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Aggression/biting Without Warning


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Hi all. I posted once more on this topic, but there are some changes and this post is about something slightly different. My original post can be found here.

 

We adopted our male greyhound, Ragnar, in August 2017. He's now 3 1/2 years old. When we first rescued him, we had issues with what appeared to be resource guarding over toys, furniture, treats, etc. We worked with some animal behavior specialists and Ragnar has improved greatly in these areas. We no longer let him on furniture to avoid the potential of him becoming entitled/possessive, but we have several very comfortable beds for him instead. We implement the "trade up" technique to get him more comfortable with us approaching during mealtimes, when he has a toy, or when he's eating a treat or bone. He has shown great improvement, and the bites we associated with resources guarding originally have seemingly stopped.

The issue now is that every now and then, he still randomly bites someone, but it's without warning and doesn't seem to be related to resources. More specifically, if he gets into the trash or something he shouldn't, and you scold him (entirely verbal and even from a distance), he cowers, and if you go near him he may bite you. He did this once with my husband, who approached him with some trash he ripped up, telling him "no." He just did it again with a family member who was dog sitting for us (not in our home). There is no warning growl or look, other than his cowering with his head down. He looks guilty, rather than defensive or aggressive. And when I say "scolding" it's not to be confused with "punishing" so I don't see how his biting could be in defense, unless he's pre-emptively biting, expecting us to hit him or something (no idea where he would get this idea from though). It's literally just someone saying "No" or "bad dog," and if you approach him, he will bite.

 

Anyway, it was very disheartening to hear of the dog sitting incident last week. We thought Ragnar was doing so much better, but it's no longer just an issue with me and my husband when he now bites others outside the home. I don't feel comfortable having my family watch him anymore, and more importantly, my husband and I are about to start a family, and I don't know if I can trust Ragnar around a child when he can become aggressive randomly without warning. If anyone can shed some insight/comments/suggestions/opinions, I'd be greatly appreciative.

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You will likely get some responses, but these kinds of things are really best dealt with in person and not by us. I suggest you contact the canine behaviorist you worked with before to help you sort out this issue.

 

FWIW, he is giving you warning signs (head down, not looking at you, he may be lifting his lip and/or growling that you can't see due to his posture). Apparently he is still resource guarding things he considers his. Your behaviorsit can help you recognize the signs and his body language. Also talk with them about your future plans and what you can do to help Ragnar (great name!) get ready for a baby.

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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Greysmom is spot on. The signs are there but they are very subtle with this boy. I second continuing to work with the behaviorist. The trash can is probably a very high value treat in his mind depending on what's in it. You are most of the way there from the sound of it but he still needs some additional work and reinforcement.

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You will likely get some responses, but these kinds of things are really best dealt with in person and not by us. I suggest you contact the canine behaviorist you worked with before to help you sort out this issue.

 

FWIW, he is giving you warning signs (head down, not looking at you, he may be lifting his lip and/or growling that you can't see due to his posture). Apparently he is still resource guarding things he considers his. Your behaviorsit can help you recognize the signs and his body language. Also talk with them about your future plans and what you can do to help Ragnar (great name!) get ready for a baby.

 

This.

 

Except it's also possible that he's not resource guarding in these instances, but is in fact reacting out of fear. His reason for being afraid doesn't have to make sense to you, but cowering, avoiding eye contact, looking away, etc are all signs that he's extremely uncomfortable (and holding up a piece of trash, sternly saying "No", and moving towards him can all definitely be seen by a dog as threatening). I shared my house with a hound who would flip out for seemingly no reason. She was more "flight" than "fight", so if something scared her, she'd take off running. I bumped my elbow on the wall once, said "Ow" quietly, and she bolted, careened through my bedroom, bounced off my bed, and cowered into her slumberball. I have no idea why me hurting myself scared her so badly, especially since I'd never (ever, ever!) hit her. It made no sense at all to me, but her fear was very real.

 

Also, important to note that dogs can't really feel guilty. They can display submissive and placating behaviors when they sense you're upset, but they aren't feeling "guilt" as humans feel it.

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Also recommend seeing a behaviourist or well seasoned positive reinforcement trainer for advice. And stop scolding him. What you consider a "reward" or "punishment" does not necessarily align with what the dog perceives to be a reward or punishment, and it's the dog's perception that matters... not the humans. Cowering and escalating to aggression are both indicators that the scolding is likely being perceived as punishment and/or threatening to this dog. You are best to ignore behaviours you don't like and reward the ones you do. If the behaviour is potentially dangerous to the dog he should be redirected using positive methods. If he grabs something out of the trash, throw a handful of really tasty treats on the ground a little ways away from him, and when he drops the item to eat the treats you can slowly reach over and pick it up (keep an eye on the dog to make sure he is completely engaged in his treats and doesn't notice you picking up the item). Give a few more treats afterwards and tell him what a good boy he is.

Kristie and the Apex Agility Greyhounds: Kili (ATChC AgMCh Lakilanni Where Eagles Fly RN IP MSCDC MTRDC ExS Bronze ExJ Bronze ) and Kenna (Lakilanni Kiss The Sky RN MADC MJDC AGDC AGEx AGExJ). Waiting at the Bridge: Retired racer Summit (Bbf Dropout) May 5, 2005-Jan 30, 2019

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In addition to comments above, I suggest modifying the environment (as best you can) to prevent his being able to even get to garbage and other 'off-limits' items. Garbage cans should go inside closed pantries or cupboards, or behind closed doors. We got a "butterfly open" garbage can that requires you step on the lever to open it to prevent accessing it after a single-flap one was still openable (and that by my cat!). We kept our recycling out in the back porch to keep empty cans and other tasty things away because we don't have a cabinet that would work. Food waste goes into the freezer until garbage day (that also because it cuts the smell for us!) and even the bathroom garbage cans have lids (though they are less appealing, they can still entice bad behavior!).

 

Approaching a dog who is already giving appeasement signals and telling him "no" can pretty threatening behavior, to the dog. You're bigger, you control the resources, and he doesn't understand why you are upset that he's doing natural (for a dog) scavenging activities. When you say 'no' or call him a 'bad dog' I'm betting there's emotion there, no matter how 'calm' you act. And if you are coming in upset, it sets him on edge. He's doing appeasement to get you to stand down, to stop approaching, and when you continue to approach he defends himself because he *feels* threatened, especially if there's no way for him to get away.

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I agree that this seems like a fear reaction. If your boy is an alpha dog, he probably has always felt like he's in charge. Our first grey was a very tiny female with an enormous personality. She could really be a bi!@&! I am sure that was her personality on the track. If we told her no or that she was a bad girl in a stern voice, she would dip her butt. She thought we were going to hit her. We never, ever did, but I'm pretty sure she was on the track. She was the alpha dog even though she was the smallest in our pack. The other two were 20 - 30 pounds heavier than her! LOL

 

It sounds to me that your boy is in about the same boat. You know not to approach him when he's naughty, so don't. We learned to stay away from her bed and to leave her alone when she was there. She was a very special hound whom I miss each and every day! She mellowed out so nicely. We got her a buddy who taught her how to be a pet and not an athlete any more!

 

I understand your fears. Good Luck!

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Excellent advice from all.

 

And the onus is on you to make sure your home is totally dog proof!

Don't set him up to fail.

Remove the garbage. Clear the counters.

 

Nancy...Mom to Sid (Peteles Tiger), Kibo (112 Carlota Galgos).   Missing Casey, Gomer, Mona, Penelope, BillieJean, Bandit, Nixon (Starz Sammie),  Ruby (Watch Me Dash) Nigel (Nigel), and especially little Mario, waiting at the Bridge.

 

 

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I agree that this seems like a fear reaction. If your boy is an alpha dog, he probably has always felt like he's in charge. Our first grey was a very tiny female with an enormous personality. She could really be a bi!@&! I am sure that was her personality on the track. If we told her no or that she was a bad girl in a stern voice, she would dip her butt. She thought we were going to hit her. We never, ever did, but I'm pretty sure she was on the track. She was the alpha dog even though she was the smallest in our pack. The other two were 20 - 30 pounds heavier than her! LOL

 

It sounds to me that your boy is in about the same boat. You know not to approach him when he's naughty, so don't. We learned to stay away from her bed and to leave her alone when she was there. She was a very special hound whom I miss each and every day! She mellowed out so nicely. We got her a buddy who taught her how to be a pet and not an athlete any more!

 

I understand your fears. Good Luck!

 

This sounds very similar to our situation. Ragnar and my husband had some issues at first with establishing who was alpha, and they have both since mellowed out. That's sad to think he might have been punished physically before he came to us :(. You said your pup mellowed out - I'm wondering if ours will do that within the next couple years. I hope so!

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Thank you all for the responses! I reached out to our behaviorist so we will see what happens there. She also mentioned scolding the dog is pointless, and buys us nothing, it just always seemed counterintuitive to give the dog treats to distract him from the trash, but the majority of the advice we've received said the same thing.

 

Also I should mention we do dog proof our home - we learned that a loooong time ago! We bought a trash with a butterfly lid as well, but Ragnar knocked it over and broke the lid off the very first day :D so we now keep it in the pantry where we can close the door. Every now and then when he does get into something (off the counter, or papers, etc.) it's while we are gone, so if we come home and scold him, he doesn't put the scolding and the incident together, since it likely happened a while before we got home. I think this contributes to his confusion and defensiveness when we scold him because he doesn't know why. My husband has since learned this, but my family wasn't aware when they were dog sitting. I have told them to dog proof things, but didn't think to tell them how to scold him after the fact, which is what caused the biting incident. It's hard to ask my family to dog sit when there is a laundry list of instructions to keep him from biting..

 

Anyway, thank you all again! Very helpful

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I knew somebody who adopted a rescue dog who was great except at bedtime when they shut him in the kitchen and said “Goodnight” to him, when he went for them! They soon realised that he was fine providing they didn’t use the phrase “Goodnight”. Goodness knows what had happened to the dog earlier but it obviously brought back memories to him. Maybe if you do feel you need to verbally chastise him, and we all do it without thinking, maybe you could use a different phrase to show displeasure? After all it is only a sound to a dog, the actual words only mean something to us!

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Ragnar and my husband had some issues at first with establishing who was alpha, and they have both since mellowed out.

 

I would strongly urge you to re-consider this thought process. "Alpha theory" was debunked scientifically some time ago, though unfortunately it continues to persist amongst dog owners in large part due to some high profile trainers who have a large audience *cough* Cesar Milan *cough*. It has been shown that dogs are not small wolves. The domestication process had a huge influence on their social structure and they do not form true "packs" and therefore have a much looser hierarchy. Even within true wolf packs, we now know that the rigid pack structure we all think of doesn't really apply. The original studies that came up with pack structure and dominance theory were performed on artificial packs in captivity, not wild packs. Packs in captivity often differ hugely - for one thing resources are more freely available, the animals experience different stressors associated with restricted movement and ability to express normal behaviours, and the packs are often thrown together as opposed to the way natural packs form which is with the offspring of the main breeding pair (they're all related).

 

As a result we really need to not think of our lives with our dogs in terms of a "wolf pack" because that's really not applicable. We are different species, and even if you have multiple dogs they are typically unrelated. There is no need to be "the alpha" or to dominate our pet dogs. What they DO require is structure and consistency. They need to know what the rules of the household are and what the expectations of them are. But we can achieve that through positive reinforcement and consistency in how we address their behaviour.

 

If you're interested, a really good read is "Decoding Your Dog" which is written by a number of Veterinary Behaviourists. They address normal dog behaviour, the correct way to train, and common behaviour concerns. Of course it doesn't replace a trip to a behaviourist if required, but it's a really great book to help people understand what is normal, what is not, and how we should interact with our dogs... all written by people who are truly experts.

Kristie and the Apex Agility Greyhounds: Kili (ATChC AgMCh Lakilanni Where Eagles Fly RN IP MSCDC MTRDC ExS Bronze ExJ Bronze ) and Kenna (Lakilanni Kiss The Sky RN MADC MJDC AGDC AGEx AGExJ). Waiting at the Bridge: Retired racer Summit (Bbf Dropout) May 5, 2005-Jan 30, 2019

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I would strongly urge you to re-consider this thought process. "Alpha theory" was debunked scientifically some time ago, though unfortunately it continues to persist amongst dog owners in large part due to some high profile trainers who have a large audience *cough* Cesar Milan *cough*. It has been shown that dogs are not small wolves. The domestication process had a huge influence on their social structure and they do not form true "packs" and therefore have a much looser hierarchy. Even within true wolf packs, we now know that the rigid pack structure we all think of doesn't really apply. The original studies that came up with pack structure and dominance theory were performed on artificial packs in captivity, not wild packs. Packs in captivity often differ hugely - for one thing resources are more freely available, the animals experience different stressors associated with restricted movement and ability to express normal behaviours, and the packs are often thrown together as opposed to the way natural packs form which is with the offspring of the main breeding pair (they're all related).

 

As a result we really need to not think of our lives with our dogs in terms of a "wolf pack" because that's really not applicable. We are different species, and even if you have multiple dogs they are typically unrelated. There is no need to be "the alpha" or to dominate our pet dogs. What they DO require is structure and consistency. They need to know what the rules of the household are and what the expectations of them are. But we can achieve that through positive reinforcement and consistency in how we address their behaviour.

 

If you're interested, a really good read is "Decoding Your Dog" which is written by a number of Veterinary Behaviourists. They address normal dog behaviour, the correct way to train, and common behaviour concerns. Of course it doesn't replace a trip to a behaviourist if required, but it's a really great book to help people understand what is normal, what is not, and how we should interact with our dogs... all written by people who are truly experts.

:nod

 

Another great resource for understanding aggression in dogs is Pat Miller's Beware of the Dog:

Beware of the Dog: Positive Solutions for Aggressive Behavior in Dogs https://smile.amazon.com/dp/1617811939/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_6DvqCbN9C2FDH

 

I do strongly encourage you to keep working with a force free trainer to work on behavior modification so you can at least reduce the risk of future bites.

 

As for having rules for your family when watching him, we all have rules for whomever watches our dogs in order to keep the safe. You need to in order to advocate for both your dogs and your family's safety. But you should give them in advance and understand if your family says no that that's reasonable and you may have to explore other options.

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FWIW, we keep every interaction with our dogs positive. There is no scolding whatsoever. If a touchy dog gets something he/she shouldn't have, I trade up CHEERFULLY, or otherwise CHEERFULLY distract the dog so I can get the object back and put it well out of reach. The closest we get to scolding here is a single sharpish "ACK!" to interrupt whatever is going on and distract the dog's attention so we can redirect to appropriate objects/behavior.

 

The result is that if the dog has or is doing something inappropriate from my point of view, the dog is not frightened or defensive when I approach. With some dogs and some highly desirable objects, it has taken time to achieve that. But keeping things cheerful and positive works very very well, and the resulting easy-to-live-with behavior gets to be a habit.

 

I am always cautious with new people interacting with the dogs about things like that. Kids under 16-18? They're not to try to take something from the dog but rather to call me instead.

 

Best luck!

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Wow, thank you all for the information and resources! This has been very helpful and I have a lot to think about. We have slowly come to realize throughout our time with Ragnar and our behaviorists, that positive reinforcement is the most effective training method, especially with creatures as gentle as greyhounds!

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Mine does this too and after 15 months, we attribute it to fear and thyroid issues. He is on Clomicalm for fear and Thyrotabs for his thyroid. We had the super expensive 5 panel test from MSU to evaluate the thyroid.

 

Our dog has improved, but there are certain people he doesn't like for whatever reason.

 

Work with a vet or behaviorist to be safe.

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This is interesting - I hadn't considered biological factors. You say your dog has improved, as in no more biting issues at all or they've decreased? Thanks for the response!

Mine does this too and after 15 months, we attribute it to fear and thyroid issues. He is on Clomicalm for fear and Thyrotabs for his thyroid. We had the super expensive 5 panel test from MSU to evaluate the thyroid.

 

Our dog has improved, but there are certain people he doesn't like for whatever reason.

 

Work with a vet or behaviorist to be safe.

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Thyroid issues can cause anxiety and unexpected aggression. But greyhounds are often misdiagnosed due to having very low normal levels. This is why you need to have greyhound thyroid evaluated with an expanded test through Michigan State. Your vet can help you submit samples for testing.

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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