want to give up without a true attempt to include him with the proper training, behavior, and graciousness that he deserves...

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You will get conflicting responses to your questions, because there are those here who have managed to overcome the issue, and thee are those who deal with it in other ways. That doesn't mean that any answer is wrong, because when it comes down to it, it all really depends on the dog.

 

The best way to overcome the growling on the walk issue is to start with NLIF training (Nothing in Life is Free). You can find lots of info online and by using the search function on how to do that. Clicker training is also a good starting point. These two types of training letthe hound know that you are in control.

 

As far as the sleep startle, any hound can be startled at anytime, even those who have never shown the problem before. Greyhounds have always had their own space (crate, house etc) during training and racing, so they are no used to being approached or touched while sleeping. Some have no problem, while others have a startle response that can include biting, (I have the scar to prove it). We have a rule that we only pet while the hound is standing. This makes it easy to know that he's fully awake, and is welcoming the pets. This is probably the best rule to implement initially. Hounds often sleep with their eyes open, so while laying down might lead you to think they are awake and okay to pet. This is why we have the "standing" rule, and we also tell all visitors the same thing. It works well for us.

 

As your hound gets used to the household routine, noises movements and other daily life, he may become less startled. Our hound Rocket, who is the one I only pet while standing, has no problem wrapping his paws around my legs and going to sleep. He doesn't startle while snuggled to me, but I still do not reach down and pet, and I call his name several times before moving, just to be sure he is awake. I trust him now, and know more about his triggers, but that's because it's been 6 years together. He is my sidekick and velcro boy. That doesn't mean he won't startle in the right conditions.

 

First thing would be to determine if he truly has sleep aggression, or space aggression. The growling on the walk may have been him testing the waters. Several months into adoption they seem to go through what I call their "teenage years" where they are trying to be the boss and testing boundaries.

 

Others who have overcome the sleep aggression will post and give you some pointers. We just kind of dealt with it using the standing up rule since there are no small children or other pets in the house.

 

Good luck! It will work out, it just takes time. Your dog will be completely different a year from now . He is still finding his way and his place as a family member at this point.

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Camp Broodie. The current home of Mark Kay Mark Jack, and Diva Astar Dashindiva.   Always missing my boy Rocket Hi Noon Rocket,  Allie  Phoenix Dynamite, Kate Miss Kate, Starz Under Da Starz, and Petunia MW Neptunia.

 

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Yes. Time and building trust can help tremendously. For some dogs. Out of the three we gave had with serious space/sleep issues,one was *never, ever* better, one is mostly better, and one is completely better.

 

Unfortunately, you can not know in advance which kind of long term reaction you will ultimately get from any dog. It may take months for it to get better. It could also take years.

 

But if his reactions truly frighten you, and you can't train yourself out if doing his triggers, then the best thing is to return him sooner rather than later. Once a dog bites, no matter the cause, and especially if it is a child, the chances of him getting adopted again will drop significantly.

 

See if your group can recommend a certified animal behaviorist to come and help you. That person can help you recognize his triggers and give you personalized pointers on how to move forward.

 

Good luck.

Edited by greysmom

Chris - Mom to: Lilly, Felicity (DeLand), and Andi (Braska Pandora)

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Angels: Libby (Everlast), Dorie (Dog Gone Holly), Dude (TNJ VooDoo), Copper (Kid's Copper), Cash (GSI Payncash), Toni (LPH Cry Baby), Whiskey (KT's Phys Ed), Atom

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Personally, I believe that with proper training and time, space aggression can be overcome in the majority of dogs. If it is something the dog can't control, like sleep startle, that can be a little trickier.

 

Most greyhounds react "aggressively" out of fear or anxiety. They just aren't used to people in their personal space. A nervous dog will show signs such as holding the head back slightly, showing the whites of the eyes, licking lips, etc. A lot of people don't notice these signs and that is when they get the growl or nip.

 

Have you tried any rewards or desensitization? For example, every time you walk by the dog on the bed (or another situation that makes him aggressive), throw a really high value treat on the floor. Don't say anything or even look at the dog, just do it casually. Keep enough of a distance that you don't pass the threshold of making the dog uncomfortable. If you do this you need to take a step back so that you only reward where the dog is comfortable. With enough repetition, most dogs will start to look forward to humans walking by and forget about everything else. When this starts to happen, you can start to reward new behaviours, such as giving eye contact, getting closer, petting, etc.

 

Some dogs also just need a bit of time to feel comfortable with the movements and hustle and bustle of a house. Once they trust you, you will see improvements in many other areas as well. Since you have already had some nips, you may also want to contact a local (positive) behaviourist to help you out as well. :)

Edited by RedHead
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Guest LDR110913

Thank you all for the helpful advice.

 

We have been trying to work on desensitization now and I think we are on the right path. I agree with what both of you are saying, I do think it will get better in time. The goal here is to either get to a place were we know the dog can be eventually trusted to behave in certain ways so we can they govern ourselves and our future kids appropriately, or understand at the right time (before a major incident) that maybe we should give him back to a different potential home as the risk with small kids might be too great.

 

I do want him to growl more, he just seems to go from 0-60 without any warm up, which is what frightens me. As I saw somewhere else, sometimes kids also don't follow some rules perfectly, and I just don't want to set the dog up for failure.

 

THANKS AGAIN!

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No kid follows rules perfectly, and anyone who is already afraid of a dog who is exibiting pretty normal behavior for a newly adopted ex-racer should possible reconsider Greyhounds as a family member. There are SO many other breeds so much better suited to screaming crawling children. And if you're afraid of this dog already, I just don't see it working out at all.

 

By the way, you said "without any warning" I think twice, but after you said he growled first. So the first key is that YOU are setting him up to fail by not leaving him alone when he's made it quite clear he wants to be left alone!


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Susan,  Hamish,  Mister Bigglesworth and Nikita Stanislav. Missing Ming, George, and Buck

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Guest Greyt_dog_lover

A few things to understand:

1) every dog gives signals before an outburst, not matter how quickly or minute, they always give warnings.

2) keep a notebook of when he has issues and put down as many notes as you can of event, the surroundings, what was going on, etc. The more info you have, the better you will be able to see what he triggers are

3) once you have a good handle on what his triggers are, then you can manage them

 

I say every dog gives signals, here is a list (not complete) of what signals can be:

whale eye (looking at you out of the corner of his eyes, you will see a lot of the white of his eye)

licking his lips

looking down or away from you

yawning

tail tucking between legs

stretching

turning away

slowly walking away or towards you

stiffening up

raising the lip forming a "c" in the back of his mouth with his lips

there are others, but these are the first few that come to mind

 

I have a hound that had a very bad adoption and has some issues. He has put a hole in the skull of one of my other greyhounds, has gone after another hound, bitten his previous adopter and she had to go to the hospital for stitches in her hand. We have fostered him for a total of nearly 1.5 years and decided to adopt him earlier this year. He is a wonderfully sweet boy that loves nothing more than to cuddle in your lap. He will stand with his head in your chest for hours if you let him. He has food aggression and toy possession issues. These are his triggers and we know this about him. We constantly work with him on these issues but we realize what kind of hound he is. In my opinion (which you should take with a grain of salt) space aggression is something that many hounds have at first coming off the track and it goes away with time and trust. Food aggression and toy possession takes much more work and time. I strongly encourage you to train with NILF as well as take him to obedience classes. The more training you accomplish with him, the closer your bond with him will be, the more he will trust you, and hopefully you will be able to extinguish the issues.

 

The key to your situation is to figure out what his triggers are. This is paramount. Without knowing what his triggers are, you will be afraid of him which will confuse him and make things worse. Triggers=management.

 

Understand your hound should not be approached when laying in his bed, crate or otherwise in a down position comfortable. When I say approached, I mean you should not stand over or otherwise loom over the hound. Get the hound to come to you. You should not lay on the hound like a pillow, you should not give this hound any high value treats that take a long time to eat (raw bones to chew on, or maybe even very special squeaky toys). All of these things you should be very careful about until you understand his triggers.

 

I know the situation seems very daunting, and I commend you for posting here and asking for help. I have had hounds very similar to yours (at least from the limited explanation you have given) and was able to work through and have a trusting loving relationship. My current boy that has issues is MUCH worse than your boy, so dont think I am saying my boy is similar to yours, i think your situation is a bit easier (I am not trying to minimize your situation, just let you know there is hope).

 

Chad

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Behavioral issues are on a sliding scale in terms of degree, and depend on both genetics and environmental factors. A dog with more severe issues, or with issues that stem more from genetics than environmental factors will be more difficult to work through than the alternative. So it's really impossible to say whether this is something you can "get rid of". In those tougher cases, you may still be able to make very good progress on eliminating the behavior, but there may always be some degree of management. And it's important to remember that in times of stress (illness, injury, major life changes like adding a baby ;P ) the dog may revert to those original behaviors.

 

My two cents - hire a professional to develop a training plan for you and tell you what management may or may not be involved long term so you can make a decision about whether to keep him or not. I used to give detailed information on how to counter-condition and desensitize this issue "away", but frankly I think it's something best shown with help from someone in person. What I will say is that the majority of people on this site (or at least the people who speak up about it) seem to think htat this is just something that will either go away with time or that you have to live with and that is not true. It may get better wtih time, but you can definitely work to change his feelings about having his space invaded, even when startled awake, but it takes time and a good training plan. In the meantime, you do need to stop doing the things that are causing him to react. Give him his space, if he's sleeping and you need him awake, call him to you (and reward when he comes). If you're allowing him on furniture and that's become a problem area, consider revoking that privilege for the time being and train a very good "off" cue in case he does get up, so you can call him off instead of trying to reach for/pull him.

 

To give you some hope (and again, remember that every dog is different), my dog Zuri was somewhat reactive when having his space invaded, especially when startled awake when I first got him. He has bitten an infant, as well as another greyhound in our home as a result, and has gotten into fights with the cat. I did a lot of work to counter-condition and while I don't consider him "fixed" we don't really have issues anymore. Now his reaction to being startled awake is to pop his head up and look to me with bright eyes for his treat. Case in point, just an hour or so ago, he was stretched out sound asleep on the couch when the cat (who I swear either thinks he is invincible or has a death wish) walked completely across him - first over his back legs, then over his front legs, then over his face. :blink: At which point Zuri popped his head up and looked for his treat, and in this case (I don't always reinforce anymore) I gave him a more delicious reward than normal because, hello, cat on the face. :lol

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Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

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After a few weeks of perfect behavior he will have a relapse where he snaps/growls/nips (i hesitate to use the word bite, but he has broken skin, just not a full out chomp, if that makes sense).

I suspect this is because after an incident, you are both wary and respect his space much more carefully, but as time passes without an incident you get lax and end up provoking another incident. You've got to pay attention to what he is and is not comfortable with and make sure you are respecting his boundaries at all times. Some others have already mentioned this above, but I would look for more subtle signs that he is stressed and/or not enjoying interactions with you that may be precursors to the more obvious growling and biting. These are things like tongue licking, yawning, eyes averted (watch especially for "whale eye" - this is when your dog is looking at you sideways and you are primarily seeing the whites of the eyes, generally a good sign that a bite is coming), stiffening or being very still, turning his head away, if you're petting him licking at or mouthing your hands or even pushing his head in that direction, a tightly closed mouth - these are all signs that he's uncomfortable and is trying to tell you to leave him alone.

 

If you'd like a really good way to become more familiar with these types of signals, consider getting the Sarah Kaljnas DVD, The Language of Dogs. There are good books as well (Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash is a great one), but nothing beats a good visual.

 

In the meantime, there is some good information from a trainer I really respect here:

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/pets/dog-behavior/how-to-read-a-dogs-facial-expressions

and here:

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/pets/dog-behavior/what-do-dogs-say-with-their-tails

 

ETA: Meant to say that if you would like help finding a professional, let me know where you live and I can help.

Edited by NeylasMom

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Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest LDR110913

Thank you all for your suggestions and links to helpful resources. We are reading up on calming signals and have ordered The Other End of the Leash. We wanted to take time to observe our grey’s behavior and try to understand his “triggers” better before posting back. To give a bit more background, our grey is a 3-yr old male who came off the track last fall. We adopted him 2.5 months ago. He is typically in his crate for about 8 hours a day for 3-4 days a week, depending on how much we can work from home. Otherwise, we tend to let him walk around a few rooms of the house when we are home and crate him while going out and overnight. We walk him at least twice a day, about 20-30 min in the morning and longer at night, and often 3 times on the weekends. He is highly food motivated and we have been to basic obedience training…he seems to pick up commands quickly. He was one to “statue” on walks at first, but after using the “with me” command, he is walking much better. He has a very low prey drive, is great in meeting other dogs, and generally seems happy to meet new people. I would describe him as a curious grey and more outgoing than others I’ve met.


We’ve been watching him carefully now and have noticed he may be one of those hounds who is probably still nervous in his new home, but doesn’t show many signs of anxiousness, which is why we might have missed them. For example, we did notice his nose runs and he exhibits whale eye. He also does teeth chattering and puffing air out of his cheeks…not sure if this is due to nervousness, though. At the same time, he has nitted, so we were happy he felt comfortable in doing this.


As mentioned, our grey seems to have possessiveness of objects and sometimes space, as well as sleep startle. The “leave it” command is helping when he gets any objects he shouldn’t have and we are trying to be more diligent about dog-proofing our home. As for the space/sleep aggression, that is what is more concerning right now. We realized we probably let him on the furniture too early. After the first week, we let him up on the couch and for the first month, we were all happily lounging around. We recognized he had some sleep startle issues early on, so made sure to call his name when we thought he was asleep before petting him. However, recently, we had an incident when our grey was on the couch with us and woke up after napping, appearing sleepy. We made sure he was awake and one of us went to pet him. He growled briefly before snapping without much warning. He simply seems to get grumpy sometimes. Now that we recognize this, we are planning to try to have him lie down on his own bed starting around 9pm when he starts to get tired. Right now, we’ve revoked his furniture privileges and are telling him “off” if he tries to get on. We just wanted some input if this is a correct course of action? Loki soooooo wants to get on the furniture next to us, so this is very hard to do. We keep telling him “off” and eventually he sulks back to his bed.


We had two other cases where people were petting our grey on his bed, and he growled for a split-second before snapping. We are no longer letting people pet him when he is on his bed. We are also taking another poster’s suggestion and giving him treats when approaching his bed. We first observed that these incidents happen during or after having visitors. Again, we think he is overwhelmed or tired and just wants his own space. We are trying our best to read signals, but sometimes we start to confuse ourselves even more! For example, sometimes our grey puts his head closer to a person after they stop petting him, which we read as he wants the petting to continue. However, in one case, he growled, and was therefore quickly left alone. I know sometimes people say greyhounds do happy growls, but at this point, we are treating growls as a warning. What is confusing is that we went through the whole first month and a half without incident petting him on his bed and on the couch. Maybe as he is settling in, he would prefer to have less attention? Has anyone else experienced this? From reading other posts, most people seem to have the opposite situation happen.


I think we will try to take our grey in for another vet appointment to make sure he is feeling ok to rule out any health issues as causes of snapping due to discomfort on being touched. Additionally, after reading another post, I think we are in your group and DC area, Neyla’s Mom, so any recommendations on trainers or behaviorists would be greatly appreciated. We want to be more proactive in learning what we can do to build trust and make our grey feel comfortable and part of the family. Thanks again! ☺

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It sounds like you're doing a great job. I am actually a trainer, though not a behaviorist (there is a distinction). PM me if you want to talk more about whether I could help you. Id be happy to do an in home consult and come up with a training plan. I've been through this with my greyhounds so I get your frustration and confusion.

gallery_12662_3351_862.jpg

Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

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So I realized you can't send or receive messages yet ( you need more posts). So feel free to contact me off the board: jboydmorin@gmail.com and I can either chat about setting up a consult or refer you to someone closer.

gallery_12662_3351_862.jpg

Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

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Guest k9soul

You've already gotten some great advice and I don't have anything to add, just a couple thoughts. My first hound had these issues too; two years later he rarely startles, doesn't get upset if approached while eating and so on. He is still a dog I would never reach down and touch while sleeping, and I gently say his name if I am going to step over him, but he has gradually become a different dog, more relaxed, comfortable and trusting, over the past couple years. I learned to recognize his signs of tension, which were more subtle than some dogs, and with counter conditioning, time/patience and understanding his triggers things are much different now.

 

I added my second hound last year, and while he does not have any space issues (with people) or sleep startle, he did seem to suddenly decide after a few months that he was not comfortable with my other hound walking up to his bed area while he was lying down. In hindsight, I think he was never really comfortable with it, but he tolerated it and kind of laid low because he was new and didn't know what to expect. After he settled he began voicing his displeasure when my other hound approached him on his bed. So it could be something like that going on with your hound as far as seeming fine at first and then growling later.

 

I really admire that you are trying to learn and see if this is something you can work through and wish you all the best!

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Hi,

 

Contrats on your new arrival. I just wanted to share my experience as part of your earlier question related to whether or not things would settle down. Obviously all circumstances are different but I've followed advice of people on here following an earlier post (I think entitled 'growling on sofa'). I've got 2 hounds and Charlie who we adopted 12 months ago had similar issues. When he first arrived he didn't seem to be as bothered. If I lay on the sofa he would lie next to (or even on top of) me and I'd stroke him while he was asleep on his own bed, he also let me brush his teeth every day. Then he seemed to change and he became more wary of being touched while lying down and would even growl if I walked close to him on the sofa. Some people suggested that he was being possessive of the sofa and we took this off him for a few days (put an bean bag on top) which did seem to make a difference one he was allowed back on.

 

I also read on the leash and became aware of when he was unhappy - Charlie will start to puff his cheeks out, freeze and his lips will start to curl upwards (in what I'd first informed my partner as 'look he's smiling at me'). This rarely progresses past this stage anymore, usually I just say calmly 'it's OK Charlie' and he relaxes, but I know if he's really tired to give him his space.

 

He will growl if I'm about to sit next to him sometimes, my thoughts were that he thinks he's going to be sat on as he doesn't do this off I slide over to him.

 

 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that i definitely expected a bit much at first and when he first growled at me I was horrified. But through a mixture of learning about what upsets him, and quite possibly him becoming more comfortable with me, a few months down the line we have hardly any growling anymore (I'm lying on his bed with him as I write this).

 

Good luck.

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