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Jane Lefler
Jane Lefler, Animal Behaviorist
Category: Dog Training
Satisfied Customers: 19760
Experience:  Behaviorist /Trainer and Dog breeder 18+ years
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We have a 9 year old male Blue Heeler. We are having severe

Customer Question

We have a 9 year old male Blue Heeler. We are having severe problems with aggression towards people (and has been this way most of his life). The aggression has gotten worse over the past few years. Our dog for any number of reasons will start barking, snarling and acting as if he will bite (and he has lunged towards and nipped my husband when challenged). What sets him off could be as simple as a wrong look, talking to each other when he can see us, any physical contact such as hugging a friend or family member, etc. We cannot have him around any friends or non direct family. Since we had our first child two years ago we have kept the dog almost always separated from the rooms we are in and do not trust him to be around our children.
We believe he may have issues with his sight at this point in his life, while he can see movement, we think he may have some form of cataracts due to cloudy eyes. We very much want to avoid euthanasia but we are at our witts end and are not sure what to do. Please help us figure out how to handle this situation.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Dog Training
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

Hi, I'm Jane. Welcome to JustAnswer. I'm reviewing your question now, and will be back in touch with you as soon as possible.

Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

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.

What obedience training has your dog hhad?

does your dog shed more than you think he should?

What have you tired over the years to stop the aggression toward others?

Is he allowed on furniture?

Will he go into a crate??

The more information you can give me on what you have tried the better.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
1. He has never had any obedience training.2. He seems to shed a normal amount for his breed.3. Positive reinforcement with treats. Removing the dog from the istuation by putting him outside in the past. Divert attention with toys, etc. Stern voice (firm), while holding our ground. We have also tried holding our ground while ignoring jumping/barking/growling/snarling. None of these methods work any longer (and some never worked).4. He was allowed on furniture until recently (last 2 months).5. We can't even get a leash on him and he will not respond to any commands. In fact, he no longer will leave the room we have confined him too. I highly doubt crating will be safely feasible.Let me know if you need more information.
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

This sound like it has gone on a very long time. Since you really have no control at all over him we will have to approach this a little differently than normal. Usually I would suggest a muzzle and keeping a leash on him but that does not seem like something he will allow at this point in his life.

What I think you will need to do is start with some obedience training. I know you state that now he is unsure about treats and at this point may bite your husband. Therefore, it will fall to you to work with him on training. You will not be able to use any sort of reprimand at all at least initially. Your dog not only thinks he is the boss, he actually is since he now does nothing you ask him to do and makes the rules pretty much in areas where he is allowed. Obedience training my help that situation but it won't be a quick fix. You will need to work with him on simple commands first.

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.

I suggest that you use a treat like paper thin hot dog slivers or chic***** *****vers as a high value treat when attempting these training methods. Dogs who obey a command become just a little more submissive to the person giving commands each time they obey. This is true even if they only do it for the treat. This would hopefully get the dog obeying at least some commands though you won't have much control for at least a few weeks.

Once you have a few commands down pat, you can start having the leash around him even though you don't try and put it on him. If he is like most dogs, the special high value treats will get him close to you and the leash. You want to get him used to it being around. You will do the same for the muzzle. You need to gain his trust again. As he learns more commands, you can attempt to get a leash on him. You will want to take it back off immediately. This will help him realize that you are not trying to use the leash to control him. You will repeat this several times a day until he will allow the leash.

Continue the obedience training perfecting each command in turn. The next step will be getting him back used to the muzzle. Usually you put the treat through the muzzle so the dog needs to take it from inside the muzzle. Once he is used to that you start making him put his head further into the muzzle to get the treat until he is actually resting his head inside the muzzle for the treat. Then you would hold it closed like it was snapped on but release it immediately until he is used to the muzzle and allows its use.

By this point you should have some control over him. At this point you can have your husband start working with him on commands. Since he'll be getting those same tasty treats like he was for you and he knows the commands, it should go pretty well and he'll learn to listen to your husband as well. It is going to be a long process and I'm not sure I would ever trust him around your children or even strangers without a muzzle on.

I do think that you need to have him tested for hypothyroidism to rule that out as the cause of his aggression. Read more on that here:

I do understand that a mobile vet may also have a problem examining him and running tests but you could at least see if there is one near you. The following site may help you find one. Just put your zip code in under house call vets and press enter.

You should also consider a professional in person behaviorist. You should be able to locate one near you using the following site:

Unfortunately, you may not have a choice but to euthanize him. I don't like to see it done for behavioral reasons but if he is unable to be controlled by anyone and professionals are unable to bring about a change in his behavior, you may have to in order to ensure your children's safety.

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 wanted to share a bit more information to see if this helps and emphasize my anxiety with attempting to train.It has gone on for a long time this way. In regards ***** ***** thinking he is the boss, on the rare occasion he does get excited over a treat (i.e. a big slice of lunch meat). He will start jumping and if we say sit in a firm voice (i.e. "Moki, SIT"), he will try to sit for a second or two with his butt wagging until he starts jumping again.Financially I do not believe we will be able to hire a professional to come to our home to help. I spent some time reading the links you provided and I have a few concerns/questions regarding the training process ourselves.1. It appears a lot of the training requires extended time with the dog (i.e. 15 minute sessions as you mentioned). I am not confident he will not get aggressive or aggitated at the very least in this time frame. In fact I am fairly certain he will get aggressive when he experiences something he is not used to almost immediately at which case I would have to leave the room. How should we handle this scenario of repetative aggression?2. It also seems a lot of training techniques (such as using food when the dog is hungry) require some form of physical interaction with the dog at a close distance. When he becomes aggressive, he has lunged and nipped. Being in close quarters with the dog is fairly uncomfortable for me. How should we address this in training?3. In the "Nothing in life is free" technique, it states "Requiring a dominant dog to work for everything it wants is a safe and non-confrontational way to establish control". Will this work for a dog that is also aggressive (or is that what they mean by "dominant")?With that said above, and in response to the rest of your answer, would it be possible to put together some form of semi-detailed (if not extremely detailed!) training plan we can follow? I was thinking something such as a goal driven plan with explanations of how to handle the situations where the dog becomes aggressive during training of the specific goal. Obviously we could set someg goals ourselves (i.e. learn to sit, etc.) but we have no idea of what order would be most effective, what would be most beneficial first, etc.We will definitely get him tested for hypothyroidism once we can get at least enough control on him to leash and hopefully muzzle so we can get him to a vet. I should mention he has a lump hanging by some skin near his ear, it has been there for awhile and is about the size of a golf ball. It came about fast a couple of years ago and then stopped growing in size. It does not appear to be painful or anything such as that, however I was wondering if that is a symptom of something that could be increasing the aggression?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
One other question we had is realistically, what are our chances of even training him to a point that the aggression will be under control considering he is already 9 years old and has had no experience with training at this point in his life?
Expert:  Jane Lefler replied 1 year ago.

Dominant dogs use growls, nips and lunges to control other dogs and people. When you do what he wants, it reinforces the dominant behavior. When it stops working, initially a dog tries even harder to control the person using the aggression, but usually stops after a time of not getting their way. But due to the aggression, you do want a non confrontational method which is why obedience and the nilf program should work to reduce the aggression.

While 15 minute sessions are recommended, you can start with shorter sessions. If he knows any commands at all, start with those and practice them over and over initially so the dog learns that obeying gets him the treat. I have even had owners work on the other side of an enclosure to get the dog used to obeying and receiving the treats. Dominant dogs need strong willed owners. I would try for at least 5 minutes if at all possible. Let him start looking forward to interacting with you so he can get the special treats.

While a dog reprimands with growls, lunges, nips and even bites, he could do a lot of damage if he really wanted to. An aggressive dog can bite and lead to serious injuries when they bite down, shake and rip leading to medical attention. Most states only allow a couple of serious bites before a dog is seized and destroyed. So it does sound like dominance behavior. Let me give you a site on body language that may help you determine his state of mind before and even during your interactions.

Medical conditions including tumors, etc can cause aggression but he was aggressive before that. It really isn't possible to give a detailed training plan without actually having any in person contact with the dog. Evaluation is necessary. I'd start with the simplest command and even one he might want to perform such as come. Once he realizes that you are bringing treats, he'll come when you call. You would need to time it so the command is said hopefully before he starts to come to you even if you have to say the command before he sees you. He needs to associate the command and obeying with getting the treat. You can also wear protective clothing that can help with nips. Thick heavy gloves can help protect hands and leather can help protect arms and legs. They do make bite suits which are quite expensive. Second hand leather items can usually be found at thrift stores for an affordable price especially if condition is not much of a factor.

Your dog's breed usually has a life span of 13 to 15 years, so he still has the possibility of a few years left. It is impossible to tell you what chance you have of training him to be totally safe and I'd never trust him around children without a muzzle. That said, I have seen owners commit to a training program with very dominant dogs who saw improvement in just a couple of weeks. Often they did have a trainer come and advise them on what they were doing correctly and where the trainer thought there could be improvement in how they were training the dog.

You might also try clicker training. With clicker training, the dog is conditioned to associate the clicker with the treat and the clicker with the desired behavior. thus you can mark acceptable behavior with the clicker. This might help with training as well. Here is a site on clicker training basics.

Unfortunately, if you can not work with him or have the financial resources to hire someone to work with him, then euthanizing may be something you have to consider.