View Full Version : Fear Aggression in Farm* Dog

Dec. 12, 2009, 08:23 PM
*Story is supposedly a farm dog, though she's terrified of farm animals . . .

I am in a dismal mood tonight, feeling like a total failure and a miserable dog mom. I don't think my woeful tale will result in any solutions I haven't thought of myself, but I need to share my worries or I'll cry.

Short story -

My dog is fearful and aggressive, and getting worse, and I don't have the time, money and emotional energy to give her what she needs.

Long story-

I adopted my ACD, Story, from the shelter a year and a week ago. I am a mother with one other dog and three human children, and have breed experience (the beloved dog of my childhood was an ACD, though I confess that my mother did most of the early training and socializing).

I should have listened to my gut when I met her . . . she was fearful, reactionary and defensive in her posture when she met my other dog at the shelter, and her general demeanor was very submissive, but the staff assured me that she was a great, social dog and I was very pleased with her interactions with my children.

She is AWESOME with my kids. She is awesome with my cats, my rabbit, and my other dog. In all other situations, she is increasingly defensive and, now, fearfully aggressive. She's still very submissive towards my husband, though not afraid, and he's not crazy about her (in fact he really dislikes dogs, but he always treats her with loving kindness and a friendly voice).

Our issues started with not being able to introduce her to strange dogs without a fight breaking out. What used to be a tail-tucked, fearful, submissive posture at the shelter turned into an outright defensive snarly nip in real world interactions. This has not been too much of a problem, since I avoid off-leash dog encounters, but it's a factor that I have been aware of and have done nothing to fix.

It escalated to being unable to introduce her to human strangers. She was in the habit of fearfully, submissively urinating for the first couple of weeks with us, especially around my husband, but got braver as time passed and particularly gained confidence with my female friends who are occasional houseguests. She used to tolerate visitors comfortably as long as they totally ignored her - cringing and shrinking if they spoke to her, but fine if they did not - and we taught her to use her crate as a safe space to get away. Then, after about three months with us, she began to herd my mother, who is a frequent visitor, with HARD, SERIOUS nips to the heel.

I began keeping her on a leash around my mom, who was the only one she had ever done this with, early this year. The behavior increased to the point where now when she sees my mom she starts lunging and peering eagerly at her in a weird, glassy prey-drive kind of way. She has tried lunging at her but been brought up short with the leash.

While all this was going on, I was doing my best to socialize her by taking her out in public, on-leash, in low-stress environments and carrying treats so that people could offer her a treat if she approached. I kept her interactions really calm and only had people greet her if they were A) willing to act casual, B) not frightening her, and C) offering a treat. She has begun to eagerly greet SOME strangers, which is a big improvement (she used to fall down peeing on herself, submissively urinating and lying on her back, at the sight of a man inside or outside the home). She was really relaxed around women and kids in the home at this point.

Next, she herded a neighbor child with a nip to his pant leg when he walked past her over the summer. She tripped him and he fell, though she didn't make contact with skin. Since then, we have had a strict 100% crate rule all the time when we have company, but she growls and bristles and postures and snarfs ferociously when strangers enter her crate room, including frequent visitors with whom she is familiar. When she was loose with one of my most trusted friends recently, she rushed up growling and snapping at her feet in a pretty aggressive attitude, so that was a failed experiment.

Lately, Story has started to rush the door snarling and barking ferociously (NOT a happy bark) when my husband gets home, and has even bitten his boots before she realizes who he is. It makes him feel frustrated to come home to such an unpleasant welcome!

Yesterday, my preschooler tripped and fell on Story. TOTALLY not the dog's fault, but she whipped her head around with an angry snarl and a feigned nip (no contact, and again, not really the dog's fault). It was frightening to her AND the kid AND me but no harm was done by the dog. Harm TOO the dog, maybe . . . today, she's been skulking around looking paranoid and afraid every time the kids move quickly, which is a very bad sign as far as I'm concerned. I don't want her developing a fear of my children! She's already afraid of so much, including my goats and mule (she won't even go within a hundred feet of the barnyard).

Today I had her with me at the office. (I take her with me when I can, as she poops and pees in the house if left out of her crate when I'm not home, no matter where my husband and kids are. Another frustrating issue.) The place is usually totally dead on a Saturday, and she was off leash since we were all alone. Unbeknownst to me, a coworker entered (I should have been prepared, and I blame myself for not thinking of this possibility in advance). Story has met this coworker, a very dog-savvy lady, at least six or eight times and each time the coworker has given her dog treats and spoken to her nicely. There has never been a frightening or weird encounter with anyone at work for Story and I wasn't even thinking there could possibly be one. Story feels relaxed at work and might be starting to get a feeling that it is her territory.

Anyway, the coworker entered, passed an open doorway where Story and I were standing, and proceeded down the hall without my noticing. Story went after her like a bolt of lightening, chased her fifteen feet down the hall and lunged, snarling, at her calf. She bruised her calf through her jeans (it looked like it hurt!) but didn't break the skin.

Coworker was great about it, but we both agreed that this type of fear aggression is escalating to a dangerous point.

Here's the "I'm a crappy dog owner" part - I know what she needs. She needs a lot of safe, careful, supervised opportunities to associate new dogs and new people with happy feelings - positive feedback for good behavior - trips to a trainer, if possible - time - effort - etcetera. All of this sounds great, but as a busy mother of young children I have been struggling to find time to devote to Story's reform. We have been struggling financially, too, and hiring a trainer is completely out of the question. I can't even afford to get her vaccines this winter!

I have had a bad couple of years with dogs. You may remember that I posted an ACD puppy for adoption two winters ago, since he was given to me when I wasn't ready for a new dog and had fear biting issues of his own. He found a great home, but it was still a hard thing for my family to do. Before that, we had an otherwise healthy, friendly APBT/Pointer mix that we had euthanized for bizarre aggression issues that our vet felt were due to his epilepsy. It was heartbreaking for my oldest daughter but we had tried everything, consulting trainers, vets, medications, etcetera.
Now I feel like I don't ever want or deserve to own a dog again, since I've apparently screwed up with yet another difficult dog.

I feel like I've had three dogs in a row with whom I've bitten off more than I can chew. We are conscientious pet owners in other ways, though we've had trouble lately finding enough time and money for the pups since my husband got laid off in the spring. We're both working lower paying jobs now, so our schedules are busy, and unfortunately Story does spend a fair bit of time in her crate since her abandonment anxiety issues make her behave badly when I'm away.

Story gets a medium amount of exercise (ball games every day, at least, and walks when we can) and will have more time with me soon, as my work schedule has been revised, so there's a chance that her behavior will improve and her anxiety will decrease just through having more time together. I know that a lot more exercise would be good for her, but I struggle with getting out enough since I have a toddler and a preschooler who are not very good hikers. She used to be able to go riding with me, but with no precipitating incident she has become absolutely transfixed with a strange terror of my mule (he never kicked her or anything - I'm 100% positive of that - she became afraid of him when she saw him after dark one night and she hasn't been willing to go near him since).

I don't expect you guys to be able to say much to me other than that, yes, she does need training and exercise and socialization, and that no, she's not going to get better with the current routine. I just feel so overwhelmed by all the stress of being broke and busy and constantly worried about money and time, and this on top of everything has just sent my spirits plummeting.

Thanks for listening - needed to get that off my chest!

Dec. 12, 2009, 08:24 PM
Holy Moly, that's long! I didn't realize I had gotten so carried away! Sorry.

Dec. 12, 2009, 08:38 PM
I am sorry to read this, but if you cannot rehome this dog with someone who can deal with this, for the sake of your Mother's and your children's and coworkers safety, it would be best to euth the dog. I am not sure what an ACD is anyway, but if this type of behavior is common to the breed, next dog you get, switch to a dog that you absolutely, positively know is of a good temperament, and comes from a reputable breeder that has properly socialized the pup.

Dec. 12, 2009, 08:48 PM
ACD's can be difficult dogs, especially when they mature, as you are finding out.
They are not for beginner dog owners or those that are not very intense into training.

We get them regularly at our dog obedience lessons and the nice ones are extremely nice, but too many have problems and some are severe.
They are my favorite breed, but even after years of training dogs, I don't want the heartbreak getting a very touchy one brings, so I have never had the heart to get one.

One of our trainers has two and one, even after many years of intensive training, is still not a reliable dog and will go after people if not very well controlled.

In your situation, it sounds like you have one of the touchier ACD's and a bad home situation for her and someone is going to get bitten, sooner or later, when everyone's guard may be down.

We need to realize that some dogs, just like some people and horses, are really not sociable and to the point of being a danger to others.

No easy solution there, ask your vets about this, as I am sure they have plenty of cases like yours to tell you about.

Dec. 12, 2009, 08:48 PM
You didn't ruin this dog. She sounded messed up to start with.

What does your husband do when the dog charges him? If my dog did that to me once she wouldn't do it again, unless the dog was insane. I won't tolerate aggression within reason (ie the dog went after somone who was attacking me, maybe).

You may not have the time to deal with her, with 3 kids, but it sounds like she really needs discipline more than she needs reassurance. No sentimentality, just rules. I'm not saying don't be nice to her, but a very fearful dog needs a real framework and very consistent rules. She sounds like she has a lot of issues.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do. What I wrote probably doesn't help, just some thoughts.

Dec. 12, 2009, 08:58 PM
Sorry, have to agree with sdlebredfan. I would rehome her and if a home couldn't be found, I'd have her destroyed. It doesn't sound like any of it's your fault so much, it sounds like she came to you neurotic (and I have to wonder about the people at the shelter where you got her claiming she was a great socialized dog) and is getting progressively worse.

I don't think it sounds like you "screwed up" with this dog, the puppy, or the PBT/Pointer mix. It sounds like you aren't a situation that's good for a dog with major behavior issues. You have children and your mother and your job--you may not have the time or atmosphere a seriously disturbed dog like this one needs, ditto the puppy (and I fail to see about having to have a dog put down because it had a brain disorder is in any way "screwing up"--if the pointer mix had epilepsy that was causing it to become aggressive, you didn't screw up, you just got a sick dog.)

I would rehome her or put her down, and look into getting a dog either from a breeder, or from the type of adoption/rescue that does a lot of retraining and in-home fostering before they adopt the dog out, so you know you're getting a dog without serious behavior issues and who's suitable for your lifestyle.

Also, ditto on not knowing what an ACD is.

Dec. 12, 2009, 09:09 PM
ACD = Australian Cattle Dog

herder, heel-nipper

A friend used to house-sit at a ranch with several of them. I visited her there once for an overnight and she warned me not to get out of the car when I got there until she came out and called off the dogs. Then, as we were heading off to bed, she said that if I needed to get up during the night that I should call out to her first, so she could get the dogs so they wouldn't nip my heels. Not exactly what you want to think about as you drift off to sleep.

Dec. 12, 2009, 09:16 PM
I remember the other post about Story.

I am sorry for you.

Having dealt with dogs like Story, and having one at the present time that is a gray area dog, I would suggest euthing her. She's going to need a really specialized environment, finding that is going to be difficult at best. I love Cattle dogs (for the poster who wondered what an ACD is...Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Heeler/Cattle dog/Queensland heeler), have one of them myself, so suggesting this is hard for me but honestly, her behavior is going the wrong way and you don't have the time or the skill to deal with it yourself. It would be a terrible, awful, very bad thing if her behavior became even worse and one of your children was injured.

Dec. 12, 2009, 09:35 PM
I'm sorry to hear that you are going through this with a dog that you only had good intentions for. I don't have anything personal to add, but did want to share a few links to sites with information and tips:




Dec. 12, 2009, 09:52 PM
She is going to be difficult to place given her issues. My only suggestion would be to contact ACD rescue and see what their advice is. They can probably give you a better idea of whether or not she can be re-homed. I enjoy herding breeds, but from what I understand the ACD is very, very high maintenance and they are often not big on strangers - even when well-trained and properly socialized. I would definitely contact an ACD rescue group, though, and see what they think. People who are familiar with the breed will probably have a better idea of what would work with this dog and what wouldn't. Frankly, I wouldn't advise anyone to take on a dog that is charging them on the internet, without knowing what the dog will do. That is a battle that you shouldn't take on unless you are certain that you will win it. If your husband isn't crazy about dogs, he may not.

Dec. 12, 2009, 09:53 PM
Aww, OP, my heart goes out to you.

You're right. You *do* know what the dog needs.

You're in a tough situation with a very difficult breed to be in it with, and as you said, it's not going to improve if you continue as you have been. Perhaps if you contact the local breed rescue or breed club they might have an experienced volunteer who could work with you on training.

As you have described her as being really fearful and anxious from the start it might be worth asking your vet about meds to take the edge off of that anxiety. Given the circumstances, it's possible s/he might be willing to just write a scrip for fluoxetine ($4 a month at the chain stores) or an anxiolytic like clomipramine (about $14 a month at Costco) over the phone. Ask your vet. Meds aren't a substitution for behavior modification, of course, but it can make a big difference in how quickly the behavior mod progresses.

You know you have to do *something*. These things don't get better on their own; they just get worse. If you really can't make some changes and get some assistance, and no one with the resources (knowledge, time, skills, maybe finances) to help the dog appears (whether to train or rehome), there *is* the option of euthanizing her. I'd strongly suggest you get some input (and not just from folks who've never met her) to help you make that decision and not do it entirely on your own.

I have to say that for many fearful dogs having them take treats from strangers is still too much for them. There's a book by Leslie McDevitt called "Control Unleashed" that is great for fearful/reactive dogs, particularly the "Look at that! Game". Pam Dennison's "How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong; A Roadmap For Rehabilitating Aggressive Dogs" is good, as is Ali Brown's "Scaredy Dog". It sounds like you have good instincts, and sometimes a slight change in approach can help. Books are available from dogwise.com, but as finances are an issue, you can likely get them on an interlibrary loan. Books are no substitute for a good trainer or behaviorist, of course.

Good luck to you. It's a rough situation to be in even when you have lots of time and money and skills.

Dec. 12, 2009, 09:59 PM
Citydog, that all is good advice, but in the household as described, with young kids underfoot, we have generally erred on the side of the humans.
Too bad if the OP keeps trying, for the dog's sake and a kid gets seriously bitten.:no:

Definitively get a professional on board, as none here can do more than guess at the situation, even with your clear and very descriptive words.

Dec. 12, 2009, 10:08 PM
I have a herding breed (English Shepherd) who could be aggressive when he was younger. Luckily I worked with his breeder, who told me the problems were due to him thinking he was the boss, so he would assess a situation and decide what to do, instead of looking to me to tell him what to do. I worked with him so it was clear I was the boss, and that solved the problem.

I am sure your situation is not exactly like mine, but the herding of others means your dog is putting them in the "livestock" category -- beneath her! So, she should never be allowed to herd others. The breeder recommended the Nothing In Life is Free training approach.

I cannot offer advice on the fear issues, but it might be worth a try with the NILF approach. Best of luck.

PS Why not join a cattle dog discussion list; I'm sure you'll get good advice there too.

Dec. 12, 2009, 11:31 PM
Op here is a link to ACD rescues.

they have links to al the ACD rescues in the county here. Contact them and see if they can help rehome Story, or foster her, or take her.
She is going to be come a danger to your children. And while I will always side with a dog, human children have to come first.

Dec. 12, 2009, 11:40 PM
I hope you can stop beating yourself up over this.

And then..

read your post from beginning to end like you didn't write it.

It reads like a disaster waiting to happen. Each time there has been an incident you have a reason/excuse for it. There have been sooo many thing that have happened that indicate that this dog is a serious potential threat to your children and your husband and your mom and your friends and your coworkers and - perhaps in time - you.

I would explore anti-anxiety meds in a totally controlled situation AWAY from every other person.. if they seem to be working, then try to rehome her. If not, I would euthanize her. As my working student said recently about a horse who acts much the same way - she is warning you, why don't you believe her?

I have a border collie who had taken his herding drive and turned it into something that had to do w/my daughter and him possibly nipping her. It took some significant retraining but he is rehabbed and safe around her - but when I find a single dog home for him, he will be leaving... he will be much happier that way. Sometimes the situation you have is just not right for a certain dog. You cannot rehome the children so something has to change - and please, sooner rather than later, meaning don't wait for yet another incident to happen. Your dog has warned you many times.

Dec. 13, 2009, 12:41 AM
What EqTrainer said.

I was bitten quite badly, (and entirely unprovokedly,) on the back of my thigh by an ACD three months ago. It was a mess, hurt like the dickens, and has not only left a physical scar but also made me a bit twitchy around strange dogs, which is a problem in my line of work.

But it was just my leg. It could have been a child's face. A fact that seems to be entirely overlooked by the in-denial owner.

I'm really sorry you are having to deal with this, truly I am.

Dec. 13, 2009, 10:00 AM
I would euthanize her if you are not prepared to deal with her yourself. I would not take her out to work or let her roam the yard. I would keep her on a leash 100% of the time etc etc. She is dangerous (not her fault, but the truth) and cannot be trusted.

Dec. 13, 2009, 10:05 AM
Wow. You are not a failure, didgery, but the shelter who adopted out a high-drive ACD with fear-aggressions issues to a busy household with small children? Yeah. Big-time adoption fail.:no:

I know it won't be easy to find the ACD another home, but I really think that's the direction in which you should focus what time and energy you have budgeted for this dog. Homes do exist for fear-aggressive high drive dogs - I've had several over the years myself (unfortunately I'm at my dog limit right now) - but it may take some looking. Your local rescues, while they probably won't take her themselves, may be of some help in locating a home.

ETA: I'm not sure where the Cascade foothills are, exactly (geography fail :D) but if it's in the PNW, you might try contacting That'll Do Border Collie Rescue. Yes, I know, not your breed, but it's a fantastic organization and someone there may be able to help you - either with rehoming or with management suggestions if you decide to keep her. Most rescues will try first to help find a way for the dog to stay in its home if possible.

Dec. 13, 2009, 10:12 AM
A dog that is fearful, growls, fights, bites AND placed in a busy house with children is NOT a good combination.

You know that. It's hard to accept but when a dog is actually snarling and biting then things are bad.

Personally speaking I'd strongly suggest a muzzle and time to think carefully.

Try the shelter you got her from in the first instance. See if they've any trainers who might be able to help or if they can take her back. Though it's beyond my reasoning why the heck they'd rehome such a dog to a family with young children and another dog!

Then the Australian Cattle Dog breed association and see if they've a rescue that might be able to help.

If you can't get help or a trainer, then having her put down might be the best and safest solution taking all things into consideration.

I know it's a touch decision but seriously you can't risk one of your children being bitten.

Dec. 13, 2009, 11:14 AM
I am not really this new to the board, but had to rejoin due to other issues:)

I would have the dog evaluated, especially thyroid, and if that is ok, it is a cheap fix. I did rescue for years, and the one thing I could not handle was the odd attack. Often those dogs were low thyroid, and if that was the case, things got better. If not, I had some one not with the rescue evaluate. In one case, a dog who had lived with kids that nipped me, just nipped me, I had a bad feeling about. After about 3 days at a board and train kennel, he went after the kennel worker. The same person who had fed walked and played with the dog- it happened 2 more times, and I had the dog put down. I was mad as hell-the people who turned him in to rescue HAD to know what this dog was like, and if I had trusted them and rehomed him, what a mess:(

Anyway, I also know a littermate to my dog was put down, same weird aggression stuff, came out of the blue. Vet felt it was brain tumor or something wacky like that:( could be the same with yours.
I would not rehome, and the shelter should put her down if she goes back. A breed rescue might be your option.
Good luck, it is never easy.

Dec. 13, 2009, 11:47 AM
carboncopy - thanks for the reminder about thyroid.:) I had a chow bitch once who was Seriously Bad News -spayed her and got her on thyroid meds and she was like a different animal. Actually became quite affectionate.

A member of our rescue had a similar experience with a BC bitch.

It's not an expensive test, by any means. The vet just pulls a little blood and sends it off to the lab.

Moderator 1
Dec. 13, 2009, 11:51 AM
The OP has already gotten some input, but as this thread isn't horse- or farm-related, we're going to close it.

OT days over Christmas...

Mod 1