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Please help us! Our obsessive dog is becoming more anxious and aggressive towards other animals and people. My wife (originally her dog) and I have a 6 year old pit mix. Since I've know my wife (he's her dog), he has this obsessive need to play fetch ALL OF THE TIME. And his obsession has gotten much worse over the past two years, especially the last year. It's pretty extreme. We have increased his activity level. We walk him every day unless it's raining too hard, and take him to the park once a week. He has arthritis, so he can't run too hard for too long like he did when he was younger, but he's always physically worn out at the end. However, as soon as we get home he wants to play fetch again regardless of how tired he is. Unfortunately, he only wants to play when outside, and walking him can be difficult. He literally cannot just sit outside and chill like other dogs, he has to be playing fetch all of the time. It seems that his obsession with fetch has gotten worse since increasing his outdoor activity. He literally wants my wife (and now even me) to play fetch from sun up til sundown. He can lay there and chew and lick his kong ball for hours, in this trance, while trying to force my wife to play with him. He will chew that thing to pieces, and sometimes tries to eat the bits he bites off. She will play gentle fetch (kick his kong ball to him or toss it up in the air) with him in our apartment, which I disapprove of. He will do this for hours. If you try to ignore him or use his "enough" command, he will try to ignore us and whine nonstop until we put his ball away. When we put it away, he will continue to whine very loudly and will start panting and yawning. From there he will try to race to his water bowl to drink as much water as possible so that we will have to take him out multiple times or until he vomits. We seriously have to pull his water to keep this from happening. Sometimes he will just vomit from being too excited.

When his ball is gone, his anxiety is much worse. I know he's got extreme anxiety issues. He is a compulsive licker, which again, has gotten worse in the past two years with a spike in the past year. He can lick himself until he has bald spots, and he tries to lick the floor and furniture unless you tell him multiple times to stop. Even spraying his paws (and carpet) with bitter pet spray doesn't stop him. When you command him to stop and he listens, he will yawn and pant or just drop his head for a few minutes before starting all over again. We live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with our cat as well. She came into the relationship with me, the dog with my wife. When he wants attention (which he constantly has), is bored, is anxious, etc, he will try to antagonize/chase (with that trance-like stare) my cat to force her to run away, thus causing her extreme anxiety as well. She has developed a bladder infection in the past due to stress caused by him. I am TERRIFIED that he will try to kill her one day. Now, he tries to lunge at/maybe even attack other dogs in our building and outside. He now very aggressively barks at some men and children in our building. He seems to be ok with adult women, like my wife and I and our lady friends. She and I are completely lost on what to do. It doesn't help that my wife is very defensive whenever I try to talk about his problem behaviors, even though she has admitted that getting him as a puppy was a mistake.

It's clear that he's miserable, depressed and anxious all of the time regardless of how much attention we give him. We can't even have guests over because of his energy and stressful behaviors which shoot through the roof in front of guests. I am terrified that he will end up attacking someone, their dog or even me one day. He and I don't get along. When my wife and I hug or kiss or sit together, he tries to break us up. If we're on the couch, he'll whine at her until she sits on his dog bed with him. This goes on for hours, with her constantly moving between the couch and the floor. This is causing strain between my wife and I as well. When I'm walking around doing my thing around the apartment, I'll look up to see him staring at me nonstop. It's not a "come play with me stare". I feel as though it's a challenge, so I stare back until he breaks his stare and looks away. I am tired of doing this. I don't like staring at him and saying commands at him all of the time, but I know he sees me as the alpha in which he is in competition with. We need help. I'm at the point where home isn't a restful place for me anymore.
 

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You said it - He has a compulsiveness problem. You can help obsession with drugs, but I suggest that you talk to a professional, degreed dog behaviorist for a better diagnosis and treatment.

You may be able to trade off behaviors, but I don't have the knowledge of how to extinguish obsessions.
 

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Has he had a thorough vet check? Blood panel, thyroid been checked? A medical issue can cause changes in behavior. It's important to rule that out so you can pursue other avenues.

What do you do for wearing out his mind? You can run and play fetch and attempt to wear out a dog, but it's not going to happen. Even when they're tired, their bodies can go a lot longer than ours, and recuperate quicker! Try training him tricks, working on obedience, something that makes his mind work and focus on something other than fetch.

If that fails and no medical issues are found, consult a behaviorist.
 

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Hello,

It sounds like you're in a pretty serious situation. I'm a student professional dog trainer with several years of experience working with dogs using scientific-based methods. Cases of aggression are something I have experienced first-hand with my own older dog. Not every case is the same, but I hope that I can shed some light into what I think is going on and give you some advice on what to do and where to go with this. I've bolded some parts to give you a general idea of what I'm covering.

Firstly you need to understand a very critical detail regarding dog behavior and social structure. It's clear to me that you believe you are in competition with this dog over a top rank in the household. The theory of dominance or "alpha dog" has come under severe scrutiny in the scientific community over the past couple of decades. The idea that dogs want to fight their owners for "dominance" is something that simply isn't true, as it has come to be realized that their group mentality is actually much more complicated than that. In fact, it's not a hierarchy at all and much more like the dynamics of a human family instead. The misleading idea of dominance I'd have to think is one of the biggest enemies of the modern dog trainer, as it promotes physical and psychological abuse towards dogs whose owners are simply failing to understand their pets' true motivations. It's important that I also say you're not to blame for believing in dominance theory; mainstream media and culture has influenced people to believe that this is the way we should interact with our dogs. It's very easy to get bad advice from unreliable sources if you're not already aware of the facts. I'm including some links to very good resources if you'd like to read more about the debunked theory. I strongly encourage you to take a look at them.
https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/is...s_20416-1.html
https://drsophiayin.com/philosophy/dominance/
http://www.apbc.org.uk/articles/why-wont-dominance-die

Something that's very important to realize with aggressive dogs is that in most cases, the root cause is fear. The dog is trying to protect either itself, or something in its environment that it needs in order to survive. The species is not capable of feeling respect or acting vengeful; they simply behave a certain way to either get something that they want, or to avoid something that they don't want. It's psychology at its most basic, and it's valid for every living creature. While the root of aggression is usually very basic, aggression itself is not. It's often very complicated, and it can only be fixed by treating the cause of the aggression, not the symptoms.
There are essentially two ways that aggressive behavior can be developed: (1) it can be genetic, meaning the dog is already predisposed to behaving a certain way or having a neurological condition that causes severe anxiety and aggression, and (2) it can be learned. Sometimes it's a combination of both. It's extremely common for well-meaning owners to create or intensify aggressive feelings in a dog. Yelling, hitting, and pulling on the collar of an excited dog can build a negative feeling towards the "trigger," which is something the dog is fearful or anxious toward. Let me explain. Say, for example, you're out on a walk with a dog and he sees another dog in the distance. He gets excited because he wants to go greet the dog, but instead you put pressure on the dog's collar by pulling back to maintain control over him. The collar presses uncomfortably on his neck. The dog reacts and starts barking and lunging at the dog. What pressure does to dogs is it increases feelings of excitement (be it good or bad). Repeat the process enough times with uncomfortable feelings (like a physical correction, more pulling, yelling, etc), and the dog will probably come to have negative feelings towards other dogs. After all, bad things happened to him when other dogs appeared. This is one way aggression can be created or worsened, and it can happen fairly quickly. Fearful behavior toward humans, however, is often due to something that's somewhat different.

Puppies go through a critical developmental period between the age of 10 weeks to around 4 months. Age can vary slightly depending on who you ask. It's vital that they come in contact with as many new things as possible to ensure that they will be confident around them as an adult. Lack of socialization around people before 4 months of age is one of the biggest reasons why dogs eventually become aggressive towards humans (and it can cause fear towards other dogs in the same way). Rehabilitation is possible, but the older the dog is and the more negative experiences he's had with his triggers, the harder it will be. Some dogs who went unsocialized as puppies will never be comfortable around certain people. The reason I think your dog is okay with mostly women is because he probably had positive exposure to women as a young puppy but not enough to men and children. It's important to make sure a puppy has good experiences with all people, no matter what age, gender, race, height, or accessories they wear, because dogs are usually bad at generalizing.

You mentioned that your dog is a pit bull mix. Because they are typically highly-driven dogs, meaning they usually have a strong desire to chase moving objects (toys, small animals, children, cars, etc), it's easy to see why he may have developed obsessive behavior toward playing with his ball. Dogs like these need to be given an outlet to prevent the problem in the first place, but it seems like he's so far gone now that it would have little effect on him. That ball is his reason for living, which isn't healthy for you or for him. His anxiety is also so far gone that it will require a lot of time, patience, and work to improve your situation inside or outside the home. I encourage you to reflect back on a series of events to try to figure out how his behavior developed or worsened. I also have a list of questions for you that will help me piece it together too.

1) Has your dog ever growled, shown his teeth, or bitten you? What about towards your wife? Has he bitten anyone?
2) What is his relationship with your wife like? Does she also follow "alpha dog" protocol?
3) What usually happens when a stranger is in the area? What do you do?
4) Explain what your training is like. What equipment do you use, how do you carry yourself, and do you use treats or toys at all?

I think it would be a good idea for both you and your wife to sit down and reflect on how you interact with your dog. Is the relationship with him full of tension, back and forth aggression, fear, and stress? One specific thing that I would like to suggest is letting go of the domineering side of your relationship and adopting a more gentle, understanding way of communicating. He needs to learn more calm behaviors inside the home and training needs to be something he looks forward to from a strong but gentle leader. Positive associations need to be made with other objects and situations in which his ball is not present. Confidence needs to be built. I can show you how to do all of this. It will take time, but if he feels secure in his home I know that will go a long way in helping him feel better. As for his aggression issues, it may be that it is too developed to see any significant improvement but because I don't know your dog I'm unsure as to how severe his behavior is. Aggression is never black and white.

NOTE: As already mentioned by others, I'd highly recommend getting him tested for possible health problems before proceeding with a rehabilitation program. Sometimes putting dogs on medications can help to lessen the symptoms but when paired with training is more likely to create results. While I would be willing to guide you through the process of changing your household dynamics and getting you introduced to changing his aggressive response, at the end of the day a local certified professional trainer and/or veterinary behaviorist with experience in aggression cases will be most beneficial to you.

Ultimately, here is what I'm perceiving the outlook to be. Best case scenario, meaning you and your wife put in the time and effort required for rehabilitating him and he is free of any genetic/neurological disorder, you may end up with a relatively balanced dog who no longer feels the need to protect himself from the world. Worst case scenario, you may have to resort to management for the rest of his life, which means managing his interactions so that he is as comfortable as possible. If none of this is something you are able or willing to do then I think it's important to look at the quality of life he would have if things were to continue. Perhaps it may be best to think about putting him to sleep. It's certainly not something that any owner would want to think about, but ultimately you need to look at the life of the dog and the safety of the family and the public.

I hope this helps you! Please don't hesitate to ask me any questions or address any concerns you may have. :)
Best wishes!
 
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