FAQ: Aggression in Jack Russell Terriers

My Jack Russell is out of control! He is aggressive towards other dogs and people. What can I do?

Aggression in Jack Russell Terriers

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My Jack Russell is out of control! He is aggressive towards other dogs and people. What can I do?

Same-sex aggression and aggression towards other breeds of dogs is well documented with this breed. It is strongly recommended that no more than two Jack Russells (of opposite sex only) ever be permitted to stay together unattended.

  • Most behavioral problems are due to a lack of companionship, discipline, activity and exercise.
  • For a Jack Russell that is very aggressive with other dogs, a technique is to squirt the terrier in the face with water whenever he growled at other dogs. No scolding or other action is required in this instance - just a surprise squirt.
  • A Jack Russell Terrier that bites can be a big problem. You must stop this behavior before it becomes dangerous.
  • Don't allow your Jack Russell to win any games of aggression. The outcome could certainly send the wrong message to him.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise! A tired dog seldom want to pick a fight.
  • Never put your hands between two fighting terriers
  • Jack Russells require firm, consistent discipline. They are extremely intelligent, continue to test their limits throughout their life.
  • Jack Russells can become very possessive of their owner or a favorite member of the family or of what they consider to be their personal property if allowed to do so to the point of showing aggressive protective behavior that must be controlled from an early age.
  • Jack Russells can be very destructive if left unattended and unemployed! Most behavioral problems are due to a lack of companionship, discipline, activity and exercise. If you've only seen perfect, well-behaved JR's, they are ones that were lucky enough to be exercised, well socialized, and trained.

I am having aggression problems with my Jack Russell Terrier. Can you discuss issues related to aggression so I can understand what I can do?

The typical dominant dog will growl if you try to move him aside, growl in bed at night if you move, refuse to get off the furniture when told, will not roll over on his/her back and will growl if you attempt it, will attempt to mount a human {also known as "humping"}, food/toy/treat protection, barking as a form of demanding something from you, among many other things. Some dogs will do one of the above and not be a serious problem, but when you put several together there is a problem. If ANY of the above are happening in your home, you need to get a handle on it right away. Don't wait til it gets worse or until you or someone else is bitten. The sooner you get a grip on the situation, the better.

The first things I suggest are keeping the dog off of the furniture at ALL times. No sleeping in bed, no getting on the couch, chairs, etc. This is allowing the dog to be your equal. My dogs sleep in bed and I have no problems. But they also don't have aggression issues.

Control the food. You decide when the dog eats. For a dog with serious issues, feed the dog by hand. Make the dog work for his meals. Don't just toss the food in a bowl and let him have at it. Have him "sit" or any other command, then give him a few pieces of food. Do the same until the food is gone. If the dog refuses to obey the command, the food goes up and that's it for that meal. Trust me, a dog that's hungry will learn to obey commands if they want to eat. Being in charge of the food shows that you are in control and you are alpha in the house.

The same goes for toys and treats. The dog has to earn them. And do not give an unlimited supply. Keep toys hidden and when the dog has behaved very well, let him have one toy.

As Dr. Nicholas Dodman states in his book, "Dogs behaving badly"... "NO FREE LUNCH". The dog has to earn everything from food to affection. And do not let your dog come to you and nudge you for attention. That puts them in control of the situation. Don't praise continuously. Praise right after he has obeyed a command. The dog needs to understand what you want from him. You can't just correct for bad behavior without teaching the dog what correct behavior is.

Another thing to remember is always control play time. If you're playing "fetch", YOU must initiate the game or it doesn't get played. You also determine when it ends. If the dog refuses to bring the ball back and wants to play chase, turn around and walk in the house and the game is over. Dominant dogs love to have control of every situation.

Another thing to remember is to avoid confrontation at this point. If you know that something sets off the dog, try to avoid it. You're trying to teach the dog what's "good" behavior rather than constantly correcting for bad.

If a dog is truly aggressive, do NOT attempt to scruff or alpha roll the dog. An inexperienced person can get seriously injured attempting to do this. In the early stages of aggression {a dog that's just testing the waters to see what he can get away with}, put him in his place right away. Don't wait until you're getting bitten and are fearful of the dog. Dogs sense fear and if your dog knows he can push your buttons, he will do it happily. Body language is very important when dealing with dogs. This is a major way they communicate. Petting a dominant dog on the top of the head can set a dog off.

I highly suggest Dr. Nicholas Dodman's book "Dogs behaving badly" and "The dog who loved too much" for behavioral issues. There are other good books, but I don't want to overwhelm you with tons of literature. And I strongly suggest finding a trainer to evaluate the dog and your situation at home. Coming to your home and seeing first hand what is going on is always a plus. Make sure the trainer is experienced with terriers and aggression. The wrong trainer can make a situation worse. For minor problems I suggest getting into an obedience class ASAP. It helps create a bond and also teaches the dog that you are in charge.

Jane C