Rehabilitating a Dominant Beagle

The following story is told by Laura P., a beagle rescuer who fostered Jed, a strongly dominant beagle, before finding him a new home.

The first step we did was hand feed Jed all his meals. We made him do obedience commands for each handful of food. This established the fact that we were the givers of his food and in control of it. We all know food is a beagle's reason for living. :-) We did this for 1 month solid. Then, if he started acting up we'd do it for about a week until he relearned his place. It really helped a lot with the rest of his aggressions.

The second thing we did was ban him from ever having bed privileges. Believe it or not, this was another really big hurdle that helped change Jed's entire attitude. Some dogs just get the big head if they are allowed on the bed. Jed was one of these. Once we stopped allowing him on the bed ever, he quickly lost a lot of his aggressive attitude.

The ever present crating was another step we used in helping Jed understand his position with the pack. He was crated at night and on the occasions that he tried to usurp our authority. When we crated him we would gently coax him to get in the crate and give him a treat once he did. If he was silent for 5 minutes while in the crate we would allow him to come back out. If he fussed and whined, he stayed in until he could be quiet for 5 solid minutes. It took him about a month of this to realize the difference. And again, his aggressive behavior lessened.

By the third month of Jed's living with us we only had a few issues remaining and most of those were due to the fact that my husband never participated in hand feeding him. That is the most amazing part. Jed would never give me any trouble (I hand fed), but with my husband he would act up on occasion.

Body posture was another factor that played a lot in whether Jed would bite or not. We learned to pay close attention to how we were approaching him and watching his face for clues as to how he was going to react. He had very clear signals when he was on the verge of biting. It is very important to spend a few weeks observing a dominant dog's reaction to everything in order to have a clear picture of what to look for and be able to avoid biting situations.

Another thing we would do is pay attention to our tonal quality. Jed was very sensitive to certain vocal tones. I've noticed that fewer dogs have problems with females than males and I'm betting its the voice that is the cause a lot of times. Once my husband learned that it does make a difference he would change his pitch to a higher one when dealing with Jed. He encountered less and less resistance when he did.

Also, another huge factor that helped with Jed was the way he was "punished". When Jed was doing something that we didn't like, instead of yelling at him, or reaching over to slap him, we would call him to us (using a happy voice). Once he did come, we would praise him, praise him, praise him and immediately have him sit, or down stay for a few seconds, and then repeat the praise. We never physically punished him. To me (common sense), beating a dog or physically correcting it for bad behavior only makes the aggression worse, not better. So in all situations we would find any reason to praise Jed. The transformation was incredible!

Within a 3 month time frame we had a dog go from being on death row because he was considered too aggressive, to being a beautiful, sweet and loving companion. I won't take all the credit for this, I had a lot of people help me with the very advice that I just gave. Plus, basically Jed was a good dog underneath all this aggression, he just didn't know how to show it. By establishing order and firm rules right from the start we gave Jed the freedom to be a dog, which in turn, gave Jed the chance to behave like the dog he really was. The one factor that I have seen repeated over and over with a lot of so-called "aggressive biters" is the fact that their humans have treated them like human children and think of them as human. This is not fair to the dog. It causes a lot of them to misinterpret signals and once they are confused, it escalates into fear which in turn advances into fear biting. Dogs like clear signals and rules.

Thanks so much much to our friend Laura for telling her story!

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