My rescue lab bit. Please help...

Discussion in 'Labrador Rescue' started by CindyUT, Oct 3, 2016.

  1. CindyUT

    CindyUT Registered Users

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    I desperately need your advice. I have a rescue Labrador that I've had for three months. He was terribly, terribly abused and neglected. He's three years old and I named him Jet. Little is known about him because he was found on the streets but the vet said it's most likely he never had any kind of socialization and was probably a backyard dog. He jumps at the slightest sound and drops to the ground and cowers. I have him mostly house-trained now and he will walk on a leash and has learned a few commands. He's come a long way! He's so tenderhearted and just wants love and attention all the time. I have given him lots of attention but I do work during the day and he is kenneled, which doesn't appear to bother him at all. He's out of the kennel the rest of the time.

    The first day I brought him home he was so filthy that I gave him a bath. He turned and bit at me but didn't connect and I knew it was just all the stress of that day. After he had been here about a week, he was down on the ground sort of playing with a bone. He doesn't know how to play and so I was excited to see him doing something that was making him happy. I got down on the floor and crawled over to him and put my face down by him to nuzzle him and he came up and bit me on the cheek and tore my earlobe. We decided the reason he did that was because no one had ever played with him before and I must've made him feel threatened.

    Today I had him out in the front yard with my cocker spaniel for the first time. I've been working with him on staying in the yard. A neighbor stopped to ask about my new dog and she came over and sat on the grass about 3 feet from me. Jet was laying down and I was petting him. He got up and walked over to her and sat down. She reached out and began petting him and then without a growl or a warning of any kind he bit her in the face! He certainly could have bit harder, but he broke the skin in two places. I've racked my brain wondering if he felt threatened because she was a stranger or what it was but I can say unequivocally that she did nothing to provoke him.

    When we go for walks, if he sees another dog, he will lunge on the leash and want to fight. My vet said, "Cindy, if you lived on the streets you would be aggressive too. It's survival of the fittest out there and he's had to learn how to protect himself," which made sense. If I see another dog, I turn and go the other way to avoid any confrontations.

    Has anything like this ever happened to any of you and if so what did you do? I've never worried for a second when I've taken him for walks past little kids and toddlers, but if he attacked one of them like he did my friend today I would never forgive myself. I don't know if I dare do it now. I love him so much and I want him to be happy and adjusted. I know that parts of him are broken and I'm willing to take all the time and training necessary for him to adjust. I just need some advice from people much smarter than myself… I would appreciate your reply. Thank you very much!
     
  2. drjs@5

    drjs@5 Moderator Forum Supporter

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    Hi Cindy.
    Sorry you are having such worries.
    I am no expert, but aggression can come from fear and this may be the issue.
    Food guarding can be a real issue with rescues and strays, and a bone is a high value item which many dogs can get protective/aggressive over.
    It might be worth speaking to the rescue he came from as they might be able to help with a behaviourist as this might be your best route?
    Getting expert advice in these situations is vital.
    Keep us up to date and good luck.
    Jac
     
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  3. FayRose

    FayRose Registered Users

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    Oh dear, this is a seriously difficult situation you're in. I'm sure those with more experience will reply, but this sounds to me a situation that needs a lot more than just trying to socialize that poor dog at home in any usual way.
    Well done you for taking him on and I very much hope you can get the necessary help before something more serious happens.
     
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  4. snowbunny

    snowbunny Administrator Forum Supporter

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    Hi Cindy and welcome to the forum.
    It is clearly something that's worrying you very much, and for good reason, too. No-one wants to have to think of that "what if?" scenario.

    I agree with Jac, that he was probably resource guarding the bone. When he has anything of high value like that, then you should just ensure he has plenty of space and couldn't get the idea that you're there to take it away from him. Three months isn't very long in the grand scheme of things. Here's an article on how to deal with a puppy who growls when eating - it's the same scenario you're dealing with. It has tips on how to get over it, but in your case, it may take longer than for a puppy who hasn't had such behaviours instilled in him: http://www.thelabradorsite.com/how-to-stop-your-dog-growling-over-food/

    The lead reactivity isn't uncommon, even in otherwise perfectly adjusted dogs. Again, agreeing with Jac, it's usually borne of fear and exacerbated because of the lead. A dog's options of fight, flight or freeze are limited when on lead and he can't get away. It sounds like you need to put in place a programme of desensitisation, where he gets lots of treats for ignoring other dogs. At first, from a big enough distance he can cope with, and gradually (very gradually) reducing the distance.
    Here is an article about helping reactive dogs: http://www.thelabradorsite.com/aggressive-and-reactive-behaviour-in-labradors/

    Finally, the issue of him biting your neighbour. This is a tough one. Most dogs will give off plenty of warning signs before biting. It's usually us that miss the signs, which can be very subtle but are as clear as day to dogs. Things like lip licking, sniffing, turning the head away, rolling the eyes, panting, tension in the ears and tail, even tail wagging... these can all be warning signs that the dog isn't happy and it's building up to something. However, with a rescue of indeterminate history, it's also possible that these behaviours have become either suppressed (eg being punished for growling, which is often the first sign we dumb humans actually register) so he doesn't give that signal anymore, or just, because of his previous life, he escalates a whole lot more quickly, so you don't have the time to act on his body language before it escalates.

    I would definitely consider getting in a behaviourist to help with this, and make 100% sure that it's a force-free behaviourist who uses only positive reinforcement methods.

    You would also benefit massively, I think, from reading a wonderful book called Control Unleashed. It's aimed at reactive agility dogs, but the same principles can be applied outside of the agility world. There's a supporting DVD which apparently is really helpful (make sure you get the red top one, not the blue top). I've used the book with my two dogs who are fear-reactive in certain situations, and it's worked wonders. I didn't realise until recently that there was a DVD, so I've only just bought it.

    One final thought; you mentioned that you're working on him staying in your yard. If you are expecting him to stay out there alone and not wander, then please don't. He needs to be supervised for his safely and that of others; if he saw a cat and chased it across the road, it could be horrendous. If you need him to stay in your yard, you need to fence it in.

    Good luck, and please let us know how you get on.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2016
  5. Oberon

    Oberon Moderator Forum Supporter

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    Good on you for devoting yourself to helping this poor dog. I really think that this is a situation for an experienced behaviourist, (or 'behaviour trainer') who uses calm, unrushed, positive methods. I think it's really important that you get a professional on your team asap.

    Dogs that are about to bite can be stiff in posture, with lips pressed together, and looking hard or staring fixedly at the person they're about to bite. If you see your dog doing any of that move away immediately. If a dog has learned that biting is the only way to get any space or protect what they have they won't show many obvious signs.... It may all be totally silent. That's the situation that Snowbunny has described and I'd say it sums up the conclusion that your dog has come to. It's something your dog has learned.....and can unlearn (with experienced help).
     
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  6. Karen

    Karen Moderator Forum Supporter

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    Hello there, great advice given and I just want to welcome you to the forum.
     
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  7. Granca

    Granca Supporting Member Forum Supporter

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    It sounds as if he has the makings of a lovely dog and is so lucky that you have persevered with him. I haven't anything to add except good luck and keep in touch with the forum.
     
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  8. Beanwood

    Beanwood Moderator Forum Supporter

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    Jet sounds like a wonderful dog...just has a few things to sort out.

    A behaviourist would be a great step forward. Check out their credentials very carefully...Jet obviously trusts you, and some guidance in reading dog language, and how to move forward will be a great help, just watch out for anyone spouting rubbish about dominance.

    In the meantime, just enter Jets' world for a moment. Dogs and humans are so different, and even though dogs are incredible at adapting, and in the main enjoy human company they do need a little help. So...think of it this way. Humans thrive on contact, nothing like a quiet hug when things get tough. Dogs don't. That in itself is difficult to consider for us as humans who naturally enjoy contact, not to say dogs don't like contact, however their primary mode of communication is through subtle signals, the angle of an ear, mouth, eyes and even position of their tail. What they don't like is dogs coming right up for a friendly hug! Which of course they don't, well socialised dogs, meet cautiously, "reading" the other dog first before making a slow approach. Sometimes this "meeting" process can take a bit of time too, I have seen this take up to 15 mins in two quite nervous dogs.

    So, Jet, bearing in mind his background will likely be more sensitive to body signals from dogs, and even more so humans. If we go back to the scenario of your neighbour leaning over in a friendly way towards your dog...well you can see how threatening this gesture appeared. Jet must have felt under enormous pressure, and it is sad he felt he had to use his teeth, as in the dog world this is used as a last resort.

    A better way, is to actually throw a few tasty treats, then back away. So, until you get someone professional to he help, ask everyone who visits to throw a treat, and walk away, let Jet choose to meet them, not the other way round.
     
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  9. CindyUT

    CindyUT Registered Users

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    Thanks to you ALL for your expert advice! You are such a wonderful resource and everyone is so kind and nonjudgmental. I may need to clarify a couple of things. The time he was playing on his back with his bone and I approached him was ALL my fault and I know that. He felt threatened. He has absolutely no resource guarding, which is a great thing. I can take anything out of his mouth and I've even put my hand in his dish while he was eating and there wasn't an issue. He gets a little jealous of my cocker but I gently scold both of them when they get territorial. He's not aggressive in any way to any of us in the home. He's a total love-butt now that he's discovered what petting and kindness is. He's finally wagging his tail which is so awesome and I can see the love and light in his eyes. Just lately he will pick up a bone or ball and walk into the room and show it to me with his tail wagging. Then he turns and leaves and comes right back so proud of himself. I talk in my "sappy high-pitched dog voice", which encourages him and we play that game for about 5 minutes. That's the closest thing to playing he's ever done. He's never been taught to play and simply doesn't understand what I'm doing down on the floor with my butt in the air! He just walks over and puts his nose in my neck and lies down.

    I have been reading articles from this website, which have been very helpful. I've never had a concern walking him in the park. Little kids have asked to pet him and I allowed it and he was fine but now I'm worried because of the situation on Sunday. One of the articles talked about abused and traumatized labs and offered this piece of advice, "The trauma to the dog of trying to desensitize it, and the time factor required to do so may be too great. It may be simpler to keep the dog muzzled in public and kept away from small children." Maybe it's better to be safe than sorry?

    P.S. There are no behaviorists here so I'm going to use my trusted vet for advice. I have a meeting with him tonight.
     
  10. snowbunny

    snowbunny Administrator Forum Supporter

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    I think that's where a good behaviourist will be able to assess his levels of stress and advise accordingly. They should be able to look at his body language and see whether he's "on the brink" or really relaxed. I don't think it's really possible for us to say whether or not he should be muzzled.

    I did raise my eyebrows at this: "The trauma to the dog of trying to desensitize it"... after all, the whole point of desensitisation is to reduce stress! I know some "trainers" (note the use of sarcastic quotes ;) ) would advise using a technique called "flooding", which is where you put your dog in a situation where he just has to deal with the thing he's stressed by, and he'll eventually get used to it. That is highly stressful, and is not the best way to go about it. Proper desensitisation should be about introducing him to his trigger at such a distance that he might register a slight interest in it, but no more. Certainly no stress signals. You then counter-condition the dog, by giving him lots of pleasant experiences at that distance, be that treats or games etc. Then, you can move slightly closer. Again, you're not looking for any signs of stress, and if you see them, you should move farther away again until he's at a distance he's comfortable with. Give your treats and play your games. Repeat, over many, many sessions and you'll end up with a dog that isn't just "coping" with his trigger, he actually no longer finds that thing a trigger, because his feelings of fear have been replaced by good experiences.
     
  11. snowbunny

    snowbunny Administrator Forum Supporter

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    Oh, and to give my personal experience - my dogs are scared of children. I've done the above form of counter-conditioning as and when I can, but we live somewhere where we very rarely see anyone, so it's hard to find opportunities. They have come on leaps and bounds from where they were, but I never let children approach when I have them together (because I can't keep a close enough eye on the body language of two dogs at the same time), and when I just have one dog, I make a judgement each time as to their state of mind and the behaviour of the child. So there is definitely something in keeping a dog that may react away from children until you're sure of how he'll behave. That doesn't mean you can't go to the park, just tell people to keep their children away because your dog isn't used to them and may be scared.
     
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  12. CindyUT

    CindyUT Registered Users

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    Very good advice. I will try that starting tonight. I will walk the perimeter of the park instead of the sidewalk and gradually move in over the next few months if he doesn't appear stressed. I will take it very slowly. Thanks SO much for that!! ~Cindy
     
  13. pedrolo

    pedrolo Registered Users

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    An abused dog, could have learnt to hide advise signals, as he could have been punished for it in previous experiences. So it could become a hidden danger, and "fill his bottle of patience or fear" on "mute mode" until it "breaks", and then he bites. I think that this could be a reason for the bite. But anyway what I think is that it's mandatory is to follow up given advises about consulting to a behaviour specialist, before something wrong happens. I would avoid children situations, until you have some expert's guidelines, maybe muzzle, or maybe not.

    Thank you for giving an opportunity to the dog. Please, help him to be a nice and friendly dog as labs are. Probably it is just a scared boy.

    Regards.

    Pedrolo.
     
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  14. Dexter

    Dexter Moderator Forum Supporter

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    I just wanted to stop by to say hi and welcome,and let you know I've read through your thread..Jet is very lucky to have Found himself with you,you sound wonderfully committed to giving him the best chance of learning about a new way of life .
    Best Wishes
    Angela
     
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  15. SilverFalcon

    SilverFalcon Registered Users

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    Perhaps you could get one of those leads and harnesses that have a warning on them for people not to approach your dog? Rather than going for the muzzle option. I definitely would keep him away from children. If he bit a child he could be put down, not to mention how damaging that would be to a child's psyche (ie developing a fear of dogs). It isn't worth risking given Jet's history of biting.

    I've had rescues and they are often a lot of work, but the love they give back is amazing. I think management is the key, there may be some situations that are always iffy and are best avoided, when they have these kinds of abusive histories. But that isn't to say they can't still live full happy lives, we just have to be mindful of what's too triggering for them.
     
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  16. Karen

    Karen Moderator Forum Supporter

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    If I could just add... Please keep him away from children for now - at least don't let them cuddle and stroke him. If he bit a child you would have to put him to sleep - quite apart from the damage he might do. For his sake, for your's, and for others' sakes - keep your distance for now. He sounds like a really lovely dog, but his abusive past, as you know, means you have to protect both him, and others around him.
     
  17. Karen

    Karen Moderator Forum Supporter

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    Ah, SilverFalcon and I crossed posts! :)
     
  18. SilverFalcon

    SilverFalcon Registered Users

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    You know what they say, great minds think alike ;)
     
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  19. Karen

    Karen Moderator Forum Supporter

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    Re the muzzle - just want to point out that last time I was in the UK, Poppy was quite badly bitten by a dog wearing a basket muzzle, so don't be fooled into thinking that is a complete protection. :(
     
  20. CindyUT

    CindyUT Registered Users

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    Oh man, thanks for that! I'm trying but feel woefully inadequate at this juncture. We don't have an animal behaviorist here so I am using a very trusted vet for help. All these nice replies make me feel not quite so alone, which I must admit I have been feeling.
     

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