How can I stop my rescue dog's aggression with strangers in our home?

by Samantha Ball
(Sydney, Australia)

We have recently adopted two adult rescued dogs. They were being kept in a “holding shelter” i.e. someone’s home between being rescued and our adoption. There were approximately 30 dogs in the house.

Stumpy is a 9 year old male chihuahua/corgi X, and is really relaxed. Dixie is a 7 year old female mini foxie terrier cross.
In general their behavior is great – however we are having some problems with Dixie.

We are led to believe that she was kept as a yard dog with little human contact, and very likly abused. When we first brought them home, she was fine with me (I’m female) but frightened and aggressive towards my boyfriend. She would growl and bite if he put his hand anywhere near her.

A month later and they are both calm and relaxed in the house. However, when people come round to visit, Dixie gets extremely stressed. She crouches low, growls and barks aggressively, and goes to nip people on the legs. If they are sitting on the sofa, she will bite their hands. Strangely though after a while she will try and sit next to the person, but when they go to stroke her she bites again.

I feel that she wants to be friendly but maybe is scared due to something that has happened in the past. She has made great progress with us but the biting and aggression is becoming a real problem, especially since she drew blood with one of my friends whilst she was tying her shoelace!!

Just as a sidenote, she is not bothered by strangers when we are out of the home, and when off the lead in the park she will even run up to people for a fuss.

Any help or advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Our Response

I’m so sorry to hear about your problem – it does sound like she was abused prior to you taking her on. It is always difficult when a dog has had a bad start in life and it will need you to be very patient and understanding. Just so you know my Sister had a similar problem with her dog ‘Honey’ but Honey displayed her fear by cowering in the corner or running away – your dog is reacting to the fear through aggressive behavior (but it is fear based).

Although Cesar Millan has is enemies he does make some good points and I do agree with him on some. A tired dog is a well balanced dog. Take your dog for regular exercise – this will get him pooped out and to tired to be aggressive. Another tip is to take your dog for a swim – this also helps to balance behavior.

When strangers come in use a technique called Counter Conditioning. This involves the stranger staying at a safe distance and gradually moving closer once your dog is more relaxed. Strangers walking in and standing over your dog will cause him to react in a negative manner. This really works

Another top tip is to use a Halti as dogs like to feel that you are in control. Finally make sure that there are no medical issues for the aggressive behavior. Hope this all helps.