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Old 02-20-2005, 08:18 PM
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homelessdog homelessdog is offline
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Default Biting Strangers

I'm at a loss as what to do with my Labrador/Dalmation mix, Starbucks. He's 5 years old and has been returned to the our shelter twice for biting people. He was biting cleaners who entered his kennel at the shelter, so I took him home to foster to try and work with him one on one. But I'm not making much progress and I'm afraid he might be getting worse. He's described as protective, and some of his aggression issues seem to stem from trying to be protective. I've taken steps to try and ensure that he does not feel a need to be protective of my house. I don't let him have full run of the house, and he's crated when I'm at work (this is also for the protection of my cats). When he's outside, I call him back in at the first sign of barking. I don't have any visitors over to my house though, so it's difficult to work with him here.

In the car he used to go crazy whenever he'd see someone on the street, and start barking and growling through the glass. Now I've learned to watch him and as soon as he sees someone, or right before he sees someone, I start singing "happy people" and point towards the people and he doesn't do anything and I give him a treat after we've drove past. If he beats me to it though, I tell him "no", make him sit and no treats are given. He doesn't bark at people in the car as much any more.

So the main problem I'm having is at the shelter. He goes to the shelter twice a week to attend adoption events. He knows most of the volunteers and is fine with them. He doesn't know the people visiting the shelter, and will growl and bark at them through his crate. Outside of his crate, it's hit or miss whether he'll behave or not with them. The other day I had him outside, Starbucks was sitting by my side, and I was talking to a guy who was interested in him (but who I didn't think was a good match for Star). Starbucks took a treat from him, but a few minutes later Starbucks jumped up and lunged for the guy. I didn't see it coming at all. I had a hold of Starbuck's leash and was able to pull him down before he made contact. Then yesterday the same thing happened in a different situation. I was sitting down in the office waiting to leave with Starbucks on my right. There was a person sitting to my left. Starbucks moved in front of me and the lady asked if she could pet Starbucks. He seemed to be doing okay, so I said yes. She pet him for a minute, and then she stopped. A few seconds later Star lunged and grabbed the sleeve of her coat.

I don't really know what to do. Starbucks is the smartest dog I've ever fostered. He knows a lot of obedience commands. I've started working on clicker training him and he's picking that up fast. We're attempting to use positive training methods with him. But I don't know what to do to get him over his aggression. I don't think he's afraid of strangers, which was the case with my last foster; I think he's protective of his crate, and protective of me, and aggressive towards anyone he doesn't know that gets too close. I'm open to any suggestions.
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  #2  
Old 02-20-2005, 08:58 PM
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Whoa ~ It sounds like Starbucks is either going to be your dog or no one's. Some dogs just can't take a lot of switching around - they only bond once or twice in their lives and it's especially hard on those dogs to be dumped in a shelter after having a home.

How old was Starbucks when he was surrendered? He may have been so traumatized by being abandoned that he's not about to let anyone or anything come between the two of you now that he seems to have bonded to you.

Hopefully Emma can help you. It sounds to me like you are doing a lot of good, constructive things with him to try to help him.
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  #3  
Old 02-20-2005, 10:30 PM
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You're doing really, REALLY well, homelessdog. I've had more than one foster myself, and they aren't easy.

Hmm...I'm going to have to think about this one. Any other information you think could be relevant? How do you react instictively in the seconds following? What's sticking with me is that he lunges AFTER he's petted. That's really odd....

This may be a weird question, but I have to ask it: Is he playing? I understand that he's scaring the bejeezus out of you, but that would make a lot of sense. It's probably not right, but it's worth a shot!

I'll think on this and try to get back soon.
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Old 02-21-2005, 12:33 AM
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As soon as he lunges I pull him back and hold him back. When I pulled him back, he sat down. The most recent time I told him to lay down. He's on a martingale collar.

I do not think he was playing. He loves to play, but he never gets that rough. He never even play bites around me. I'm usually pretty good at reading a dog, but these lunging attacks have been at my surprise.

I believe part of his problems stem from his earlier trainings. Before he came to us he was trained by someone with a reputation in our area for using excessive force in their training.

I believe Starbucks was about three years old when he was surrendered to the shelter the first time. He was adopted and returned. I don't know the circumstances around his first adoption. Stayed at the shelter a while and then I started fostering him about 3 months ago. He's 5 years old now. He was adopted again when I had him and returned a week later after he bit a couple people. They knew his issues when they adopted him. The first person he bit in their home was a relative who let herself into their house and Starbucks didn't know her so he acted like she was intruded and jumped up and bit her arm, breaking the skin. The second time, they were taking him out front, and he got off the leash and ran up and bit a neighbor. They returned him and took him back into foster.

The only problem that I have with him at home is occasionally he will fight with my own dog over food. I usually see the signs (staring, then low growling) and can seperate them without incident. With me he hasn't shown any aggression. When my family visits, including my 2 year old nephew, he's fine. He's all love and kisses. But with strangers, he goes crazy.
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Old 02-21-2005, 08:46 PM
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I hate to say it, and I know no one here wants to hear it, but the dog just can't be trusted. I don't think he will ever change. Someone messed him up. It sucks for him, but I wouldn't take the chance of him biting someone. I'd have him put down. It's too bad that someone messed him up to the point where he lunges at strangers. But really, you're going to have a hard time finding him a home, and even if you do, what if he bites someone. An adult, a little kid.......it's just not worth it. If he's not getting any better, or he's getting worse I would have him put down. It's too bad, but I don't know what else you can do. If he was getting better, I would say keep trying....but from what I read in your post, he's not.
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Old 02-21-2005, 09:02 PM
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I have to disagree with Caseyolee. I have never put a dog down for a behavioral problem, and I've had some real doozies. You just need to listen to him. He's telling you something about fear or anxiety...it's up to you to figure out what he's trying to say.

I think your best bet is going to be some serious desensitization exercises. Take him somewhere (a park usually works) where you and he can sit and watch people from a distance. Devote an afternoon to just sitting and watching, and discourage anyone from coming near or paying attention to him. Bring something really yummy, like lunchmeat, and have a nice, calm time popping him the occasional treat. Make sure you praise and treat him when someone walks past. Reward him for ignoring them.

I would do this a few times. Even if you can't tell a difference, you'll get his mental gears moving. Then move up a step, and make a couple of rounds on the park path. Stay calm and reassured, don't let him think you're nervous. If you're edgy, he'll get edgy too. When someone comes by, keep walking at the same pace and attract him away from the person with some yummies. We want his attention on YOU. When he's watching your every move, he's not worrying about strangers.

Progress within Starbucks' comfort zone, and make sure that you keep cool and collected. You can get a friend he doesn't know to come closer until he's comfortable sniffing a hand. Make sure they ignore him completely; let him explore the friend without the pressure of them exploring him back.

Does this help? Let me know if it's not a good plan, and we'll rearrange it together.
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Old 02-21-2005, 09:39 PM
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I too would have to disagree with, Caseyolee.

It's saddened me how many dogs have been put down because of behavioral problems and frankly, it sickens me.

I know, I know some dogs just really can't be helped and it's the people who owned the dog that is at fault.

Would you kill an alocoholic because of a problem? No, because there are ways to help him and it's better than killing him.

Would you kill an angry person? No, there's something called anger management.

For every problem there is a solution; for EVERY problem, including some that dogs may have.

If the dog has a chance to live, help it. And to me, it seems that this dog just may have some abandonement issues. And it's going to take time. Good luck, man.

Sorry for the long post, just had to put in my 2 cents.
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Old 02-21-2005, 10:18 PM
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Behavioral problems is one thing, but biting people?

All those training methods are fine & dandy, but what if he never gets any better? Are you still going to risk someone's life w/ this dog?

This dog lunging to bite someone alarms me. Even if he does get better, can he be trusted? I wouldn't want to own a dog who has bitten someone, or lunged at someone. I would personally never trust it.

It is sad that dogs have to be put down, and that it's the fault of whoever previously owned it.

I would never risk a dog hurting someone. That's just my personal opinion.
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Old 02-21-2005, 10:27 PM
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I guess that depends on how much time you're willing to put into the dog. Personally, I have taken in five dogs that I can think of that had been labeled "dangerous" or "Aggressive" and bitten people. Every one of those dogs is alive today and living in a happy home, two of them with children. Dogs aren't "things". They're living, thinking, feeling creatures that rely on us to take care of them. That includes taking care of them when they're sick, upset, or even behaving badly. You can't throw your dog away and say, "Oh well, let's get another one and try again."

Starbucks needs help. He can't get it if he's dead. I think homelessdog is doing exactly the right thing in helping him. Starbucks is a unique, beautiful animal who deserves every chance at life.
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