Frustration, Arousal and Losing his Temper

frustration makes him biteHenry is a Miniature Bull Terrier. One source describes the breed as ‘Playful, Even Tempered, Energetic, Stubborn, Courageous, Loving’.

Energetic, loving and courageous Henry certainly is. Even-tempered he’s not.

He is very quickly aroused whereupon he then becomes demanding. Anything that works him up starts him off barking or pestering for attention. Not getting the attention he wants leads to him becoming quickly frustrated then angry.

He may grab their ankles when things are not going his way.

More recently he has bitten two people quite badly.

I was very nearly the third.

I have only visited a few dogs that start off very friendly and interested in me, if in an over-excitable way, but whose arousal then gradually escalates into something else.

Instead of calming down, as the minutes went by the more aroused Henry became. I believe he may not have liked being ignored. I wouldn’t normally be touching a dog when I enter his house but would wait for calm. Being left to make his own decisions was something different for Henry. He is usually held while the person strokes him ‘to calm him down’.

I took myself away to a high bar stool at the counter as his arousal levels soared. He was flying all over the sofa. We all continued chatting.

Henry is difficult to read. His face is fairly inscrutable. He barked at me and then became still. His eyes went hard as he stared at me. I looked away.

Then he flew at me. He grabbed my clothes, leaping high to get at my arm (fortunately heavy garments). I sat very still, and quietly asked the man to get his lead. He muzzled him.

Thwarted, Henry was in such a state now that had it not been for the muzzle I know I would have been badly bitten. He charged at me several times while I didn’t react before he was put away in another room for the rest of the evening.

This ‘attack’ had taken the couple completely by surprise – more than it did myself. Although he had recently bitten two people and caused injury, it was two different people who had been looking after him while the family was away. It had never happened to anyone in their own house or in their presence.

These things tend to get worse with each episode. It has escalated from grabbing their ankles to a couple of serious bites of which I could have been a third.

When frustration is making a dog angry, what can you do?

The gentleman himself admits that, in doing what he thought was best by copying Cesar Millan’s methods, he may have escalated things when Henry got rough. If a dog is highly aroused and getting angry, the sure way to make him worse is to pin him down or scruff him.

Because frustration is causing the anger that is causing the aggression, it’s the frustration that needs dealing with. We need to work on the source.

Reacting to the biting itself with any punishment simply doesn’t work long-term. The person who is strong enough to overwhelm and intimidate the dog has always to be on hand to deal with it. It may temporarily put a lid on it but in no way alters for the better how the dog is feeling.

The only real long-term safe solution is for Henry not to feel the need for frustration and anger.

Of prime importance is for their vet to do some very thorough checks to make sure there isn’t something wrong with Henry to cause the dog to explode so violently with so little provocation.

In one way I am pleased he directed the behaviour to myself.

They had not been present when he had gone for the other two people and they couldn’t imagine him doing so. Now they have seen it for themselves. They have seen what happens when their loving dog flies into a rage and how little provocation he needs.

It’s a good thing they have now witnessed it….

…because they have an eleven-month-old baby who will soon be mobile.

Henry has always been fine around the baby, showing no jealousy and not much interest, but the unexpected can happen as it did with me.

The couple are now making a little corner of the room into a safe ‘den’ for Henry, somewhere all good things happen and where he’s fed. It’s not punishment because he’s not ‘naughty’. He can’t help it. They will freely use his muzzle when he’s out of his den. They have started doing this out on walks already.

It’s a sad situation. The beautiful and well-loved dog is gentle and affectionate most of the time. It’s only when something stirs him up that the trouble starts.

They will now do all they can to teach him impulse control and to deal with the normal necessary frustrations that are part of any dog’s daily life. We made a list of the things that get him worked up and many can be avoided. They must get their vet on board for a much fuller check-up and take every practical precaution necessary including the barrier and the muzzle.

This is a cautionary tale. As a general rule, it’s best to remain still and look away from a dog that may bite. In the case of Henry, this wasn’t enough. My doing nothing was in itself part of the problem. He wasn’t used to that.

Here is an article well worth reading: My dog bit my child today.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Henry. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)