Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Forever Home for Sadie?

Thank you everyone, for the great advice on catching my spotted pill! I read every comment thoroughly and wish I could have replied to you all. The ideas and techniques were insightful and practical and have brought up some points I want to elaborate on in a future post. I will keep you posted on what I try and how it goes this weekend.

Since you were so good with that, I had to write this post and ask you all for some advice for my sister, Paint Girl. Many of you are not only equine lovers and owners, but those canines have a huge spot in your hearts, as well.

My sister is struggling with one of her dog's behavior right now. She has two dogs. Bailey is a 2 year old 3/4 Australian Shepherd, 1/4 Border Collie. He is the friendliest, loving family and farm dog. He is just a joy of a dog to have around. Goodness, he is always Mr. Happy Waggy Tail! Well, he doesn't really have a tail, just a bobbed stump with hair!

Bailey adores me and I call him "my dog." He doesn't have a mean bone in his body.

A little over a year ago, my sister had to put down two of their beloved aged dogs at the same time, one due to severe hip dysplasia, and the other due to a blown out knee. To keep Bailey young and in good company, they began the search for a new puppy and responded to an ad for purebred Australian Shepherds. My sister wanted a blue merle female and found one in the litter of 8. This little one was also one of the tiniest puppies in the litter. My sister put a deposit on her at about age 7 weeks, then visited her every week until she was ready to be weaned. They named this puppy "Sadie" and she came home to live on the farm with Bailey, the cats, goats, and the horses about a year ago in August.

Sadie when she was brought home an innocent fluff ball puppy; her big brother Bailey protectively watching her in the background.

Ever since she was brought home as a young pup, and more noticeable around the time that Sadie was spayed, she began to display some alpha female aggression. She would growl and occasionally attack Bailey for no apparent reason. Then, the aggression was turned on my sister. At the advice of a cousin who had experienced similar issues with her female Cattle dog, my sister eventually pinned Sadie to the ground and held her until she submitted, and the problem seemed resolved. Sadie and my sister were best friends for a while.

However, the problem with Bailey continued. They would play like best buddies one minute, then Sadie would get territorial about the garage, or some unknown thing, and turn on Bailey. Bailey would never fight back. He would often cower or hide behind the car or in the corner of the garage if Sadie walked in. My sister tried positive reinforcement techniques that she learned from watching The Dog Whisperer, and these seemed to help lessen the issue for a while. A month would go by with little problem, it would soon resurface again. My sister said it almost seemed mental. Sadie would just go crazy for no apparent reason. After a full day outside and playing, resulting in one very tired dog, she would get really cranky and even more growly and aggresive.

Bailey finally found his backbone. This non-aggressive dog had had enough. He began to fight back! My sister's boyfriend had to tear the dogs apart during a few of their fights. Once Sadie was yelping in pain because Bailey had a hold of her ear so tightly. The last fight, this week out on the property during horse feeding time, Bailey got a cut on his nose that almost required stitches.

Bailey and Sadie are still good friends some of the time, too!

We can not solve the mystery of the aggressive female dog. My sister's fear is that Sadie will turn this aggression onto neighbor dogs, children, the other farm animals, or, human friends and visitors to the farm. My sister is not sure this dog can stay part of their family. She loves Sadie dearly as she has raised her since she was a little pup, and she has her sweet moments. However, she feels that it is unfair to have Bailey live his life in fear of being attacked. One just never knows what will set her off. My sister has even considering having her euthanized. Her reasoning here is that it is unfair to place a known aggressive dog into another home. Although Sadie has never "attacked" a human, you do not want a misunderstood dog to end up in the wrong hands, only to end up passed around, abused, or possibly at the shelter down the line.

This is tearing my sister apart. I have recommended that she seek the advice of her trusted veterinarian, who should be able to suggest a behavioral therapist for dogs or a possible cause. Has anyone out there ever experienced anything like this with dogs? Any ideas for a resolution?


  1. This was very hard for me to read. I get upset because it hurts so much to have a dog I have raised be aggressive. I have never had a problem with an aggressive dog before.
    In the beginning we thought Sadie might be protecting me or that she was jealous when Bailey was given attention. It seemed to only happen while I was around. Than it eventually started to happen when both my boyfriend and I were home. Than while I was at work a couple months ago they got into a huge fight while my boyfriend was feeding the horses. It seems to happen for no reason. Last week Bailey and Sadie just walked by eachother and just bumped into eachother a little bit and Sadie went all out attack mode.
    You can even see a certain "look" in her eye. I call it the evil eye. It's like something just snaps in her brain and she wants to kill Bailey. She has never tried attacking any other dog or human. But I do get scared that someday she might.
    I love this dog. She was supposed to be my princess. But I have a really hard time seeing Bailey get attacked for no reason. Bailey deserves better.
    Sadie is now 1 yr and 2 months old. My boyfriend keeps saying that she will outgrow it. I don't think she will. It is not a puppy thing. She is dominant, Bailey is submissive.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated and if any of you have any questions I will answer them all here. I will check back often.
    Thank you!

  2. I had to put a golden retriever down about nine years ago. She was a love, but she would be aggressive (bark, growl) to strangers. Because we had a baby, the vet recommended that we put her down. Goldens are know for being sweet, which made her all the more dangerous. In her defense, I found my neighbor boy abusing her one day. This started her aggressive behavior.

    I loved that dog so very much. But, I don't think I've ever regretted putting her down. I think she could have seriously hurt someone one day. I think your sister should trust her gut (she already knows what would be best for all involved) and either give her away to a rescue willing and able to deal with such behavior, or have Sadie put to sleep. I realize this opinion may not be a popular one, but I lived with a dog I could not trust for too long. Good luck!

  3. Talk about a way cute fluff of fur. She was an adorable puppy!!

    I am not sure what to do. I have never had a dog be so aggressive.

    I might try keeping Sadie on a lesh?? I am not sure. Maybe she needs to be put on some drugs, like in horses we use Regumate, if I spelled that right. Maybe Sadie's hormones are all out of wack?? I really have no clue?? Good luck Paint Girl and I am sorry I am no help.

  4. Andrea, I thought exactly the same thing (hormones out of whack) which is why before any decisions are made, I think Paint Girl must take her dog to the vet!! My friend's took their border collie, (who I will be staying with next week) to the vet before the birth of their baby because their dog was not good around small children. But the vet said to just see what happened as the baby would be part of the dog's "pack." All is fine, their child is now 13 months and the dog is completely fine with him. However, he is still not fond of their friend's small kids...he barks and runs circles around them (typical herding breed behavior.)

  5. Hi I am Beth and I am certified applied behaviorist with a degree in behavior from University of Wisconsin - Madison.

    1. STOP THE CESAR MILAN TECHNIQUES!!!!!!!!!! They are NOT postive reinforcement BUT NEGATIVE PUNISHMENT and cause the behaviors to go away momentarily only to come back with a vengence which has happened. (pinning a dog, using a choke chain, snake biting, forcing them to walk behind you, kicking them...are NOT POSTIVE METHODS!)

    2. Get to a behaviorist that uses TRUE postive reinforcement, NO alpha pins, choke chains or prong collars. NO punishing her for her actions. She needs to be counter conditioned...NOT reprimanded that will only make it worse.

    3. Merles are a gentic defect and usually have some kind of brain defect and can be a bit whackier than usualy.

    This is not something you should get advice on from lay people, you need a professional...now. before someone gets hurt further.

    These people are certified and use the right methods that will get this problem under control. and are in seattle. I dont know where you are but call them and find out if there is a behaviorist in your area. You need a BEHAVIORIST NOT a trainer. a trainer WILL NOT FIX THIS.


    I BEG of you to please please please not take advice from people that ARE NOT PROFESSIONALS. STOP the negative punishment of Cesar Milan and get yourselves to a behaviorist that can help you. It will most likely be expensive....but if it will help you fix it, it will be worth every penny.

    Also, so many people think there dogs are dominate or an alpha and they really arent. You need this diagnosed by professionals.

    I am sorry if this comes off as harsh, but it is sooooo dangerous to get advice on something this serious from non-professionals. I do this for a full-time living in Wisconsin and I specialize in aggression, using punishment will only make the behaviors worse.

  6. Yes, you could go to a vet and get a thyroid panel done to make sure that is not out of whack, because unexplained sudden aggression can be caused by an out of whack thyroid.

    BUT if you go to a vet make sure they recommend a BEHAVIORIST NOT A TRAINER and one that uses Positive reinforcement NOT CESAR MILAN methods. Vets are NOT behaviorists (unless they are a vet behaviorist) and should not give out behavior advice. It WILL NOT RESOLVE ITSELF...IT HAS NOT RESOLVED ITSELF.

    This is most likely not medical because it has been happening for sometime.

    Also, the more you let her rehearse this behavior and practice it the worse it is going to become....

    please please please get a professional involved. If you want to call me to discuss further, please email and I will provide my phone number.

  7. Hi Beth, I have never used a choke collar or prong collar on Sadie. She only wears a normal nylon collar. The positive reinforcement I am doing is rewarding her GOOD behavior. Sadie has to go into the garage before Bailey or she'll growl or attack Bailey. I use to have so many problems getting them into the garage. Now Sadie knows that if she goes into the garage without growling or aggressive behavior she gets a treat. She'll go straight to the treat jar. I no longer have issues with the dogs coming into the garage.
    I do not beat Sadie when she is agressive. I use a firm voice. This aggressiveness does not happen all the time. The full on attacks occur about once a month or less. Although Sadie does growl at Bailey quite a bit. It seems to happen more when she has just woken up or after a long day of playing when she is really tired. Even after the full on attacks once they are done they go back to playing like nothing ever happened.
    Thank you for the helpful information and I would like to contact you about this issue.

  8. Paint Girl & Pony Girl: I've had some limited experience with training dogs and this is a very serious issue. Establishing the 'pecking order' and boundaries is one thing, but ongoing aggressive behaviour such as you are describing is not something to trifle with. ESPECIALLY if she has already been aggressive with a human, as indicated in the post.

    I urge you not to attempt to deal with this on your own or through books. Consult with an experienced dog trainer who has specific experience with aggressive behaviour. I highly recommend Custom Canine (http://www.customcanine.com)in B.C. and perhaps they can recommend someone in your area. They specialize in non-aggressive behaviour modification. (I agree with Beth. She has given you very good advice.)

    If not dealt with, it WILL, not might, lead to a very dangerous situation where someone will get hurt.

  9. Paint Girl-
    I second and third Beth and Carolynn's advice. We have had Aussies in our family since I was 10, and they can be a very difficult breed to work with/train, and they can also have some really common issues, such as agression, that should be handled by a professional.

    Most of them, them being the ones with issues, not the normal ones, can, with help from a professional,learn to be good dogs again, but there are always the exceptions.

    I now only get rescue Aussies and work with problems that are known to exist, vs starting with a new puppy.
    Good luck...it looks like Beth gave you some links to check in to.

  10. What tough decisions to be made. I don't have good advise but I have had a blue merle collie from pup untill she died from old age.They are beautiful dogs, my dog Lady was very loyal and protective and I think they are known for that in their breed.I love watching The Dog Whisperer which you mentioned it sounds like Sadie is the dominant dog, she is a beautiful dog, if things became unbearable I would find another home for her I hope you find a solution :(

  11. And here is a fourth. I live with a Jack Russell Terrier, a Belgian Malinois and an Australian Cattle Dog all of which are breeds who can have aggression issues. I am a dog walker and trainer. I seriously recommend a visit to the vet to check everything including thyroid AND double checking lyme disease (which can cause some odd aggressive behaviors.) Whatever you do, you have GOT to stop doing random things that a cousin told you or that you read in a book or saw on TV. Go to a professional trainer be it a behaviorist or not who has had some real success dealing with dog on dog aggression. If you don't know anyone who can refer you to someone, go visit several trainers and see what they do and pick one whose methods are something you feel comfortable with and have had success in other similar situations. Then, do what that person tells you to do and ignore internet advice and tv shows, etc.

    Obviously you both care about this dog otherwise you wouldn't have written this post. This may or may not be a solvable situation. I've seen dogs who just cannot live together peacefully. From what you have written, Sadie seems like a reactive dog and with quite a bit of work it might be possible to give her more of a threshold before she would go after Bailey.

    Good luck!

  12. I agree with Beth that she should use no C. Milan techniques. He does what he does and gets away with it, most people cannot and his methods will cause more damage and get poor results.

    I also agree that a vet is not the solution as many do not understand or apply the four quadrants of OC well. They are medical people, not generally knowledgeable about behavior.

    That said, I disagree that she must have only a behaviorist, or veterinary behaviorist. There are plenty of very good dog trainers who use OC and Positive +. I've heard horror stories about some "behaviorists". I am a dog trainer who has had very good luck with aggression cases. And I use mainly R+.

    The reason the garage is no longer an issue, is because you have changed what it means to go into the garage. It used to mean something bad, now it means something good (cookies). However, you cannot just willynilly throw cookies at an aggression issue and solve it. You must understand how dogs learn.

    You say that she attacks for no reason, my guess is that there is a reason but that most people don't know how to observe the precursors and defuse them. Your sister is ahead of the game by seeing (observing) the behavior associated with entering the garage and changing how it happened to defuse the situation. She can .probably. do that with other situations too.

    Is this little dog timid? Has she been exposed to other dogs to see how she reacts to them? If so, is she aggressive and again, if the answer is yes, is she this way everywhere or just at home or just away from home.

    Without being there to see what is actually happening, it's hard to tell if this is a learned behavior, a possible genetic issue (I have a little dog here who will never be a stable individual due to genetics) or medical. Or some or all of the above.

    I did feature an aggressive aussie on my blog as I was working with him, his name is Bear and he made significant progress over the months that we worked together.

    good luck and you or your sister may also contact me if you wish.

  13. PS. I am also using behavior mod on a kitten at the barn right now. Your sister might want to follow along with my progress for her.

  14. I have always had a dog like this. It's just been a thing, I don't know why but somehow when I own a dog I always end up with the problem dog. I call them the special dogs. They are to me, best described as austistic. You will find that, oddly, these dogs also tend to be the ones that bond the best to the one owner. They train up really very well and do really great at things like agility or herding (depending on the breed of course, my present dog is a boxer and doesn't herd). Do not, under any circumstance, go to your vet for advice. I have seen so many people go to their vet for advice and I'd say 99% of the time it's the worst place to go. They are not behaviorists and have never been trained for it. They are trained for something entirely different. I have been a dog trainer in the past, back in the day of dominance training, the kind that I hate and won't use. Sadly there are still a lot of them out there and I will tell you right now that does not work with this kind of dog aggression problem. I've owned enough of these dogs over the years to know. You will have a hard time finding a trainer to work with, many many trainers will flat out not work with aggression problems. When I got my present mental aggressive dog we knew he had problems so I did my homework and lined up a trainer asap. The first place (only really) I called for help? My nearest local pit bull rescue. They are your best resource. They are the best people to go to for rehabing emotionally traumatized dogs that may or may not have mental problems due to breeding or people abuse (in your dogs case she's most likely got some wiring problems). Some dogs just don't know how to cope. What you need to do is find out the best way to train her to teach her how to deal with certain situations. She's just reacting inappropriately. The big issue is going to be untraining years of her habits and then retraining her to do something else. The good news is she's a smart dog. It'll just take some serious time and energy. Re-homing her, not such a good idea. It worked for my dog only because the old owner found me. not a lot of people out there willing to put out the time, money and effort into a psycho autistic aggressive dog that has been known to attack dogs and people. Find your sister a good non dominance trainer. See if you have a local pit bull/ mastiff or dane rescue and see who they use. If you can't find one let me know. I belong to rescues and I can put the word out and find you one. If all else fails my trainer does over the phone training. Don't freak out too hard though, she can be helped and she is not by any means the only one, you should meet my Jaynie (he's on prozac). Also, there are several book I can reccomend to start out with.

  15. Oh yeah and BTW, Ceasar Milan is a freak of nature and I would never ever in a million years let him anywhere near any of any of my dogs. Ever.

  16. I love the close up pic of Bailey. May I use it to sketch from?

  17. Good luck with that. I have a female Cairn Terrier that gets aggressive with my old Shitzu. It happens over food or attention. The fighting is few and far between...maybe 3 times a year, but when they go at it, it is vicious. I am at a loss as to what to do as well.

  18. KD~ sure, you can sketch from the photo. I'm sure my sister would love to see it! ;)

  19. I am sorry for you, Paint Girl. My blog yesterday was dealing with the same type issue but with a horse, it is breaking me up inside so I really appreciate how hard this must be for you but I think it is up to you to get to the bottom of this.

    IMHO- First, go and see a vet. Not for behavior advice but to eliminate a physical reason for her actions. Blue merles especially, and Aussies in general (as with many other breeds) are known to have genetic issues that effect temperament. I would hate to see you spend time, money and put your emotion into trying to fix the unfixable. Hormones, sight, hearing, pain, brain tumors, and countless other things could be the cause.

    I would start there. Even though it will be expensive, it will still be cheaper than professional trainers (over time). If I were in your shoes I would not consider re-homing the dog unless a professional was willing to take it.

    I am so sorry that you are having to deal with this...Having animals is always a blessing, but it is not always easy!

  20. Holly, to answer your question about Sadie being timid. She really isn't timid but at times she might act a little scared about some things. But for the most part she is not.
    Yes, she has been exposed to other dogs and has never had an issue with them. Our neighbors dogs come over to our property quite a bit and they run and play and our dogs go to the neighbors property. We let our friends bring their dogs to our house. When we take our dogs for a walk in the neighborhood if a dog runs up to the fence barking and going crazy our dogs will bark back at them. My 2 older dogs I used to have did the same thing. When others walk theie dogs down the road and I am out in the yard with mine they will run up to the property line and stop and just bark at the dog walking by. She has never tried attacking another dog except for Bailey. Although I sometimes worry about that because of how she attacks Bailey.

  21. Again, the best advice from fellow bloggers and again I do not have any advice other than seek a pro. I wish you the best of luck Paint Girl.

    My babysitter had a dog recently that would literally fight with her other dogs and because she had bunches of kids there everyday, she did not wait and got rid of the new puppy (whom her established dog would fight with and hurt)... we got the puppy, that was our beloved Tank and he was a precious. Her other dogs went back to being non aggressive.

  22. Paint Girl: YOU DO NOT HAVE A DOG YOU RAISED TO BE AGGRESSIVE. Don't fool yourself, there's not a lot you can do. We have two dogs who don't get along and we just have to keep them separate. I don't just mean the occasionally will fight, I mean any chance they are left together they will fight to the death. But, both dogs are incredibly sweet to the girls!

    Some dogs just have issues and it usually roots back to their breeding. It's not something you did or didn't do. I know how it feels. Have you considered keeping them separate all the time? We literally have to put a sign on the door that says, "Don't let Ernie in" if Sinjin is in the house.

  23. You said, she acts afraid sometimes. Wellllll, I dunno. I don't think, given the description of her playing with the neighbor dogs, that she is dog aggressive in general. That is a good thing. However I think the = between her and Bailey might need adjusted. If she acts badly what happens? Does she get yelled at then allowed to go on her way? I think it needs to be changed to aggression = time out somewhere away from the fun. A crate? A tie out. Somewhere that she has no access to Bailey. Every time. No exceptions. Aggression = something less happy than what she is getting now.

  24. I'm late chiming in on this one, but all the diagnosing is certainly entertaining!

    My two cents: What you're describing does sound like fairly typical behavior for herding breed b*tches (I grew up with several Belgian sheepdogs, one of which had a similar habit all her long life). They can be more aggressive, and odd things (odd to people, anyway) can trigger dog/dog aggression out of the blue.

    Paint Girl, if you can, you may want to check with the people who bred her. It's possible that the behavior is something that runs in that particular line of dogs. They may have some advice you can use. It's also possible that if things get too bad, they might take her back and help you select a more family friendly dog from another litter - good breeders often will.

    (I'm just going to cross my fingers and hope there was no puppy mill involved here!)

    Another suggestion? Get some advice from a (or more than one, if that makes you happier) person familiar with herding dogs. Try contacting the Aussie Rescue people, not to place your dog, but to see if there's anyone in your area who they'd suggest might be helpful to talk to, a good breeder, a good trainer, etc.

    Good luck!

  25. It is called female aggression. It happens. It is a pecking order! Some females have aggresion toward other females. Just like males have towards other males. It is a territorial issue. It is a behavior issue. I disagree with the No such thing as a "dominant, or alpha" Of all the dogs I have had.There has always been a dominant one. Not mean or agressive toward people.Unless they felt we were threatened.
    But if other dogs come in our yard. You can bet they weren't in here for long. Or if they felt other people were a threat to our kids.They become protective. Is this a form of aggresion? I think so. Even at feeding time, the Alpha, the boss, the top dog eats first.Just as horses do. It comes from the strongest survive, and taking care of their "pack". Your pup needs help, behavioral, or training? Whatever shows the effect of the change. I hope you find what works for you and your dog.


I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

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