Helping a Yorkie Get Over His Dog Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 8, 2014

Roscoe and BinkBink, a nine-year-old Yorkie (right) was recently rehomed to live with Roscoe, a Shih Tzu mix. While things started off great, a few months later Bink started trying to dominate and even attack the much bigger Roscoe. At first the fighting was limited to Bink’s aggression, but as the outbursts and attacks continued, Roscoe had started to respond in kind.

Whenever I am dealing with dog aggression, I always look to their current living situation for clues. Do the dogs have a clear understanding of where they rank amounts the members of the family? Do they have rules and limits to help them understand what is and is not allowed, etc. Doe their owners act like leaders or do they let the dog’s do whatever they want?

While unconditional love is a wonderful trait in humans, it can be perceived as weakness by dogs – especially when you have multiple dogs in the same house. The leader of a pack is expected to be in control. If the dogs feel there is a clear leader in place, they usually defer to that leader which helps them avoid conflicts.

I also make sure there are no physical issues that can contribute to any aggression. In Bink’s case there was a big one. Despite being nine years old, he was still intact. Intact dogs give off a different smell than altered dogs which can easily lead to conflict as the dogs know who does and does not have all his marbles, pardon the pun.

Additionally, unaltered dogs who are not given the opportunity to mate can quickly grow sexually frustrated. I have had many clients where this resulted in aggression and it didn’t take long to see that that was the case for Bink.

After discussing this with Bink’s new owners, they made the decision to have him altered after our session. While this should be a tremendous help, I wanted to give them additional assistance and that started with adding more structure and rules to the dog’s lives.

Because dogs relate the height at which they sit to their rank or authority amongst their peers, I suggested that they make the furniture off limits to both dogs for a month at minimum. After the month goes by and the dog’s respect the new rule, then their owners can give the dogs permission to get up on the furniture when they decide. Making sure that the dog looks to his or her owner for permission is a great way to ensure the dog respect them as authority figures.

Next I went over some new communication methods to help the dogs better understand their owners. I have found that once an owner learns to communicate with their dogs through body language, the dog’s interest in making them happy increases.

Next I took Bink to another room and demonstrated a leadership exercise to his owner. The exercise asks the dog to sit at a respectable distance to a high value treat that is laying on the floor. At first Bink attempted to go through and around me to get he treat. I blocked him and communicated that the treat was mine and not to be touched. Once Bink got the message I deliberately moved away from the treat, a few steps at a time. Each time Bink started for the treat, I reminded him to keep a distance by moving towards him.

After a few moments, Bink understood I expected him to respect a boundary of three feet. He still clearly wanted the treat, but hadn’t figured out yet how to get it so he just stood and stared at it and myself. After a few minutes, Bink sat down. The instant he did, I took a big, deliberate step backward away from the treat. I did this because his sitting down was telling me that he was starting to give up on trying to get the treat.

About 10 minutes later, Bink laid down on the floor to signify he gave up. As soon as he did, I walked up to the treat, turned to the side and knelt down and communicated he could come get the treat. It took a little coaxing, but eventually he came over and claimed his reward.

I walked his owner through the exercise successfully and suggested that she practice it with both dogs. I also went over a few ways to make the exercise more difficult such as adding time. Adding time before the dog is able to come and claim the treat is a great way to help the dog learn to remember to restrain itself. This skill is extremely helpful for dogs that have impulse control or certain aggression issues.

Until Bink is altered, its likely that he will continue to push and attempt to assend to the top spot in the home. But once he has been altered, the new communication and leadership exercises should help curb and eventually eliminate any insecurities or attempts to try to be the “top dog.” By assuming the leadership role, his new owners will remove Bink’s perception that he can lead this pack.

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