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Jane Lefler
Jane Lefler, Animal Behaviorist
Category: Dog Training
Satisfied Customers: 19765
Experience:  Behaviorist /Trainer and Dog breeder 18+ years
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We got our Doberman Pincher at about 12 weeks. We are the

Customer Question

We got our Doberman Pincher at about 12 weeks. We are the only family other than the breeder (who was in Serbia). When we got him, we noticed that there were a few nipples missing, and asked my vet, but they said that sometimes happens by litter mates and rough play. Every since he was a baby he has played extremely rough. When he was in the car, when someone walked by or came to talk to me, he would growl and bark ferociously. He still does, but not when people walk by, rather when someone comes to the window of the car. He used to growl and lunge toward our housekeepers. One day we were in Carmel and a couple of teenagers approached him. He turned on them, growing and acting extremely inappropriately. These behaviors caused us to invest a good amount of money into intense training. with this he improved greatly. Also, the trainer identified the problem as being provoked when people are in his space. To me especially, he has always been cuddly and sweet. I often kissed him and he would kiss back with a lick. Never ever has he shown aggression towards us with one exception. He went through a period when he growled at us, and i noticed it was if I had my hand on his neck. We did a lot of training and he stopped the growling which only lasted about a week. Until last night. Last night i kissed him on the cheek like i often do and he lost it. Without any warning he began biting the back of my head, pinned me down and left several gashes. Fortunately Brian was around (the dog's dad) and pulled him off me. Today the dog has been crying and seeming extremly sad, as if he knows he really screwed up. I do not know what provoked him (personal space? but considering the past, it is a very strange reaction. As you can imagine, I am heartbroken and do not know where to turn.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Dog Training
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year 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.

Did you do the training with the trainer, or did the trainer do the training or someone else in the family?

Where was the dog when you kissed him?

Is he allowed on furniture?

Did most of his problems start after he was 12 months of age?

Has he been neutered?

Has he had any imaging done by your vet?

How often do you formally practice his obedience training?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I did the training with the trainer.
The dog was standing on the floor and I was sitting on the couch. Often I kiss him that way, but it was the first time I also kissed the other cheek.
He is allowed on furniture
Actually opposite, before when he was growling and remedied soon after. So the really bad growling stopped before age 1
Not neutered (but will be soon now!)
No imaging done
We live in the mountains and have been walking him off leash. He responds perfectly to voice command and an e collar (we use vibrate to warn him and that all it takes. Haven't practiced in a while. Although he only listens when ecollar or prong collar is on him. Not a 100% though. He will sit and stay with out collar, but much better with.
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

Thanks for the additional information. I'm typing your response now.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thank you
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

Definitely get the neutering done now. It will help though it will take up to a month for the hormones to stablize.

It sounds like he is reprimanding you and usually that happens when a dog feels he is in control and the boss. Some males start displaying dominant behavior at puberty (around 7 months) but many dogs don't challenge their owners until about 18 months or so. They made do so unobtrusively by just not obeying as quickly or only obeying when they feel like it or when they might be reprimanded (training collar?). They might object when you do something they don't like or if you try to make them do something they don't want to do. When that happens they usually will give a warning like a growl and if that is ignored, they will nip and if that is ignored really steop up the reprimand. Now I don't know for sure that is what is going on but It may be especially given the circumstances.

I know you have kissed your dog for a long time but dogs do not like to be hugged or kissed or leaned over. Some dogs do not even like having their heads petted though most dogs don't mind that if you are not looming over them. It is something that all behaviorists and most trainers know and usually communicate to their clients. Read more on this here:

In addition, part of your dogs aggression issues may be due to a medical reason. Dobermans are prone to both hypothyroidism and to disc issues especially in the cervical (neck) regions. Hypothyroidism can cause sudden aggression and can appear to be for no reason. Read more on this here:

A thyroid panel will need to be done to ensure that a thyroid imbalance isn't the problem. They are prone to disc problems and since you were touching the neck at one point when he attacked and leaning in or over to kiss a cheek might have put pressure on the neck or moved his neck which may have caused pain from a bad disc. Read more about disc issues on the following pages.

Part of it may still be dominance based as well and stepping back up your obedience training should bring him back under control though I'm going to suggest a different method without using the collars. Training collars have their place and I do use them for long distance recalls, but prefer using a positive based training or a balance training method. So look over the following site. 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.

Use a high value treat like hot dog slivers or raw liver. Each time a dog voluntarily obeys a command (even for a treat), it makes them just a little more submissive to the person giving the command. Right now, if he doesn't obey, he will get a tone indicating possible shock or a reprimand from the prong collar. While voluntarily it is also based on negative reprimands. We are turning that around and instead of reprimanding him, we will reward him for doing the thing we are asking him to do. This makes him want to obey and not be forced to obey. That does make him want to be more submissive to earn the treats. As he becomes adjusted to this new positive training, you will gradually reduce the number of paper thin hot dog sliver treats and substitute calm praise or a favorite toy as a reward. Always have treats on hand so he never knows when he will get them and when he won't. We use little pouches that can be carried on a belt or around the waste. Over time, the dog becomes submissive to the human voluntarily. As such it is the humans job to determine who comes in and what will be done or not done. The dog doesn't get to make decisions on what is allowed. Also the boss gives reprimands not the submissive members. Try this type of training and see if you don't notice a difference.

Definitely get the medical issue checked as I suspect they may be a contributing factor as well. I'd also not allow him on the furniture. Dogs that are allowed on furniture tend to feel that since they are elevated to your level or higher if on your lap, they mentally feel elevated as well in the pack order and thus are the boss. Keeping them on the floor can help lower them mentally back to a submissive position in the pack. Attach a leash and use it to remove him from the furniture. Give a correction in the form of a short tug to get his attention and firm "NO" when he attempts to get on and a treat when he starts not trying to get on the furniture. Thus you are providing negative reinforcement for the getting on the furniture and positive reinforcement for the desired behavior (not attempting to get on the furniture). It won't take him long to realize staying down gets him treats. Some people give a dog their own lower piece of furniture to sleep on which is acceptable.

I hope this information is helpful to you. If you would like any additional information or I missed covering something or you 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.

If you have questions in the future that you wish me to answer, you may click here and bookmark the page or make it a favorite. It is best to put my name "JANE" in the question as well.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
What do you say to the fact that he did not growl or give any warming, rather spontaneously just attacked me. That is what is so unsettling about the whole thing. He was happy, smiling, playing with us, then I kissed and he lost his marbles out of nowhere! No growl or warning.
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

It is possible that he feels he has given you enough warnings and that you should know better by now. However, it is more likely a reaction to pain or the result of a hormone imbalance. That is why I stongly suggest having a thyroid panel done and imaging to check for disc issues. You seem to have done a lot of training though the methods were not necessarily positve based training which can cause a dog to reprimand physically as well. That is also why I suggested some retraining using only positive based techniques. A medical cause would happen with virtually no warning especially if pain was the underlying cause.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
But he has never growled with the exception of twice a year ago. He has always been a happy happy dog to us. If anything, too clingy. Not us in him, him on us.
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

The points you are bringing up are the reasons I have been asking you to rule out medical causes for the aggressive behavior. If this is do to hypothyroidism, his behavior could be erratic like you are seeing and he could indeed do you serious harm. The same thing applies to his behavior if pain is involved. I'm not sure if you have had back pain before of know someone that has, but sometimes just a wrong movement or having your body moved or head moved in the case of the neck region can cause very severe pain. So get that ruled out first. If it is medical in nature you may not need to worry about the aggression as you can treat the underlying cause.

I would still start practicing commands again using positive methods so he'll start listening even without the collars.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
By the way, we have always rewarded him when training, I guess I felt that was a given. He loves to train. He has been such a cuddled and always wants to touch me. I am so confused. It would make sense if it was a neck issue, the hypothyroid feel doubtful only because he doesn't have other symptoms.
The day he attacked earlier he was pushing on toy on me and I zapped him at 35 and he yiped. That was weird too. Normally he doesn't flinch at 55. I wondered it that was anything to do with it?
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

It is hard to tell if it had an affect. When they get zapped, they tend to jerk which might cause him to move his neck differently and thus hurt it. The problem with using a shock based training collar is that they do end up associating the shock with you if you use it in certain ways. In the situation that you describe, he might associate that shock with you. He has to know by now that if you dont' have the remote in your hand, he doesn't get shocked. Most collars even wardn owners in the manual not to use the collar in situations of aggression as the dog may associate the shock with an attack by the person or dog they are close to. I do know many people use the shock collar for training and am not saing it is necessarily wrong, but I've found consistent positive based training done on a very regular basis (at least 3 times a week) until a dog is at least 4 years old helps keep a dog under control. I do believe training should be lifelong, but doesn't need to be as often once a dog is fully mature and settled down which typically happens after they are 3-4 years of age.

Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

Hi. I'm following up to see how things are going and to find out if my responses to you were helpful.