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People aggression

3437 Views 34 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  CVF_Kennel
I adopted a 4 yr old purebred with European bloodlines in January this year. I was advised he had been abused by a previous owner and he could be "protective" of himself. Needless to say, we did a great deal of research and we have been very careful with him since then. We introduced to only one or two people at a time for the first few months and he seemed to be OK. This past May we had about 5 people over and he was doing fine. A friend came in and Riley walked over to her and she started to greet him and he just walked away. She then followed him to our small kitchen where he was sitting in the corner (i thought she was going to say hi to her husband) she then started to bend down and and get near him when he lowered his head, ears back and bit her on the arm. It wasn't a bad bite (no stitches) but it wasn't good either. I separated him in the bathroom. We felt he was comfortable with the people that were over as they had all been in the house and met him several times before.

Since that incident, we haven't really had anyone over we actually had him neutered at the end of June in hopes it may calm him down. I need to mention he can be very anxious and almost overly "stimulated" on walks or when he sees other animals and dogs. We had two friends over this past weekend and we did all the right things prior to their arrival: took a long walk, met them outside, let him sniff them outside, gave him treats. We were sitting in the living room and he was licking his Kong and the man and woman were able to pet him a little as he was distracted. When he was done with his Kong I had him come over to me; I was sitting on the floor with my back on the couch and our female friend sitting behind me. I had Riley sit there next to me and had my friend start to reach out and try to pet him while I held him on leash. He then snapped off an snarled and showed his teeth at her. I immediately separated him to the bedroom.

I need help to diagnose this problem. He gets almost 2 hours of exercise a day, he gets good Nutro food, we practice NILIF, I am a very calm-assertive leader, he obeys pretty much everything he is commanded to do and he responds well to Pos Reinforcement. I worry about the possibility of a thyroid issue as there are often times when he gets lethargic on walks and I almost have to pull him. He is OK being around people until they try to reach out and touch him. He has trouble making eye contact with strangers as well. I have contacted a trainer and will be working one on one soon but I wondered if anyone here might be able to help. I worry things may be getting worse.
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this is my 2 cents, contact a trainer that does or is familiar with Military training, if the problem is not corrected now, it will get worse, as long as you stay the calm-assertive leader its a good and important start, you did not say if the dog was corrected when this happened other than putting him away from what I was taught this will only encourage him to do it again, other will chime in here with some other suggestions
If the dog was abused in his previous home, it may take a long time for him to trust people again. In the first scenario, it was wrong of your friend to approach your dog when he was laying in the corner. That was threatening to him and people need to be told to give him his space. Clearly he isn't comfortable with people reaching out towards him yet so guest's can be in the same room with him but tell them not to approach him. It may take time of him being around people but not approached by them for him to become more comfortable. He likely isn't going to be the kind of dog that will be real social depending upon the severity of abuse he endured earlier in life. Do you know much about that? As for Thyroid, I would do a full thyroid panel AND a full Tick panel on this dog. Tick disease can mess up a dog pretty bad mentally and physically. Has he had his hips/elbows evaluated to be sure he's not having pain from dysplasia? I'm just throwing ideas out there. Sometimes when dogs hurt, they become aggressive at anyone wanting to pet them. Good luck and I'm sure you'll get plenty of advice here. Just be sure to rule out any possible health problems first and please do the tick panel as well.

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As far as correcting...I did not really do anything other than immediately separate him as I have read that reacting aggressively can often make him act more aggressively the next time he starts his behavior. Also, if he is separated he gets left out; he will hopefully think "if I do this again, I have to go sit in a room by myself away from everyone."

And on the subject of "correcting" I don't really see a definition of what that is anywhere....a jerk of the leash? The concept seems to lack definition in my eyes.
I think you are moving way too fast for this dog. An abused dog has to learn, by experience, that not all people are going to hurt him because his experience so far is that he will be hurt.

In that first instance, he felt uncomfortable so he walked away, but the person followed him and when he was in a corner effectively trapped him, so he had no option but to protect himself.

In the second case, your friend reached out to him and, again, he warned he was not comfortable.

These kind of dogs expect the worst, so keep him on a very loose leash and tell people to ignore him. As he gains confidence that he will not be attacked, he may approach people and stage by stage you can work up to him being given treats and possibly attention. But at this stage, protect him from well meaning people who are nevertheless going beyond his comfort zone.

If he was truly people agressive, the actions of these people would have resulted in far worse results. It is encouraging that this has not happened but, if you allow people or encourage people to approach him before he is ready, you are not allowing him to progress or gain confidence.

I do have confidence that you and he will be successful if you can see it from his POV and work at his comfort level without molly coddling him.

All the best.
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The problem also is that he had been fine around other people (my girlfriend's parents, sister and friend) previously. What I don't understand is why he permitted them to pet him and why he is now acting the way he is.

As far as moving too fast...he had been previously introduced on an individual basis to only those five people at our home and he showed no signs of aggression or fear towards them when introduced. I also thought neutering may take some of the edge off but it is 4 weeks later and I fear he may actually be getting worse somehow.
Welcome to the forum. My Basu (now deceased) had a history and background much like your dog. He was from W. German working lines. I adopted him when he was 4.5. Initially he was frightened of people but he then became fear aggressive and would try to bite.

I would NOT recommend "military style training" or harsh corrections as they can make the problem much worse.

After lots of training, positive reinforcement and counter conditioning he made so much progress that people couldn't believe it when I'd relate his history...but it took about 3 years to get to that point and I always watched him very carefully because he still took his guard dog duties a little too seriously!

Here's what I did (some of which I see you're already doing):


--lots of exercise and mental stimulation

--training classes (beginning, intermediate and advanced). He eventually got his CGC! I trained him at Patricia McConnell's facility ( and she's got some great books on dealing with aggressive dogs and understanding dog behavior.

--I carried high value treats with me at all times to work on counter-conditioning him to readily accept new experiences.

--I learned dog language and especially calming signals and learned to read him fluently. Check out this website:

--Anyone walking into my home was instructed not to look at or try to touch Basu. I trained him to go to his bed when strangers came to the house and wait for a treat. I then asked people to leave him alone unless he approached them. I instructed people to pet him only under the chin, never on top of the head, and to look away while petting him. Eventually he could handle regular attention from most, but not all, people. Your dog needs to know that he has a safe space (bed or crate) where he can go and not be bothered by people.

--I did keep him on leash in new situations but recognized that he felt more vulnerable when on leash and so I was extra careful about allowing people to approach him in situations where he was stressed.

--I did daily, positive socialization by taking him to a friendly dog park and allowing him to interact with other dogs and people.

Some books I'd highly recommend:

Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas (
Click to Calm, Emma Parsons
Go to and search under aggression and you'll find lots of books with ratings. The "Dog Aggression Workbook" is new but looks really good.

Good luck and keep us posted!
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I would love to take Riley to training classes with other dogs/people and also to the dog park. However, I am now so hesitant because I am afraid someone may try to approach him without my seeing (you never know). I can't let him off leash to run in the dog park for fear someone may try to pet him there. Unfortunately for him, he is such a good looking dog, people are just drawn to him. I worry that putting him in overly stimulating situations, i.e. a group of dogs/people will do more harm than good.

I do not like to use a prong collar or choke chain or anything like that so when we go on walks, I use the Gentle Leader, which he responds to very well. But there are times when hackles go up and he starts pulling towards other dogs.
I second everything what Ruth said. That's how I am dealing with Yana and she's getting so much better now. Turid Rugaas DVD was extremely helpful for me as well.

Have you signed up for some type of training with your boy? I know that my Yana could do 10 miles of off leash hiking a day, every day (10 miles for me, for her probably double or triple) and still be full of nervous energy and fear, and classes helped a lot with that. Also a ONE SINGLE session with a behaviorist was a huge help and really turn around for us even though I was so sceptical about this.

Also I would suggest to rethink correction concept and prong collar. I have tried Gentle leader and I am convinced that prong is more effective and humane that GL. I was the same way as you are right now, no correction/all positive approach and as a result I wasn't clear with my rules and limits to the dog. After I started making everything black and white for Yana she responded immediately.
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This can be accomplished if you have a GOOD obedience instructor who knows how to organize the class as such that dogs needing more space will be allotted that and people will be told not to approach other dogs. This of course is better done in a larger training facility or outdoors. In the classes I took, it was made clear from the start that our dogs were there to train, not socialize and the same went for us. In other words, we paid attention to our dogs for that entire hour rather than chatting with the next person. This way you can always be watching your dogs body language and eventually with a good instructor, they can help you very slowly move forward. Right now, your dog needs a good medical check up and then you really need to be patient with him. It can take a very long time but is most certainly possible and well worth it in the long run. Your dog is just being pushed to move much more quickly than he is ready for.
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Try going slower like others have said. What I mean is don't push him to the point where he snaps. If he does well with people petting him for a few minutes, then take him into another room where he can relax. Take small steps and avoid him reaching his breaking point.
I agree with bowwowmeow completely.
Lastly, find a trainer that is familiar with your behavior issues, and start with private lessons. Group classes are great for later if your dog is able to handle it. Seriously consider a muzzle, this will protect you if any accidents such as him pulling the leash out of your hands, or snapping at a visitor etc.
Good luck you will find a lot of help and good information here!
I appreciate all the advice I have received so far...your input is TRULY appreciated. I love Riley with all my heart but I am so concerned for the safety of others as well.

One thing I was also advised by a behaviorist was to turn Riley around and go the other way if his hackles go up and chest out when he sees another dog or to just continue walking by and try to get his attention on me with the help of a treat. We have been working on that but I still feel like he needs to have interaction with other dogs even though I can tell they are often intimidated by him. Most dogs, he is OK with, but if a dog makes a quick movement at him when they are meeting, he snaps off. I don't want him to practice that behavior.

Regarding the prong collar...I still don't know how I feel about it.
I would say no to the prong for this situation. Often it can further agititate the dog and make the problem worse. I think the gentle leader and a leash attached to a regular flat buckle collar for back up would be the best set-up.
I agree with what the behaviorist told you. If you can find a growly dog class in your area or a good dog trainer with experience in this I think it would help you find the answers you are looking for. You need to slowly build him up around other dogs and people.
You want him to focus on you, so working on your watch me command (eye contact) will help you a lot. I suggest capturing calm behavior with clicker training, basically having him sit and give you eye contact click than treat. Many dogs really love the clicker and can be a really useful tool.
Originally Posted By: holtzer11
One thing I was also advised by a behaviorist was to turn Riley around and go the other way if his hackles go up and chest out when he sees another dog or to just continue walking by and try to get his attention on me with the help of a treat.
The key here is to read his body language and turn or ask him any obedience command BEFORE he is in full-blown barking/snapping/growling state because at that point he won't care about you or any treat.

What I did when Yana was extremely reactive when we approached somebody on walks I was talking to her in upbeat voice and started jogging which she loves so her mind was set on following me and she didn't have time to lunge at another dog.
When Basu started training classes no one was allowed near Basu including the instructor.

If you are worried about him biting at the dog park then condition him to a muzzle and have him wear it at the dog park.

Also, he will pick up on ALL of your nervousness about his behavior so you need to turn that around so that you are setting the tone and you are learning to read his behavior. Although what he is doing feels unpredictable I can guarantee that he is giving out signals (however subtle) that he is stressed. Once you figure out what those are you will feel a lot more confident in handling him.
Originally Posted By: MTAussieI would say no to the prong for this situation. Often it can further agititate the dog and make the problem worse. I think the gentle leader and a leash attached to a regular flat buckle collar for back up would be the best set-up.
You don't correct for barking or fearful reaction, this in fact will agitate the dog. You correct for not obeying the command the dog knows and you ask him to do before he's in agitated state. Timing and being proactive is the most important thing here, and using a prong doesn't mean jerking the dog around. I just don't see how one can communicate with the dog using GL.

Maybe, I'm talking from my own experience and your dog is different and GL works fine. When I was using GL Yana was biting my hands and going up the leash and becoming handler aggressive, she pulled like a psycho and was hurting her neck, on a chock she was chocking herself to a blue tongue, without anything she pulled me on a road into the traffic so cars had to break. It wasn't pretty, she was a puppy from **** so I went with a prong and it did help.
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I am not too fond of the prong or the gentle leader. I like the front clip harnesses like the Easy Walk or the Sense-ation Harness. The gentle leader works well for some dogs but it does prevent the use of a muzzle.
He's Ok with a muzzle on as I muzzle him at the vet's office. I was considering a basket muzzle and then taking him to the dog park. But then am I setting him up too soon?

As far as the collars go, Riley is fine until we see another animal and then he gets intently focused. When we walk together he actually walks to the left and slightly behind me. I have been working on the look command which is helping to break that focus. However, there are still some instances in which the other dog will make some sort of movement towards Riley or pull towards Riley which then causes Riley to react in the same manner.
I agree that timing and being proactive is the most important thing, but that takes experience in handling a dog, especially with these issues. Using a prong is not necessary in this situation if you are being proactive, imho. To each his own, especially in dog training. But for an inexperienced handler, a prong is absolutely not appropriate, and should not be a crutch for communication with the dog as well. Working on verbal response should be the goal, and this means working slowly and building a relationship between the handler and dog. But I also don't support correcting for not obeying a command in general with the prong, and I definitely don't recommend it to novices. I also think that the prong doesn't help the situation in general especially if he ends up lunging and pulling he is still going to get that negative stimulation from the collar.
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I would recommend a muzzle, a trainer, clicker training, and a flat buckle collar that is securely and properly fitted for this situation. If you can, set up situations like a dog far enough away that you can keep his attention on you and give you eye contact while sitting or down. But before even interacting or seeing other dogs work exclusively on your commands without distractions, and then with distractions other than those that trigger him.
Check out those books recommended by BowWowMeow too!
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