Biting Strangers

Discussion in 'Dog Training Forum' started by homelessdog, Feb 20, 2005.

  1. homelessdog

    homelessdog New Member

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    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.
     
  2. Renee750il

    Renee750il Felurian

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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.
     
  3. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

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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.
     
  4. homelessdog

    homelessdog New Member

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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.
     
  5. caseyolee

    caseyolee Border Collies R' Us

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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.
     
  6. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

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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.
     
  7. BigDog2191

    BigDog2191 Big German Shepherd

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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. :mad:

    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. :D
     
  8. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

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    Very eloquent, BigDog. :)
     
  9. caseyolee

    caseyolee Border Collies R' Us

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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.
     
  10. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

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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.
     
  11. BigDog2191

    BigDog2191 Big German Shepherd

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    Couldn't agree with you more, Creature Teacher. :)
     
  12. caseyolee

    caseyolee Border Collies R' Us

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    I agree too that he deserves a chance. I'm just saying, if the training never pays off...then what?

    I'm glad there are people that are willing to take the time w/ these kinds of dogs, but I'm not one of them. That's one thing I won't do is take in a dog that bites/has bitten someone. I'm just not willing to take the time/chance.

    Don't get me wrong, rescuing dogs is great. I foster a number of Border Collies every year. They get training/socialization, and then a forever home. It's a great thing, but I think there are too many dogs out there that DONT bite or aren't aggressive towards people that need homes too. I'd rather spend my time on those ones. They put shelter dogs down......no one can stop it, although we try. I would just rather see the ones that don't have aggression problems live rather than the ones that do.
     
  13. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

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    ...And what if it does? What if I slip on the soap in the shower and smack my head? What if aliens take over the world and make us all slaves? "What ifs" can only help to prepare you; they're not a life philosophy.

    I don't think it's my place to decide which dogs deserve to live and which deserve to die. I take the dogs that come to me and do anything and everything in my power to help them. They all deserve my love, understanding, patience, and help.

    I drove myself to complete nervous exhaustion once over a dog. He was a black chow/something mix with a little white spot on his chest. He was so afraid of people that he always bit first and asked questions later. He was dangerous, yes, and he would've bitten me several times if I hadn't known how to respect his boundaries. I spent the better part of 2 weeks trying to reach him, then I just broke down. I thought, this is it. I knew one day it would happen. There was nothing I could do for this one. I had taken time off work, my other dogs and cats and boyfriend were furious with me. I was broke and miserable and I didn't have anything to show for it. Then it just clicked. I was sleeping against the wall in his room, just worn out, and I felt him crawl into my lap.

    If I had given up, he would be dead. He was 4 months old then. Now he's one of the most accomplished dogs I know. His parents named him Talus. He has his Canine Good Citizen Award and his parents take him to visit a retirement community once or twice a month.

    That's why you don't give up. Or, if you do give up, you find someone else who won't.
     
  14. homelessdog

    homelessdog New Member

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    Thank you all for you advice.

    I won't be putting him to sleep. I do understand the concern though. In a worst case scenario, I'll end up keeping him and would keep him away from strangers. I'm not really in a situation where I want to adopt another dog at this time, but I don't mind fostering him for as long as it takes. But I don't think he's a lost hope yet. I ordered the book "Aggression in Dogs" by Brenda Aloff about a month ago, but it's been on back order since then, so I'm still waiting to read that.

    I like the suggestion of going to a park where people are around but at a distance. I'll start trying that. I was thinking this morning that I need to take him out to get him more socialized. Where I usually walk him, there's not really anyone around. He is very food motivated. Though sometimes he's too food motivated, and if he knows I have treats with me, he'll focus on me completely rather than do any people watching. I suppose the clicker training mikght come in handy with that point (clicking when he's staying by my side but not staring at my hand waiting for the next treat).

    I'm wondering if I should stop bringing him to adoption events? There he's usually in a crate, and people get too close and he starts the growling and barking. Oh, and he also drools alot when he's in his crate at the adoption event. He only drools when he's nervous, as best I can tell. .. Or at the least, maybe I should move him out of the crate and finding someplace calm to sit next to him where I can monitor him more easily. I like that he's around people at the adoption events (especially the volunteers whom he knows), but not when they're making him more uneasy. .. His chances of getting adopted aren't very high (we disclose all prior bite informatoin and aggression history), so if the adoption events are making things worse for him then I should stop bringing him. I don't know if they are or not.

    The lunging is what has me nervous at this point. It makes me wonder how I'll ever be able to tell when I can trust him with someone. I must not be seeing the warning signs.
     
  15. CreatureTeacher

    CreatureTeacher New Member

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    You might think about holding off on the adoption events for now. It sounds like they're doing more harm than good at the moment. They're a great idea for when he's more comfortable around people.

    Try to pay attention to yourself and the other person and think about what each of you were doing when Starbucks lunged. You, especially; were you tense, or worried about how Starbucks would behave? Think about trying to stay calm. Laugh a lot when other people are around so he knows you're relaxed. If he's trying to protect you, show him there's nothing to protect against!

    I hope that helps. If I can do anything, please let me know.
     
  16. bonster

    bonster Disappointed :(

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    I have to agree with Emma /Creature Teacher - whose advice has helped me already - and BigDog... from my own recent personal experiences with a resuce. Not lunging/biting, but extreme excitement in certain situations.
    The desensitization/watching from a distance approach worked, but took some time and patience -- be sure to avoid insofar as possible situations where the lunging/agression might occur... build up to them real slow and get some dog-understanding friends to help out. Sounds like that approach is already working in the car.

    It would be tragic to have this dog killed - I can't beleive that it was even suggested :mad: in response to your request for help - it does seem from what you've put that you are making some progress.

    Good luck homelessdog
    I wish you all the best
     
  17. smkie

    smkie pointer/labrador/terrier Staff Member

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    last summer I went to an art show that was a fund raiser for a vet that did rescue on site of his business. I never thought a second about bringing Victor. I have always taken him to the dog walk fund raisers as a "spokesdog" for save_our_strays..and try to tell anyone that asks, how I found him and all about Connie. When we pulled in Victor's whole personality changes. He cowered, shook and looked like he would make a run for it. We would have left, but other vendors had parked behind us and we were "trapped". I had my daughter handle the public while i walked Vic around and around the arena, all I could do was keep him moving. It was late in the afternoon before he relaxed. I would never do this to him again. He spent two (that I know of) of his first 5 months in such a place. I don't thnk he needs any more reminders.
     
  18. Renee750il

    Renee750il Felurian

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    Homeless, you and BigDog and Emma the CreatureTeacher and so many others here are just the best!

    You're right on the money about the drooling. That's definitely a severe stress reaction from a dog (unless it's a 'drooly' breed, lol). Where do you think all those descriptions of slavering dogs attacking comes from? Trust your instincts - I think they're good and Emma is giving you such good advice. With that combination I think you're going to give this boy a new outlook and a chance to be something special.
     
  19. smkie

    smkie pointer/labrador/terrier Staff Member

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    I think this is such an important thread, and one I can't get out of my head. I have worked with dogs most of my life..and I have been bit many times..mostly my own fault for diving into a fight, somehow it never dawns on me that they have more mass and more teeth..but when taking a dog into your home with all the best intentions ther is a lot of responsiblity and risk when taking on a biter. Not everyone is cut out for what the long haul requires, and being bit can take on permanent damage..Creature Teacher your a saint of the dogs..you also have training and instinct that not everyone else has. I don't think being put to sleep is the answer, but in all fairness and honesty what is? There are very few of you, and so many dogs out there that need help. I have been bit twice severe, once severed the tendons when the tooth went down between my index and third finger of my right hand. It took several dozen inside stitches before they got to the outside. Two years went by before I gained the use of those two fingers that make up my drawing hand..once in the eye where the tooth went between my eye and the socket..i was lucky that time. the rest of my scars were in the large muscles and no big deal.
    A scared dog can be very dangerous..and the person taking the animal into their home is now responsible for all that can happen...they can be sued as well if the animal gets out of their control and harms someone else. If a person is over their heads with what they are dealing with..who do they call? You all may be mad at me for writing this, but i feel it is important. We had a dog someone was "hiding" at the kennels. He bit the breast off of a 16 year old girl. THey left him in that chainlink jail for the rest of his life. He was mean, very, very, very mean. I did not go in and give him sugars in his ears everyday, so I am sure that someone could have worked with him, but i was scared and that's the truth. being bit hurts, and is dangerous..I think both sides should be carefully examined when taking on this kind of rescue. I have worked with people that are brain damaged, all adults, and some dangerous..their teeth were pulled because the bit, they hit and they harmed..some could be worked with and their lives improved..others you might have been talking to your shoes for all your tried, but you tried all the same yet they were monitored when out in public and not put in the path of people that didn't know phyical crisis intevention movements...i can't see people being any different from dogs, there isn't much on here that i have seen in threads about the mental fitness of an animal...no doggy psych we can take them to so it is mostly diving in head first and hoping for the best. I wish you all the luck in the world with your efforts, and I will hold you in silent meditation that all works out for the best.
     
  20. Renee750il

    Renee750il Felurian

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    You were definitely right not to try to deal with a dog you were afraid of! That just never does any good for either of you.

    Somehow, someway, there are times when the right people stumble across dogs that need them and everyone comes out of the encounter greatly enhanced.
     

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