About 5 months ago, my family adopted a 1 ½ year old neutered jack Russell/poodle mix (we think!) named Jack from the SPCA. He has proven to be a challenge, but until recently we have not had any issues that aren’t fixable through simple training. On thanksgiving day, Jack somehow got a hold of a cotton swab and took it into his crate with him. I idiotically reached in to get it from him, and he left some nasty bite wounds on my hand. Yesterday, my dad had the leftover turkey on the kitchen counter, and when he left the room for a minute, Jack managed to grab a turkey leg and bring it into his crate. My dad had to use a garden rake to retrieve it, which Jack proceeded to bite and attack the rake throughout the process. Today, my mom had the turkey out on the counter, and when I stepped in front of Jack in attempt to get him away from the turkey, he immediately went into attack mode; if I had not been wearing plush slippers, there’s a good chance I’d be in the emergency room right now. Other than this newfound aggression over turkey, Jack is a sweet, affectionate and playful dog. It would be my worst nightmare to have him put down over this. I understand that there are no quick fixes to such severe behavioral issues, but my family and I obviously cannot go on living in fear of Jack attacking every time we eat. PLEASE HELP!
L.Z. Philadelphia, PA
Thanks for the email. We have to keep in mind that I haven’t met your dog or can ask the questions I would ask in a consultation but I can say I’ve seen this behavior before in Jack Russell Terriers. You can find it in any breed but in some it’s more likely to rear its head if you don’t dot your i’s and cross your t’s as far as what I call daily relationship reinforcements. I suspect that over the last 5 months your dog has been noting the way you interact with him and has come to the conclusion that relationship-wise he’s equal to or greater than other householders in contexts that really count from his perspective. At least that’s what I’ve found to often be the case in situations like this.
He may have responded in the past to direction regarding minor issues particularly if the motivation has been food but that’s a very different type of relationship and one that doesn’t often influence dogs of this nature. In essence there’s a difference between a dog that loves its owner (and/or its owner’s treats) and one that respects its owner’s status.
In order to turn this dog around I suspect you’re going to need to focus on strategies that reinforce the aforementioned latter. It’s not hard to do but it often proves difficult to find a trainer that knows how to go about it as in North America trainer’s skills are often limited to getting a dog to do something for a treat which frankly isn’t all that hard to do with most dogs. I think that this would be the wrong way to motivate a dog like this and one might argue considering that dogs are the only species selectively bred to love human beings it isn’t the best way to use as a foundation for any dog. I think if you aim at a dog’s tummy, you often miss the best part of the dog and trigger the wrong sort of motivation.
You’re looking for instead a trainer that understands how a dog sees the world socially, how it makes connections during day to day interactions that influence who should be taken seriously as the teacher and who should be the student.
Dogs generally speaking don’t pick fights like this they haven’t been given good reason to believe they can’t win and you shouldn’t have to pick a fight and win to turn this around. I have about a half dozen exercises I recommend clients incorporate into their day with their dogs that subtly reshape the dog’s relationship perception. Only after a month of consistency in that area would I directly address the actual resource guarding.
I offer telephone consultations if you can’t find someone locally to help. If so let me know.