Behavior Problem - Canine Aggression


Dominance Aggression Treatment

Question: Hi,

I was browsing the net when I came across your site (,
where I found some information about dominance agression. I have a 3 year
old male springer spaniel which has been showing signs of dominance
agression for a couple of years. It gets worse sometimes -- now he's going
through a "good phase", he's been sweet these days, but won't let us (we're
a young couple) give him a much needed haircut nonetheless.

Anyway, I was reading about the mechanisms of dominance agression in
springers and the use of fluoxetine on such cases. I consulted quite a lot
of vets, but none of them would know anything about this subject. Actually,
most of them didn't even know what was I talking about. I live in Brazil,
and it seems that vets in here are not well trained on the subject of
dominance agression.

Since I have no access to a behaviorist (I don't believe there are any in
my country...), I thought about putting my dog on fluoxetine, but I
couldn't find out what's the correct dose to begin with. None of the vets I
consulted could offer any help on this. So I'm writing you in hope that you
could point me in the right direction -- either helping me with the dose or
pointing me to some site that has some info on this. I'd be very grateful
for any help you could give me.

Thank you in advance for the attention, looking forward to hearing from you.


Answer: Flavio-
It is important to note that fluoxetine is considered to be one component of therapy for dominance aggression and fearful aggression. Usually there is a component of one or the other of these conditions when "rage syndrome" is thought to be occurring in a springer spaniel.

It is important to pursue behavioral control of the situation. To do this, it is important to try to identify the type of aggression present. Fearful aggression is treated differently than dominance aggression, although both may be partially responsive to the use of selective seritonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine.

If the aggression appears to be dominance related, such as aggression that occurs when an owner tries to move a dog off of a favored spot such as a couch or chair or tries to take away a favorite toy and occurs quite suddenly with little warning, this fits the typical "rage" episode reported to be common in springers.

For this type of situation it is recommended that the dog be made to work for all positive things, such as feeding, petting, going outside, etc.  The simplest approach to this is to make the dog sit before giving its food, before going on walks, etc. It is important that this be a consistent part of behavioral training as it makes the dog defer to the owner, reinforcing the owner's dominant status without physical confrontation. If necessary, a dog may be muzzled during the training until it becomes reliable about responding to commands. A head halter type collar helps, too.  This is hard to do in a family situation, as all family members must consistently follow the protocol. If this is not possible it is much less likely that the aggression can be controlled.

It is never possible to totally trust a dog that has exhibited severe dominance aggression and children, elderly folks and people not smart enough not to approach a strange dog in an manner than might be viewed as aggressive have to be protected from the dog at all times.

As part of the behavioral training, fluoxetine may be helpful. The dosage is 1mg per kg every 12 hours to 24 hours. It may be best to start with the higher dosage and to lower it only if the dog responds enough to make it worth considering long term use of the medication.

Mike Richards, DVM


Aggression on leash in Boxer

Question: I am a new member and love all the information that you supply.  My problem
is my 9 month old neutered female boxer, Kaya.  She is a wonderful funny dog
who lives with 4 young adults, 2 adults, 3 cats and 3 dogs: 15 month old lab
mix male fixed, 7 month old shiloh shepherd female intact, and a 5 year old
chihuahua male fixed.  Kaya while being wlked on a leash show agression to
other dogs and now young children.  However, when off leash she has never
shown any agression to either and has always benn friendly and playful with
any dog she has met while off leash.  As for young children I have several
neices and nephews that visist and Kaya ia extremely gentle and friendly
following them around for any attention she can get.  So what are your
thoughts on her agression on leash?  I have  on several occassions made her
lie down on her side when another dog approaches and this works as she does
not growl or act up at all.  But of course this is not always possible.
Thank you,  Toni

Answer: Toni-

Almost anything that allows a dog to identify a territorial boundary really
can contribute to aggressive behavior in a dog who leans towards
territorial defensiveness. Common examples of this are dogs that are much
more aggressive when they are in the car or behind a fence. This sort of
aggressiveness while on a leash is less common but does occur. Some dogs
also seem to defend their owners more quickly when they are on a leash, so
this may be part of the problem, as well.

It can help to use a head collar, like the "Gentle Leader" (tm)
collar.  These look like the halters for horses but they have a mechanism
that allows the loop over the nose to be tightened somewhat by pulling on
the leash. This gives a dog owner much more control and will sometimes curb
mild aggressive tendencies. If there should be fighting or biting behavior
the halter gives enough control to stop the behavior in most cases.

Reminding Kaya that you are in control and giving her something else to
think about by making her follow commands such as "down" is a very good
idea and it is good that she responds to this.

If the behavior continues to escalate in nature, it would be best to
consult with a veterinary behaviorist. This can be a real pain to arrange
but in a situation in which there is a strong potential for biting, it
really is best to work with a behavioral expert to control the situation.

Mike Richards, DVM


Question: My 10 year old Lhasa Apso has lived in a one family residence all his life,
and is an observant watch dog.  He has a tendency toward aggressive behavior,
and although he has been obedience trained and did well, he sometimes get so
excited that he is hard to control momentarily.
I am intending to move to a retirement apartment complex in the next 2 to 3
years and while they have a wing allowing small animals, I am very concerned
about whether my dog can be trained to not bark at noises within the
apartment complex.  He is a good watch dog, very alert, and barks at any
noise outside.
Do you have any suggestions as to how he might be trained not to bark when I
was not there to control him?  As it is now, I don't think we would last long
in an apartment atmosphere.
Thank you.

Answer: JoAnne-

The first thing to do when dogs bark is to try to figure out the underlying
reason. The most common causes of barking are probably territorial
aggression, protective aggression and separation anxiety (not necessarily
in that order). In separation anxiety, the barking is usually worse when
the dog is left alone and for protective aggression the dog is usually in
the presence of the owner and in territorial aggression it usually doesn't
make any difference, but barking is worse when the dog is confined to a
fence, pen, automobile or other situation that clearly defines the
"territory" for the dog.

In this case, it sounds most like this is territorial aggression, although
protective aggression is also possible. It is important to be reasonably
sure of this, because barking for these reasons can sometimes be controlled
by a combination of medication and the use of an anti-bark collar (use the
kind that sprays citronella -- it is more humane than an electric shock
collar). Dogs with separation anxiety usually require behavioral
modification therapy, often with the use of medications ---  and anti-bark
collars are not likely to work in this situation. Some dogs do have both
territorial aggression and separation anxiety, so if there is a veterinary
behaviorist in your area who can help you sort all this out, it is helpful
to consult with them.

The medications that work best for territorial aggression are probably
amitriptyline (least expensive, Elavil Rx), clomipramine (Clomicalm Rx) and
fluoxetine  (Prozac Rx). These can lessen the anxiety that the dog is
feeling about invasion of territory. An anti-bark collar targets the
barking behavior and it is also important for the owner to consistently
discourage the behavior, as well. Try to keep the number of situations in
which the dog is confined to a small area it can be approached in to a
minimum (so a pen or small fenced yard where the dog is exposed to foot
traffic would be a bad situation).  The citronella collars are available
through several veterinary suppliers (I am pretty sure Henry Schein is
one), so your vet should be able to order this for you.

This is a situation in which you might also consider debarking surgery.
This should be a last resort and it should be done by someone who is
competent at doing the surgery, preferably using a ventral (not oral)
approach to the larynx. It would be a tough choice for me to make because
there can be serious complications due to laryngeal scarring, but if it is
not possible to stop the barking and if it is the difference between having
a place to live and not having a place to live, it is an option.

Hope that this helps.

Mike Richards, DVM

Rage syndrome

Question: I have just been dicussing "rage snydorme" on  Beauceron egroup.  There seems to be a lot of conflict as to what it is. Maybe I can find out here?

MJ --

Answer: MJ-

The term "rage syndrome" was originally coined to describe a set of
behaviors that were occurring in a disproportionate number of English
springer spaniels, compared to other breeds. It is one of those terms that
is just too attractive, so now there are reports of golden retriever rage,
cocker spaniel rage, Persian cat rage...   and so on.

These are the clinical signs that fit the original syndrome as it was
described in English springer spaniels:

1) sudden unpredictable biting, often directed at the dog's owner
         (this has been modified now to include biting that does occur in
certain predictable    situations as more observation of these dogs has
2) extreme aggressiveness during these attacks that often stops as suddenly
as it starts
         (this is referred to as uninhibited aggression in some reports)
3) dilation of the dog's eyes prior to the attack is a commonly reported sign
4) multiple bite wounds are common in biting incidents associated with this

There is a lot of argument about whether this syndrome really exists as a
distinct syndrome apart from dominance behavior in dogs, about whether this
is a heritable condition, whether this is a form of seizure or whether
these dogs have brain disorders such as reduced seritonin levels
(associated with violence in people).

Based on information in the literature and on the Veterinary Information
Network, Dr. Ilana Reisner, who has probably done more research on this
condition in springers than anyone else, believes that this is a condition
that follows family lines, is associated with decreased seritonin levels
and that the condition is hard to distinguish from dominance aggression.
Dogs that appear to have rage syndrome do become aggressive in certain
repeatable situations, such as when an owner leans over the dog or attempts
to move if from the couch or some other repeatable trigger for the
behavior. This makes it less likely that this is a seizure disorder and
treatment for seizures has not been a very successful way to control the

I think that it is safe to say that most veterinary behaviorists believe
that there are a group of dogs who exhibit extreme uncontrolled aggression
that is way beyond the "typical" aggressive responses for dominant dogs. I
think that these dogs probably occur in many breeds but that springer
spaniels are over-represented among these breeds. The term "rage syndrome"
is almost certainly inappropriately used to describe aggression that does
not fit the reported syndrome, making the problem seem much more widespread
than it really is.

While I have not heard of a specific rage syndrome diagnosis among
Beaucerons, that doesn't mean it doesn't occur in the breed, but it should
be reserved for situations that fit the definition of the syndrome.

If this doesn't cover your concerns, please let me know.

Mike Richards, DVM

Aggression with other dogs

Question: Dear Doctor:

I am a new subscriber with a question about dog
behavior.  Is there any way to successfully socialize a dog who is proven
"dog aggressive?"

Lucy is a small german shepherd mix, 38 lbs, and approximately 2 years old.
She has been spayed.  I adopted her from a shelter last September.
Unfortunately, I know little about her background since she was a stray.  She
"play bites" me at home sometimes, but is submissive with visitors and very
good with kids.

My problem is that Lucy is very "dog aggressive" or perhaps fearful of other
dogs.  We live in California where many dogs are off leash and run up to my
dog and I (on leash).  When one approaches us, Lucy will nip the smaller dogs
or wrap her mouth around the neck of bigger dogs.  She never draws blood, but
the snarling always is scary for myself and the other owner.  Today she
faught a dobie twice her size... two months ago it was a much larger pit
bull.  Both ran up to her.

She has been through beginning and intermediate obedience.  Her trainer told
me not  to be concerned about her defensive behavior since she is not seeking
out these fights and is "doing what is natural" for her.

Do you have any suggestions?  I doubt that we will be able to totally avoid
this situation, despite the leash laws!

I currently have no friends or family nearby with dogs who would be willing
to help  "adjust" to friendly dogs...  I would also hesitate to experiment
with someone else's pet, for obvious reasons.


Answer: Eugenia-

The simplest solution to this problem might be to find a comfortable muzzle
that Lucy can wear when out in public, just to ensure that no one else's
dog might be hurt. Sometimes, this seems to cut down on aggressive behavior
and allow a dog to adjust to dealing with other dogs, but that would be a
lot to hope for.

Medication might help, if she is primarily driven by fear. Both
anti-anxiety medications, such as buspirone, and seritonin sparing
medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac Rx) help some dogs with fear
aggression, especially if these can be combined with a desensitization
program. The problem with desensitization is that you have to control the
whole scenario and since your problem is dogs who should be on a leash and
are not, you can't control her encounters with other dogs effectively.

A veterinary behaviorist may be able to help you.  It is often possible to
work with a behaviorist through telephone or email exchanges once the
initial visit or two have been made for evaluation purposes. This makes it
practical to seek the help of a behaviorist who practices a long way from
your home, in some cases.

I wish that I had a program that would work for any dog, but this type of
problem varies enough from dog to dog that it really does take an
individualized approach, which means that someone who can give you good
behavioral advice needs to evaluate Lucy and figure out the best plan for
helping her overcome her aggressive tendencies.

I am not sure about the actual legalities of the situation but it seems to
me that you are correct in the assumption that it isn't a good idea just to
ignore this situation because the dogs that are involved are not under
their owner's proper control.

Mike Richards, DVM

Conflict between dogs

Question: Hi, Dr. Richards,

Thanks for all the advice regarding my arthritic lab.  As I have mentioned
in my prior e-mails, I have 2 dogs -- a 12-1/2 year old Springer Spaniel and
11 year old Labrador Retriever, both spayed females.  The Lab established
itself as the alpha female years ago, after a fight that left the Springer
bleeding in enough places to require veterinary attention.  Since then, they
established a truce of sorts -- the Springer actively avoided situations
which would provoke the Lab, although the Lab has on occasion nipped the
Springer on the back to reinforce her position (the Springer NEVER fought
back).  These incidents only occur when I am home (I am the only person in
the household) -- there is never a problem when I am not there.

Recently, I have begun to have a serious problem.  The Springer has begun
initiating conflict by growling at the Lab (only happens when the Springer
is sitting next to me), and the Lab runs over to attack the Springer. Most
of the time I am able to stop the fights before they start by physically
preventing the Lab from getting near the Springer, but have been bitten
twice in the effort in the last 2 weeks (by the Lab).  When they do get near
each other, they are trying to bite directly at each others faces as opposed
to other parts of the body.  Three days ago, the Lab got to the Springer and
broke her upper jaw.  And the day the Springer came home from the hospital,
she started growling at the Lab within the first hour!

I have tried "behavior therapy" designed to reinforce the Lab's position as
the alpha dog.  When the Springer starts growling at the Lab, I make the
Springer get off the couch and go away from me.  I have also made efforts to
pay a lot of attention to the Lab in the presence of the Springer.  However,
these days the Lab seems to have little tolerance for my paying any
attention to the Springer.

I do not really want to get rid of either dog, and keeping them separated is
no way for any of us to live. Nor is my totally ignoring the Springer (which
would probably work). I know that professional behavior therapy will provide
the best solution long term, but I need a short-term fix so the dogs will
live long enough (intact) to get through it.

These are my questions:

1.  The Lab is currently on dexamethasone (.25 mg/day) for arthritis and DES
(twice per week) for incontinence caused by the dexamethasone.  Do either of these drugs
cause increased aggression?

2.  The Springer is currently on Anipryl, Actigall, prednisone (10 mg. every
other day), metronidazole, thyrosin and Etogesic (for chronic active
hepatitis, hypothyroidism and arthritis).  She has been on all of these
drugs for over a year (except for Anipryl).  Do any of these drugs cause
increased aggression?

3.  Are there any drugs that I can give the Lab or Springer to reduce their
aggressive behavior?

4.  Would there be any downside to muzzling the Lab (I was thinking a Mikki
muzzle) while I'm at home except when she's eating and sleeping?

5.  Would there be any downside to having the Lab's canine teeth removed or
ground down (to minimize the damage she can inflict)?  She doesn't eat hard
food except for dog biscuits.

6.  Is there anything else you can think of???

Thanks, as always, for your help.


Answer: Carol-

Please remember as you read this reply that I am a general practitioner and
not a behavioral expert!

1) Dexamethasone and prednisone are both corticosteroids. There are some
dogs who react to corticosteroid administration by exhibiting behavioral
changes and an increase in aggression is a possible complication with
either of these medications.  Withdrawal of the corticosteroids, if
possible, might provide relief from this problem.

Thyroxine, if overdosed, seems to cause aggression sometimes, based on
personal experience only -- I have not seen this mentioned in any
scientific literature that I can remember. If the serum thyroxine levels
are too low, aggression is supposed to occasionally occur as an effect of
that condition, too.  Checking the T4 level seems reasonable as a precaution.

  I am not aware of aggressiveness as a side effect of any of the other
medications mentioned, but selegiline (Anipryl Rx) is new enough that if it
causes side effects in just a few dogs, it may be some time before we know
what those side effects are.  At this time, I would consider it to be
unlikely to be an initiator of aggressive behavior, though.

2) There are several medical approaches to aggression. Most commonly,
selective seritonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like fluoxetine (Prozac Rx)
are recommended for aggressive behavior, because decreases in seritonin
levels are associated with aggressiveness. I think that Prozac and similar
drugs are not recommended when using Anipryl, though. Clomipramine
(Clomicalm Rx) is also sometimes recommended. It works in a similar, but
slightly different manner from the SSRIs.  In some cases anti-anxiety
medications like diazepam or buspirone are helpful. Usually the
recommendation is to try these for the dog that seems most stressed by the
situation, which is usually the dog being attacked.  Sometimes these
medications make the situation  markedly worse, so they have to be used
with a great deal of caution.

3) Don't overlook a new medical condition as a contributor to this problem.
Pain can initiate aggressiveness, although the signs don't seem consistent
with what you describe. We have seen two or three dogs with brain cancers
or other central nervous system disorders exhibit behavioral changes as an
early clinical sign. Sometimes hyperadrenocorticism seems to be associated
with increases in aggression, possibly also due to the increases in
cortisone levels with this condition.

4) I have worked with several clients who wished to keep aggressive dogs
despite fighting between household dogs. Two of these clients used muzzles
long term as a solution to their problems. In both cases this worked and in
one of the cases the aggressive dog didn't seem to mind the muzzle at
all.  This is a good temporary solution while searching for other answers,
too.  Sometimes using Gentle Leader or similar halter type collars and
leaving the leash attached is sufficient, as it gives the ability to gain
control of a situation quickly, but you have to think about how quickly the
Lab can damage the Springer before choosing this option.

5) I have a couple of patients who are quite aggressive and who
consistently win dog fights, even inflicting pretty severe damage at times,
who have canine teeth that are naturally worn down very near the
gumline.  I tend to think that solution won't work. I wouldn't want to
remove the canine teeth due to the potential for complications from
anesthesia, the difficulty removing these teeth without fracturing the
lower jaw or producing an oronasal fistula where the upper canines were and
because some dogs get regression of the underlying bone after removal of
the teeth, which leads to problems, too.  I really think that dental work
as a solution is not a good approach.

The behavioral approach you have tried, so far, is a recommended approach
to inter-dog aggression (siding with the aggressor).  If you are lucky
enough to live in an area served by a veterinary behaviorist, seeking their
advice would be a good option. Your vet should know if this is something
that can be arranged in your area.

Mike Richards, DVM

Aggression and fear responses in dogs.

Q: Dr. Mike

My husband and I adopted a rescued Dobe late last October. We have had
Dobes as pets for about 27 years, so know the breed well. But this one
has a problem we have not yet encountered.

I'll give you some background on her (Star) to help you avoid some of
the same suggestions we've already received from trainers and vets.

Star is a total love towards us (as, of course, are most Dobes). She
also likes most people and children (not so common in Dobes). She has an
extremely high "prey response" towards small animals (fairly common in
Dobes altho' hers is more than usual, as per our experience and the
opinion of the 2 dog trainers we've taken our Dobes to for years).

But her basic problem is her reaction to other dogs. The small ones she
wants to "get", based I'm sure on her prey drive. However when we took
her to dog training and exposed her to a number of dogs at once, her
immediate response was to wag her tail (extended out, not up), start
trembling all over, then lunge to try to get at whoever was nearest.

Needless to say, we did no training in the class, simply tried to get
her accustomed to other dogs, with little success. Both trainers gave us
a wealth of suggestions about how to overcome this problem, as have
others we've talked to in the last few months.

Star has continued to lunge and try to bite any dog that gets near her
and wants to chase and bite any dog in her view. We assume (since we
know nothing of her background before she was rescued) that she may
never have lived with or learned how to socialize with dogs, so has
probably been attacked by other dogs when she did meet them. (We don't
know her age, but estimate she is about 3.)

(One positive thing: she did live for a short time in a foster home with
a very "lay back" male Dobe who she initially dominated, but was then
willing to play with.)

We have tried introducing her to one dog at a time in a controlled
situation (not too often, since it's difficult to get someone to allow
your dog to come near knowing she will bite, even when we use a muzzle).
We have had some success, but not much. Star's adrenaline seems to shoot
off the scale, so she does not respond to anything, from soothing
reassurance to strong "No!" commands.

(In fact, I am worried about her extreme adrenaline responses in a
number of situations and wonder if an imbalance or problem here may not
be part of her problem.)

Having written all of the above to give you background, do you have any
suggestions (other than the "usual") as to how to undo this problem,
based on other dogs you're seen/have heard about with a similar problem?
Could an adrenal gland problem to this, as mentioned above?

I'd appreciate any ideas, esp. if you have any related to a specific
situation where something was tried with positive results.

Thanks much for your time.

FYI:  I read your March Digest and thought your shorter paragraph length
made the reading so much better. Thanks for trying my suggestion!

Carole H

We're continuing to do what we can with a combination of reassurance and
irm verbal "No!" to try to cut down Star's extreme initial reaction to
ther dogs. This is working well in the car; we've pretty much stopped
er frantic barking for each dog she sees. It's also worked somewhat in
person; I'm seeing some reduction in the length of time she spends
worrying about the other dog. But it's really slow going, with relapses.

A: Carole-

Your note touched on a number of issues relating to aggression and fear
responses in dogs. I'll try to cover each one, but if this raises more
questions or if I miss something, please ask for clarification.

I think it is necessary to provide some background information at the start
of the note that you seem to be somewhat aware of but which is important to
be clear on.

There are a number of types of aggressive behavior in dogs and it is
possible for dogs to exhibit more than one type of aggressive response at
the same time, in some instances. This can make it very confusing to sort
through the possible diagnoses and treatment options. Whenever it is
possible to do so, it is best to seek the advice of a certified animal
behaviorist or board certified veterinary behavior specialist when dealing
with aggression. The earlier this can be done, the better. Unfortunately,
that is not an option in many areas of the country since the number of
behavior specialists is still low.

I want to cover two points in your note right away, even though that is out
of order for the rest of the advice. The first is that tail wagging in dogs
is not a sign of friendliness in many instances. It is an indication that a
dog is prepared to engage in a social response -- but that can be an
aggressive response or a friendly one. In your dobe's case it shouldn't be
taken as a sign that she initially feels like she wants to be friendly and
then changes her mind. It should simply be viewed as a signal that she is
aware of the other dog and intends to interact in some way. The second is
that dogs can injure other animals, especially smaller dogs and cats, while
muzzled. Dogs can even manage to kill another dog while muzzled. They can
injure humans while muzzled, especially children who may still reach for
their face and put small fingers or hands where they can be bitten despite
the muzzle. While it is good that your dog doesn't show aggression towards
people it is very good that you recognize that a muzzle is only partial
protection against problems.

The behavior you describe does appear to fit the pattern most commonly
associated with fearful aggression. It seems strange that a dog that is
frightened would chose to attack rather than to run but that is frequently
what happens when dogs have fear based aggression towards other dogs. It is
hard to be certain, but it is possible that the reaction to smaller dogs
may still be fearful aggression rather than predatory behavior. I have seen
a number of large dogs react just as fearfully to smaller dogs as to bigger
ones. These types of determinations are hard to make without the
opportunity to see the interactions (and since I'm not a behaviorist they
would still be open to interpretation if I made the diagnosis). In
addition, some dogs with aggression that really appears to be fearful in
origin are actually territorially aggressive or may even be exhibiting an
inappropriate form of dominance aggression.

There are some general steps to take when dealing with a dog that is
aggressive in any form. Spaying and neutering help often enough that these
procedures should be considered. It is highly unlikely that spaying or
neutering will totally control aggressive tendencies, though. It is
important to teach a dog at least one or two commands and to gain enough
control of the dog to be able to use these commands reliably. If this can
be accomplished it is often possible to distract the dog when it appears
likely that a situation that might elicit aggressive behavior is
developing. Most behaviorists recommend using a "Gentle Leader" or halter
type collar to obtain even better control of aggressive dogs. These collars
work like a halter and allow better control of the dog's head. Many
clients who would lose control of a dog with a leash attached to a regular
collar (or even a choke collar) can control their pet when it is wearing a
Gentle Leader halter. Plus the portion of the halter than goes around the
nose tightens when it is pulled on, making it possible with quick action to
prevent the dog from biting in some cases. This can't be relied on, though.

Fearful aggression towards other dogs often starts with barking and nervous
behavior at the sight of another dog. Discouraging the barking can help to
stop the escalation of the fear and aggression so your current behavioral
modification attempts in the car may help a lot. Reassurance may be harmful
in the treatment of fearful aggression if it is carried too far. It is
important not to reward the dog for fearful behavior by petting or phrases
like "good dog" that the dog may recognize as cues that the behavior is
appropriate. It may be better to stick with calm reprimands or to try to
distract the dog by using a command such as "sit" or "quiet" or "stay" that
you have previously been able to teach the dog to perform reliably.

Keeping a fearful dog out of situations in which fear is generated for a
few months can sometimes help a great deal, too. This seems to be
especially true in dogs that are adopted from shelters or rescue
organizations and have not had time to adjust to a new home after the
stress of losing their original homes and possibly going through several
moves in a short period of time. Once in a while, just having time to get
secure in a new home and having a break from reinforcement of the fear is
enough to allow a dog to let go of the fear and begin to react to other
dogs in a more normal fashion.

Letting the dog see other dogs at a great distance (whatever distance is
necessary to keep signs of nervousness, barking, etc. from occurring) while
working with the commands your dog knows in order to provide a distraction
can be helpful. Gradually decreasing the distance to the other dogs --
often over months --- can often be accomplished. It may eventually be
possible to even allow interaction in controlled circumstances but here is
another spot in the training when having the help of a good behaviorist can
be very very helpful. As you point out, it is hard to find a dog and its
owner who are enthusiastic about subjecting themselves to the possibility
of an aggressive encounter. A behaviorist can help determine when it is
appropriate to consider this interaction and may also be able to help with
finding a dog who can handle the encounter.

In some dogs, behavioral modification will work better if anti-anxiety or
anti-depressant medications are used in conjunction with the training. It
is very important to remember that these medications just lower the
threshold for aggression to occur in some dogs, rather than producing the
desired calming effects. Use caution when medications are used. At present,
amitriptyline (Elavil Rx), clomipramine (Clomicalm Rx) and fluoxetine
(Prozac Rx) are the most commonly recommended medications for modifying
aggressive behaviors.

If your vet owns a copy of Dr. Karen Overall's book "Clinical Behavioral
Medicine for Small Animals" there are good descriptions of the various
types of aggression and also pretty detailed directions for desensitizing
dogs to various situations, including the presence of other dogs. Dr. Ilana
Reisner wrote an article that I think was published in either Dog Fancy or
Dog World several years ago on aggression between dogs that was also a good
source of information. If you get either of these publications and save
them you might look back at the older issues to see if you have that one.
There is also a book I have not read but which is written by authors
(Landsberg and Hunthausen) who seem to give reasonable advice, titled
"Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat". I also like a lot of
Dr. Ian Dunbar's advice and I think he may have a video out on inter-dog
aggression (I saw an ad for new videos by Dr. Dunbar but can't recall
clearly the titles).

Hope some of this is helpful.

Mike Richards, DVM

Large dog attack on small dog - tragic results

Q: Do you consult with other vets ?

Report on Little Red: a 8 Lb. four year old Poodle

It was Friday the 11 Th. of December, I was walking with "Little Red" on
the road from the lake ( other neighbors were also on
the road ) when "Edward" a large rottweiler, trotted out of a neighbor’s.
Little Red ran up for a smell.  The large dog grabbed him and Little Red
screamed.  I ran up and grabbed Edward’s collar which came off,  but
separated the dogs.  I held our small dog while the neighbors kept the
big dog away. There was no growling or signs of a fight before the
attack.  The owner’s wife came out the driveway and we hurried
to my house to check injuries. Little Red had a long laceration on his
back and two puncture wounds on his neck.

We all went to Edgewater Animal Hospital where they kept him. The next
day they stitched his back up but left the punctures open to drain. The
stitches were in for 11 days from Saturday the 12th to Wednesday the
23nd.  To control the infection he was given antibiotic Baytril, a wide
spectrum drug, to control the infection. He came home on Monday the
14th.  Wednesday the 16th he was back because the neck was quite
swollen. The puncture in the lower neck remained infected so they took
x-rays then a brillium x-ray to check on the windpipe (or trachea).  We
saw the x-rays on Thursday the 17th.  It was not punctured but infected
and bruised.

Little Red continued to weaken. He got more and more depressed. A drain
was added in his neck to keep the swelling down Monday 21st. They
drained the neck and added Amoxi ( a penicillin ) to try to reduce the
infection. We took him back to get the drain taken out on the 23rd.  He
could not keep water down and refused to eat so we don’t know if the
medicine had a chance to work.  He was home only briefly after the drain
was taken out. Thursday the 24th  early in the morning we thought he was
dying and took him to the Daytona Emergency Vet Hospital then back to
Edgewater (for the fourth time) where he still is.  He had not eaten
since Monday and had problems keeping water down. They stabilized him
and put on a IV tube.  The report on Dec 26th was he was doing better,
had eaten a little, had barked and seemed more himself.

The whole family has been through a trauma now for three weeks. You
never saw such a sad little dog. And it’s Christmas.  It’s been awful.
People are completely responsible for the behavior of their pets and any
damage they cause, so the owner has directly done all this harm because
he knows the danger yet he keeps a dangerous animal. We informed Animal
Control because it’s likely he will strike again and it needs to be
known that the owner was warned. If Little Red dies - he is  beloved
family pet and very valuable to us - a great harm has been done. If he
lives (we all pray) it’s been a trauma for all of us.

7:10 PM

Little Red in Back in Hospital - emergency almost died.
Turns out he had kidney failure and was near death. The doctor gave
thyroid steroids and he pulled through.  It was possible he has
Addison’s disease that interferes with production of hormones that
stimulate the adrenal glands. Adrenal insufficiency can be primary or
secondary. Primary adrenocorticism affects salt/potassium balance in the
body and glucorticoid as well. Secondary adrenocorticism usually only
affects the glucocorticoids. It is not known why primary adrenocorticism
occurs but it may be an immune mediated process.

12:18:33 PM

Prednisone seems to have done it. Little Red is much better and we hope
for good. There are several theories about what happened - some
underlining thyroid problem brought on by toxic shock or drug
interactions with suspected molds, yeast or fungus from Edwards mouth
and/or soils it is possible that Ed was infected by squirrels could be
how he contracted leptospirosis.

Thursday, January 07

Tuesday he went back in because of a very bad mouth, gray tongue and the
skin over the punctures on the lower neck ( throat) was all unattached.
He had to have a third of his tongue removed and there were sores in his
mouth. The universal conclusion was chronic kidney failure. The uric
acid was n his blood - a count of 120, while 30 is normal and anything
over 80 is very dangerous. He was given Winstrol in addition to
Prednisone ( steroids ) and continues on Baytril.  We have a diet from
Natural Health for Cats and Dogs, Pitcaen D.V.M. low demand on the
Peter and Mary Anne

A: Dear Peter and Mary Anne,

I am not sure that I know exactly what information you are looking for in
the note below so please feel free to send a clarifying note, if necessary.

I am willing to talk to other veterinarians or correspond via email but it
is important that everyone understand that I am not a specialist in any
discipline. I am simply a general practitioner with twenty years of
experience in private practice who is reasonably adept at finding
information for people. There are two good options for veterinarians
seeking help with cases from veterinarians more expert than I am. The first
is the Veterinary Information Network, which is an online service. For
information on this service call 1-800-700-4636. The second is the AVMA's
information service, NOAH. The AVMA has a web page at
There is a link from our linkpage to the AVMA site.

The history provided on "Little Red" is unfortunately not an uncommon
scenario for little dog/big dog attacks. While the exact details often vary
it is not unusual at all for little dogs to have extensive and
life-threatening damage that is inapparent until days after the initial
attack.  It is also not highly unusual for a trauma to occur in a dog that
is harboring an inapparent illness and for the illness to surface during
the treatment and rehabilitation of the little dog.

Attacks by a big dog on a small dog have the potential for injuries to the
kidneys to occur in a number of ways.

Big dogs often shake little dogs during an attack. This may fracture a
kidney or disrupt its blood supply, although this is unusual.

The tooth may penetrate into the kidney or into the tissues surrounding the
kidney and cause damage. Retroperitoneal abscesses occasionally occur after
dog attacks and may surface weeks after the initial attack as the infection
slowly builds in intensity.

Big dogs have tremendous crushing power in their bite and they may crush
tissue such as muscle or skin and cause it to die. When large amounts of
tissue die in the body it is hard on the kidneys and the other organs as
they try to aid in the cleanup of the dead tissue. Organ failure during
this process can occur.

Shock or blood loss from an attack can lead to hypotension (low blood
pressure). When blood pressure is low enough, the kidneys are damaged. In a
pet with marginal kidney function prior to the attack shock can be enough
to set off full blown renal failure.

Infection of the kidneys from bacteria introduced into the bloodstream or
other tissues at the time of the bite and then spread to the bloodstream
can lead to kidney failure days after the initial bite.

A dog with hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's disease) prior to the initial
attack that has not been diagnosed previously may die or suffer aggravated
secondary effects such as kidney failure due to the pre-existing disease.
Addison's disease can have very subtle signs in many dogs and it is not
unusual for it to go undiagnosed until a crisis occurs.

Blood clots formed due to trauma may break loose and damage any organ. The
kidney is pretty susceptible to damage by blood clots due to its rich blood
supply and the way the blood flow is directed through the kidneys. Bleeding
disorders associated with major trauma or shock may lead to kidney damage
as well.

Due to the potential for severe internal damage even in bites that do not
seem to be especially serious based on the initial signs or skin injuries
there are veterinarians who advocate surgical exploration of every puncture
wound found after a dog attack. This is expensive and it subjects the dog
to anesthetic risks which may also be higher due to trauma so there are
also a number of veterinarians who feel that it is better to try to
stabilize the patient and assess the damage more as signs develop. We have
had success and failures using both approaches and I honestly do not know
which is best in the majority of cases.

When bite wounds start to develop secondary complications it is not unusual
for a case to go from bad to worse to really awful rapidly. Attacks by big
dogs on little dogs are true nightmares from a diagnostic and treatment

This attack should be reported to the animal wardens or appropriate
authorities, as you indicate. In some localities it takes two or more
confirmed reports of attacks before any legal consequences are possible.
Since there is the potential for this to occur again it is important to
report this instance.

I wish that I could offer a treatment plan that has consistently worked for
us but there are so many variables in the complications that can develop
from bite wounds that we are often forced to react to the symptoms rather
than being able to prevent all of them.

I hope that Little Red has survived the complications that have occurred so
far. If so, experience tells me he is very lucky and that he has benefited
from caring on the part of his owners and veterinarians.

Mike Richards, DVM


Aggressive behavior

Q: Dear Dr. Mike I have a just-three-year-old Lab/Shepherd mix. He is quite bright (and I am not just saying so because he is a pet) and has been to beginner and novice level training, where he did well. He is friendly to everyone and has a strong play drive. I believe after dealing with him all this time that he was the alpha in the litter because he has challenged me on more than one occasion: we went through the snapping and growling stage, the steal clothes and underwear stage, the get up on the counter and steal food stage. All are currently under control. My now problem is that he is, for lack of a better term, just plain ornery at times: it's almost like he trying things just to push our buttons (which we try to consider and react in a way that will not give him the satisfaction--like the REALLY in-control alpha dog would act). If something will not work, this dog will be fine for a few days, then he has come up with something new. At the advice of a trainer/behaviorist, we are keeping a leash on the dog when we are with him in the house because that gives us better control. Collar corrections (we use a pinch) and using the penny can have little or no effect on him--he just stands there and gives us that goofy tongue-out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth look. Forms of discipline we do use are time-outs and long downs because these seem to bring him back under control. My questions: Is part of the problem with this animal (who is, most of the time, a big "dufus") due to age? If we are consistent with discipline, can he be changed? Or is he training us? Since the naughtiness is cyclical, could it be due to boredom? lack of exercise? part of growing out of puppyhood? I have read as much as I could find on this and consulted with several people, and no one seems to want to hazard a guess as to whether I should hunker in and prepare for this to last the dog's lifetime--in other words, is this an innate part of the animal, the breed, or is it something that will possibly pass in time? I appreciate any input.

A: Diane- While it is hard to give you advice on how to handle your dog without the opportunity to see him. I think it is reasonable to give answer your question concerning the long term probability of changing his personality. It is not possible to ever fully trust a dog that has exhibited a tendency towards aggressive behavior not to revert to that behavior. Virtually any dog can be induced to aggression given the right circumstances and dogs that already have exhibited aggressive behavior are easier to incite. So you will have to be careful for the rest of his life. You sound dedicated to him and this may be acceptable if you can reach a "mostly trustworthy" situation. It is usually necessary to constantly and consistently apply behavioral modification techniques that work and to keep this up lifelong, even when they work well. So this is a long term commitment.

Mike Richards, DVM

Who started the fight? Interdog aggression

Q: Dr. Mike, Recently I was gone for the weekend and I left my dog with a friend of mine who has three dogs of his own. We have done this on several occassions for up to a week at a time. On this particular instance, a dog fight occurred and one of my friends dog was badly bitten on the neck and leg. The dog will survive and be just fine after the visit by the vet. My friend has been quick to blame my dog as the attacker. But my dog has never displayed such behavior. Is it possible that one of his dogs was the attacker and my dog was simply a catalyst? And if it happens to be my dog what should I do to prevent something like this happening again? thanks t.

A: Unless your friend saw your dog initiate an attack, there isn't any way to be sure what happened. It is not unusual for interdog aggression to occur when a new dog is introduced into a household because territorial and dominance issues need to be resolved between the dogs.

It may be best not to leave your dog with this friend since the dogs appear to have reached a point where someone feels threatened and is responding aggressively.

Mike Richards, DVM


Q: I have a 2 year old male boxer/pitbull, neutered, approx 70 lbs, not a social dog. Last year the vet prescribed 1 acepromazine, 25 mg, every half hour, beginning 1 1/2 hr before annual visit. My dog was also under the care of a trainer for fear aggression. At the time of the visit, my dog was muzzled, can only be examined from the rear and had a rapid heartbeat, even after being given the recommended dosage.

For this year's visit, I called the vet and asked about medication for this visit. The dog will again have to be muzzled for the visit, he is still not a very social dog. He reviewed his records and gave acepromazine again, but to give him 3 25mg tablets 2 hrs. prior to visit. I know this drug is classified as a major tranquilizer, but it seemed to have no effect last year. I like my vet but I am uncomfortable with this advise, perhaps needlessly.

I have tried to locate a Veterinary Pharmaceuticals and Biologicals or the Merck Manual to find out more about this drug, to no avail.

ANY information about this drug or a direction as to find more about this drug would go along way to ease my mind.

Thanking you in advance

A: Acepromazine is one of the most commonly used tranquilizers in veterinary medicine. It is a phenothiazine compound. Its mode of action is only partially understood but it involves blockage of dopamine nerve receptors in the brain. It causes tranquilization and also has an anti-emetic effect. This makes it especially useful for treating car sickness, since that is often a combination of fear and motion sickness in dogs.

The recommended dosage for acepromazine is 0.25mg to 1mg per pound of body weight. In most cases it is not necessary to use the higher dosages. That is not true for use in trying to control fear based aggression. Acepromazine is considered to be very safe. The average toxic dose is significantly higher than the recommended dosage (at least 20 times the dose). Despite this, acepromazine does have some significant effects that must be considered. It can cause hypotension (lowering of blood pressure). This effect may be exaggerated in Boxers and there have been anecdotal reports of death of Boxers after the use of acepromazine. In addition, acepromazine seems to make it easier for dogs with seizure disorders to have a seizure. This medication should not be used near the time of dipping or treatment with organophosphates for flea control.

Acepromazine doesn't have any pain-killing effects. Many dogs seem to be able to will themselves to overcome its effects, at least temporarily. This makes it less than ideal as a drug for dealing with aggressive or fearful dogs but there have not been better alternatives for medicating prior to the visit. It works often enough that many vets will try this approach first. We do this when we think it has a chance of helping make an office visit go easier. We just remember to continue to be very careful when examining the dog.

Another approach is to use faster acting medications after the dog arrives at the hospital. I have heard from several veterinarians that Telazol, an anesthetic agent, works very well to facilitate examination of aggressive dogs. It is supposed to be injected but despite that, it has proponents. Some vets have used it orally by just squirting it into the aggressive animal's mouth. I haven't tried this medication personally. We have used acepromazine and oxymorphone combinations with good effect. The oxymorphone provides pain relief as well as sedation and that seems to relieve some dogs that would fight acepromazine alone. Oxymorphone can be injected in the office after premedication at home with oral acepromazine.

We see some fearful dogs at home instead of the office. For some reason, this works very well with some of these dogs. It definitely isn't a "cure-all" but it can lessen the strain of the whole procedure on everyone when it works.

Some dogs do get better from year to year as they come in our office. After a few visits they seem to adjust to the scariness of the office or just resign themselves to the inevitability of the visit. Sedation in the early visits does sometimes seem to help this process. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work this way.

I hope your visit goes better this year, though.

Mike Richards, DVM


Chasing The Mailman

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, I have a terrific Golden Retriever that will be 4 in July. He is great with 99% of the people and loves kids. He has always been the type of dog that we could let off the leash and not worry. He would lay on the front porch while we worked in the yard. Lately (the past 6 months), someone will walk by, and he will run towards them barking, growling with the hair on his back standing up. I truly believe that he would never bite anyone, but he does weigh 100 pounds, and people (rightfully) get scared. During this routine, his tail is usually wagging. He does not go after one particular type of person. We can not tell what is setting him off, and as I said it is only certain people. If the person he is going after knows his name and says it, he instantly stops, and becomes friendly. However, the mailman has become enemy #1. He will chase the mailman halfway down the block. He has already been pepper sprayed once! I know one solution would be to always have him locked or chained up. However, one of the reasons that we got this type of dog, was so that we didn't have to always do this. The only other change in personality that we have noticed is that he will try to mount about 50% of the dogs he comes into contact with if they are both off the leash. Help! What can we do? n.

A: If your golden is not neutered, it may help to do this. While it does not always cut down on aggressive tendencies it works often enough to make it worth a try.

In the meantime, you have to do something to restrain your dog. It is just not an acceptable situation to have him chasing anyone down the block. Fencing works best for allowing him a lot of freedom but not enough to get in trouble. Keeping him inside and walking him only on a leash is an acceptable alternative. It is more trouble but it gives you an interactive event several times a day, which dogs generally like.

Aggression is best treated by someone who can evaluate the situation in person. In many areas there is not a certified behaviorist to go to but if you are lucky enough to have one in your area, please consider this option. It is much better than trying to deal with this on your own. Your veterinarian may be able to help you find a veterinary or animal behaviorist who can help you. If not, your vet may feel comfortable in evaluating your situation and helping out.

Good luck with this.

Mike Richards, DVM


Canine Aggression-chasing

Q: I have a German Shepherd dog that chases after people. What can I do to make him stop? He is fine with my wife and kids but he go's after other kids and he even attacks other dogs. This is a big problem. I'm afraid to take him to dog school because he will attack the other people & dogs. He also chases adult people. He's costing me a lot of money...

A: The best solution to this problem would probably be to put up a fence around your yard. Chasing behaviors are very difficult to stop in dogs. It might be less expensive to have a fence than to keep paying for problems not having one cause.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...