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Help with aggression

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  • Help with aggression

    Hi. I rescued a near death fem harlequin we've name gracie from the pound 6 weeks ago. In the last 2 weeks she has started attacking animals at our place. We live on a ranch and run a horse rescue, so volunteers come daily, sometimes bringing their dogs. She also went after one of our goats. And Sunday, she went after one of our horses when she heard me reprimand the horse. The pound told us she is 4 but who knows.

    She doesn't hesitate; as soon as she sees a dog she attacks it. She is wonderful with people, including the ongoing parade of volunteers.


    Susan, mom of Gracie
    Castle Rock, CO

  • #2
    RE: Help with aggression

    I don't really have alot of advice, but maybe you should invest in a muzzle? It would prevent her from seriously hurting another animal, You may also want to try punishing her when she does this by giving her a time out. I really don't know, maybe someone else can provide a better light on the situation.


    • #3
      RE: Help with aggression

      Hi Susan,
      I can't offer any training tips, but I can tell you about our experience with the same problem.

      We adopted Baron, a few months ago who is also a rescue. We also have a horse and a couple of donkeys. When he first saw them, he wanted to charge after and chase them, bite them, you name it. He would even poke his head through the fence and try to nip them, but we made a rule from the start that he wasn't allowed inside the fence with them. Ever. We just didn't want to take the risk of him getting kicked and seriously harmed. We make him sit and act calmly around them, and tell him that it's okay and this is the way that he's supposed to act around them. I think at first he just didn't know any better, and we had to teach him what was acceptable. But even after a few months, I can see that he is starting to get used to them, and doesn't get nearly as excited. I can even take him now into the pasture (on a leash) and walk him right next to my horse, without a fuss.

      Same thing with the kitties. He just wanted to chase them and actually ATTACK them. But we are doing the same thing, making him sit and act calmly when they walk by. He is actually coming along really well and learning that THIS is how he is supposed to act. We make sure that we really praise him for being calm, and talk in a low, grumbling voice when we are dissappointed.

      Now, as far as your girl attacking other dogs, could she have come from a place where her owner taught her to be this way? I'm sure others here can offer some advice on how to handle this situation.

      Good luck with your girl!

      Ashley & The Crew
      Visit Jasper at:


      • #4
        RE: Help with aggression

        Thanks for responding; we've been doing as you suggest with the horses; making him stay outside the paddocks
        he chases our cats but it's clearly a friendly kinda chase
        however, with dogs (and the goat) it was an instant attack, going right for their necks; he even went after a puppy--though granted it was a 3 month old newfoundland--so he may not have realized it was a puppy cause the newfy's is pretty big already


        • #5
          RE: Help with aggression

          Without seeing things firsthand, everything I suggest is speculation. Since this is a rescue, you don't really have any idea what experiences have shaped her behavior. The details don't matter so much as the way you handle her now though.

          As recommended, if she's showing aggression without warning signs that you can see, I would keep her away from other animals for the timebeing. Being on a farm it may be difficult, but management is a big key in getting ahold of her behaviors because each time she acts, she's basically reinforcing the "inappropriate" behavior.

          I disagree with the concept of punishing this dog for the behavior at this point. Again, managing her so that she isn't given an opportunity to act aggressively is extremely important. Here's why I don't recommend punishment:

          1) Aggression tends to occur when an animal is fearful or uncomfortable about something in their environment. (Aggression can come from other things, but its most often rooted in fear.)

          2) Punishment is challenging because you have little control over exactly what the dog associates the punishment with. Frequently in aggression cases, punishing the dog for the aggression ends up in a negative feedback loop which worsens the aggression rather than stemming it. This is because if the punishment is poorly timed and carried out, the dog may feel that the mere presense of the trigger is what caused the punishment. That is, the dog may not realize that s/he's being punished because of the aggression.

          This confusion results in the dog preemptively trying to keep things at bay to avoid the punishment. In order to keep the bad things at bay, the dog makes an aggressive display, possibly even more brutal than the last one in the hopes that the punishment can be avoided.

          As an example, say that at some point in her past, your new girl met an obnoxious dog who was aggressive towards her. To protect herself, she growled and maybe snapped at the other dog. To dogs this is a legitimate way of communicating "back off - I don't like what you're doing to me." Imagine her previous owner misunderstood the growl/snap and yelled at or hit the poor girl who was actually a victim. If the girl misunderstands the punishment, she may associate it merely with the presence of a strange dog, not with her growling. After all, why should she be punished for defending herself? The next time she meets a strange dog, she recalls that she was punished last time a strange dog approached her. Trying to avoid being punished again, she growls and snaps before the dog even gets too close. Punished again, she now escalates to growling/snapping lunging at the mere sight of a strange dog down the street. Hopefully, you can see the downward spiral one could get into there.

          Since this girl is fairly new to you, she probably hasn't had an opportunity to fully come to trust you and see you as her "pack leader". With a rough past, she may have trouble trusting people at all. Unfortunately, this probably fosters her feeling the need to act preemptively to "protect" herself in uncomfortable situations. A dog who feels confident that their human will take care of things is less likely to react aggressively and more likely to calm down when their human tells them to.

          So, in addition to keeping her away from "triggers", seek out an experienced positive reinforcement trainer/behaviorist in your area and have them evaluate your girl. Its good if they can come to you so they can see her "in her home environment". They will be able to recommend specific exercises that will help you begin to countercondition your girl so that she doesn't fall back on aggression as a response and will help her learn to trust you and your instincts when when she's uncomfortable.

          In my signature, there's a link to the APDT which has a trainer directory where you can start your search, along with information on guidance in selecting a trainer. Being in the listing doesn't necessarily guarantee that the trainer will be right for you, but its a good start. Just be sure to give them full information on all the behaviors you've seen, and ask them about their experience in dealing with aggression cases. Also, be wary of anyone who guarantees you they can help. That will depend on the individual dog, and the human's ability to apply themselves to the training programs.

          Also, there are some excellent books and articles you can read. "Dogs are From Neptune" by Jean Donaldson is a good reference with information on dealing with aggression cases. It can be ordered online at

          Also, there are many articles available from Suzanne Clothier at They may not necessarily deal with aggression, but give excellent insight into many canine behaviors and how dogs see the world. Seeing things from their viewpoint makes it much easier to understand and modify what humans see as inappropriate behaviors.

          Heather & Loki
          [|Best Paw Forward, Inc. Family Dog Training Center]
          [|Association of Pet Dog Trainers]
          "Positive does not equal permissive."