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aggressive behavior

by Carol

I adopted a 5 year old female Maltese a month ago from a young woman who was unable to keep her. I have worked long, hard and relatively successfully on various behaviors, including house breaking. This little Sabrina clearly had a lot of affection, but little guidance. I am deeply disturbed by her aggressive behavior towards strangers, particularly anyone entering the house. It is so profound that when patients have been on the premises (I am a psychotherapist who has an office in the house), that she becomes frenzied just by the scent after they have departed. Of more importance is the barking and aggressive movements she takes when anyone enters our home. The behavior seems to be motivated by her sense of threat. She is now responsive when I emphatically tell her "no" to the barking while holding her, and then continuously tell her "good girl" for as long as she is silent. I cannot put her down. If the person pays no attention to her, she seems to relax and on her own terms will begin to seek them out for attention. With some people, there is no ability to calm her.

I have had animals all of my life and have never adopted one before nor at this age. I am concerned about the aggressiveness and look for any thoughts you may have. Ironically, she was instantly attached to myself, husband and daughter. She is a lovely and loving dog, but I am at a loss as to how to resolve the problem. I can deal with the other "baggage" she came with, but this is rather depressing as it diminishes our quality of life. If you have the time, could you kindly assist me.
Sincerely, Carol


Please bear in mind when reading topics pertaining to health issues, that many of these questions were answered by helpful Maltese owners with no formal education in veterinarian medicine. When in doubt seek a professionals advise.

Dear Carol: Have you considered having your patients (or any other visitor, for that matter) offer Sabrina one of her favorite treats? (You could have a supply of these on-hand.) Have the visitor offer these with the palm facing downward toward the floor, without other movements on the part of the visitor. This would allow Sabrina to sniff the person's hand without feeling that they are a threat and should teach her that good things come from strangers; i.e. treats! Hope this helps. Jacquelene

Carol, I understand what you are going through, I, too am going through this, only ours is only 7 months old. I'm hoping with lots of care and attention, and understanding, that she will outgrow it. She absolutely adores our family, but is very cautious of everyone. When we walk her, she will seek out someone to bark at. When we stop to talk to people (neighbors who she has already barked at) she will stop barking, but want us to pick her up or just plain leave. So far she has not bitten anyone or even growled when they try to pet her. I like the treat idea and will try it. I think she is just afraid, everything is so new, and she feels her little world is threatened with any stranger. And it's hard for her to understand the difference between someone we don't know, (people soliciting our home) and neighbors.

I, too, adopted a female Maltese when she was 5 years old. And like you, she also displayed "aggressive" behavior to strangers when they entered our home. She also, usually, warmed up to people after awhile if they ignored her. But she was somewhat timid to strange people and dogs when we went for our daily walks.

After awhile (say three to five months), I noticed that she was, in general, changing her behavior patterns. She warms up to strangers (both canine and human) much faster now. However, it still takes her longer to cozy up to men than women. There are just some men that she still never warms up to. I often wonder if there was a male in her past that might have abused her (and I'm not in any implying that the former owner, herself, abused her). You mentioned that there are some people that she simply won't warm up to. Perhaps there is some human in her past that harmed her, either physically or mentally. Can you see a pattern in the folks that she can't tolerate?

I also wondered, now that I've seen the change, if for some reason that dogs only understand, she was afraid that the stranger coming into the house was coming to take her away and she was either displaying her unhappiness or fear of losing her home. As time grew by and she became more confident, those fears went away.

I think you're doing the right things--holding her, reassuring her, telling her "no", etc. I think it will just take time. After all, our four-legged kids don't have watches or calendars. Good luck. I'm sure the joys of adoption will come your way with time. I know I can't imagine life without my little sweetheart. As a matter of fact, I was so much in love with her I went out and adopted her dad last month who is now 7 years old.

To all of you who responded to my concerns regarding aggressive behavior, I thank you for your time and thoughts. Just to know that others have similar experiences is reassuring. Your suggestions are all helpful. With animals and humans the key is patience and consistency, and that was the core of your messages. I have already fallen in love with this little girl and appreciated your thoughts that change takes place over time. My best to you all. Carol
-carol Kemelgor

Carol. I recently brought home a rescue maltese. He is 4 and a sweetheart in most ways. However, he is quite aggresive with other dogs (fortunately, after a day or two of no's, he calmed down with Lucy, but, though he never hurt her, he did growl threateningly). He also barks lots and lots and if he is asleep and startled awake, he will growl and nip. I believe these behaviors are learned ones based on whatever experiences he had in his old home. At any rate, in addition to my own interventions, I am taking him to an obedience class in a few weeks. I think that one of the benefits of these classes is that the dog really learns that you are the person who sets the rules and while learning sit, down, etc. are wonderful helps in keeping your dog safe and well behaved, the most important part is that they learn to listen to you and do as they are told. This then spills over into every request you make of them. My little Lucy is Princess of all She Surveys, and a really willful and very spoiled (my fault!) baby, but when I took her to kindergarten, she "got" that she needed to hear what I said and do it. So if I were you, especially in the situation where you have clients coming and going, I would take the kiddo to obedience class and become a "unit" with her. I think you will find it really helpful.
-cathy brown

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