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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My wife and I are trying to determine what are realistic expectations for how long it should take to train our new dog out of some behavior issues, so feedback from more experienced owners would be appreciated. Here’s our story so far:

We adopted a wonderful Jack Russell about 4 months ago from the SPCA. He is estimated at 3-4 years old, but it’s unknown because his former owner passed away and the dog was found by a utility worker and taken to the pound. He wasn’t neutered before we adopted him.

There are no kids or other pets in our house, just my wife and I.

Like most JRTs this fellow is very smart, but of course strong willed.

For the first two weeks he seemed housebroken, but eventually he started marking in the house, so now he’s in the crate when we aren’t home until we get him fully housebroken again.

After a month or so, the dog had bonded with me more than my wife. They got along fine for awhile, but eventually something happened, and now occassionally he will growl at her a little when she enters my office, or if she gets in his face on the couch. We had been letting him up on the bed, but about a month ago he snapped at her face with a mean sounding growl while we were all together there. He hasn’t been welcome on the bed since. Maybe once a week for the last month we’ve hed to boot him off the couch for growling at her. Now he gets a time out in the other room for a few minutes each time.

Also, he really doesn’t like other dogs. We’ve had to switch from a harness to a gentle leader to keep him from going nuts on every walk because there are always a couple other people out walking their dogs too. He will go nuts at a dog across the street lunging and losing his mind, and will snap at any dog he comes in range of.

He’s unpredictable around kids. One day he’ll be perfectly happy to let the neighborhood kids pet him, then later he’ll growl a little at one. My wife took him to her parent’s house and he spent the whole time giving our 2-year old nephew the hairy eyeball. If the boy got within a few feet there’d be growling.

He also seems to really hate skateboards. He goes nuts at anyone riding by on a board or a razor, and isn’t much nicer to bicycles.

I walk him twice daily, about 20 minutes in the early morning and about 45 minutes each evening.

Once we realized we weren’t going to be able to train him ourselves by reading books and watching videos, we started having a trainer once a month or so.

We’ve had some real success in getting him to start heeling, but that’s ongoing and requires a lot of reminding at the start of every walk, both with treats, praise, and stopping the walk to regain his attention.

We’ve had success getting him to not freak out near the trainer’s dogs after a each intense training session, but none of that seems to carry over to other dogs on walks. Through practice and exposure we’ve gotten him to stop going completely nuts and lunging at bikes going by in front of our house, but again, out on walks, it’s hit or miss. Skateboarders remain his mortal enemies apparently.

So, if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with it. It’s a bit of a mess, I know.

Like many new JRT owners, we feel a bit in over our heads. The successes with the trainer make us feel really hopeful, but the times in between feel like way more work than we expected, and we’re wondering how long we should expect it to be like this before we can switch to more of a maintenance state.

It’s important for us to be able to walk the dog without fearing him attacking other dogs and jumping in front of people on wheels. We’d like to be able to have the occasional guest with kids come over without having to always crate the dog. And we’d really like to be able to take him to visit family without having to constantly worry about him. And most importantly, we can’t have him growling at the lady of the house!

At $100/session we can’t afford to have the trainer over more often than once a month, so we are trying to be patient. Luckily, she trains us as much as the dog. We are also starting a weekly class to try and socialize him with other dogs, but that doesn’t start until next month.

Are we expecting too much to have our goals met in a few more months at this pace? If he’s growling at my wife in another month I think she will lose all attachment to him because she’s a little afraid of him, even when he’s being nice.
 

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First off, thank you for adopting.

Secondly, it takes as long as it takes. Yeah, helpful, I know. LOL.

I would recommend a couple of things here. You've done a pretty good job with the details but without seeing the dog it may be a difficult assessment.

One, have you had a complete physical done on the dog? Including thyroid (full panel)?
If not, I would. Many reactive dogs have thyroid issues, the thyroid does more than just regulate our metabolism..it is key to entire hormonal system. More on that and why I suggest testing later.

The problem with your wife may be a resource guarding issue. I would institute NILIF (see sticky) and be consistent with it. I would also encourage your wife to become the "provider of good things", like meals and walks and play/training time. It sounds like the boy may have gotten in good with you and now guards YOU (and the bed, couch etc) as a resource.

The children, skateboards etc are most likely socialization issues that weren't taken care of when he was a puppy. This takes a lot of work and classical conditioning. Your trainer seems to have the right ideas for what to work on here..but I would be hesitant to allow children near him for a good long time, and never without being supervised and/or on a leash. If he's happier in his crate, then that is the best place for him. No need to force anyone to hang out that doesn't want to.

Back to the thyroid reasoning. I work with a golden retriever with leash reactivity to dogs and toy resource guarding. Lots of work over time and he was improving immensely and we, the owners and I were very happy with the progress. Suddenly, he took a backslide, a bad one, including fearful behaviour at home that he had not done since he was first rescued two years before (hiding in the bathroom, etc). We had a full health check done, including a full panel thyroid, and found he was JUST low on the scale of normal. The scale is a "base" so we decided to try synthroid and see if it helped. Within three weeks of the replacement hormone he was back to normal, no more hiding, back to where we were previously in training and we haven't looked back.

I also recommend you pick up some reading:

"Click to Calm, Healing your aggressive dog" by Emma Parsons
"Fiesty Fido" by Patricia McConnell (specifically geared to leash reactivity)

Both I have found to be incredibly helpful when dealing with reactive dogs.

This process is sometimes slow and sometimes not, a lot depends on you, the dog and the situations he finds himself in. It is VERY worthwhile to put in the time and effort and I hope you decide to continue. You are doing everything right by finding a good trainer and utilizing the trainers tips and being patient. Good luck.
 

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I have 3 words for you: The Dog Whisperer.
National Geographic Channel.

Personally, I would not hesitate to give him a physical correction for growling at your wife. Totally unacceptable. Other people are going to criticize that but it is my opinion. The NILF stuff is good. I wouldn't let him on the couch or the bed until the problems are sorted out. You and wifey on the couch, dog on other side of room. Never pet the dog while he is not being totally calm around your wife. Let your wife feed him, but she has to make him sit and stay and wait for her OK before he eats, etc. She should walk him as well, wifey in front and in charge not the dog! Choke chain if necessary but use it properly. Have her practice a lot of long down / stays with him. You and your wife have to exercise leadership in all aspects of the dogs life.

Oh yeah, and listen to Cracker too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Thanks for all the feedback. The first time he growled at wife, we took the trainers advice and she became the source of all good things. This seemed to help for awhile, but a few weeks after we went back to normal, he growled again.

It's been a pickle for us, because on advice for various reasons, we've been making him work for all his food (not a lot of mental stimulation when he's alone unfortunately). This means earning his breakfast and dinner on the walks mostly, as training rewards for correct behavior.

But since work schedules has me doing all the walking, most of his food comes from me now. So we're unsure which is the better trade off... back to food comes from wifey in the form of in-house training and in the bowl for free?

The worst of the growling now comes from some sort of territorial thing in the office. If I'm at the computer, dog is at my feet. Wife comes in and he growls. Out goes the dog into the hall, door may be closed. But since he's only "accident free" for 2.5 weeks, we're afraid to leave him alone for very long. I fear I've gotten him too used to being at my hip while trying to never let him out of site for a sneak pee.

I'm familiar with NILF, but I think I need to read the sticky here carefully and make sure we are more consistent. He seems to understand what we want a lot of the time, but isn't always willing to accede. This is why he still always has a leader leash on him in the house. But he really has gotten much better since we got him. He waits at the door for you to go through first about 85% of the time, and he rarely jumps on the couch without checking with us first. So there is hope. It's the stuff beyond basic obedience that's been so frustrating. Thanks again!
 

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I agree with Peppy here. If he is only resource guarding while under your feet at the desk, on the bed and on the couch then access to those areas (you as well) should be restricted as much as possible. If, due to the marking behaviour (which by the way is often a sign of anxiety) you don't want him having freedom in the house, you can always put down a mat or a crate and make sure he stays there, rather than at your feet.

One thing caught my eye in your last post: "This seemed to help for awhile, but a few weeks after we went back to normal, he growled again."This means you went back to "normal" too soon. It may be that this needs to be a regular thing, not just a "training" period. You may have to get creative here as to how your wife can participate with her schedule being what it is. Even five minutes of "training" once or twice a day reinforces her importance in the dog's life.

Regarding the food: you can split his meals in half. She gives half (hand feeding if possible, or during training) and the other half is for on walks. I also think that kibble may not cut it for the reactivity, you may want to use something a bit higher value. I think where people get stuck here is they are concerned about too high a calorie intake, but when using something for training the rewards need only be the size of a pea, if that. If it's especially tasty, say freeze dried liver or chicken breast pieces or cheese or whatever, it only needs to be a TASTE...it's the flavour and smell that makes the reward, not the size.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks again for the great advice! The trainer discovered on her first visit that he is very food motivated, so for training and on walks we've been using half kibble and half chunks of "Natural Balance® Dog Food Rolls", which he really loves. I think it's a good idea to go back to having wifey hand feeding him part of dinner instead of using it all up on the walks.

One other question that just came up: apparently if wife makes sniffing noises close to the dog, he shows his teeth at her, and rarely a little "rrr" thrown in. What is the proper respose to such a display? If he growled every time or snapped, he might get briefly banished. If he does this when she works on touching his feet, which he doesn't care for, then she will keep doing it a little bit to show that growling doesn't make it stop.

But it's such a small reaction on his part (while still inappropriate), we're not sure what our immediate reaction should be each time. Keep sniffing? Reprimand?

It might be relevant that if I start sniffing near him, he will usually get up in my face and stare at me for a few seconds. Maybe the reaction is similar, but he knows he'd better not show his teeth at me, so it's milder.
 

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When we were kids we had a terrier mix. Very devoted and protective to our mom. He could be on the other side of the room, with noone else there, totally calm, and I could provoke him into basically attacking me within seconds just by staring at him hard and curling a lip. Terriers are up for a fight at the drop of a hat.

Your dog is not respecting your wife, and even you to a lesser degree.

Personally, I believe you need to really dominate a dog like this, psychologically and physically. Part of that is NILF etc, some of the things discussed above, showing the dog that in every aspect of his life he owns nothing, rules nothing and is completely subservient to you and your wife.

Part of this can be being physical. Growling, showing teeth any of that is unacceptable. If he did that to a more dominant dog he will get bitten. If he does that to me he is going to get touched or scruffed immediately to teach him that is not tolerated. Don't hurt him but show him who is boss. Its about trust and respect. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, then its best to avoid all situations where you get into those sort of confrontations because not responding to them in an assertive way, not winning the confrontation, is a sign of weakness. He growls. Your wife walks away or says Bad Dog but does nothing .... Fido wins. Its reinforcing in the wrong direction. He needs to back off, calm down, submit to you. Thats what a dominant dog would demand. Thats respect. And when you don't hurt him, you gain his trust.

Cracker and others will say I'm living in the stone age, and advise never to touch the dog and instead use other techniques. If their methods work for you thats great I'm not knocking them. At least you won't get bitten confronting him. LOL.

Personally I would never live with a dog which would even contemplate showing aggression against family members. Its totally not normal and unacceptable. Part of the beauty of a dog is his loyalty and sense of belonging to the family. Family members don't threaten each other. Do your best to fix his behavior, in all likelihood it can be resolved, but if that turns out to be impossible, get another dog, perhaps a less confrontation breed and consider starting off with a 8 wk old puppy and establishing your relationship with him from the very beginning.
 

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I think working with the trainer is a good bet, but I do agree about the 'going back to normal too soon' issue.

I also might slow things down a bit with your wife. Yes, making him listen to her and work with her is good. But if foot handling (for example) is an issue overall, I might put that on hold and work on just regular obedience.

I had a client dog with issues similar to this and CU worked well for them, but it's a fairly intensive program.
 

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Cracker and others will say I'm living in the stone age, and advise never to touch the dog and instead use other techniques. If their methods work for you thats great I'm not knocking them. At least you won't get bitten confronting him. LOL..
I think this is a sign I post too much...oh well..lol.

Yep, not getting bitten is important.

I am curious as to how much of his teeth you see when he curls without the growl. Answer this and I'll tell you why..lol.

I also think that rather than "proving" to the dog that handling his feet will happen regardless of his behaviour, maybe teaching him to not MIND it would be more effective? Classical conditioning is VERY helpful in handling dogs, vets and groomers LOVE when their clients do this with their dogs.
Get a bully stick or some cheese string. Touch the dogs foot at the same time as you offer him the chew. Keep it short, hand off foot, food stops, on foot, food happens. Practice daily. Do the same thing to condition a collar grab, ear cleaning, nail trims etc. Over time you will have a dog that may or may not LOVE handling but will certainly tolerate it without conflict.

To be honest, I just don't understand why it is necessary to have a relationship with anyone (human or dog) that is based on conflict. Fear and respect are not synonymous.

Again, I'm going to recommend some books:
On Talking Terms with your Dog: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
Canine Body Language: a Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff.

All are available at Dogwise.com.

Many signals that dogs give off we misinterpret. Do you know how to tell the difference between fear aggression and dominance aggression? Did you know that resource guarding is considered an anxiety based behaviour in most cases and that true Dominance Aggression is RARE? (I've seen it and it is a very different thing than people think).Are you SURE your dog is not giving you subtle signs of stress before he gets to the lip lifting?

Okay, I'll shut up now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
According to wife, when he shows teeth in most cases, it's just a little lip curl. But with the sniffing thing, it tends to be full-on upper/lower lips pulled back, all teeth bare.
I doubt we are well versed enough with the language of dogs to know if he's showing more subtle cues first. I'll have to check out the body language book to see what we're missing.
 

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If all teeth, including the back ones are showing and the commissure (the "back corner") of the lips is pulled back as well this is known as a fear grimace. An aggressive teeth baring usually involves most teeth but the commissure is FORWARD as opposed to pull back.

A lift of the lip/snarl often denotes a resource guarding position/warning. It usually also involves a "freeze", the muzzle is often turned to the side as opposed to facing you and the eyes are turned towards you, resulting in a bit of white showing, it's called "whale eye" but I like to call it 'stink eye' lol. Whale eye is common in stressed or frightened dogs.

Dominance aggression rarely involves lip pulled back and is more like a scrunching up of the muzzle, usually is shown through DIRECT eye contact, head and muzzle turned towards the object of the issue, with "hard eyes" and a very low growl. The growl is so low you almost don't hear it..if you have a dog on leash and it is doing this growl you are more likely to feel it than hear it. Hard eyes are kind of hard to describe, but believe me you know it when you see it. It's like looking at a snake instead of a dog.

I don't know if you needed a primer on dog language, but this can at least help you look at your dog's signals and get an idea of what they mean before deciding for sure that he is being dominant and not just fear aggressive. Neither one is good or acceptable but it helps to know what you are dealing with so you can make an APPROPRIATE plan for changing the behaviours.
 

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Q for Cracker (with apologies to the OP),

Are you lumping 'resource guarding' in with fear aggression? Aren't they two very different things? This little terrier sounds to me more like the former than the latter. I make a big distinction between a dog which is fearful of something and a dog which is saying 'My toy, get away or I'll bitel you'. To me that is not fear, that is a lack of respect and not knowing its place in the family ranking.
 

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Not lumping per se. It's a good question.

Resource guarding, if you think about it logically is a combination of things..it IS a definite "don't touch it, it's MINE" which could be interpreted as dominance in the sense that the "fight" comes out of it, but it is also BASED in fear of losing the thing that it values..whether that is food, a person, a bed or whatever. It's a combo thing. Many dogs that exhibit resource guarding behaviours are ALSO fearful or anxious dogs. Not always, but more often than not. This is why I was giving the descriptions of the body language cues...there is a lot more going on than just being a bully about the item (or person) he is guarding. There is insecurity as well.

A truly dominant dog, has little or no need to "guard" this way. They instead are controllers. Literally, they control where you go, when you move, what you can or cannot have and do it with their bodies and their eyes. They are also extremely confident dogs, they are the dogs that walk into the park and the other dogs all start acting like submissive puppies and who do their walkabout unharrassed. They very rarely need to aggress, but will do so if absolutely necessary.

All of this of course, does not mean the OP's dog is one or the other, without actually seeing the behaviour it's hard to say if this dog has a combination of issues related to many things or simply one issue, the resource guarding. But given the fact that he is leash reactive towards other dogs, shows fear grimace when the owner's wife "sniffs" or behaves in a certain manner AND resource guards tells me, in my experience, that he is more of an anxious, uncertain TERRIER, bred to not back down regardless of fear and that he should be dealt with from that perspective.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Wife says that when she sniffs and he bares teeth, it's mostly the front teeth. Again, I haven't seen it up close, but she says based on online research, it looks to her more like aggression than fear.

Do you think that classic conditioning might help with that too? Give the boy a treat and sniff. Repeat a couple times and see what happens?

I tried last night just to see what would happen... in the office I got down on the floor and was petting/loving on him. Then I sniffed a couple times, within a foot of his head. He didn't stare at me or even look up. It was like he didn't notice. If there was a reaction, it was too subtle for me to see. By comparison, the wife got the expected toothy reaction only two nights ago after she had been petting him for a minute and he had been seeming pretty normal.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
When I showed my wife that photo she wanted to know if I was kidding. I guess it's not nearly as crazed looking as that.

Anyway, we've been working on the closeness and other issues and it's been going ok. He doesn't seem to growl now just from her being close, but he did growl a little when she tried to pet his head while he was enjoying a rawhide chew. I took the chew away from him, and he didn't growl, but he wouldn't let go of it until I stared him down.

We then realized that the only time he gets such long-lasting treats is when he goes in the crate, which means we never really trained him to give up food.

Later that day wife worked on "drop it" using a technique from "It's Me or the Dog" and it seemed to work pretty well. So, that's an ongoing process.

Anyway, the new question I have is about the dog raising an alarm-like bark when the wife enters a room where the dog is sleeping or resting and I am sleeping or chilling out watching TV. In these cases it sounds to me like the same kind of barking he uses when he hears a strange noise, or someone knocks on the door.

Example 1: Last week I was in bed early and the dog was in his bed on the floor. The door was closed. Wife came home later than usual and when she opened the door, dog got up and barked. The lights were out, but the hall light was on, so it's hard to say how much he could see. She says he looked right at her and then rushed her. I was too drowsy to see exactly what happened. But I immediately got up and put the dog out of the room and shut the door. He seemed pretty confused by all this afterward.

Example 2: Wife had been out all morning and when she got home dog barked at door as usual. I got him sitting and opened the door and when he saw it was her he was all love and wags. They interacted a bit, then she went out back to garden and I laid on the couch to watching TV. Dog laid on the floor in front of the couch. After awhile wife came in from the back, walked all the way across two rooms, and stood at the entrance to the TV room. At some point when she was close to stopping, I heard dog growl once, and then he barked, stood up, and barked some more. She said his name and called him over, and he went to her, head and tail down a bit. I couldn't tell, but he looked a bit abashed, rather than fearful.

So, what's the deal with this? We think the former owner lived alone, so I can understand if dog was used to only expecting one person in the house. But he's been with us for more than 4 months, and wife is here every day like me. I have considered maybe his eyes aren't so great, but he seems pretty keen when it comes to spotting another dog from 30 yards away...
 

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The eyesight of dogs isn't very good...about 20/70 compared to humans. However, they can spot movement 10x faster than we can and can see that movement in low light conditions.

Good pack members will alert at unusual sounds and movements. They're doing their job and should be thanked for doing that, not banished from the room. But, you don't want a bunch of false alarms...common noises, people coming and going...whatever is normal for your household.

Here's the tricky part...how to teach the dog what is normal and what isn't. When the dog reacts to something normal (a sound, wife walking in the room, etc.) YAWN...yes, yawn. Make sure the dog is looking at you....you're showing him that this is normal and no alert was/is needed. Dogs understand that body language. This takes some time but, eventually, he will learn to associate the normal activities without the alert barking.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
So how do we tell if his reaction is really an alert about something he deems unusual or if it's more about resource guarding (me) against my wife. Not standing where she is, and not seeing it the moment it happens, I have to go off of secondary reactions. And I fear wife isn't all that objective when she says "He looked right at me and barked" because she's now a little afraid of him.
 

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Either way...whether it's an alert or resource guarding you take over....it's not his job to handle it...it's yours to intercept the 'problem'...show him that your wife belongs to you. You do that by getting between him and your wife/the knock on the door/an intruder at the window. Now he can relax...his job is done. Ideally, a half step back on his part shows that he got the message. Don't forget the Yawn.
 
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