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Old 06-10-2014, 10:32 AM
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Default Aggressive/anxious behavior-Need help! (Long)

Hello. I'm new here. My little baby's name is Gizmo! We adopted him in February. A little information about him: He was neutered the day he was turned in. His previous owner surrendered him. I think there is a possibility he might have been abused because he does some body language like my previous dog who we rescued from abuse, but I can't be entirely sure. He was put in a no kill shelter. They almost didn't accept him because he was a chihuahua and they are hard to get adopted here in SoCal because there are SO many homeless tan chis. They told me he was accepted because he was just such a great dog. I saw him in the shelter. He was wearing a penguin costume. He was so depressed that he turned his back to the window where you could view him. He turned his little head, looked at me, sighed, and then went back to his head being away from me. I knew he was the one. When we played with him, he was scared. He warmed up to me in about 10 minutes. He wanted to walk the whole way home, which was a mile! The first month he was very, very shy. We thought he didn't like toys or any bones. Well, his true self has come out! He is a cuddler. He is a great listener (at home). He tolerates being groomed, even though he hates it because he loves being around me. He's amazing, but he does have problems that we need to work on. So, I will make my attempt to explain them.

I admit, part of this is my fault. He wasn't FINE with strangers when we took him home, but he tolerated them. I could tell my his body language that he didn't want to be bothered with, but I have a problem with being assertive when people would continue trying to pet him even though he would run away. I attempted to socialize him with my husband's family. I knew this could go wrong, but I tried anyways. I should say up front that his cousins have dogs and had two dogs before they got rid of. They cage them all of the time, ignore them, spend all this money on themselves but don't even bother to get their teeth cleaned, they don't get any exercise, and the previous big dogs they owned had nails so long that they would split in half and bleed (all without any vet intervention).

So, again, I knew I was possibly setting this up for failure, but I was desperate. By the time Gizmo started getting more comfortable with me, he seemed protective. He would bark and my mother in law and brother in law and then would try and lunge. Now, this wasn't Gizmo's fault, and I will explain why in a moment. That was just to explain what was going on at this point.

So, the first thing we do when we get to his cousin's house is tell every single person there to NOT make sudden, fast movements in an attempt to pet him. I explained that he is having behavioral issues. The good news is at this point, if everyone ignored Gizmo, he would actually be comfortable and try to sit next to the people he didn't know.

So, what is the FIRST thing that happens? His cousin (who is 23) shoots his hand down to pet him and Gizmo quickly turns his head and nips. Well, the rest of the time got worse. For some reason, these people think that a dog only needs 10 minutes of sniffing around for him to be comfortable and then all is good to do whatever you want. Ugh.

They also had two intact female dogs. I didn't know how to introduce dogs, so we tried to just let Gizmo and the other dog sniff each other. Well, it went OK, but then you know everyone got too close and growling. No biting, of course, because we held the dogs. I realize this was absolutely WRONG to do, now. For the rest of the time, there were times where his other cousins tried to pet him and he would quickly turn his head, put down his tail, and nip and try to run away. The one cousin that listened sat like a statue and was completely silent with a treat in his hand. Gizmo took it. He continued to make eye contact with everyone else and ignore him. The result was Gizmo followed him around everywhere! When people started ignoring him, he would even try to sit in between one of them and me, scooching his butt up on them. So, I dubbed that visit kind of horrible but not TOTALLY bad at the end.

The next bad thing that happened was someone approached me when I was walking Gizmo. Again, I have trouble being assertive. I saw a person walking towards us, and I guided Gizmo in a parking lot with at least 6 feet in between us and the sidewalk. The person insisted on petting Gizmo even after I said "That's not a good idea, he will bite". Well, he turned his head and again nipped. And then he ran towards me and wanted held. He was very scared.

The third thing is a few weeks ago. My BIL's friend came over. Gizmo WAS kind of cornered, and they walked REALLY close by him when they should have just went closer to the wall. I was cooking and had raw meat on my hands, and I was telling him to stay and it wasn't working. So, I was trying really hard to quickly wash my hands. Before I can get to him, they walk past and Gizmo bites the guy's ankle as he is walking by. The guy laughed it off and said it didn't even leave a mark (it was through jeans), but I knew we had a serious problem on our hands now. His ears were up and forward and he was no longer in defensive mode. He was straight offensive.

A month before this, my sister came here to visit. I feel like Gizmo was actually progressing. She was only here for a week, but he warmed up to her. He still lunged sometimes, but he never actually bit. He pinched her with his teeth and inhibited his bite when she moves suddenly, which I take as a good sign. After that, he slept in the bed with her and even woke her up in the morning! Now, my father was doing badly. He never had a dog not like him. He spent a few hours with Gizmo just trying to get him to warm up, but it never worked. This is because he kept making eye contact with Gizmo and the only way he seems to ever respond in a positive way is if you ignore him and he gets to know you on his OWN terms. My father didn't listen, but Gizmo didn't bite him, either. He did somewhat warm up to him when chicken was involved, though!

I see so much potential with Gizmo, but he is getting slightly worse. I should add here that he's NEVER ONCE bitten me or my husband. He has charged at my husband when he gets close to me, only to LICK HIS FACE! LOL He's never bitten either of us at all. Not even a nip. He never barks at us and behaves wonderfully. I think this stems from his separation anxiety with me and also his need to be protective.

The good news is we have been training him to "stay". It works about 80% of the time when he's outside to get him to stop lunging and barking at people. It works about 90% inside unless he's having a weird day. The problem now is that when he DOES lunge, he automatically tries to bite! So even though we get him to listen most of the time, the times he doesn't listen are WAY worse.

Now, I'm pretty good at being assertive with people. I pick him up around children and certain people because I need to be proactive. I know I can train him, but guys, there are very big obstacles. Here is what I'm dealing with:

I live with an abusive and controlling MIL and BIL. They do NOT listen to a WORD I say when it comes to Gizmo. For the most part, my BIL doesn't talk to us at all and leaves everyone alone. But my MIL will ignore my requests repeatedly to stop making eye contact and forcefully touching him. She will talk to him, he will growl, and she will yell, "NO!"

The other problem is he pretty much lives in our room or the living room when no one is around. We don't have a yard.

The last, and probably worst problem: My husband and I pretty much have no friends, know no one will well trained dogs, and we both have abusive family members. So, I'm really freaking out because I feel like he needs to be around people way more, but HOW is the problem. The shelter that he was in KNEW how to handle dogs. He never bit anyone there, but then again, he didn't seem extremely attached to them, either.

For the time being, I'm thinking about getting him a muzzle for training. I'm wondering if anyone can give me very detailed steps on how to do this the positive way. I want this to be a GOOD experience for him, not a punishment. It's gotten to the point where people sometimes run up behind me when I'm walking him and he will almost bite them. I don't want a euthanized dog.

So far, the steps I have taken are as follows:
More exercise (I admit I had a bought of depressed and I didn't take him for long walks)
Teaching him to "stay"
Cage training
Plenty of bully sticks to occupy his time
Plenty of attention
Stop picking him up all of the time when inside of the house because it was making his overprotective tendencies worse
When we pass people and he is barking, say in an exciting voice "Come on! Come on!" and he will start running with me and ignore people
Using treats to try and distract him when people on bicycles and joggers go past us
Making him follow commands before every meal (which helped reinforce his need to listen to me)

He is the SWEETEST little chi I have ever met. He's completely changed my life, too. I had severe depression and was suicidal (not to get all emotional, but it's true). I can't leave this earth because of him. I don't think anyone else would treat him good. I'm very protective of him, too. He's like the dog version of me. We both have abandonment issues and extreme anxiety. It's like he's my furry twin, LOL!

I live in the Los Angeles area. If anyone lives close to me and would be willing to help me socialize him, please contact me. I will literally pay you. I'm looking into classes and trainers, but I'm afraid I won't be able to afford all of this. I will try my best if he needs it, though.

PS-Part of what makes this even harder is I don't have a car. I have a motorcycle, which is not chi approved, of course!
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Old 06-10-2014, 02:07 PM
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Wow! First let me say that you are an angel for rescuing him. I don't have a lot of advice to offer on behavioral issues but I can relate to you on a lot of what you've said, I have 4 chi's. 2 of which I had for years and they have helped me through depression and some difficult times as well. I know what it's like to live with people who aren't on the same page with you when it comes to raising your dogs. The only thing that worked for me in that situation is to block/limit the amount of access they had to my dogs. Two of my dogs were very non social and barked and growled at everything when I lived in Indiana with my ex. They didn't go many places and never saw many people. But all of this changed a couple years ago when I moved to west Chicago and saw how dog friendly it was. I basically took my dogs EVERYwhere that I could! I kept treats on hand to give to people before petting them, I tried introducing them to more people , sounds and sights as often as possible. Fast forward a couple years later and now my two problem dogs go on walks with no barking at people, they are more approachable, I have several friends who are pet owners and we get together as often as possible for play dates. I know you said you don't have many friends, but try to get involved in play groups held in your area at local dog boutiques, shelters, I think obedience classes would be beneficial. I don't agree with using a muzzle on small dogs but I'm sure others here on the forum have more useful advice on this. Goodluck to you, and you've come to the right place for advice, our members are so smart and informative, and there is someone here to help guide you with any concerns day or night. And btw we love pics here! Please share 😊

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Old 06-10-2014, 02:50 PM
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I think your plan is basically sound, have a look at this site which explains really clearly simply how to use desensitisation and counter conditioning in a fearful dog like Gizmo

I would advise you to avoid any situations where he feels so threatened he needs to bite. A dog that is so far over his threshold cannot learn or change his behaviour, so it is up to you to prevent him from being in these situations.
Also if he bites and people leave him alone, he is getting rewarded for that behaviour. If it works for him he will do it again.
So keep him away from your mother in law, and any strange people for now. Don't put him in any situations he will find stressful at this point in his training.
While he is calm and happy he can learn.

Keep up with the obedience training, it will help him to build a strong bond and trust you, which is crucial if you want him to overcome his fears. Teach him 'watch me' and 'let's go' they are both really useful with reactive/fear aggressive dogs. Kikopup has some great videos on Youtube showing how to teach both of these.

If he is becoming possessive of you, only allow him to sit on you or near you at your invitation. He needs to know this is a privilege, so one snarl or growl at anyone and down he goes. They get the message much quicker if you make them get down themselves rather than putting them on the floor.

I think your attitude is great, you can see Gizmo for what he is; a scared dog not a bad dog. I think with the right training to build his confidence he will become a happy and confident dog. It will take time, you can't rush these things, but I am sure you can do it.
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Old 06-10-2014, 04:53 PM
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I have a reactive, shy little girl. She was fear biter at 12 weeks. Now hardly ever does that behavior happen. Why? I limit her interactions with people I know. When she HAS to be picked up; like when she had physical therapy and swam, the man had to pick her up. He was very gentle, and talked with her all the time. I told him about her fear biting, and he listened. The lady that tried to put something in her ears afterwards didn't know about this. She told me Emmie tried to snap at her.

The other thing you could try, when you know she's going to a fearful place is to use a canine calming cap. It covers her eyes so she really can't see at a distance. She can see close up. I used it at a dog camp for Emmie, and it worked great. Good luck with this babe.
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Old 06-19-2014, 01:57 AM
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Thanks for the replies everyone.

Chiluv, I'm glad you also were helped by your Chis. I never thought he would have this dramatic effect on me, but boy, he has helped SO much. The good news is there is supposed to be a dog park being built here in the next year. I could buy a bicycle and one of those attachments to carry him with me to the park. I really hope in the future I can move to a more dog friendly area. I think that's one of the problems here. When they finally let dogs in here, they really didn't care about what kind. All of the dogs are supposed to be neutered, but they aren't. Ever since these male dogs have been marking everything, Gizmo has gone nuts! And no one here really trains their dogs, it seems. They hit the poor things, scream, and drag them. I really want to be in a complex that's very dog friendly, if you know what I mean. I will take your advise to limit interaction. I think of it like children, I suppose. I wouldn't want my children to be around people who would hit them and treat them badly, so why should my fur baby be different?

Wicked Pixie, thanks for linking that tread! I already found it very helpful. I will try my best to keep him away from all of these people. My MIL is one to just ignore anything you say, but I have to be assertive for his sake. The good news is he already trusts me fully. When I trained him to "stay", I say "Gizmo", he looks at me, and I say "stay" and he continues to stay and glance at me. He actually did this when I first got him, too. Every time we walk, he looks back every 30 seconds almost like he needs to check if he's doing the right thing. I have been doing the inviting thing, for example, on the couch. I will encourage him to wander off and chew his bone on the floor. I now put something soft on the floor and he will stay there, then I will invite him up. He is even getting better when I leave the room. He used to follow me everywhere, and now he actually is staying or checking on me and then going back in the room. I'm thinking of medicating him slightly for his separation anxiety so I can further train him, but he's making some progress with that as well. Yes, he is a scared dog. I paid attention very closely and saw that he is like a human who lashes out when they don't know how to cope with emotions. I really think the key to helping him is to understand him, because without that, I won't be able to properly train him.

Susan Davis, thanks for giving me some hope. You know, he got used to my sister because she did what I said! So I really think as long as the initial interaction is positive (lots of talking at first, holding out hand, giving a treat, then ignoring him), he will follow strangers around! LOL! The funny thing is even when I warn people, for some reason, they think they are a magic dog whisperer and he won't possibly bite them. *sigh* I guess it's like this with little dogs. He is too cute for his own good. ;] So, dogs can see through this cap, correct? It looks like it was completely darkened, but maybe it's like looking through a sheer shirt?

By the way, I uploaded two pictures of Gizmo for you guys. :]
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Gizmo 1.jpg (37.3 KB, 0 views)
File Type: jpg Gizmo 2.jpg (21.1 KB, 0 views)
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Old 06-19-2014, 11:17 AM
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Congratulations on getting your first chi!

They can be challenging! Angel is a biter, but seemed to bite me most because I was kind of strict with him. We kept him away from strangers because of it. He was exposed to a lot of people as a pup, but it didn't seem to help. I know rely on his training. Luckily he was easy to train and will behave. But, the biggest help is getting people to ignore him and let him go to them when he is ready, which could take quite a while.! But most people can't resist looking at and wanting to pet him!

Hang in there and don't give up!
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Old 06-24-2014, 12:45 AM
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I'm so sorry to hear about Gizmo's troubles, but heartened to see that you are finding hope & love here for your special boy! Chihuahuas are like no other breed, they are tenacious and tender, rambunctious and affectionate and so so intelligent.

Yes, these dogs teach us assertiveness. I've heard many stories (and have experienced a few of my own) about poorly "dog socialized" people and their pets. It is unfortunate that we, as chi owners, cannot subject our dog to the normal social risks of a dog larger (dog parks, strange dogs/people) because as brave as chihuahuas are, they are also fragile and impressionable. Not to mention even a "warning bite" from a larger dog could be fatal for a dog of their size and cause social trauma.

I think all of our chihuahuas have affected us in deep emotional ways. Their character and their tendency to be smitten tend to charm everyone who has one! The lessons they teach are etched in our hearts with boisterous joy. Small dogs are truly very unique in their needs, but no journey is more gratifying.

Good luck with Gizmo. You are on the right track here. We will all send good vibes his way!
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Old 06-24-2014, 04:42 AM
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Congratulations on your new, little love. He is a very handsome fellow. It is possible overtime he will start to mellow out a bit more around people. Nala is a rescue dog and she was terrified of people. But after 3 years of secure and loving home she has made a complete 360. She actually can't wait to meet people and is very social. The only exception to this is children and I think that is probably safer for her because often children do not know how to handle a small dog gently. But it sounds like you have the right approach for this little fellow. I am glad he came to you, he's obviously going to get that love and affection that is life transforming.
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