Possessive Aggressive Behaviour in a Rescue Dog?

Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 04:12 am
My parents, my boyfriend and I have been voluntarily dog-walking at the local rescue shelter for more than six months now. After a couple of months of doing it, my parents decided that a dog would be a welcome asset to their home and began thinking about getting one.
Although there were a lot we all liked, none of them pressed them into actually putting their names down until we met Otis.
Otis is a seven year old male SBT who was found as a stray. He is affectionate, loving, responsive and the ideal dog for all the family. We utterly fell in love with him.
When we first walked Otis he was already reserved, however, when we saw a week later that his reserve had been taken off the website, we went the next day and instantly put our names down. That was about a month ago. Since then we have researched, prepared, bought all the equipment, visited him as often as possible, etc., teaching him commands and even a trick or two.
Otis was never any real cause for concern, and had certainly never been aggressive. However, whenever we walked him, he was very stubborn about going over the playpens in the shelter grounds, to play with his favourite big, blue ball. While at any other time he was affectionate and responsive, when he was with his ball, he was completely disinterested in anything else going on around him. We never really questioned this behaviour, although we did make very good progress in being the commanding figure, walking where we wanted to walk and going to the playpen (and leaving the playpen) when WE decided. He responded well to this commandment and has improved every time we have taken him out to the point where he will walk to heal with no difficulty and sit when asked.
Eventually, they got him back into the kennels, but I was left in a state of shock. I asked one of the assistants what would happen with regards to the rehoming. He said he would not recommend it, and even that Otis may have to be put down.
I went to visit him in the shelter yesterday for the last time, as he is coming home on Monday. When I arrived at the shelter, I checked in and made my way over to the kennels. I was disappointed to see that a family had just got him out for a walk, but thought it would be fine so he could get a nice long walk. I saw them come out, and straight away Otis was up to his usual trick of lying down unless he could walk to the playpen. Rather than be forceful and commanding with him they must have complied with his request, because as I came out with another dog who needed walking, surely enough there they were in the playpen. As I walked around the grounds, I kept my eye on him, smiling about how silly he was over that one ball. Suddenly, I heard a scream and the boy (who I guess was about aged 10) started shouting, “He bit me! He bit me!” As far as I had seen, Otis had not attacked the boy, the boy’s Wellington was on the ball and Otis had accidentally bitten him whilst playing. The boy was screaming, the dad was shouting and the little girl started hitting Otis. I quickly took back the other dog, to go and see what was going on. When I got back to the playpen, Otis was going crazier about his ball that ever. One of the shelter assistants was in there, preparing to get him, but when I explained that in a week I was rehoming Otis, she said she’d leave it to me, as I’d done it plenty of times before, and she had not yet put her boots on as she had only just got there. I strolled up to Otis, who was all over the place with the ball. I tried but failed to get him a few times, and after he realised what I was trying to do, bit my shoe (luckily, I scrunched my foot up). After he realised that I wasn’t a threat he let go and went back to the ball. Slightly shaken up, I went to get one of the assistants, who also got bitten trying to prise him away from the ball.
Eventually, they got him back into the kennels, but I was left in a state of shock. I asked one of the assistants what would happen with regards to the rehoming. He said he would not recommend it, and even that Otis may have to be put down.
My question is this. In an home environment, away from the stress of a shelter and the ball over which he was getting possessive, would Otis get over his possessive behaviour or is it likely that he’d develop it for something else? Also, was the family who took him out to blame for these circumstances, as they complied to his wishes, leading him to take the pack-leader role?
I love Otis very much, and have never seen him as a threatening or aggressive dog. Up until this point he has been compliant, keen to please and exceedingly affectionate and loving.
Would it be unwise to rehome him after what has happened?
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Green Witch
Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 05:21 am
We get this question a lot around here. Staffordshire Bull Terrier (STB) seem to be naturally bi-polar. Personally, I think once a dog has acted out in such an aggressive manner you can be sure he will do it again. I know the breed has a sweet side, but it also has this uncontrollable rage aggression that can rear up when you least expect it. I understand you love the dog, but until breeders work to change the disposition of STB's I would not adopt one. If you do decide to bring the dog into your life you should speak your insurance agent about liability. Some insurance companies will cancel your insurance if you keep this breed as pet on your property.
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Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 06:36 am
We had a Lab that was fixated on the ball.

We thought he nipped at a kid who grabbed his ball, but it was the ball he was after.

Never did find out why the obsession with the ball.

He also had thyroid problems.

Let us know if you find out. I'd be interested in the "why" of this, too.

Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 10:04 am
I think that all dogs can sometimes exhibit possessive aggressive behavior.

Four of the five poodles I have owned would occasionally exhibit aggressive behaviors (growling, snarling, snapping) when guarding a toy or object. These dogs were not aggressive under any other circumstances, and were otherwise well behaved and affectionate, and the possessive aggressive behavior was very infrequent and never led to actual biting or attack. In all cases, with my dogs, the behavior was corrected by training the dog to drop the guarded object in exchange for receiving another object the dog also found desirable.

But I had raised and socialized all of my dogs from about the age of 8 weeks, so I knew my dogs well and there was a very deep bond of trust in our relationships. I also knew how to deal with possessive aggressiveness, and I was able to effectively manage it by addressing it when it first appeared. And poodles, as a breed, do not have a high level of aggressive behaviors.

Talking about managing aggressiveness, any kind of aggressiveness, in a 7 year old dog who has lived at least part of his life as a stray is quite a different matter. You have no idea what this dog's life has been like for the past 7 years, or what sort of aggressive survival skills he has had to learn, or how he may have been treated by humans in the past. And seeing the dog in the relatively controlled environment of an animal shelter, or even in the areas adjacent to the shelter, doesn't tell you all that much about how the dog will react in a wide variety of other situations, and whether you will be able to control the dog's behavior in such situations. Despite the fact that the dog has responded well to some obedience training, the possessive aggressive behavior you have already witnessed may only be the tip of the iceberg. You really don't know the range of situations in which he might also exhibit aggressive behavior of similar or different types. And, on top of that, the dog is a breed which has strong aggressive instincts, which are best controlled by consistent training from early puppy hood--and this dog is approaching senior status.

I can understand your affection for this dog and your desire to give him a good home. But I would strongly advise you not to adopt him. There are too many red flags which signal the possibility for very serious potential problems. At the very least, you would need a professional dog trainer to address the possessive aggressiveness you have already seen in this dog. Dealing with that, in a 7 year year old stray pit bull mix, is not something you should undertake on your own--it would be like playing with fire. A kind heart and normal obedience training is insufficient to do the job--you must get a professional trainer. And you still do not know what other serious behavioral problems, with aggression, or territoriality, or destructiveness, this dog will begin displaying once you have him in your home.

As I'm sure you know, since you volunteer in a shelter, there are many wonderful dogs in need of rescue who need loving homes. Wait for another one who appears considerably less problematic than this one. You should take a dog into your life to add something positive to it, not to possibly open a Pandora's box of major problems which could make your life miserable.
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Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 03:26 pm
Oh, this is so tough!

I have two Pit-Bull mixes and they have been perfect in their behavior to humans, even children: they're tolerant, relaxed, affectionate to the point of crawling into laps & licking, etc. They'll put up with children's tail-pulling and kittens' tail-playing...

However they have both exhibited signs of aggression to other dogs... but not cats (and we have 3 cats).

I muzzle them both for vet visits, because I know there will be other dogs there, and take the muzzle off when they're in the room with the vet. They seem to understand perfectly the difference between a person and another dog. They've never shown any aggression to people.


If I were you, I might try the "food test" or "bone test," as they call it. Give Otis something he really, really wants, some tasty wonderful thing (like that Special Ball, for instance, or some delightful food).

Let him have it for a few seconds, then try to take it away from him. If he growls or snaps at you, do NOT adopt him.

This is tough, to me, because it seems clear that he will be "put down," let us just say, Killed, if he's not adopted.

On the other hand, well, there are many good dogs that need good homes, ones who are not aggressive, ever. Do that "bone test" on any dog you (or parents) are thinking of adopting... it's been pretty dependable for me.

Wishing you the best of luck in your dog-adoption, and sending warm congratulations for helping dogs in need at your local shelter. Let us know how it all turns out, OK?

(I'm hoping others who are more knowledgeable will post here as well.)
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