Dealing With The Aggressive Dog

Q: 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?

A: 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 Colvin

P.S. I am not a trainer or behaviorist. I have years of experience with dogs and with rescuing dogs, and have researched this subject thoroughly.

Experience

My first experience owning a Jack Russell Terrier was a rescue dog I adopted. Marvin was a beautiful boy who had been dumped in rescue at three years old. I know a little about Marv's background due to the fact I got his pedigree. His breeder is no longer breeding or into the breed so I was never in contact with her. I was also never in contact with the previous owner.

About a week after Marvin was here, the honeymoon started to end. I had a dog that would stand between his crate and me and growl and snarl to keep me from closing the crate door. The previous week he went into his crate with no problems. He would not allow me to cut his nails, if I closed him in a room to separate him he would jump up and slam himself into the door and ripped chunks out of the bottom of one of my doors. If you'd touch his feet, he'd growl. I tried many different behavior modifications with him, which I will discuss later and nothing worked. I spent money on trainers, read books, talked to my Veterinarian and nothing was working with him. I spent two years giving this dog all the love, time, energy and training possible. I even tried medication as a last resort. All with nothing more than very short term results.

I am not an inexperienced dog person. I am also not the average pet owner. I did not let my dog walk all over me and allow him to get away with his undesirable behavior. Regardless, I still had a genetic aggressive nightmare on my hands. For anyone else in this situation, please know I know your frustration. My only option was to live with it or euthanize him. He was not going to be changed, no matter how hard I worked and tried. For anyone considering rehoming a dog like this, please reconsider. It's not fair to the dog or the next owners to have to go through this heartbreak, and your dog can end up in a situation where he is seriously abused or worse. After several bites, holes in my hands, a ripped open foot, and scars to prove it, I decided it was time to let Marvin go. He was going to seriously hurt someone some day. He was not a happy dog. He had no wonderful quality of life towards the end. Everything set him off and he seemed to look for reasons to challenge me.

This is the same dog who I know would have risked his life for me, but he had another side that was horrible. Unless a person has gone through it, it's hard to understand. You have a dog that can be so loving and turn around and attack you. I have had a few dogs in rescue that have had to be euthanized due to aggression. This is something that anyone who breeds needs to consider when breeding. Temperament is extremely important. Structure, appearance, hunting ability and health are extremely important, but they mean nothing if you have a dog with aggression issues. This is not something we want or need in our breed.