Shelter dogs can often develop behavioral problems including dog aggression. This is an email from a person who rescued such a dog. The dog was perfect in the shelter and perfect with a local foster. This behavior may have a lot to do with his recent experiences. If you read along you’ll see my assessment and comments on the mistakes that were made.
I post this in effort to help those of you who may foster a dog and experience similar issues. Starting with structure from the beginning can prevent this type of situation. Opening your heart to a dog with potential behavioral problems means giving him the tools and structure that he needs to thrive.
Here’s the back and forth, my comments are italicized:
He was introduced to the people but stilled growled at a few people when they got up and returned to the room from the kitchen, bathroom, etc. I corrected him by sternly saying no and eventually had to put him in another room.
> If the dog is growling, firmly saying NO doesn’t work if he doesn’t know what NO means. You can say whatever as sternly as you want, if the word has no meaning, it doesn’t mean anything to the dog.
> Furthermore, putting him in another room after that behavior teaches him that growling, lunging, etc gets the people to go away from him. NO LESSON LEARNED.
At one point one of the guests left the house for several hours. When he returned to the front deck, myself and Damon were standing outside. Apparently Damon did not see him coming and as he was walking up the steps, Damon ran towards him barking, growling and bit him. Luckily, the man had a thick jacket on and did not harm him. I immediately took Damon back to the room.
> Again we remove the dog and the person from each other, showing him that the person must have been bad. If Damon has bad behavior around other people, which we can see, why not put him in a crate where he may feel safe and let him learn that other people are not a threat and teach him to learn that behavior.
Another time I took the dog to meet someone else in the garage and the dog growled at him. I seemed to calm him and he was standing beside me. While I was talking, my friend made a hand gesture in the course of our conversation and Damon once again ran up and bit him. Again, I corrected him. Damon responded to my correction by putting his head down but would not stop growling. Back to his room.
> The pattern continues, verbal corrections, and removal. Furthermore, calming a dog that is growling doesn’t stop the thoughts in the dogs mind, as in this case, it simply temporarily puts them away until an “event” from the dog’s perspective evokes what he was thinking from the first minute. The only lesson a dog learns from taking him away from something is the VERY LAST THING HE DID – growl / bite /lunge. The last experience a dog had should be a positive one. Dogs pick up where they left off. If the last thing the did was bite, that’s where they’re likely to start from next time.. READ ON!
I have had people come to my door and I’ve given the guests a treat to give him. He received the treat on one occasion and then turned and bit that man.
> If the dog doesn’t like people, having that person give him a treat is terribly confusing to the dog. “I don’t like you and you have something I want. I may have to bite you to get it.” Instead we teach dog to like other people by US giving the dog a reward when other people are around. WE are the safety and WE bring good things to the dog for good behavior. LATER we can socialize the dog, but not this early on.
Another time, a client came to my door and gave a treat and again he took it and bit her on the leg.
> “Stranger with something I like, I have to get it…..” He must first learn that strangers are good and not a threat. This is taught by us, not assumed by the dog.
He has lunged at everyone at my door, so I keep him in a large kennel enclosure in my garage.
> The crate has now become a punishment instead of a safe place. Crate must be a happy safe place, never punishment.
Walking him outside has become a nightmare. He pulls extremely hard and I have had to walk out in the street to pass people, as he has lunged at everyone as they pass. I have a muzzle on him at all times but he stills barks and growls. He has gone after children in the street and other dogs aggressively.
> The dog is confused and I haven’t heard about any structure put on the dog to teach him what we expect and what we won’t tolerate. Dogs respond to what WE teach them. Left to their own devices the dog may end up good, but if they don’t we end up with a situation like this.
Structure, safety and love go hand in hand. We teach our dogs that we love them and will protect them, but we expect certain things in exchange for that.