Stanley is four years old. The Cocker Spaniel’s aggressive behaviour began about a year ago.

He growls, lunges and bites.

He has been X-rayed for pain and they found nothing, but I’m not convinced. He was given pain killers for four weeks a while ago, and there were none of the usual attacks during that time.

I’m suggesting another pain-elimination trial and discussing hypothyroidism with their vet.

Guarding personal space

They feel the sudden attacking and biting is sometimes ‘out of the blue’, but it isn’t. Each time there have been common denominators.

It’s only ever happened to a family member (parents and two teenagers). It’s only ever when someone has gone into Stanley’s space, mostly when he’s asleep or resting.

This may be because it’s something a non-family member is unlikely to do. He has also started to growl at approaching people if they are out and sitting down somewhere.

He has growled and attacked when they have approached him on one of their own beds. They believe he’s guarding the bed. I feel he’s guarding personal space,

He only guards a location where he is lying or sitting. This can be anywhere. If he’s not in his bed, for example, he doesn’t guard it.

Mixed messages from Stanley

The other day the lady entered the room. Stanley, sitting on the back of the sofa, seemed happy to see her. She sat down next to him and put her hand out to pet him and he attacked her. She has bites on her arm.

It’s very upsetting when the dog you love, and that you believe loves you, does this.

They will look for a medical cause that could either give him pain or make him touchy. They will do things differently for the foreseeable future.

Doing things differently

Stanley should then no longer think, when he’s approached, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to touch me’. He’s instead going to think, ‘Oh good, someone’s walking by and I will be left in peace. I may even be dropped food’.

They need a starting point. This is the  new rule: No going over to Stanley when he’s sitting or lying down somewhere.

They can pet him whenever they like on one condition. He comes to them. So, standing well back from his bed or wherever he is, they call him over. Then he gets a small food reward so it’s always good news for him. Now they can do whatever they want. He has had a choice. He won’t bite.

This should happen wherever he is lying or sitting.

An example

Going back to the example of the lady’s bite the other day. She enters the room, Stanley on the back of the sofa looks pleased to see her.

Now she does it differently. She calls Stanley off the sofa and gives him a bit of kibble she has in her pocket. She then sits down and invites him up beside her for a fuss.

Stanley’s guarding personal space may have become a learned behaviour after a year. That habit must be changed. It can take a long time to build a new habit to replace an old one. Many repetitions.

It’s important the whole family pulls together.

An update one weeks later:
Stanley went back on painkillers last Thursday and we have noticed a remarkable difference in his behaviour since the weekend, not even any growling let alone any snapping and biting.
We have all been following the information that you have given us too and we have all said it’s like having our old Stanley back
We have got 3 weeks of pain killers then we have to go back to the vet for a consultation on how he has been and take it from there.
I am just so pleased to see his normal chirpy, playful alert self back to normal. Seeing him like this makes me realise how withdrawn he has been. It is lovely.
I would like others to know that it is not always 100% something that they are necessarily doing wrong and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help