Three-year-old Jack Russell Monty has bitten three family members. Each time it was so sudden and quick they were left stunned. This is a rare case where it really did seem to be without warning. It is possible that gradual build-up of stress to the point where he exploded was a warning of sorts if they had known what to look for.

Having a dog that may suddenly bite means you can no longer relax. They are living on a knife-edge.

The first bite was about two months ago when he was about to go out for a walk. The lady went to the back door with Monty who sat as usual. She bent down to attach his lead to his collar.

Monty went for her.

He was hanging from her hand as the lady screamed for help. The injury was so severe that the hospital feared she may need plastic surgery.

A month ago it was the gentleman’s turn to get bitten. As with the lady, he bent to pop his lead on to go for a walk – a slip lead now. The man hadn’t yet put his shoes on unfortunately. Monty snarled and attacked first one foot and then the other. There was a lot of blood.

Since then he has had to wear the slip lead constantly because nobody dares go near enough to take it off him. Unfortunately where the tag is stops it from hanging loose.

Monty has gone for the man’s feet since, but sensibly he now always wears his shoes in the house. The family adore the little dog they have had since a puppy and the poor man is deeply upset. Since that time Monty attacked his feet, he growls each time he moves.

Beyond the expected screaming out and turmoil after the bites, Monty hasn’t been punished. They aren’t angry, they are hurt and terrified that he may end up having to be put to sleep. Understandably they don’t know what to do.

The first more minor incident was about six months ago. Before that he was fine. Monty had nipped or bitten two or three other people on the hand – people who tried to pet him thinking, wrongly, that his jumping up at them was friendly.

Because of the sudden escalation a couple of months ago we need to look at what may have changed in his life at that time. Had anything happened? it’s important to rule out a medical cause. They did take Monty to the vet and he had to be sedated before they could touch him, but no thorough examination was done unfortunately. The vet believes it is behavioural while I feel that extensive bloods and X-rays should always be taken to rule out a medical cause for such a sudden and major decline in behaviour.

As Monty paced around the room, trying to get people to throw balls (unsuccessfully for a change), to watch him it was hard to believe the damage this little dog had done – though I did stay sitting and kept my hands to myself!

Jack Russell on kitchen tableFrom the behaviour angle, I feel there are two things they need to concentrate on. One is to lower Monty’s stress levels as much as possible in every way they can. He is constantly so hyped up that he’s like a volcano ready to erupt and they feed this with constant ball play. There are four adults in the family and someone is at home most of the time – throwing his balls for him.

When they are out, he may be on the kitchen table where he gets a good view out of the window, waiting for things to bark at. They will make this impossible now.

He only settles later in the evening.

The second is that he, in effect, has four human slaves. He isn’t fed dog food but pandered to. There is nothing of any value they could use for rewarding him as he gets it anyway — in abundance. In fact he turns his nose up at much of it, knowing they will fall over backwards to add more or create more variety.

So, my second assignment is for them to toughen up around food. For ‘meals’ they can feed him the best quality dog food (no additives or e-numbers or cheap fillers, all of which can effect behaviour). The ‘good stuff’ like chicken and liver can be cut up very small and fed constantly to him during the day – but only for doing things they ask him to do or for rewarding him when he chooses to do something they like – like lying down instead of pacing or hunting for hidden balls still not removed.

If he wants to be let out, instead of just opening the door they can ask him to sit, then reward him and then let him out. They can regularly call him to them and reward him for coming. They can do some of the training tricks he learnt when younger, and reward him. They can call him away when he’s barking at something, and reward him.

All balls should be lifted. They can then initiate short sessions with the ball, when they feel like it, and then they put the ball away again – giving Monty food when they do so.

If he has to start to work for the special food, he will start to value it – and more importantly, he should start to value his humans and their wishes too.

I feel that only then should they try to get that lead off him (he’s perfectly happy to trail it about by the look of it). They need to have formed a rather different relationship with him. They then will need to take it in very small stages – using the special food of course. If they take him for a walk, they can attach a second lead to the handle of the slip lead, keeping well away from his head – using food. They can keep well away from the door and scene of bites when they do so – sitting in the kitchen maybe. They can call him, once, and if he doesn’t come he misses the walk or they can try again later.

If he wants things of them, he will need to put in a little bit of effort himself! I feel it is very important for this little dog that they get the upper hand. He isn’t enjoying life now and nor are his very upset humans. Doing things for them and achieving success, earning praise and food, will make little Monty a lot happier.

I am worried that there is a medical issue behind it all, particularly as the change in behaviour came on so suddenly, and I shall be writing a report for the vet. My own belief is that some of it has a behaviour aspect – many dogs, however unwell or in pain, would not be a dog that suddenly bites. Monty just possibly could be pushed over the edge due to pain or even suffer from something like hypothyroidism. Not being a vet, I don’t know enough about this.

"This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, thanks to you"

“This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, no lead on, thanks to you”

A month later, to quote from a couple of emails: “TODAY I have taken the slip rope off! Yahoo I thought he was going to wear it for the rest off his life….when I got home after his walk I just get hold of the lead and pulled gently over his head and he was fine. Then he rolled around everywhere in excitement and rubbing his neck. Whenever we go out and come back we’ve never had any nasty feelings from him he’s always happy and upbeat. He was even excited to see (my husband) yesterday who had been away all week”.
It could also be something to do with the painkillers the vet (who can’t get near him) prescribed at my request in order to see whether pain could be involved. I suspect there may be something around his neck area that has been making him ultra sensitive and reactive.
At the end of a month: “I wanted to let you know that everything is still going well with our little Monty, he even sat on my husband’s lap yesterday! We can’t thank you enough for the advise on those small but very relevant changes that have made such a big difference.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ralph. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).