Owner Possessive/Over Protective?

by Zack
(Nashville, TN)

From Zack... Thank you in advance for any response. Really, truly.

I have a beautiful boy Lab mix named 'Doc'. He is a little over 4 months old and I have had him for about a month now. He is an amazing puppy; very calm demeanor, intelligent, and will NOT leave my side for anything.

He is very affectionate towards my fiance and I, but more so me. I figure that is a result of me being the one who takes care of him.

I got him from my fiance's best friend's grandmothers 300 acre farm out in Lebanon, Tennessee. He just showed up on her front porch and didn't leave for two weeks... all she did was feed him and love on him.

Long story short, I have no idea what his life was like leading up to him being 3 months old (when I got him).

Here is some other information:

1. He sleeps with me (I'm about to stop allowing it when his crate gets here this week). He only gets up when I get up.

2. He is currently allowed on furniture.

3 He lives with a 100lb Boxer/Coon Hound and plays really rough with him. Pretty much chews on him. 'Mowgli' has scratches all over his chest, stomach and armpits from Doc's puppy teeth.

4. I make it a point to go through every door before Doc.

5. I currently do not spank or smack Doc in any way.

His routine looks something like this...

First thing we do is get up and go outside to the bathroom. Then a 20-25 minute walk. Then we train for a bit. Currently he can sit, lie down, 'pound it', stay, and roll over consistently; not ALWAYS, but consistently. We're still working.

Then I feed him (make him stay for a hot minute first though). About 15 minutes after he eats I take him out again to the bathroom.

Then I leave for work. I kennel him up until I come back to the house on my lunch break. When I get home, I let him out to the bathroom and have another basic commands training session. After that, I'll kennel him up again.

When I get home from work around 5, I'll let him out of his kennel and we'll go straight to the same place for a bathroom break. Then I'll either take him on another walk for 30 minutes or take him to the dog park for a while.

When we get back, usually round 6 or 6:30, I'll have another training session and then feed him dinner. P.S. He has no trouble when I or others reach down for his food.

After that, it is hang out time. He usually sits with me in my room or is playing with Mowgli.

Before I moved into the problems, I figured it might be better for you to read about them in context of his life.

Ok, so here are a couple problems we've encountered:

1. He is wary of new people. He'll greet them quietly, but after a few seconds, he'll come back to me. It is frustrating because I want him to be friendly to everyone so badly.

2. If I am sitting on the couch, he is laying down beside me, OR if he is laying down somewhere by himself and someone he has not been exposed to very often gently approaches him, he will often growl with growing volume and intensity the closer they get.

The way I have tried to correct that behavior is a swift, loud and firm 'NO' and then I immediately take him to a different room by the scruff and leave him there by himself for a few minutes.

When I let him back into the area where he was, I have the person he growled at feed him a treat and pet him.

3. The other night, I left him at my parent's house. They are essentially strangers to him. He tried to get out of the backyard twice and was successful both times.

My parents and aunt (who is there because she is helping take care of my mom who just had surgery) seemed to think he was looking for me; he was whining, looking around frantically, sniffing EVERYWHERE, and not paying much attention to them.

After they got him back into the backyard for the second time, my aunt tied him to the picnic table on our back porch so he couldn't get out again. My mother went out to sit by him in a chair and he started to growl.

Kim, my aunt, then came out and grabbed him by the scruff to tell him no firmly because my mother does not have a firm or stern bone in her body. He wasn't having it.

He got more aggressive, snarling and growling and she ended up pinning him to the ground and holding him down, because that is what she has done with her dogs. He never let up. She told me she held him down for almost two minutes and he growled the whole time.

She ended up relenting and backing off. During the scuffle, she managed to take the leash off of him. When I got home about an hour after the incident, he was fine, and sitting unattached next to the leash.

In the last story, I realize leaving him there alone with strangers was a bad decision. I was just late to a meeting and I couldn't bring him with me.

I guess my question is this; what is the most effective way to discipline that undesired behavior? Or should I ignore the bad behavior and reward the good? Positive reinforcement? Or a mix of these things?

I know I need to be consistent. That is why I created such a routine for him; to give him some stability. I don't think that he had much of that as a young puppy.

I have read and heard a lot of different things from a lot of different places and I think I am over intellectualizing the situation. I just want to help my dog.


Thank you for taking the time to read this.



Shannon Says...

Hi Zack,

Thanks for using our Q & A forum, and especially for your great questions! I really appreciate that you put so much effort into giving me as much information as you could - it helps me out a lot in giving you advice.

You sound like the type of dog owner that I wish everyone would be. Dogs truly do benefit from a consistent routine and schedule.

Doc sounds like he is becoming a "velcro dog". While as you said, this can seem like a good thing, there are, quite obviously, draw-backs. Dogs who are that attached to their owners tend to suffer from some level of separation anxiety.

The first thing that I highly recommend you work on is socialization. The most common reason for aggression in dogs is that of under-socializing, or a stagnant social circle. Doc is at precisely the age where he is the most impressionable.

You should be taking him to as many new places and environments as possible, as well as to meet as many new people and dogs as possible. I can't stress enough how important this is!

For now, I would always have him sit at your side when meeting new people. Tell people to let him sniff the back of their closed hand, and then offer him a small treat.

Do not allow new people to pet him on the top of his head, but ask them to just scratch under his chin - an open hand coming at his head (to pet him) can be seen as a threat, especially if he was abused before coming to you. When afraid, a dog's first response is always fight or flight.

The reason for him to be sitting beside you is that you have much control this way. If he growls or barks, you are able to easily correct him with the leash and collar from that position.

Some other reasons for aggression are that the dog has been bitten/traumatized by another dog/person, abuse, or really rough play fighting with people.

Balanced training is always the way to go - praise the good behavior and correct the bad behavior. Dogs need things to be very black and white - if you are ignoring the bad behavior, you are not clearly showing Doc what you want his behavior to be.

Also, keep in mind that actions speak greater than words. A fast, firm pop on the leash mid-woof or growl is in much more effective than saying "no". On the flip side, be sure to praise him when he accepts someone approaching or petting him.

How NOT to Correct

> point finger and say "no" (visual threat)

> grab dog's muzzle and squeeze it - dog will usually try to bit your hand or get overly submissive

> pinch lip to tooth on dog - dog will become hand shy

> shake him by the scruff of the neck to mimic a mother dog - again, dog will become hand shy or retaliate

> pin dog down (alpha roll from Cesar Milan) - a correction should only be 1 second in length. Most dogs will either become overly passive and scared, or they will become really angry and fight back (as in Doc's case).

> giving the dog a "time out" in another room or crate - dogs do not understand what a time out means. Dogs live for the moment, so reward and correction must be for the moment as well.

Solutions for Aggression

> verbal "Eh!" loudly to startle him

> tell him to sit or lie down (rerouting his energy into something positive)

> collar and leash correction - loosen the leash for a split second, pop up vertically fast, firm and mid-woof or growl, and then loosen the leash again.

I hope this has been helpful, and I thank you again for such a great submission on here, as I'm sure many other dog owners reading this will,too!

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