He is our six year old mixed breed dog. My husband and I adopted Bandit when he was nine weeks old. He has been with us his entire life. He has over an acre of property surrounded by farm field to explore, daily walks with my husband and I down the dirt road, lots of toys to play with indoors to keep him busy and plenty of affection on a daily basis. He was our fur baby… until one day he wasn’t.
I figured Bandit knew I was pregnant before I even knew I was pregnant. His personality and demeanor changed. He went from being this affectionate, playful pup to Cujo overnight.
Cujo, if you’re unaware, is an aggressive evil dog created by horror author Stephen King. It wasn’t me he was furious with. He was fiercely protective of me, to the point of following me around the house and blocking me from what he perceived to be dangerous. The target of his aggression and supposed danger? My husband. My husband never laid a hand on Bandit, never gave him a reason to be fearful or see him as a threat. We treated Bandit like a member of the family. He was valued and cared for just like anyone else. How are you supposed to love and care for this dog who lunges at you after years of companionship?
It began with growling at my husband if he approached me. We regarded it as strange, but told him no and tried to ignore the behavior. It soon progressed to full on barking and snapping if my husband dared to come near me. The final straw was when Bandit bit my husband and drew blood. The little twenty pound dog left a scar after that event and we became super concerned. We were torn on what to do. It was heart wrenching to even think about what to do. I didn’t want to re-home him, I mean, he’s my dog. He’s been my dog for years. How could I just give up on him like that? But on the flip side, we saw how much damage he caused to my husband, so who’s to say he wouldn’t do that to my daughter when she was born?
I began doing extensive research to try and figure out what to do with Bandit. Thankfully, we are in a MUCH better place now. I’m currently pregnant with my second baby, and he hasn’t had any aggressive episodes thus far. Still, the lingering thought of “what ifs” always keep me on my toes with him. Here are some tips of what worked for our family.
Neuter or Spay your Pet
Bandit wasn’t neutered. It was one of those scenarios where we didn’t need to neuter him. We kept pushing it off and pushing it off, and he was such a good dog that we just put it to the back of our minds. We neutered him just after my daughter was delivered and he calmed down so much.
This may not work for everyone, because aggression can be a learned behavior. In addition, we learned at his neutering that he had several rotten teeth that needed extraction. We had no idea, and his last regular checkup did not show any problems. We had the dental work performed and he was even more miserable than before. He stayed at my parent’s house for nearly a week after receiving both surgeries, and continued his recovery at home after that. His mood shifted from constant anger and guarding to docile yet apprehensive.
Become the “Pack Leader”
Bandit would always listen to me. I could make him do anything I wanted. He would obey me at the drop of a hat, and I used to tease my husband because he couldn’t get Bandit to listen as well as I could. That was part of the problem.
Bandit needed to reevaluate his position in the pack. Currently he thought he was an alpha, or on par with the alpha and he needed an adjustment. Dogs are natural pack animals, and their place within the pack gives them security so they know where they belong and what their job is. An informed dog is a happy dog. In the midst of the changes in his life, Bandit lost his place within the pack and went rogue. It took a lot of training to establish my husband as the pack leader. Once Bandit realized this, his place within the family was confirmed and he was much happier. We needed to establish that all human members of the family were above him in order to make him submissive. I talked to a friend of mine who does professional dog training with the most powerful breeds. She offered me a lot of tips to help establish dominance. Consult professional training to help make this transition to ensure it’s done properly if you can.
In order to become the pack leader, the alpha needs to make the dog realize who is in charge. This means taking total control of the dog’s life. The alpha needs to control when the dog eats and what the dog eats, limit the amount of accessible toys, make him walk with just behind the alpha when going out, practicing basic commands before being granted permission to do anything, and always being physically lower than the alpha.
Furniture is Off Limits
One thing we had to do with Bandit was make sure he was no longer allowed on any furniture. He was not allowed on sofas, on beds or on any other raised surface. This would make him realize that he was not equal to the alpha, and that the alpha was able to sit higher than him at all times. This transition pained me, as I loved snuggling with him on the sofa. It, unfortunately, was a necessary transition because he needed to understand his place. Instead we created a den space for him between the couch and an end table on the floor, and we taught our daughter to respect his space. It’s his own private space where he is free to do what he wants, and we leave him be. He loves his den. Other substitutions for a den include crates and dog beds. Having a space of his own will give him some control and a place for quiet alone time. It’s his security blanket.
Give Your Dog Plenty of Exercise
Bandit never had a shortage of exercise. We live on a large plot of land surrounded by farm field, and he is free to explore this because he has good recall. We also take him for structured walks down a dirt road so he can explore a new area. He has plenty of exercise to burn any pent up energy he may have. Your dog will thrive and be happier if he can burn that excess energy. Pent up energy can increase aggression, and it can also be a foundation for other destructive behaviours like chewing furniture or destroying toys.
Establish Ground Rules and Boundaries
In conjunction with the pack leader training, your pet needs to be aware of the rules of the home. Bandit quickly learned that he was fed AFTER we ate, that he had to sit before he received his food, and that he would not get extra treats if he didn’t finish his kibble. He learned that he was not allowed on furniture, and that his place was in the back seat of the car when we traveled. He learned that he was not entitled to all his toys at once, and that we could take them at will if he did not behave. He learned how to walk properly on the leash at the same pace as whoever was walking him, and he learned that if he didn’t come back when called, he wouldn’t be allowed to roam off leash.
All in all, the changes took months to become effective. We never gave up on Bandit, and he still lives with us today. These changes worked for us, and Bandit has never made a lunge or snapping movement at my daughter. She has learned to respect him and his space, and in turn he does the same. I will never look at Bandit the same after those terrifying few months, but I’m happy to say that things ended up working out. I will never fully trust him around my daughter. He is always supervised and although I don’t feel like I have a lot to worry about now, I won’t let my guard down. He is happier, we are happier and I am relieved that he is still the same part of our family he always was.