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Jane Lefler
Jane Lefler, Animal Behaviorist
Category: Dog Training
Satisfied Customers: 18792
Experience:  Dog breeder/Trainer and Behaviorist 18+ years
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My 7-year-old male Akita Husky mix is a sweetheart most of

Customer Question

Hi, My 7-year-old male Akita Husky mix is a sweetheart most of the time although there has been an increase in occurrences where he would be sleeping on the floor next to the couch, next to the bed, in a doorway, etc. and he gets startled, sometimes its at a close distance where a nip possibility may happen, sometimes its a few feet away which feels more like a warning. Now afterwards, I feel as if he shows sorrow and regret for doing that by walking away with his head held low and sitting in the corner or by the front door, especially if it was against me or a family member he would typically be familiar with. My reaction has been a stern "No!" but I get the feeling that that may not be the proper solution. I'm stuck and not sure what to do. I never thought my dog would turn into one with aggressive tendencies. Now I really would love to find a solution to this. Not only because it just seems to be increasing in frequency but also because there is a 9 month old baby in the household as well. Time and interaction is typically monitored between the baby and my dog but there are moments when he could be sleeping and she would be crawling by a few feet and he would startle her. I know his bark and snap is not malicious but I would hate for an accident to happen and result in him having to leave the household. !?PLEASE HELP?!
Submitted: 6 months ago.
Category: Dog Training
Customer: replied 6 months ago.
To add, I have tried letting him know I am there, which has worked. I would then give him a treat for good behavior (the positive reinforcement). My concern is when that is not really possible (i.e. at night when i am sleeping and step down off the bed, with the baby, etc.)
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 6 months ago.

Hi JaCustomer,

My name is ***** ***** I’ve been involved professionally with dogs in the health and behavioral fields for over 18 years. It will be my pleasure to work with you today.

In order to supply you with an informed answer, it is necessary for me to collect some additional information from you. When I receive your response or reply, it will likely take me between 30-45 minutes to type up my reply if I am still online when I receive notice that you replied. I hope you can be patient.

Does your boy have any health issues like arthritis?

Has a thyroid panel been done?

Can you describe some instances where he has displayed this behavior unrelated to the baby?

How long has he been doing this?

How long have you owned him?

What obedience training has he had?

If you are female, is there an adult male in the household?

If so, does the dog display this behavior toward the adult male?

How often do you walk him?

Is he neutered?

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
There is no past history and I believe no symptoms of arthritis. What are some specific signs I should be looking for? I run him off leash everyday and he seems fine. Pretty active and gets a good run in the woods. Still quick and nimble if he needs to be.Never had a thyroid panel done. Would you be able to explain that a little more please?Some situations would be if he is laying against/under the bed a little and someone would step down, he gets startled, barks/snaps. Another would lying in the hallway or in a doorway and someone would approach and he would be startled and jump up with a bark and a snap, as if warning. But after each of these situations he revert right back to a submissive position with his ears down and head held low. As if he feels bad for reacting that way.Hmmm its been increasing in frequency over the last year. He doesn't usually do it with me but it has happen a couple of times. These are when I really noticed the "I feel bad" reactions. To add, he does also have a bit of anxiety with loud noises (i.e. thunderstorms, then the lightning associated with thunder, fireworks, the vacuum, etc.). These usually result in him going to find a quiet place in the house (i.e. the bathroom, the tub in the bathroom, etc). No aggressive tendency is shown with this.I adopted him when he was 9-weeks old. Trained him as a puppy to walk on a leash well, socialized him to people and dogs, to do several tricks like sit, lay down, high five, high ten, and a few other fun ones. After that, he hasn't really had much obedience training. He displays a really relaxed demeanor most of the time, just being able to chill. He usually is a submissive dog with people and has his moments of taking on the alpha role when in a pack. And he typically gets along great with other dogs. Doesn't make any ruckus in the park. Gets excited when he sees other dogs but not in any sort of aggressive manner. To add, there is another 3-year old female Ridgeback Mix in the house who doesn't display this sort of sleep anxiety so I can presume its not a learned trait. They get along pretty well. They do have their moments if one dog goes for another's treat, they may have to be separated. I sense thats an alpha thing between them.I am a male, There is another male and a female adult presence in the house. The other dog is female. And the baby is female, if that matters.He typically is walked in the morning after breakfast, sometimes before depending on the morning. Again midday, usually for a bit longer off leash time to allow for more release of energy. And then again at night after dinner for about the same time as the morning walk. Walks usually last between 30 mins to an hour. There are the occasions I get to take him for a good hike and he'll get a lot more exercise.And yes, he is neutered.I've included a picture or two as well so you can have a better idea of what kind of dog he is. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to reading your response.Dave
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 6 months ago.

Thanks for the additional information. It is helpful. He is absolutely beautiful.

The first thing I recommend is a complete physical including imaging for hip issues and arthritis. Also have a thyroid panel run as hypothyroidism can cause sudden aggression. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism can include hair that breaks off easily or sheds excessively. You can read more on medical causes of sudden aggression here:

I'd also have his hearing and eyes checked. He may be startled and acting aggressive as he can't see as well as he used to or hear as well. This might startle him into acting aggressive until he can tell who it is.

If he doesn't have any medical issues, then it is strictly behavioral. For behavioral issues, I'd recommend starting up formal obedience training so he again sees all the humans in the house as the boss. It doesn't have to be with a trainer but does need to be a set time set aside just for training. The reason you are doing obedience training is so he gets used to obeying your commands and becomes more submissive again to you. Dogs that are submissive to humans do not reprimand them which is what growling and nipping is. The following site is helpful in helping owners train their dog. Be sure and click on the link to the page on obedience at the bottom. and links on subsequent pages leading to detailed instructions.

Training works best if you train at least 30 minutes a day (two 15 minute sessions). I would start making your dog work via the Nothing in life is free program (NILF). It is outlined below.

All humans in the household should participate at one time or another. I would also teach the dog to avoid the baby. If he is growling at the baby now, then it is to show his displeasure and warn the baby to stay away, but as the baby gets older, the dog might start reprimanding in a more physical manner such as a nip. So you have to stop this now.

I would start teaching your dog to stay a certain distance away from the baby. You will leash your dog and if the dog gets within 3 feet of the baby, you will give the dog a short tug on the leash and a firm, low toned NO. Since he hasn't been kept away from the baby, it may take a bit of training before he realizes that he is no longer allowed near the baby. Once he starts stopping the required distance from the baby, start rewarding him with a tasty treat like a thin hot dog slice. Don't use boring normal treats. At this point you will see him stopping long before he gets to the baby. It is important that you reward this behavior with both treats and praise. Once he has it down pat, you can start sometimes just using praise and sometimes treats so he doesn't know if he is getting treats or not.

At this point, you will want to teach him to move if the baby gets within 3 feet of him. So you will move the baby into his space and then using the leash move him away from the baby the required distance and give a treat. Since he already know he isn't supposed to be close to the baby, it may only take a couple of times before he sees that he needs to get up and move if the baby enters his space. Since treats are involved, they usually learn quickly. Again, treat for desired behavior. This is important because when the baby starts walking everywhere, the dog needs to move out of his way.
Most of the dogs that I have trained have learned within a few weeks but the owners worked with the dogs daily and were very consistent. Once the baby is around 3 years of age, then the baby should be able to say sit and down with a little conviction. At this point, you will start the baby giving the dog known commands to teach the dog that he has to obey the child as well.

I'd also recommend giving him a crate to sleep in. You can have it in your room. This will be his safe place where he doesn't have to worry about people stepping on him, getting too close or startling him. it can be a safe place. He won't need to worry about any other dogs either. You also have to make sure no one bothers him in his crate and teach the baby not to go near the crate. That is the dog's special place.

I do suspect that he has a medical issue and likely the result to fading eyesight, hearing or a thyroid issue. Get those checked out but in the meantime, start training. Training never hurts and I always recommend teaching dogs to avoid babies and young children.

I hope this information is helpful to you. If you would like any additional information or have more questions please don’t hesitate to press the reply to expert or continue conversation button so I can address any issues you still have . If you do find this helpful, please take this opportunity to rate my answer positively so I am compensated for my time.

Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 6 months ago.
Hi David,
I'm just following up on our conversation about your pet. How is everything going?
Jane Lefler
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 6 months ago.

Just a quick followup to see how things are going with your dog and if you were able to rule out a medical cause for the problem. I also want to remind you that rating does not prevent you from asking followup questions.

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