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Aggression / Snapping Issues

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I am hoping to get some guidance or advice on my rescue greyhound and some aggression issues we've been having...

A bit of background. We adopted our boy (Colin!) in October last year - he was 2yrs old, a bit under weight, but seemed pretty happy, inquisitive etc. Pretty early on, we noticed that there was something wrong with one leg and, long story short, he had to have TPLO surgery last December followed by months of being kept in a small room / large cage and hydrotherapy. He was pretty much fully recovered by around April / May last year but we are still taking him to some hydrotherapy sessions. I mention this just because we've always put a lot of the incidents down to this, but I'm beginning to wonder how long I can use that as a reason...

Colin has always been very reactive when out on walks, and has a very high prey drive. He will bark and lunge for most dogs he passes, and although we've taken him to different trainers, the improvements have been minimal. He will chase and go for the obvious culprits - cats, squirrels etc, but also sheep, birds if they're in his path, and sometimes cars. I've always put much of it down to anxiety and a possibly quite traumatic early life. He is mostly okay with other dogs inside the house. He goes to day care twice a week and gets on well. We don't have any other dogs in our house.

When we first got Colin, he was however excellent with people. Loved everyone, was very cuddly, wanted to lay with you and so on. We were able to dry his feet after walks and brush his teeth without issue. I used to say that the reactivity with other dogs was pain but at least he was great with people.

A few months after his surgery, he started having some 'outbursts' at my wife. He would suddenly bark and growl, snarl, teeth bared at her. There were probably about 6-8 separate occasions, one time biting and drawing blood. He also bit me once in this time, again drawing blood. 

I put these incidents down to individual circumstances - when he bit me, I was trying to remove some clothes he was laying on from underneath him, when he bit my girlfriend, he had been asleep with his head on her lap and although she hadn't so much as moved, we put it down to him waking up and maybe being in a bit of pain or something. There has not always been an obvious trigger though.

My wife was really quite scared by these incidents and now strokes and pets him only when standing and will not sit on the sofa at the same time as him, which is working to some extent.

In the summer of last year, the incidents started becoming more frequent and mainly directed at me. There's been quite a number of incidents since then - around 20 - one of which drew quite a significant amount of blood on my arm to the point that I was advised to get a tetanus shot. He would snap if we tried to dry his feet so we stopped doing that. We had his leg checked and x-rayed again but no issues there. Colin often comes over to me, will flop to the ground and ask for his tummy to be rubbed (at least that's what it looks like). He would ask for me to stroke him, lay there for a while - paw at me if I stopped, but then at some point suddenly snap and lunge. I've stopped stroking him while he's laying down.

Unfortunately, nothing we've done has really stopped the incidents. They seem to come out of nowhere and the circumstances are always different. In recent months, he has started barking and lunging towards certain people on walks too. Last night, he lunged at my face (marking me but no blood) when I was kneeling relatively close by and this morning a friend came to chat to me while we were on our walk and stroked Colin. Colin's tail was wagging and he seemed happy and then suddenly jumped up at my friend's face (no injuries!) and started barking at him.

I feel like I'm at a bit of a loss to know what to do. My wife and I have young nieces and nephews and we don't feel comfortable with them being around him. I feel as if it's only a matter of time before he bites someone else. We are first time dog owners and at this point, we are giving very serious consideration to giving him back to the rescue centre. At the same time, we both love him a great deal. We put so much time, effort and money into his health and his behaviour but nothing seems to work!

Am I missing something? Has anyone else ever had similar experiences with rescue greyhounds?? 

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If this snapping behavior really is random, I would think a thorough vet check is needed.  If that goes well, possibly a behaviorist.  It's certainly not normal for any dog to be randomly aggressive with their own pack.  

Are there any warning signs?   Does Colin tense up before he snaps?  Does he give warnings? (aka: growl, stiff body, ears forward, bug eyes, or even yawning?)  

Do you notice aggression/ resource guarding in any other situation?  (Does he protect his food or toys from you and your partner?)

As far as comfort around others, I suggest either separation or a muzzle.  

For reactivity on the leash, I suggest teaching a "look at me" behavior.   But the thing is, you have to be very proactive with this... the "look at me" has to be given before the stimulus is noticed by Colin.  A dog in full prey drive, is almost incapable of registering outside commands/requests.  Literally they become laser focused.  Which is why the handler has to be very proactive.   It's not like they don't want to listen to you, it's that their brains filter out all signals that aren't related to that prey.  

I'm interested to see what others, more experienced with Greys have to say.

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We do see cases like this here on the board.  Usually true aggression in greyhounds (or most dog breeds) is really rare.   If you haven't yet, do a search for threads in this section for terms like: aggression, sleep startle, leash reactivity, resource guarding.  You can read through them for more search suggestions and what we have recommended previously.

Also, don't get tied into any certain cause for these incidents.  It could be any of the things you imagine, or it could be none of them.  You will likely never know.  You need to focus on moving forward and helping him be a safe and happy member of your home.  A lot of what you choose to do for/with Colin is going to depend on how committed you are to helping him.  It will take time and energy and possibly money over the long term to get him back on track.  It's also perfectly acceptable to decide this isn't the dog for you, and to return him to the adoption group.

From your speech patterns, I'm guessing you may be located in the UK, or outside of the US (where many of us here on GT are based).  Attitudes towards training and behavior can vary greatly from country to country, so you may need to adjust your thinking, or advocate for Colin more forcefully with your vet for certain treatments, or look a bit harder for a certified animal behaviorist in your area.

RSPCA Find a Behaviourist

Talk with your vet first and really have him/her give your dog a thorough evaluation for any pain.  Not just his leg, but over his entire body.  I also want to mention the *possibility* of some sort of neurological issue due to the rapid development of his behaviors.   We do occassionally see brain tumors causing such problems.  An MRI is the only diagnostic tool for this.   Also, low thyroid can cause aggression, so he needs to have his thyroid levels tested.  You can read more about this by doing a separate search.  Greyhounds have weird thyroid so read up!

Ask your vet for a recommendation for a Certified Animal Behavourist - NOT a "trainer" but someone actually trained and certified in evaluating and treating behavior issues in dogs.  They usually have medical certification and can write prescriptions for meds, along with being excellent trainers.  Use the link above if your vet doesn't have any suggestions.  Find one that uses only positive reinforcement only techniques.

You may - probably will - need to put him on a course of treatment using anti anxiety medication.  This doesn't necessarily mean he will need to be on medication his entire life, but he may.

His issues are complex and wide ranging so his treatment will likely be the same.  Please keep us updated on your progress moving forward!  Good luck!!

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

52592535884_69debcd9b4.jpgsiggy by Chris Harper, on Flickr

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, Lilly

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Our first dog, Rocket had really bad sleep startle and some space issues. He was the sweetest hound you ever met and loved by everyone who ever met him, but he had those couple of issues that are similar to some of what you describe.  We had to develop some rules, not only for ourselves, but also for visitors and those who kept him when we were away. Over the years, he bit several times, but each time was human-caused when it triggered the space issue or startled him in his sleep. He didn;t have an aggressive bone in his body, so that's a word we learned not to use to describe this behavior. 

1. No furniture privileges. In our case, Rocket didn't care about getting on the furniture so it wasn't really an issue. Furniture privileges are earned, not a right and you can;t trust your dog to not be reactive on the furniture. 

2. His beds and his space are just that - his. No one should reach to pet him, get close or touch him when he's on his bed or lying down. We had a rule that said he only gets petted when he;s standing. It worked. Sounds weird, but it worked - let him come to you for pets. Reaching under him while sleeping will get you botten as you've seen That's pretty typical sleep startle. These hounds have had their own space/kennel since very early in life. They are not used to being touched while sleeping. Many are fine with it once they are in a house, but many are not. 

3. Again - no petting when he's lying down. Even if his eyes are open. Many hounds sleep with their eyes open or look like their eyes are open when they aren't due to the extra eyelid. 

4. We learned to always make our presence know when approaching his bed or a place where he was resting. Something as simple as saying "Hey Buddy" let him know we were somewhere near him and was enough to prevent startle with Rocket. At night he was often on the floor in my path to the bathroom. I always let him know that I was approaching and there was no growling or startle that way. 

Even though the above sounds really restrictive, we had a happy dog who interacted with everyone and never met a stranger when we were out and about. He loved the neighbors, other dogs who were routinely out walking when we were, had many greyhound pals who stayed with us often, and went everywhere with me without an issue as long as those few rules/habits were adhered to. He would even sleep on the floor by my chair and wrap his legs around my legs when I was sitting in the chair with no issues. If I needed to get up, I told him to move before getting up. If my keys came out of my pocket, he was at the door waiting to go on the next adventure. He was very much  best friend but simply had those quirks that could not be trained out of him, we were the ones who needed to adjust. He was awesome with kids, but again we did not letthem pet him if he was laying down. Most kids were encounted when we were out walking, and they could pet him, hang on him, hug him etc and he was fine.

The issue was simply when he was laying down - that was his space and if sleepig he would startle easily unless we spoke as we approached. The time he bit me and another person, we did something that we knew not to do, and reached down when he was sleeping without thinking about what we were doing. Both times, he bit due to being startled. 

As noted in another post, a complete medical exam should also be done to rule out any other pain and especially check the thyroid levels. 

These may not be the answers you want, but may be the reality. Good luck. I hope you gett o the bottom of the issues and have a happy, healthy buddy there. 


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


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A thyroid test should be considered. On a general medical panel only a T4 is done. You will need to tell your vet to run the full thyroid panel.

This info is from http://www.greythealth.com/blood.html


Greyhounds: .5 - 3.6 (mean 1.47+/- .63)

Other dogs: 1.52 - 3.60
These figures are from a University of Florida study of thyroid function in 221 greyhounds - 97 racers, 99 broods, and 25 studs - so it included both racers and "retired." While greyhound thyroid levels are a whole chapter unto themselves, a good rule of thumb is that greyhound T4s run about half that of other breeds.

If medication is indicated note that it must be given at a certain amount of time before feeding. (I think it's one hour.) Also your vet will want to do followup testing that includes a specific window of time for the test to be done.

There have been occasions of greyhounds being over medicated by thyroid meds.

GTers: can those of you with thyroid experience comment on dosage and timing of testing and dispensing the medication?



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As greysmom said get your vet to give him a thorough examination both medical and physical. You could ask your adoption group to recommend one who's greyhound experienced.


Grace (Ardera Coleen) b. 18 June 2014 - Gotcha Day 10 June 2018 - Going grey gracefully
Guinness (Antigua Rum) b. 3 September 2017 - Gotcha Day 18 March 2022 - A gentleman most of the time


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