“My Jeykll and Hyde dog bit my friend and I am beyond embarrassed!” This is, as it should be, a serious concern for my clients and their adolescent Boxer mix, Gus, who is about 18 months of age.
They said that, “Most or a lot of the time Gus is a baby – real sweet. You know, nudging you for attention. He loves to get petted.”
That’s why Bob and Sue were having a hard time understanding why Gus, who was seemingly sweet most of the time and then, like a Jeykll and Hyde personality, he would strike and bite a visitor.
In these types of lessons, I always make it a practice to have dogs on leash and controlled by the owner when I first arrive. During our first visit – once we were seated – I purposely leaned forward and gestured with my hand as I began to ask a few questions. Gus moved forward to the end of the leash and snarled at me. Since Gus was on leash, no harm, no foul.
Bob quickly and gruffly pulled Gus back to him. Gus’ tail lowered, his ears went back as he softly whined. Bob remarked, “See, he’s really a baby at heart, but don’t try to pet him. He bit my best friend a couple of weeks ago. That’s why you’re here.”
About that time Gus turned his attention to Sue, jumped up with his two front paws on her lap and began to lick her face. Bob pulled him down and Gus rolled on his side.
Here’s what was very apparent
Gus was being cleverly submissive with Bob.
Gus was dominant with Sue—- and don’t forget,
Gus had made an aggressive threat to me – the intruder.
Because Bob and Sue are not giving Gus consistent structure within the pack dynamics, Gus is getting confused about who is controlling the relationship.
So Gus began to try his best to take control of his owner’s activities with almost artful manipulation.
No Owner Control
That’s only part of it. Much more was lacking in Gus’s life.
Let’s take a look
No consistent obedience training
Free feeding dog food with cheap carbohydrates
Lot’s of lap time while Mom and Dad watch television at night
Not enough dog walks or “healthy interaction” via games of fetch, etc.
In the back yard all day while they are at work (allows Gus to rehearse territorial aggression by barking at mailman and others passing by.)
Along with the concerning and growing aggressive threats towards outsiders, I also saw that Gus had some dependency issues noted by his licking Sue (care seeking attention) – possibly carried over from his time with his litter mates.
A Solid Foundation is Critical
Gus’s story is why it is so critical to develop a solid foundation with your puppy or dog. Without this critical foundation, Gus is struggling to satisfy a need to function as part of their pack. His way of doing this is to begin controlling the pack. Without a strong foundation providing clear guidelines, Gus does not have any way to function as a part of the family or pack.
Gus is also over-dependent on Bob and Sue’s affection towards him. He cannot be left alone without problems nor can Gus tolerate visitors as they interfere with his interactions with the family.
He considers the family – Bob, Sue and their daughter his property which he does not want to share with anyone.
Sue confessed later in the lesson that it was also difficult to talk on the phone because Gus barks constantly for her attention.
Ground Rules for Great Dogs
It was clear to me what to recommend – Ground Rules for Great Dogs. Gus desperately needs a way to function in and for the pack. Ground Rules will provide him with the following:
Consistent rules to follow
Boundaries to respect and,
Expectations of what to do and when to do it
I pointed out to Bob and Sue that they have had, all along, the capability of “controlling” all the elements that have caused all of their problems with Gus – his food, your personal space, love and affection, activities and more.
It is time for them to re-take control by providing Gus a road map to success on how to function within the pack. I told them to take their time and enjoy the ride. Don’t focus so much on the outcome. Focus on the journey with Gus and his understanding of your relationship with him – more importantly, understanding his new role.
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“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.