Aggressive Shih-tzu towards visitors

by Millie
(Yorkton, Saskachewan, Canada)

We rescued a very affectionate and otherwise well behaved little dog from a shelter 19 days ago. She is a tiny 5 year old shih-tzu.


However, when visitors come to our home, she barks, growls and jumps up to them (while they are standing)in a very snarly manner.

We have owned several dogs in the past, with no such problems. We live in a small town with no dog trainers available.

The shelter offers no history or vet check prior to adoption. Any help would be appreciated.


Hello Millie,

Thanks for contacting me. It's really hard to give any solid advice without knowing more about a dog and assessing him/her.

Aggression is never born into a dog, it's always taught - either inadvertently or deliberately by a dog's owner. As you don't know her past, you don't know if this is a fear reaction (she's been previously traumatized or abused) or something she's learned.

If a dog is not corrected when they show aggression, she will interpret it as being the behavior she's supposed to do.

First of all, even though she's a small breed, your dog needs exercise. As a rule of thumb, she should get at least two walks a day, minimum of 30 minutes each time. Make it a structured, regular routine - dogs thrive on routine!

Be sure that you teach her to heel beside you on your walks, instead of pulling along in front. She needs to learn that you are the leader of your household, and she needs to listen to you.

No matter the size of dog or the size of your yard, you can't just let them run around in the backyard for exercise. A dog still needs the mental and physical exercise of a walk.

Along with this, you need to desensitize her and socialize her to new people, dogs, and environments. Take her to the hardware store and any other place where she can see and meet new things.

Now as far as corrections go, you'll need to correct her each and every time this behavior occurs. Be consistent - use the same method and make sure she never gets away with it uncorrected. A correction is not a punishment like you would give a child...

Dogs don't understand time-out, they don't understand when you yell at them, and they don't understand when you take a privilege away (going to the dog park for example).

A correction needs to occur exactly when the behavior happens. Dogs live for the moment, so reward and correction need to be for the moment!

In this situation, you should have your dog on a leash and collar. When she barks or growls, give a quick pop upward on the leash, and say nothing.

If she lunges towards the visitors, say nothing, and simply give a quick pop back in the opposite direction that she is pulling.

If she jumps up on them, again, say nothing and give a quick pop down.

As far as the jumping on visitors is concerned, you can help fix that problem by not letting her put her paws on you at any time. Avoid any rough play fighting, and be sure not to pet her if she jumps up on your legs when you come home.

It has to very black and white for a dog - if you don't want her jumping on guests, she cannot jump on you or your family. She should not be allowed to jump up onto or sit on your lap, as she can't understand why she can have her paws on you in this way, but not to jump on you.

Again, there is only so much advice I can give you. I recommend finding someone who can help you in person if the problem persists, even if it means driving out of town for it.

Shannon Pennings

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