Canine Agression Problems: Working Towards Peace in the Pack

| 6/11/2010 7:32:33 AM

Tags: Dogs, Pets,

A photo of Shannon SaiaThe first rule of leadership, Princess: Everything is your fault. – Hopper, Pixar’s A Bug’s Life

I love this quote. It would be funny if it wasn’t both painful, and so doggone true.

Whew. Where to begin?

Let me just say, first of all, that I am a big fan of Cesar Millan. I love his show. I love to watch the man work. I love the absolute power and control and zen that he brings to difficult dog situations again and again. That said, my appreciation of The Dog Whisperer has always been kind of along the same lines as my appreciation of the program What Not to Wear. I like it; occasionally I watch it; and then I wear sweats or pajamas pretty much every place I go. I suppose I could say that watching the programs is all that I do. Because much like my wardrobe, the dog behavior around here has always left much to be desired.

I take full responsibility for the fact that for about four years now we have had little control over the dogs. I was pregnant when our female dog had a litter of puppies, and I would like to believe that if I hadn't been coursing with motherhood hormones that I never would have kept those two male pups in the first place. But keep them we did, and we brought our newborn daughter home to four dogs – our female English Cocker (now spayed), an intact male Cocka-poo mix, and two of their intact male four-month-old pups.

Of course I was too busy being pregnant and working full time to properly train those puppies (she says, as if that's an excuse!). I mean, it didn't really occur to me to do it. I’d never really had to train the two I started with. They were more or less well-behaved, by which I mean that they did not bark incessantly in the house, or fight, or destroy things, or otherwise drive me crazy. But with four dogs ... well ... needless to say, the dynamic around here changed. The puppies – being puppies – were often energetic and overexcited, and I was constantly shoving cookies and bones into their mouths to shut them up. At any moment when they got to be unbearable, I would put them out into the back yard. Don’t get me wrong. I love those dogs. And we have plenty of quiet time around here, as long as the doorbell doesn’t ring, or a truck doesn’t drive by, or my husband doesn’t open a door somewhere else in the house ...

s.m.r. saia
6/16/2010 1:11:41 PM

Rodeo and N. Dave, thanks so much for stopping by and for your encouraging comments! Shannon

rodeo princess
6/16/2010 6:29:48 AM

I LOVED THIS HONEST STORY OF ANIMAL LOVE! I am proud of you, Shannon. Reading this made my day. But, Jackie, what ails you? That fact that you don't understand how she can share this story with such honesty and information is a clue. Shame on you for not reading the whole story before you formed your judgment. I am more impressed always by honest stories of how a struggle was over come, than I am by people who assume they are perfect because they haven't experienced a trial such as dog aggression. We are not WRONG for having problems. We are only to blame if we don't take action. I am not always impressed by people who like to talk about their 'rescues.'When they do, I get the impression their efforts are more about appearing to be a hero, then about animals.Your pets are referred to by their past experience when you call them rescues. Haven't they and you moved on from that? All of us got our pets one way or another. I don't call mine "Born in Bathroom" or "Chained to neighbor's garage". I have lived next door to a "Rescuer" for ten years. She's got thirty cats locked up in her house that she is saving. She can't wait to tell me, the other neighbors and the authorities how SHE is the only one who can do her important work of 'saving animals". And she's got tips and pointers for all of us, all the time. Her animals are miserable outward expressions of her own need.

nebraska dave
6/16/2010 5:29:00 AM

Shannon, wow what a journey you have had with dogs. My dearly departed wife was the best with animals. First she would take hours finding just the right one for the family. Our dogs and cat came from either the pound or friends with puppies. We even had one love affair like your Romeo and the Lhasa-poo. The dog bootsie would come and sleep on the door step to see our dittsie Poodle mix dog named Bridget. After taking Bootsie home several times the owners finally gave it up and came one day with the dog dish and food. True love won out. Casey the cat was added to the mix from a free cat ad in the newspaper. She, of course, ruled the house but was a benevolent ruler and actually would roll around on the floor with the dogs in a playful act of keeping the pack happy. Our second round with dogs came with a dog given to us for my youngest daughter and was named Gretchen. She was a mix of poodle and Shih Tzu. When a young homeless mother lived with us she brought a Pekingese named Mr. Russell into the household. These two got lovey and John Jon was born. He got the best features and personality from all the breeds. He was the greatest of all the pets I’ve had through out the years. He was well mannered, hardly ever barked, almost instantly was house trained, and sadly had to put down at 15 because of arthritis, deafness, and sight problems. I guess I was truly fortunate to have a wife that could pick the right animals to fit the pack. I wish you more success.

s.m.r. saia
6/15/2010 7:33:02 AM

Cindy and Rachel, thanks so much for stopping by and for your comments. Oh, and I do watch "It's me or the dog" from time to time and have also found that helpful. Thanks!

rachael gaffney_2
6/13/2010 11:04:43 PM

Shannon, I get where you're coming from in this article. We have always had numerous animals around us. I grew up in the Marine Corps and Dad's duty station changed every 2-3 years. All those animals went with us each and every time. At one point we had two dogs, fish, a turtle, a hamster, a gopher, 14 finches and two lovebirds. After Dad retired and they moved back home and bought a farm, things did not settle down at all. By the time they decided to start moving around again, they had a Jack Russell, a Collie whose leg had been broken and not reset properly as a puppy, a beagle mix, a golden/chow mix, 2 Great Pyrenees, 4 cats, goats, sheep, two horses, and a mule. They are great pet owners. But that Jack Russell, who is now over 10 years old, has always been a handful. She has attacked every single dog. Bit at my daughter's face (and no, she was not even touching the dog), attacked the cats, and even knocked the jaw out place on one of the older cats. Never have my parents had so much trouble from one dog. I could tell you that things got better, but it's only because she one of the last ones left and there's only her and the oldest Great Pyrenees traveling with them now.

cindy murphy
6/13/2010 10:39:40 PM

Very interesting article, Shannon. We live in a multi-pet household too - two cats, and one dog - a black lab mix. The oldest cat, and the smallest animal of the three is the top-dog; he rules with an iron paw and mischievious grin. All are rescue animals, and we got lucky - aside from the occasional games of chase through the house, they're all laid back, and get along well together. Wishing you the best in achieving peace in your pack. Oh, and I agree with Mountain Woman - check out Victoria Stillwell on "It's Me or the Dog" sometime. My little one loves this show, and so I've seen in many times. We used a lot of her techniques to train the lab when she was a puppy; they really work.

s.m.r. saia
6/12/2010 5:05:04 AM

Jackie and MountainWoman, Thanks to both of your for your comments and concern. Shannon

mountain woman
6/11/2010 3:02:49 PM

Forgot to tell you there are lots of Bach Flower Essences you can use to help your aggressive canines. Also very useful is the DAP Comfort Zone which releases a calming pheromone into the air to help relax stressed canines. Also they make a collar that can be worn by the individual dogs. If you need more specifics, contact me on FB or through my blog and I'll try to help you.

mountain woman
6/11/2010 2:45:28 PM

Shannon, I feel your pain. I live with 7 dogs. I've competed in obedience with them, we are certified to visit nursing homes and hospitals and I've also trained people and their dogs. Our dogs live in the house with us and range in size from 8 pounds to 175 pounds. Aggression can have physical causes so first place to start is a vet exam to check eye sight, hearing, etc. Pain can also cause aggression. Once a vet has ruled out physical problems, check into the diet you are feeding. Is it an all natural kibble? Dyes, cheap grains, etc. can cause aggression in some canines. Check the protein content and do a web search on lower protein to help aggression. A healthful diet is just as important for our dogs. Then, separate the offending canines. Work with them behind baby gates, etc. and slowly build the time they can be together. Never leave them unsupervised. Exercise is so important as you have discovered and so is individual one on one training and to me training means working at something with a reward the dog loves be it a ball, treat, etc. I'd also check out other trainers especially Victoria Stillwell, who has a show on Animal Planet called "It's Me or the Dog." I hope that was somewhat helpful. Not an easy position you are in for sure.

6/11/2010 1:35:47 PM

I'm surprised that you would publish a story that so clearly demonstrates total irresponsibility and immaturity as a pet owner. I'm sorry I couldn't share in your joy and learning process-I couldn't bring myself to read the entire article. As a dog mom to two rescue dogs, both of whom were badly mistreated and abuse by previous owners, three years has not completely undone the damage that was done before we got them- and neither of them had aggression issues. I have a wide circle of friends who are involved in rescue, fostering, and breeding. Any dog trainer, behaviorist,vet or breeder worth his/her salt will tell you that agression is a serious issue. You said you had "come to realize that these displays are just that – lots of noise and posturing – no one has ever gotten hurt." Until they DO get hurt and/or injured. Your dogs should NEVER be left alone together, EVER. Do your dogs a favor, and get serious about your job as a dog mom. It's not fair for your dog any other way. Jackie Gammon

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