Case Report #1

I saw a 4 year old dog who presented for growling at the owners when they would try to put his collar on, pet him, and pass by him while he was sleeping in his favorite spot. The dog was more inclined to show aggression to the male owner than the female owner.

Showing aggression in these contexts is common for many dogs. Nonetheless, it is important to do a physical exam to make sure there is no underlying medical problem causing or exacerbating the issue.

After taking a detailed behavior history, I did a physical exam and found that the dog had a painful neck and back.   As I reviewed the detailed behavioral history along with these findings, I recommended one behavior training exercise only. The rest of the recommendations were dealing with the medical issues.

This dog was put on pain meds and had x-rays. The pain meds helped reduce the aggression but the x-rays did not show any abnormalities; therefore, the owners will likely pursue an MRI.

The really heartbreaking part of this story is that this is the dog’s 4th home. He had been returned many times and likely has a history of working with trainers for the aggression issues. I only hope no one used harsh methods on this dog such as choke/prong collars as that will certainly escalate the pain and aggression.
Fortunately, this dog’s veterinarian had them come for a behavior evaluation to ensure an appropriate plan was put in place and the dog’s new owners are very dedicated to helping him.

Published in: on March 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm  Comments (5)  

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  1. I walk dogs at the Jersey Animal Coalition. The case you describe seems to be more about pain and learned reactions but dogs seem to learn aggression if they stay in a shelter too long. As you know they are kept in cages and when someone enters the room they all bark and get excited. This seems to help create aggression. The longer they stay the worse it gets.

    I am glad these owners are trying to help this dog and I hope you and the staff will encourage and help these owners. This dog deserves a chance.

  2. I adopted an agressive dog, that I knew to some extent. Growled and snapped/mouth with teeth at my hand if I went near crate, new beds I bought, toys, and food. These I worked on and for the most part her possession agression has greatly diminished with me in our house, but I do not trust her around a stranger…if visiting family I see the constant watching of who is coming so i stand near her and try to reassure she is “safe”. Fortuantely I live alone but not so fortunate to teach the dog how to deal with strangers. but more so she is aggressive to people, esp men and extreme with other animals. I worked witht he Leave it command and she si much better with birds or squirrels but never another dog. Sometimes I do all I can to hold onto her and she ahd escaped partially from the harness. So I try to walk at odd hours but still once in awhile we meet up with another dog across the streeet, near the corner. She has already bitten two dogs now and I am very concerned. Family has said I should put her down (she does have some pit bull in her genetics). I know I have failed to have her sit and stay all the time, in house not always so bad but outside very difficult. She is always on guard, very jumpy at noises still. It is sad, but I fear for family and friends. So who knows of a good trainer to help me. When does a person know it is never going to be safe and perhaps dog should be put down. I do ot beleive in it, until now when living with hesitations and fears over a dog and her inate desire at thsi point to want to attack what she fears, or even to be aggressive in possession/protection of her self and me?

  3. You need to have your dog evaluated by a real behavioral professional. There are lots of people that call themselves behaviorists but have no education at all. I would start by trying to find a veterinary behaviorist by you, You can go to to find the closest one to you. If there is not one by you, let me know.

  4. Kam: My bullmastiff is dog aggressive too. She has killed another dog. A trainer is good to teach you how to be responsible with the dog and how to keep it safe from attacking but I doubt it will really put you in a safe place with your dog as far as removing the aggression. The doc is right and the absolute best thing you can do is to find a veterinary behaviorist. Think of a veterinary behaviorist as a psychiatrist for dogs. They can evaluate the dog, prescribe medication for the dog and really get to the root of the problem and in most cases it will cost about the same as a private program with a trainer. If we were bi-polar we would see a doctor right? It can be the same with dogs.The good news is this is fixable!

  5. I like Don’s response. I thought I would just expand on a few comments. With respect to trainers, I would like add in a clarifier when it comes to using a want a qualified/educated trainer when you use one. With respect to “fixable” there are many situations where things can improve drastically and we are all very happy when that happens but some cases are not always fixable. In general with aggression issues, I tend to steer away from using the term “fixable” or “cure” both because of the underlying physiology of aggression and to help manage expectations and or set everyone up for realistic expectations.

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