Older Dog Exhibits Aggression to Younger Dog and Owner

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My 7 year old shih tzu has become increasingly aggressive toward me and my daughters 3 year old shih tzu. She is bring blood on me and the other dog.

As soon as she is near the other dog she acquires a stance and immediately starts a fight. The younger shih tzu will not fight back and yelps. Mine was not fixed until about 2 1/2 whereas the younger shih tzu was fixed at 5 months giving her a sweet temperament and not aggressive at all.

What on earth do I do?

Mine has been a comfort dog since I got her but I can't risk her injuring me or the other dog. What makes matters worse is I have a 17 month old grandson that I can risk getting bit. Help!!

Ed Answers:

Sounds like your little girl feels like she is being replaced. She needs to be reassured that she is your baby. Extra affection is in order.

However when she takes that stance before the attack you must gently hold her mouth shut and firmly tell her “no biting”. If she persists, a 10 minute timeout is in order. Once she has had her shunning you may once again confirm your affection for her.

Our Answer:

It can be such a shock when our sweet little Tzus show their aggressive sides, especially when the behavior is new from a mature dog. First, we want to encourage you not to give up on your girl.

Your concerns about the safety of your grandson, other dogs and yourself are completely legitimate, but this type of behavior can be successfully managed. Obviously you love your Shih Tzu (Who can resist?) and want to help her return to her well-balanced self.

Shih Tzus are known for their mild temperaments and lovable personalities, but just like any other dog they can exhibit unwanted behaviors. When aggression such as you’ve described rears its ugly head the issue is no doubt one of dominance.

In many cases the right thing to do would be nothing. Posturing, growling and nipping are all ways the canine pecking order gets established when a new member joins the pack. Usually these scuffles look and sound worse than they really are and will stop of their own accord once everyone learns their place. However, if your dog is drawing blood the situation has certainly moved beyond acceptable limits of behavior.

The aggression doesn’t have anything to do with when your dog was spayed, it’s most likely related to her feelings of insecurity or believing that she is the leader of the pack. In either case, reestablishing yourself as the alpha in the family should correct the problem. Put yourself back at the top of the pack where you belong:

  • Take daily leash walks and don’t allow the dog to pull or lead you. You’re in command
  • Practice basic obedience exercises for about 10 minutes each day
  • Withhold treats unless they are earned
  • Play with your dog and give her lots of loving attention, but always on your terms. You decide when the game or cuddling starts and stops
  • Ignore your dog when you first come home. Wait about ten minutes until you’ve had time to settle in, then invite the dog to come say hello
  • When your dog is in your way, make her move. Taking care not to disturb your dog sends the message that you’re subordinate to her

If you practice these dominant behaviors regularly you should see changes happen in your dog within a short time—a few days or weeks. But don’t stop just because things are getting better. Being the alpha in the pack is a lot of pressure and requires constant vigilance, that’s why it’s unfair to place a tiny Shih Tzu in that position.

While you’re working with your furbaby keep your grandson and the other puppy at a safe distance. You’re right, you never want to put a child at risk. If you don’t see improvement in your dog’s behavior consider hiring a professional trainer to come to your home and work with you.

You didn’t mention anything about the possibility of rehoming, but please recognize that surrendering an “aggressive” dog to an animal shelter is almost certainly a death sentence for that animal. If you’ve tried everything and still decide the dog is too unsafe for your household, take the time to find a private rescue organization that can retrain your dog and find her a suitable home.

Your dog has given you seven years of comfort and companionship, now it’s your turn to give her every possible chance to return to the sweet, good-natured baby you know and love.

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