Attacking the postman
Q. Dear Dr Joanne,
Five months ago I took in a 9 year old terrier cross from his sick owner. He is generally well behaved and learnt to be off lead in the park very quickly. He stays close all the time and is very loyal - constantly staring at me and checking that I am near, except when he hears the postman's motorbike/brakes. As soon as he hears this his ears prick up and he bolts out of the park and down the street after him, putting him at risk of being run over. If I have him in the frontyard and the postman goes past he barks and growls like man, but he is not otherwise an angry or aggressive dog. He has been run over before. I have his vet records from his previous vet.
I have tried aversion therapy by spraying him with water when he does this and I have tried to yell and keep him still when the postman goes past. He doesn't seem to pay attention to anything when he is in that state. He has managed to learn quite a few things in the time that he has been with me, but I have not been able to alter this behaviour. Do you have any advice for me please??
A further thing is that he has epilepsy and, I don't know if this is related, but he regularly has anxiety at night. He sleeps in my room with my other dog and when he doesn't get anxious he sleeps through the night beautifully next to my other dog. However, when he becomes anxious a few times a week he paces and scratches into my timber floor and plaster walls.
Sometimes it is triggered by noise, but most times by nothing. The vet said he may be sensing a seizure coming on, but then he doesn't fit. He is on phenobarb, which was recently increased as he was fitting, and it doesn't seem to make him drowsy in the slightest as he is hypervigilant. I ignore him when he gets anxious to not reinforce it but he keeps going, and the only thing that seems to work is putting him in a small dark room (laundry) as he seems to stop scratching and is fine in the morning. Is there anything you can suggest to reduce the frequency of these anxious reactions?
They only happen at night. He just seems to be generally anxious at night and stares at the closed bedroom door rather than sleeping, whilst my other dog is so relaxed and falls asleep as soon as she hits their mattress. Cheers,
A. In your dog's mind he is chasing the postman away. And very effective it is too, as the postman never hangs around! Very simply, you will have to prevent your dog's access to the outside world. Chances are he will eventually be run over again if you do nothing, not to mention that your postman may report you to your local council.
Trying to stop him while he is all worked up over this intruder into his territory is useless. If you want to work on training him to sit and accept strangers near your property (and this is a good idea), then you need to work on this at times when neither of you are stressed. You need to have him obeying you reliably before you introduce an "intruder". It will also help if you actually do a controlled introduction to your postman. Keep him on a long leash until you are sure he will not chase.
Yelling, water sprays and other forms of punishment rarely work as they are forms of attention and attention rewards your dog for his behaviour. Better to ignore it when it happens - ensure he cannot get outside your property - and work on praising desired behaviour.
Your dog's behaviour may or may not be related to epilepsy. Keep looking for patterns in his behaviour and you will soon sense if epilepsy is the trigger of your dog's behaviour. Chances are, however, this behaviour is unrelated to epilepsy. Your dog may hear a noise, react to it and cannot settle again. Again this may or may not be due to anxiety. Some dogs react to alert their owners to possible danger or disruption (a typical case is the dog who barks when someone comes to the door). In your case, your dog is alerting you to the noises he hears. Since you do not react, he feels he should remain alert.
To change this I believe you will benefit by putting some leadership skills and training in place. This will give your dog the message that you make the decisions in your household and that there is no need for him to do so. Ignoring the behaviour (as long as everyone is safe) is the best thing you can do. Alternatively, you may like to teach him a command eg. "on your mat" during the daytime and you can then command him to do this at night. In this way you are taking charge of the situation.
Any further concerns about your dog's condition, do please check with your vet again.
Attacking small fluffy dogs
Q. Dear Dr Jo,
We have a pet rescue 10 month old female Staffy cross Whippet/Greyhound.
Getting over anxiety, however most concern is her attacking small white fluffy and fearful dogs. She has twice had her jaws on the neck of a dog and today tried to kill one by shaking it and flinging it into the air.
Can you help?
A. It is great to rescue a dog and good that her anxiety is being relieved. This dog is acting on her natural instincts to capture small animals. It will be difficult to remove this, since it is a drive, but you can certainly manage it. This will involve keeping your dog on a leash or having her muzzled when off leash.
You may also like to change your dog’s behaviour towards other dogs by gradual habituation to their presence. This ideally requires the help of an expert and a number of willing dog owners. Please seek professional help and keep your dog under control at all times.
My ebook Dog Aggression Problems Solved will also help you understand and solve this aggression problem
Dog bites everyone
Q. Dr Joanne,
I have a 2 yr old, male border collie. I have had him since 8 wks old. He seems to be a really nervous dog, pretty jumpy and shows aggression to kids and anyone besides my husband and I. He runs up to new ppl happy and excited to see them, lets them pet him, then tries to bite or show his teeth to them. He's even done it to family members he has met 100 times. He loves attention, wants to be pet always. And seems very loving with us. But will sometimes just snap, out of the blue to ppl he has already met. I sure he could be getting more exercise, but I don’t know how to be stopping this biting and showing his teeth. We have young nephews and need him to behave around kids. I’m scared my husband will want to give him away. We really need your help.
A. Wow! You have a lot of work with this dog. He is in the prime of life, taking charge and everything is going his way. He can accept visitors, when he wants to, then can tell them off, when he wants to. Everything is going HIS way. Time to change.
Since there is aggression involved I would suggest that you seek professional help. I can give you tips here but if you get them wrong, everyone is in danger. Thus you need to get your vet’s referral to someone who has experience in dealing with this type of problem. A professional should take you through leadership strategies so that you are in control of all your dog’s movements.
In the meantime, you should never allow your dog to take charge. Keep him on a leash by your side. Use a muzzle if you cannot be sure of his teeth. And put him away from any potentially threatening (in his mind) situations. Chances are your dog's aggression is based on fear but there may be an element of territoriality too.
For more information of aggression in dogs and how to solve it, read Dr Jo's ebook Dog Aggression Problems Solved.
Aggression towards other dogs
Q. HI JOANNE
COULD YOU PLEASE HELP ME, MY 4 YEAR OLD STAFFY/DOBERMAN CROSS IS AGGRESSIVE TOWARDS OTHER DOGS WHEN I WALK HER. IT IS VERY EMBARRASSING. I HAVE TRIED TO BE STERN AND HOLD HER BACK BUT SHE JUST KEEPS DOING IT.
IT HAS BEEN RECOMMENDED TO ME TO GET A DOG TRAINER BUT TO BE HONEST THERE ARE SO MANY ADVERTISED I DON'T KNOW WHICH ONE TO CHOOSE. I DON'T WANT TO GET A BAD ONE.
ARE THERE ANY DOG TRAINERS IN MELBOURNE THAT YOU COULD RECOMMEND, I WOULD REALLY APPRECIATE IT.
IF YOU ALSO HAVE ANY IDEAS THAT COULD HELP ME WITH THIS PROBLEM THAT WOULD BE GREAT.
CHEERS AND THANKS IN ADVANCE
A. Aggression towards other dogs is a very common problem and in many respects it is a completely natural one. Why should our dogs get along with every strange dog they meet. That's not a normal behaviour is the animal kingdom as strangers may be our competitors for food, mates and attention. Natural or not, it does make walking your dog so much more difficult.
It would be a good idea to consult with a dog trainer or a professional behaviourist with experience in this area. Your dog needs to remain well controlled when she is out with you but over time, you need to introduce her to dogs that do not react to her behaviour. In this way she will learn that other dogs are not out to cause her any harm. These controlled introductions, of course, require dog owners willing to use their dogs to help you. Often it best to approach a dog obedience club to help here. Many of their trainers have dogs who are used to meeting dogs of all personality types and will tolerate whatever your dog does. Remember, however, that you are always in control of your dog's movements so she cannot hurt the other dogs. If you feel that you are not in control, you should attempt to attain some leadership, including obedience, skills over your dog.
If your dog gets to watch other dogs from a distance before coming closer she may accept that dogs are no threat. With time, you can bring her closer to other dogs. Beware of leading the dogs face to face towards each other as this may be perceived as a direct threat. Often the best way to avoid conflict is to avoid the eye-to-eye contact that sets it off. Lead dogs on a parallel walk or keep distance (the other side of the street) as you pass by, and this will avoid aggression.
Also watch you are not tensed up on the other end of the leash. Not easy to do, but try and relax when you see another dog. Speak in a happy, light tone as if you know the dog that is approaching and you may deflect some of the tension your dog and you feel.
Lastly, I generally recommend positive, motivational dog trainers such as 'Canine Good Citizen' trainers. Whatever trainer you use, make sure you are comfortable with their instructions.
More about dog to dog aggression and how to solve it in my ebook Dog Aggression Problems Solved.
Attacking the letterbox
I have a year old rescue dog whom I've had for about 9 weeks. He had separation anxiety when I first got him and for this reason I give him the run of the downstairs including the hallway when I go out as he panics if the inside doors are closed on him. When the postman delivers post he has recently started to bark and attack the letterbox and scratch at the walls door and window sill to get at him. He also jumps up against the window beside the front door, the postman normally comes when I've left for work so I'm unable to stop his behaviour.
Any suggestions to overcome this would be greatly appreciated.
A. Your email address comes from the UK so I am assuming you have a letterbox fitted into your front door, as opposed to the Australian system of postbox at the end of your driveway. This means that the postman has to come closer to where your dog resides. Generally the closer a stranger comes to the dog’s house, the more chance territorial behaviour will arise (although some dogs may also dislike the postman passing anywhere along their street!).
Add this to the fact your dog truly believes his actions get rid of the postman and you have a habit that is difficult to break. Some suggestions:
Mistaken for a ball
Q. Hi Dr Joanne,
I'm Desperate for some advice. We adopted our Bull Terrier 11 months ago. She was an SPCA dog and we are glad we could give her a home. She is great and we love her heaps. The problem is she has an obsession with balls. When ever she sees something that is round like a ball, she changes into another dog. Her eyes glaze over and she won't listen. We have been trying to teach her to drop the ball, which works most of the time. However every so often she will mistaken my hand for the ball and latch on and it takes quite some time to get her to let go and is very painful to say the least. I'm unsure of what to do. I am worried that by taking the ball away won't solve her problem & if children are playing with balls she would probably bite a them if they has a ball near her. Any advice?
Q, I apologise if I sound a bit firm here but I really think you need help with this dog. Dogs don’t mistake us for their ball. Their sense of smell is so great that there is no mistaking human flesh. It is possible for dogs to grab by accident and no doubt that Bull Terriers are bred to hang on but your dog has made the choice to bite you. She is also making the choice of going for other dogs and their balls.
Ultimately you need to control the choices she makes. This means you are going to have to keep her on a leash if there is any danger that she will go after other people, dogs or balls.
It is possible to work on this by exposing your dog to the objects in a careful and controlled way but this should be done with the help of experts. So I urge you to seek help, referral from your vet, to a professional with experience in this area.
I have written a lot more about aggression and its various forms in my book Dog Aggression Problems Solved.
Dog and rabbit
Q. Good morning,
While i am building my house, i will have to move out of my rental place and in with my parents who own a psychotic jack russell. iIwill be taking my rabbit with me (rex dwarf). I'm not sure how to introduce the rabbit to the dog because i know he is pretty terrified of dogs and i just don't know if the dog will attack him, as the dog can be quite aggressive towards other dogs and people when they come into the house. What can i do to make the dog accept the rabbit so they will get along?
A. Introductions of canines to potential prey species is never easy, especially where the breed is a proven hunter. You will need to monitor the dog's every interaction with the rabbit. Introduce the dog by taking him over to the enclosure, preferably when the rabbit has been removed. allow him to sniff and observe but not touch in any way. Uou will need to keep the dog on a leash and very much under your control.
When the rabbit is safely back in his enclosure, you can repeat this exercise with the dog, again on the leash. your dog should be under your (or his owner's) command at all times. If this is difficult for you, you should work on training and leadership skills prior to introductions. Praise and/or reward all the dog's calm behaviour.
it is worthwhile never leaving the dog alone with the rabbit until you are absolutely sure that he will not annoy or chase the rabbit. any time he manages to chase or get a reaction from the rabbit, it will reinforce unwanted behaviour. Good luck!
More on canine aggression towards other species in Dr Jo's ebook Dog Aggression Problems Solved.