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Discussion Starter #1
I have a rescue Papillon who had a great home up until his owner died unexpectedly. He was trapped in the house with her for several days before he was found. I ended up with him about four years ago, and it was only recently that this problem began. He has always been pretty neurotic and I'm not sure if that's because of his past or if it's just who he is, and has always been overly excitable. Recently, however, he has begun growling and quietly woofing at everything and everyone in my family except for me. It's not aggression so far as I can tell--his body is wiggling, he's smiling, his tail is wagging, his head bobs around up and down and in circles, his feet all tap dance...and all the while he crouches and flinches like he's been beaten...It's very bizarre. I don't know if he's being protective of me because it happens with more intensity when he's been next to me on the couch and if I'm sleeping he does launch attacks off the bed and charges whoever opens the door, barking, snarling, the whole thing. He also has a nervous licking habit. He'll lick his paws, the couch, the floor, a piece of clothing...He doesn't usually lick me or clothes that I'm wearing. He chews nonstop on bones, too, and is very possessive of those and growls at anyone who comes near except for me. While he growls he cowers and licks his lips rapidly while fidgeting around and backing up. He doesn't ever do this to me, though, only my family. I don't know if it's because he's afraid of them or if it's just a part of his all around insecurity. He can be very dog aggressive off the bat, too. I know he's got confidence issues and I'm not quite sure how to build him up. Anyways, any thoughts or suggestions would be great! Everyone is getting extremely fed up with him and I don't know how to stop it. I've tried ignoring him, pushing him off the couch, distracting him, holding him, poking him, scruffing him...He simply doesn't care...He keeps this little rumble in his throat. The pheromone spray actually stops the outright barking, though. Not so much the growling...It just makes him hide and growl from his crate!
 

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Since this is a recent behavior, I'd recommend a vet check. There are a number of medical issues that can manifest in behavioral problems.

He does sound like a nervous pup. Stick with positive reinforcement-based training to build his confidence. Punishment (e.g., pushing, poking, scruffing, even yelling if he's very sensitive) will only make him more fearful and possibly feel the need to defend himself. Check out Kikopup's training videos, and information on desensitization and counter-conditioning from Sophia Yin for his issues with other people and dogs. This article from Patricia McConnell should help with his possessive behavior (called resource guarding).

If you need more help, you might want to consult a positive reinforcement-based trainer. Pet Professional Guild has an international membership
 

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Wow, he sounds like a nervous wreck, poor little guy. Agree with cookieface above. Agree with you that it's fear based. All those behaviors you describe are calming signals. Sounds like he is escalating with the growl/woof because people aren't understanding the earlier calming signals.

Until you get him to the vet I think everyone should try to not mess him, except you - and keep that to a minimum. Ditch the adversives, spray, yelling, scruffing, etc. it will only (already has) made him worse. Next step for him will be biting because his other attempts to communicate (the only way he knows how) have failed.

Be nothing but kind and gentle with him, make sure he has his own places he can go to, like his crate, a special spot on the couch next to you where he won't be disturbed and can relax. Try to manage the environment so everyone leaves him alone until you learn to train with positive methods and how to read what he is saying to you.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I actually took him to the vet a little while ago when all of this first started going on and he said he looked good with the exception of some tartar. So he got a dental and my vet suggested not letting him be with me when he's acting protective and that the problem would probably disappear since I was addressing it early. I've done obedience with him and he's very good there, happy and eager to learn. I went back and talked to my trainer a few weeks ago and she suggested stepping in front of him (blocking his view of the other dog) when he acts aggressive or to walk in the other direction. Walking away is a good suggestion and helps, but to me it doesn't deal with the root of the problem and if I can cure his dog aggression that would be fantastic just because I think it's rude when my dog is screaming like I'm murdering him and trying to throw himself at another dog who is walking politely on the other side of the road--that's the other thing--when he barks at other dogs, he doesn't bark, he screams like he's being tormented. It's bizarre. With the growling, my trainer suggested that I distract and then treat as soon as he's distracted, but I have difficulty distracting him when he's in that state of mind. I could always get up and take him away, but I feel like that will make it worse because once more we're avoiding the situation rather than addressing the underlying issue. Maybe I need to hire a behavior specialist. I thought he would get past it at first, that it was something temporary, but rather than maintaining its level as it did for the last couple of weeks, it's now starting to increase. (Probably because of what goodgirl said "his other attempts to communicate have failed". I CANNOT let him get to the point of biting, because I know if he bites someone I won't be able to keep him--everyone is already rooting for me to give him to a family friend, but I feel that not only would that be passing off the problem, it would also be betraying him and I would miss him, he's my little velcro strip. I want to be able to build his confidence, but I just don't know how at this point. He's a little nervous in public, too only AFTER people have pet him. He'll be hopping up and down, tail wagging, completely happy to see a new person and then as soon as they make contact with him he becomes completely still, his tail drops, and looks at me with uncertainty, as if he suddenly realized what he got himself into. I will definitely check out Kikopup's training videos and hopefully that will help!
 

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dog aggression that would be fantastic just because I think it's rude when my dog is screaming like I'm murdering him and trying to throw himself at another dog who is walking politely on the other side of the road--that's the other thing--when he barks at other dogs, he doesn't bark, he screams like he's being tormented. It's bizarre. With the growling, my trainer suggested that I distract and then treat as soon as he's distracted, but I have difficulty distracting him when he's in that state of mind.
Check out the resources in this thread: Dog reactive links

And definitely stop any physical punishment. Body blocks, walking away, time outs, are fine but no scruffing, no sprays, nothing that could create fear or stress.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thank you for the links! I've got lots of reading ahead! Poor dog, he's a great guy otherwise.
 

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Good for you for committing to helping this little guy! If you have access to a good behaviorist and can swing it you should go for it. You probably already know this, but anyone can call themselves a trainer or a behaviorist, it's not regulated. I would check their credentials and/or check a couple references, observe them with another dog if possible, see if it's a good fit. A behaviorist can observe your dog and help figure out why he does what he does, then give you a game plan. Then you can help your dog overcome his fears and anxieties. Once your family understands what's going on in his little head they will want to help him too.

The links Shell gave you will help clear things up for you - once you learn about working under threshold, things will improve dramatically! Clicker training is a lot of fun and seems to help build a dog's confidence too; they get immediate feedback when they're right. A very good tool to have in your toolbox!
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I went back and asked for more suggestions and she told me since it is my family in particular, I should have them give him treats whenever he comes up (even if he is nervous and growling because theoretically he is doing this out of fear so he will learn "oh, they aren't scary!" rather than the treats reinforcing the growling) so hopefully that will help! She also suggested letting various family members feed him. Hopefully that will cure this problem!

As for clicker training, I still can't understand it! I see it like this: click = good dog. "Sit." Dog sits. CLICK. Treat. So the dog's reward becomes the click... But here's my question! How is the click any different from "Yes!"? "Sit." Dog sits. "Yes!" Treat. Isn't it the same thing but without having to hold a clicker? Wouldn't it be better timing to not use the clicker since "Yes!" can be said faster than the clicker can click?
 

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scrat- thats exactly right, a clicker is just a marker and "yes" works exactly the same :) for many peopleca clicker is simply more consistent and easier for them to get right, but for others the clicker is harder and a marker word is easier/more consistent. just use whatever is easiest for you :)
 

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Your trainer's suggestions are good. If the pup is scared, you can use classical conditioning to build an association between "scary things" and "good things." Eventually, his negative emotional response to previously scary things will become a positive emotional response. One thing I've read recently is that is the dog is fearful around people, instead of taking treats from them right from the start, someone he is comfortable with should feed treats until he's a little more comfortable with the other people.

"Sit." Dog sits. CLICK. Treat. So the dog's reward becomes the click
The click is actually a bridge between the behavior and the reward telling the dog, "Yes, that's the behavior I want. A treat will be delivered soon." It becomes associated with the treat, but isn't the reinforcement itself. Every time you click, the dog should get some type of reinforcement.

How is the click any different from "Yes!"?
Lots of people use marker words instead of a clicker. I use a clicker when training certain things and my voice in other situations. My very limited experience is that clicking works faster and is more easily understood. The advantages of the clicker are that it's a unique sound (unlike "yes" or "good" which you use in every day conversation), it's a very precise and short sound that doesn't vary as your voice would, and there is some very preliminary research suggesting that the click sound is processed differently (more quickly, directly in the emotional center) by the brain.

Karen Pryor has a number of articles on her site:
Why Can't I Just Use My Voice?
How to Practice Clicker Mechanics
The Neurophysiology of Clicker Training
(I'd link, but I don't want to send my post to moderation.)

That said, there are times when a clicker is impractical and, well, you (almost) always have your voice.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Yikes, I'm in a dilemma now. This morning he growled my mom who popped his collar and he snapped at her. She said "He has to go." I've got to figure out some kind of quick fix here before she decides to act on her words. She's not a huge fan of positive obedience when it comes to aggression--she doesn't believe in it, she doesn't believe it works--and so she's not willing to be nice to him when she sees him. Anytime a dog pees, it's his fault--even though he wasn't even in the kitchen last night. Her dog barks more than he does, but he's the one who gets all the blame for it. Problems, problems. Thank you for all of the suggestions, though! Hopefully if I can get him to stop short term I can apply those techniques to stop the fear in the long run. It's difficult to do any kind of positive association with people who want nothing to do with him.
 

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Yikes, I'm in a dilemma now. This morning he growled my mom who popped his collar and he snapped at her. She said "He has to go." I've got to figure out some kind of quick fix here before she decides to act on her words. She's not a huge fan of positive obedience when it comes to aggression--she doesn't believe in it, she doesn't believe it works--and so she's not willing to be nice to him when she sees him. Anytime a dog pees, it's his fault--even though he wasn't even in the kitchen last night. Her dog barks more than he does, but he's the one who gets all the blame for it. Problems, problems. Thank you for all of the suggestions, though! Hopefully if I can get him to stop short term I can apply those techniques to stop the fear in the long run. It's difficult to do any kind of positive association with people who want nothing to do with him.
Quick fix is that he is never alone with her/anyone else who is going to react like that. If you're not home, crate him or put him in your room behind a door. If you have a friend that could "dog sit" sometimes, it might give him a more positive environment.

Long run though, that attitude towards "aggression" (sounds like fear to me) either has to change or that family and the dog shouldn't be living in the same house basically. Are you likely to be moving out anytime soon?

If your family's attitude is already that bad towards the little guy, he's at real risk if he bites someone out of fear when they're being rough with him.
 

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This is awful! I would be contacting a breed rescue if you cannot treat him as your dog with no contact with other members of the family. That means your room, with you and leashed/crated when he is out of your room so he cannot make any mistakes. I'd take over care of your room so your mother doesn't ever have to go in there and get irritated at his barking and such. You then need to be giving more of your time to his exercise too, lots of walks daily to help relax him.

I don't cheat with the clicker, there is always a treat following the click. With a word I can cheat and the dogs know it. In time you can switch over. I can tell them YES and run to the refrigerator for a treat now but when working to develop a relationship the reward needs to be closely timed to the moment the dog has done whatever the task was. It does also serve as an interrupter. If I took the clicker on a walk with me Ginger would snap around when she heard it and never even see the dog approaching on the other side of the street. She probably would completely forget about a dog if I used the clicker. Since it is a razor of a tool and I only need a spoon I don't use it. I want to be calm and gentle when she sees other dogs rather than precise and quick.

In your case using a clicker around the rest of the family would probably seriously annoy them [it is LOUD and you click a lot] and it might be better not to use one in the house. I'd have him on leash and give him tiny goodies when you are hanging out in the main part of the house and he sees others whether he is grumbling or not. When he starts to be looking forward to the goodie and forgets to grumble chose a praise word to use along with the goodie.

If you would like to train him with the clicker than definitely try it, just use it for basic manners, leash walking and tricks rather than behavior modification. The better you two can communicate the happier he will be. I will never forget JRT Raymond's look of relief when he got that we understood the reason he growled when he was on the sofa was not that he was claiming it but rather than he didn't care for giant human behinds landing next to him! Taught him up/off [took about 30 seconds], he got off, we sat and he hopped back up and all was well.
 

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Agree with above replies. If they want nothing to do with him that might be the best scenario for now, until he fully trusts you and begins to know how to learn, and you know how to teach him. Like Shell and Kathy says, if you could keep him away from anyone who is going to be negative or even too stern with him...that's what he needs. At least they should ignore him. He will need consistency, not one person handling him gently and somebody else being strict. If your mom or others in the family won't cooperate and you can't move out the kindest thing to do might be to rehome him. What if you get your mom to agree to a trial of leaving him alone for, say 3 months of only your gentle handling and positive training? When they see results they would need to buy into positive methods. But if you know they're not going to change their minds, I would rehome him. You said you have had him for 4 years, it will be tough.

By all means you can use a marker word - just load or charge it the same way you would a clicker with high value treats. Try to say the word the same every time (volume, tone, etc.). If anyone in your family just won't ignore him and feeds him treats they should toss them from a distance while standing sideways to him from a distance and not looking at him or saying anything. If he starts to come up to them they could glance his way, progress to soft talking - like that. Go nice and slow...if he reacts with barking/growling etc. back off and take the pressure off him, it's gone too fast for him. Try to keep him below threshold.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Thank you for all your suggestions! I think putting him on leash with me might help, but my mom told me that will make him feel more special than the other dogs and could create sibling rivalry conflicts. Is this true? I think the three month suggestion is a good idea--she has a man she wants to place him with, but I'm not entirely sure. I feel it's wrong to get a pet and then give it away because you can't deal with its issues, especially because of the situation he was in before. I am definitely trying the treat thing as of now although I have to admit it doesn't seem to be making too much of a difference, yet--he can growl while he's eating, it'd be amusing if it were a happy growl, but under the circumstances, not so much. Anyways, I might try clicker training. My mom has actually been thinking clicker training her dog, so I doubt she'd have an issue with me trying it. My only question is whether or not it would confuse her dog if I am clicking mine?
 

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As far as dog sitting, I think it actually got worse when I left. I left for college for a semester last summer before deciding to transfer to a university nearer to home (I've been home a few months now) and that's sort of when the problem started developing. Strange as it sounds, my friend has a pet goose who terrorized him so that they had to let him potty in the front yard because it wouldn't let him in the backyard. I'm sure that probably added to his insecurity because he was being chased around by a goose...He had the same problems there--peed on the bed, pillows, barked non stop. He's just kind of a problem guy, but he's incredibly sweet. I think he's just got a lot of baggage and if I could get him to forget or ignore that baggage I think it would work okay. He's smart, too. I think he knows. He started snuggling with my mom on the couch without growling--I'm not sure what changed, but it just happened this morning. He was on my left and moved to my right to curl up between us.
 

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How's it going with him now?
 

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Still not much progress...I'm working on clicker training just for the fun of it and he's at least having fun with that! The growling has escalated to snapping twice now, but in the past week there haven't been any incidences. Recently, I have stopped allowing him to be on the furniture with me or sleep in my bed because I think that is causing some of the issue--not him being on the furniture exactly, but him being next to me on the furniture. It makes him even more possessive, perhaps because he feels privileged that he is allowed on the furniture or is able to sleep on the bed (my Golden won't sleep on the bed, I think it gets to hot for her). So that seems to be helping if only because he doesn't have the opportunity or the need to growl when he's on the floor!
 

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How much exercise and work is he getting?

Can you get any video? I'm just curious to see what is going on. Mia is a screamer and will rocket around the house making a horrible, horrible commotion when she's overstimulated but it's not 'aggression'. I'm curious if it's similar or if it's something else.

Ime, slightly neurotic and overly exciteable is kind of the papillons' MO. Or at least it's common. They are very smart dogs with busy minds and can need a lot of both physical exercise and also more importantly mental stimulation. They're also in general kind of hyper-alert and Mia has to let me know everything very vocally. I also have a neurotic licker (other dog) so that sounds familiar too. I don't know that it's necessarily fear related but I find they do sometimes get into ritualistic behavior and it is self rewarding.

Somewhat sharp temperaments are also not uncommon nor is reactivity with other dogs. Does he react well before the dog is approaching? Mine don't like strange dogs in their faces. They'll never be dog park dogs. But they can walk in close proximity just fine or work next to another dog. Look at that would be a good option if he's reacting a long ways away.

Mia also has confidence issues. The more I can get her out, doing things, and in particular WORKING, the better. I would try some NILIF (there's a sticky) and up the exercise a lot for this dog and see what happens.

Many papillons really do need (or at least do vastly better) with a ton of exercise. Some are very laid back but many are just not.

Gosh, I made the breed sound awful but they're really not, I swear!
 

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Maybe not enough...He gets a forty five minute walk five out of seven days (it gets too dark on the days I have school late) and we've got a big backyard so I go out with the dogs every evening to play ball and he'll trot around--which doesn't really count, but is still some stimulation. It's definitely not happy/excitement growling--he has a happy/excited growl like the Golden. When I come home after being gone or sometimes if he's feeling extra frisky in the mornings he does this grumbly thing, but it's got a different tone to it and he doesn't have any fear/uncertainty in his eyes and isn't postured in a cringe. The other Papillon has random explosive barking episodes for no apparent reason sometimes, but it isn't aggression so much as...well I always say the neighbor flushed their toilet and she heard lol. Scrat is definitely obsessive when it comes to the licking! Although if I give him a bone, he'll instantly chew that instead and for hours. As soon as he can hear the other dog coming (so even if it is around the corner and I don't know it's there yet) he goes off like a squealing alarm clock. My best solution so far is to squat down and make him sit then massage his face while I hold it so he is facing me. It's sort of like an out of sight out of mind thing. As far as training, he doesn't get so much. Little tricks or basic obedience is all I really do with him--more because of a lack of time than anything. But I've heard ten minutes twice a day is usually alright for a dog and will improve their learning, so I try to stick to that. Hahaha not awful, just quirky!
 
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