Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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Dog Gone Problems,
We have a very heartbreaking and desperate situation. Our 9-year-old female doberman, Zoe, attacked our 14-year-old 3-legged chihuahua, Poli, in very close proximity to our 6-year-old son.
My boy had a plate of lunch meat and when Poli went to smell it, Zoe lunged for him — puncturing his neck and tearing his ear. My husband was steps away so stuck his hand in Zoe’s mouth to intervene, which resulted in punctured fingers.
Poli is the friendliest dog on earth and is as sweet-natured as they come. Zoe is loved dearly but has a history of food aggression and is not good around other dogs. Six years ago she attacked another family chihuahua by breaking her neck. The female chihuahua she killed and Poli were my dogs prior to my marriage.
Our female chihuahua was very aggressive with similar traits to Zoe but she was only six pounds. It was a devastating time for our family, but after working with a trainer we decided to give it a try since losing another dog would be devastating for my kids and us.
We have had to make accommodations of not having other dogs over or not taking her around other dogs. We put her away when we host social events also. She has bitten humans in situations where someone she didn’t know came through our backyard gate. My husband wants to re-home her, but I’m worried that it may endanger someone.
Keeping her with in our family would endanger Poli and possibly our son. It scares me to think of what could have happened if my husband hadn’t been close by.
Any advice is welcomed.
Jan and Keith
Jan and Keith,
As someone who was attacked by a dog when he was only 7 years old, your question hit pretty close to home for me.
Eating is serious business in the dog world. When one dog is eating, it is inappropriate for any other dog to be within seven feet of that dog unless it has the same rank or status. Even if the other dog is friendly, it can very easily create a jealousy or food guarding situation, which is most likely what occurred with your dogs.
If you have a dog with a history of food guarding, allowing it to be close to anyone who is eating is unwise.
Without seeing your dog in person, I can’t say if this is a case of resource guarding — a lack of rules and structure that confused the dog into thinking it has more rank or status than it actually does — jealousy or something else.
I would recommend you approach this as if it were a resource guarding issue. This <a href="https://youtu.be/7oKsgxJPIFI" target="_blank">video</a> outlines how to help a dog get over a resource guarding problem.
Stopping a dog from resource guarding is not difficult, but it does take time, practice and a lot of repetition.
You also need to create a safe environment for the dogs and for your son. You need to immediately institute a rule that the dogs are not allowed to be in the room while anyone is eating. Additionally, when either dog is eating, the other dog should not be in the room until the food is gone.
Without seeing the dog in person, I can’t tell you whether or not you need to re-home Zoe. It’s possible she could thrive in another home that does not have any dogs — provided her resource guarding problem is addressed.
If Zoe’s aggressive behavior is isolated to scenarios where food is present, you should be able to manage the situation. I have rehabilitated hundreds of dogs with a resource guarding problem to the extent that they no longer guard people, places or things.
If you do decide to keep Zoe, I would make sure you get the help of a professional to come in and assist you personally. Just make sure they are using modern dog training methods. Unfortunately, many dog trainers still use the old, out-of-date force- and punishment-based methods, which will make your dog’s problems even worse.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
Submit your pet questions to David Codr by emailing a photo of your dog and question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit doggoneproblems.com for more from David.