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Jane Lefler
Jane Lefler, Animal Behaviorist
Category: Dog Training
Satisfied Customers: 19832
Experience:  Behaviorist /Trainer and Dog breeder 18+ years
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My 1 1/2 year old neutered male Cavachon (Cavalier Spaniel +

Customer Question

My 1 1/2 year old neutered male Cavachon (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel + Bichon Frise mix) has had a sudden change in behavior for the past 1 week. He is not a rescue - I got him from a reputable breeder. He is the only dog in the house, there are no kids, just my husband and me. He has always been a bit fearful, but now he is reacting by showing fear aggression towards me mostly - he is pretty much ok with my husband. He gives me mixed signals by nudging my hand to pet him, bringing me his ball to play - but when I do try to pet him he gets wide-eyed and starts licking his lips and his tail goes down. He has snapped at me three times (this past Fri, Sat, and Sun) and actually bit my hand on Sat out of fear. There has been no change in our routine, so I am completely at a loss of words as to what could have brought this on. He has never behaved like this before! It seems he is getting more and more fearful of his surroundings all of a sudden. He is well-trained, knows his sit, stay, etc commands. He has been spoiled rotten - I have babied him way way too much. What should I do? What is the reason for this all of a sudden and why particularly towards me? I have not hit him - only yelled if he did something bad. He has not been socialized with other dogs and is afraid of them. He does try to hold a stare with me and has a 'mad' face while doing so. I am not sure what to do because I don't know what I did that is provoking this behavior - I am afraid of him now and don't want to pet him even. This has never happened and I am heartbroken by not being able to cuddle and play with him. We had a dog trainer come by twice and he did the choke chain method but that did not help. I feel that he is very insecure and lacks confidence, but I don't know what to do to help him right now since he is so afraid of me - but yet still giving me mixed signals. Please help!!!
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.

I am not sure this is fear based aggression at all. In fact it seems to me to be dominance based aggression. The fact that he is ok with you when he wants you to play with him, or do other things that he wants to do but then will lunge or bite when he doesn't want you to do those things. Those are kind of classic ways a dog will react when they are attempting to reprimand you for not knowing what he wants you to do or if you try to get him to do something like get off of a couch or move out of the way or even if he thinks you might want to pick him up and he doesn't want to do that.

Many dominant dogs are described as well behaved until you try to get them to do something they do not want to do, and then they reprimand you either with a growl or bite if you don't heed the growl. Your husband is male and he may see him as the boss, while you are female and have in your words babied him and shown him attention when he did nothing to deserve it. Alphas get attention without earning it, so he feels that you see him as the boss so he is reacting accordingly.

Dogs that are allowed on furniture (even if put on the 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. So the first thing is to not allow him higher that the humans or even on the same level. In addition, humans shouldn't be on the floor with him either. A small short stool is enough to keep them higher than the dog when petting the dog. Attach a leash and use it to remove him from the furniture. Give a correction in the form of a quick tug 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).

There are other ways to regain the dominant position in the house as well. The best way is to start obedience training. While a formal training class is great, you can start obedience training without a formal class. 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.

If there is some small component of fear aggression as well obedience training helps with that as well since the dog knows what to expect and what you want them to do and becomes more self confident which lessens the fear.

You will also want to keep a leash on him at all times initially to grab if he should disobey. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well your dog does with training. Dogs like knowing what is expected of them and they love the little paper thin slices of hotdogs that I use for treats while training. Give this a try and see how it works for you.

You do the training and you do not need to use a choke chain, but you do need to use a little tug to get his attention on you if it isn't already and a firm low toned no if he is not acting appropriately. The training site I gave uses positive methods to train which makes the dog want to obey you. The important thing is that each time a dog obeys you even if it is for the treat, it instills the obeying behavior in the dog and they become a little more submissive to you with each obeyed command until it is second nature for them to obey you. Submissive members do not bit or reprimand the bosses.

You won't be able to just give him affection for no reason, but you can have him obey a command and reward him with affection.

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.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I can see where you are coming from, but I disagree a little bit in that he is really not a dominant one; he bites/growls/shows any warning signs (licking of lips, ears pinned back, bellyrub position) out of fear. He is defending himself more or less in that state. I just don't know what he is fearful of and why he feels the need to defend himself. He is like this with the vet, groomer, and now me. I am the one who feeds him, bathes him, takes him out - everything. Yet, he has 'turned on me' so to speak. It's like he is playing with me one minute and the next minute he sees a ghost or something instead of me, and starts acting fearful. I have absolutely no idea what is going on and now I am fearful because of his snapping. He already knows commands (sit, stay, down, etc). - would obedience classes still help? He shows these warning signs to my husband too - he has snapped once or twice at my husband as well - but he is doing it moreso with me instead. I understand I need to be the boss and take charge; I am working on that already. He has always been allowed on furniture, has slept with us in our bed, has had food/water all day long, and I would take him out whenever he signaled that he had to go to the bathroom. Right now, I have him back in his playpen so that his area is restricted, I put his food and water bowl out for only 15 mins once in the morning and once in the evening. I take him out only once in the morning and once in the evening as well (twice in the evening max). I want to be able to pet him, but I am afraid to do so. Last night, my husband was just saying good night to him on the sofa and he started growling randomly. We don't know when to expect it and that scares us. It isn't only when we tell him to do something he doesn't like. I don't know the trigger of his fear and so I don't know what to do to correct it now either?
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

It is possible it is a combination of the two. Many dogs are aggressive with people they don't know.

I did forget to mention the medical causes for sudden aggression which may be an issue here. Sudden aggression can be the result of a thyroid condition. . Read more on these conditions here:

More structured obedience training does help with fear aggression as well. It helps the dog gain self confidence as he learns that when you say one thing, you want him to do a specific thing. Your reward him with calm attention and hot dog slivers. Obedience training is never a wrong choice and can only help the situation.

You have to get him off the furniture. Believe me, it will help. Try my suggestions and see if you don't see some improvement. Use them hot dog slivers as treats and he'll gladly be obeying you to get them. Give commands to get him to do things you want like command him to come if you want him off furniture. If someone wants to give him affection, make him obey a command first and make him get down when you are done petting hiim. It shouldn't be HIS decision on whether he is on the furniture or not. It should be the human's choice. So even if you want to pet him, if he jumps up without your permission, you have to make him get down before you invite him back up. This lets him see it is not his decision but yours. Dogs don't always like being in charge of themselves. They like when someone takes many decisions away from them.

I should also mention that just leaning over a dog can be viewed as an aggressive gesture by a dog. You should crouch down in front of them and invite them to you rather than lean over them to put a leash on or pet them.

Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.
I'm just following up on our conversation about your pet. How is everything going?
Jane Lefler
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

Just a quick follow up to see how things are going with your dog and if you had time to have his thyroid checked yet.