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What is Aggression Toward Familiar People?

Aggression in dogs toward familiar people is a frustrating situation that dog owners may face during the ownership of their companion. Growling, barking, biting, snarling, lunging, or any type of aggressive behavior can be caused by a variety of reasons. Many people view the term “aggression” in different ways; some feel that if a dog bites a familiar person it is considered aggression, while others may feel that a growl or snarl to a familiar person is a signal for aggression. What is important to understand is that if a dog that has been a member of your family for a period of time in which he has had time to “bond” with everyone, it is important to be mindful of any behavioral changes. If your companion has never snarled or growled before, and all of a sudden begins to do that (without being threatened or provoked) then it may be time to visit the veterinarian.

Aggression in dogs toward familiar people occurs when a dog, well known to its family or family friends, becomes aggressive towards them, causing emotional harm or physical harm to his loved ones.

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Aggression Toward Familiar People Average Cost

From 22 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,000

Average Cost

$500

Symptoms of Aggression Toward Familiar People in Dogs

Aggression is on such a wide spectrum of behaviors, and that is why it is so important to keep a documentation of any regular “times” or “triggers” that are leading to any negative change in behavior of the dog. Symptoms can include:

  • Snarling
  • Lip biting
  • Biting
  • Barking
  • Growling
  • Lunging
  • Having a tense or stressed demeanor
  • Inability to relax in certain situations
  • Being unhappy or seemingly irritated
  • Moodiness
  • Aversion of the eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety

Types

There are many types of aggression in dogs and can occur in many different situations. Other terms and types include: 

  • Dominance aggression
  • Aggression related to an incident
  • Competitive aggression
  • Conflict aggression
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Causes of Aggression Toward Familiar People in Dogs

Aggression can be predisposed to certain breeds if not handled properly. There are breeds that are known or considered to be more aggressive than others, and this is still widely debated. Studies do show that this is the case at times. Causes of aggressiveness toward familiar people can include:

  • Inconsistent training
  • Hectic environment
  • Mishandling of the dog
  • Improper and inappropriate discipline of the dog
  • Neglect
  • Genetics
  • Underlying medical conditions
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Diagnosis of Aggression Toward Familiar People in Dogs

If your dog has suddenly or gradually over time become aggressive toward you, other family members, or friends, it is imperative to make an appointment with your veterinarian so the symptoms do not progress. The veterinarian will ask for a detailed history of the dog, including his home environment, habits, routines, discipline, training, and any other questions he feels is necessary to properly diagnose the underlying condition, if any.

The veterinarian will perform a complete examination which may include medical testing, such as blood work, a urinalysis, or any other testing for certain illnesses, if the dog is exhibiting any. It is very important to tell your veterinarian of any changes in diet, or if the dog is showing any symptoms of illness. The medical professional will check for anxiety issues or dominance issues by asking you specific questions pertaining to these disorders.

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Treatment of Aggression Toward Familiar People in Dogs

With a diagnosis of aggression, the veterinarian will recommend strict behavioral therapy so it doesn’t become worse. Treatment may include:

Behavioral Therapy

This will be the main form of treatment, and the veterinarian will recommend a therapist to help your dog and your family. Behavioral therapy will include modification of the dog’s behavior, desensitization, eliminating triggers, training, affection control, and much more. The behavioral therapist must get to know your dog and may come into the home to help you, and will even teach you strategies to help your dog. This may take time, and things may have to be eliminated from the dog’s life in order to decrease his aggression, but will be worth it in the end.

Medication

If your dog is suffering from anxiety, the veterinarian may choose to prescribe medication. This is questionable and debated, though, because what is crucial in dog aggression is to treat the underlying disorder. If the dog has an illness that has caused him to suddenly become aggressive the veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate medication if needed.

Lifestyle Change

Making sure that your home environment is calm and predictable may be a recommendation by the veterinarian or behavioral therapist. If you are not on a routine with your dog, and his day-to-day living is very unpredictable, a change will need to be made. Consistent and proper routine management is one step to helping dog aggression.

Diet

There are times when a low-protein and high-tryptophan diet may help in conjunction with therapies and any medication.

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Recovery of Aggression Toward Familiar People in Dogs

Recovery and management depends on the severity of the aggression. Dogs can be cured of this, but it does take much dedication and time from you, the loving and patient owner. Many dogs who suffer from aggression towards familiar people are rehomed or surrendered to an animal shelter.  If a dog has attacked a person, causing suffering and severe injury, they may be euthanized. This is why it is crucial to get the dog’s aggressiveness under control before it is too late. The dog’s chances of recovery are much higher if he is taken to the veterinarian and started therapy.

Recovery takes time, perhaps years, and over this time the methods learned must be followed. Follow-up visits with the veterinarian and behavioral therapist (if the therapy has ended) are necessary to be sure the dog is on the path to recovery. There is no “cure” for dog aggression; however, there are ways to drastically minimize any recurrences. It takes dedication and persistence from the whole family in order to help the dog with this condition.

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Aggression Toward Familiar People Average Cost

From 22 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,000

Average Cost

$500

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Aggression Toward Familiar People Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Labrador Retriever

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Six Years

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Unknown severity

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Aggression

My dog is 6 years old and has lived with me, my fiancee, and our friend Marc for 2 years. Before that, it was just me and my fiancee. Suddenly, since we moved in June, he has become aggressive towards Marc seemingly unprovoked. We are wondering what we can do about this and what is causing it.

yesterday

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, I'm sorry that you're having this problem with your dog. Unfortunately, this can be a complicated problem that is nearly impossible to solve with one email. There are many details that I have no way of knowing about his behavior, and typically these things are not as sudden as people think, there are usually very subtle changes that occur up until the point where it's noticeable. The best thing to do would be to work with a behavioral trainer, since this seems to be a recent occurrence, it may be relatively easy to pinpoint what the problem is, and correct the situation before it escalates to somebody getting hurt. If you do not know a good behavioral trainer who works with positive reinforcement, your veterinarian will be able to direct you to that person and give you a referral if needed. I hope that everything goes well, and you are able to figure out what is going on quickly and everyone gets along again soon.

yesterday

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Mutt

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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Aggression

Hi. My boyfriend and I adopted a dog about a month ago. He is the sweetest Lab Mix. He listens to commands, he’s social with people. This dog loves cuddles, he loves to lay with us and constantly craves attention. I petted the dog downstairs when we came home and he let out a low growl. He never growls at me and I didn’t think anything of it. He then went upstairs with my boyfriend and was laying on him. I came forward to hug them and the dog snapped and bit my neck. I backed away immediately and left. The dog hid under the bed and we put him in the other room for the night. What do we do?

Aug. 18, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question, and I'm sorry that that happened. I think that something must have been going on that the dog was aware of that you were not that was setting him off. It would probably be best to consult a trainer at this point to try to work with him and see what the trigger was that made that happen so that it does not happen again. If you did not know a good trainer, your veterinarian can recommend one for you, and they could probably come to your house and help you get him out of that room. Your veterinarian may also be able to give him some sedation so that you can work with him. I hope that all goes well for him.

Aug. 18, 2020

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Shepherd mix

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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Snarling, Almost Biting, Aloof And Antisocial

I have had my dog since he was 12 weeks old. My boyfriend and I started dating over a year ago and started living together a few months ago. My dog is very nervous around strangers but he warmed up to my boyfriend quickly when we started dating. After moving in together, there have been some incidents of aggression toward my boyfriend. Most recently, my boyfriend was petting my dog who was curled next to him. My boyfriend moved to stand up and my dog swung his head around as though to bite his hand. He stopped right before but kept baring his teeth at him. He has never acted this way towards me

Aug. 11, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear about the behavior changes in your dog. It sounds like your dog still has not warmed up completely to your boyfriend, or is being protective or possessive of you. I recommend seeking out a veterinary behaviorist to help with this before it does run the risk of escalating into a bite. A lot of behaviorists are even doing virtual consultations right now to avoid contact with COVID. I recommend telling your boyfriend to be careful around your dog and have him speak to him before standing or waking him, and avoid bothering him while he is eating or with valued resources such as a bone, to avoid a bite. I recommend looking for behaviorists who use positive reinforcement only. You can find a board-certified veterinary behaviorist in your area here: https://www.dacvb.org/search/custom.asp?id=4709 Another thing to consider would be having your dog examined by a veterinarian to make sure there is no underlying medical issue, as sometimes things like pain or illness can cause behavior changes in your dog. I hope that everything turns out well and that your dog and boyfriend live in harmony! Give your dog a treat for me!

Aug. 12, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Seven Months

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Unknown severity

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Aggression

For the past few days , my dog has been very aggressive towards me and other family members . It’s like he’s neglecting us , he came from a really good owner at 3 months old . No sign of neglect or things like that . But lately , he’s been pouncing at us , barking , aggressive biting and scratching . He’s tried attacking my niece who is 2 years old , and today he popped a vein in my moms arm along with grabbing her & biting hard . I’m scared but I don’t want to give him up already . He can be nicest dog you’ll ever meet , but as of now he’s gotten so aggressive and I don’t know what to do .

July 22, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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Hello, thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear that you are having behavioral issues with your dog. Without examining your dog, it is very hard for me to know for sure what might be going on. What you describe could be consistent with an overabundance of testosterone, since it looks like your dog is not neutered. It could also be due to pain, or could be behavioral. If your dog is truly being aggressive and not just overly playful, this sounds very serious. I recommend keeping him away from anyone that he could possibly injure, like your niece and your mom, until you know more about what is going on. I recommend scheduling a visit with your veterinarian to rule out pain or an underlying medical condition causing him to show aggression. I also recommend finding a behaviorist to help you right away - your veterinarian should be able to recommend one in your area. You definitely want to address this sooner than later, before someone is seriously injured. I know that this can be a very stressful situation, and I hope that everything goes well.

July 22, 2020

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Chiwawa

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Biting

My pet has been living with us since she was born. Lately she has become a bit of a puzzle to us really. With my family, my pup will bite only one member of the family and no other family or stranger at that. Apparently my pup will bite my father only at times, but not all the time. Most the time she will play with my father, accept her meals from him, give licks to him at time and even loves to go for car rides with him. What is strange is that she will bite him for no reason such as him giving her her favorite toy to her.

July 18, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. It is difficult to assess behavioral problems without being able to see the dog, and the family situation. It would be best to start with a visit to your veterinarian, and make sure that she is healthy and doesn't have any problems that are causing this. If she gets a clean bill of health, then hiring a trainer would be a really good idea for her, as they can work with her and you, and see what it is that is triggering this Behavior. I hope that all goes well for her.

July 18, 2020

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Zona

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Poodle x Shih-Tzu

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Anxiety

We recently rescued a 3yr old poodle mix female from a "puppy mill" situation. She is about 14lbs. We knew she was very timid, and especially around males. (she had bonded with me right away) Now that she has warmed up to me, my husband, and my daughter, she is still very nervous around my 16 yr old son. He can't even get near her. Now, the second he opens his bedroom door to come downstairs, she growls and sometimes barks. It's a very nervous growl. She doesn't lunge towards him or anything, but it's constant. I feel for my son that feels like he can't even leave his room without getting growled at. She's such a good dog, and has come a long way. It's been 2 months of struggle with my son, and I don't know what's best for this situation. Do I get after her, do we ignore it? What else can we do? We've tried having him give her treats every time he comes downstairs. He's ignored her, and not pushed too far, to my knowledge. With the COVID outbreak, he's with her all day and night. Please help!

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Kyler

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Chow Chow Rottweiler mix

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7 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression

My dog has been acting out of the ordinary for a few days now. He got into some type of fight I assume from the appearance of multiple injuries on his back, neck, and legs. I'm a little afraid he might have been exposed to rabies, but he refuses to go anywhere with me, including to the vet, to get checked out. He's also very very aggressive with my other dog Shorty, even when Shorty's nowhere near him. Usually they're friendly. It's gotten to the point where if Kyler's sitting out front I have to leave out the back. I have to park out back as well because if I walk around front he will chase me to my car, snarling and barking.

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Kaan

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Presa Canario

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Fear
Barking
Growling
Dominance

I have 3.5 year old Presa Canary Mastiff. He’s about 110 pounds. I’ve had him since he was 6 weeks old and we’ve been basically attached at the hip since then. I’ve often socialized him since he was young at a dog park and around friends and family. I’ve made sure he had all his vaccinations when they were due. I’ve trained him myself to be pretty obedient: sit, stay, lay down, off, come on command (I’d give him a 3 out of 5). He’s a very affection dog with people. He doesn’t like to leave my side and loves my parents just as much. I’ve never hit him with anything more than a limp paper towel roll maybe a couple of times on the snout when he was younger. My disciplining tool of choice was always a spray bottle with water in it or suspension of affection and attention from me. As he’s gotten older, he’s become very protective, which I don’t mind at all. It’s only around things or places that he knows to be mine or “his”. When he meets new people at my house, he’s barking up a storm and ready to pounce until I distract him and redirect his attention long enough to get him to follow me away. I instruct new people to not pay attention to him or pet him initially and just let him warm up to them. During these interactions, I usually have him wear a shock collar or a head lead (I only use the vibration key to break his focus on the unknown situation so he can focus on me, the familiar. I use shock ONLY when I see any imminent danger, but that’s rare with people...even never). HOWEVER, for years, he’s done this low growling when people start to pet him anywhere on his body from his scapula up to his head. He doesn’t do this to me really at all (a few times), but he does this with strangers and with family members that he displayed immense affection toward. He will growl and then the hair on his back and tail will stand up and become stiff and may begin to growl even louder. But this growl is pretty low and gives the impression of “I don’t like you touching me right now, please stop” from him. I’ve followed up with the vet to see if this may be coming from any medical issues, but the vet said he seems fine. He did do this growl with the vet at one or two points of the visit but the vet didn’t relate it to anything other than some separation anxiety and being around strangers. When he does this with family, usually I’m there with him and he does it when I’m not. Now here are some details that may or may not be contributing factors to this aggression: 1. He is an intact male. I don’t believe neutering when he was younger would have prevented this or would correct this now so I haven’t given this much consideration, but I will say it’s possible it could or could have helped. 2. This growling seems to only be at female family members or women that he’s met before. So maybe the above detail about him not being neutered plays into this a little? But He does this with any stranger, man, woman, etc. so I don’t totally contribute it to that or dominance. 3. He only does this in confined spaces with these people. So in a house in a bedroom or some room where there isn’t a lot of space. In a small apartment. It’s only ever been while he’s inside confined spaces. If we’re outside walking in an unfamiliar area and strangers want to pet him, he is a teddy bear. He doesn’t growl and he is very playful with new people. An entire family (Parents, 2 boys, and 2 girls) have all pet and hugged him at the same time and he completely melted in their arms. He is the same outside with family members walking him around unfamiliar environments. So this could be a dominance thing or a fear response. I’m not sure what my next steps should be with training. I am definitely considering a professional trainer now since he is still exhibiting this behavior with my mother and sister who feed him and look after him often. He’s never tried to bite them but I won’t disregard that possibility. Are there any techniques I can try on my own to maybe rule out some things? Or any suggestions of things I should be doing now to correct this? With me, he is quite literally my best friend and is very affectionate and loving. We have our moments of disagreements haha but nothing more than a timeout or taking away attention from him won’t fix.

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Kaan

dog-breed-icon

Presa Canario

dog-age-icon

4 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Fear
Barking
Growling
Dominance

I have 3.5 year old Presa Canary Mastiff. He’s about 110 pounds. I’ve had him since he was 6 weeks old and we’ve been basically attached at the hip since then. I’ve often socialized him since he was young at a dog park and around friends and family. I’ve made sure he had all his vaccinations when they were due. I’ve trained him myself to be pretty obedient: sit, stay, lay down, off, come on command (I’d give him a 3 out of 5). He’s a very affection dog with people. He doesn’t like to leave my side and loves my parents just as much. I’ve never hit him with anything more than a limp paper towel roll maybe a couple of times on the snout when he was younger. My disciplining tool of choice was always a spray bottle with water in it or suspension of affection and attention from me. As he’s gotten older, he’s become very protective, which I don’t mind at all. It’s only around things or places that he knows to be mine or “his”. When he meets new people at my house, he’s barking up a storm and ready to pounce until I distract him and redirect his attention long enough to get him to follow me away. I instruct new people to not pay attention to him or pet him initially and just let him warm up to them. During these interactions, I usually have him wear a shock collar or a head lead (I only use the vibration key to break his focus on the unknown situation so he can focus on me, the familiar. I use shock ONLY when I see any imminent danger, but that’s rare with people...even never). HOWEVER, for years, he’s done this low growling when people start to pet him anywhere on his body from his scapula up to his head. He doesn’t do this to me really at all (a few times), but he does this with strangers and with family members that he displayed immense affection toward. He will growl and then the hair on his back and tail will stand up and become stiff and may begin to growl even louder. But this growl is pretty low and gives the impression of “I don’t like you touching me right now, please stop” from him. I’ve followed up with the vet to see if this may be coming from any medical issues, but the vet said he seems fine. He did do this growl with the vet at one or two points of the visit but the vet didn’t relate it to anything other than some separation anxiety and being around strangers. When he does this with family, usually I’m there with him and he does it when I’m not. Now here are some details that may or may not be contributing factors to this aggression: 1. He is an intact male. I don’t believe neutering when he was younger would have prevented this or would correct this now so I haven’t given this much consideration, but I will say it’s possible it could or could have helped. 2. This growling seems to only be at female family members or women that he’s met before. So maybe the above detail about him not being neutered plays into this a little? But He does this with any stranger, man, woman, etc. so I don’t totally contribute it to that or dominance. 3. He only does this in confined spaces with these people. So in a house in a bedroom or some room where there isn’t a lot of space. In a small apartment. It’s only ever been while he’s inside confined spaces. If we’re outside walking in an unfamiliar area and strangers want to pet him, he is a teddy bear. He doesn’t growl and he is very playful with new people. An entire family (Parents, 2 boys, and 2 girls) have all pet and hugged him at the same time and he completely melted in their arms. He is the same outside with family members walking him around unfamiliar environments. So this could be a dominance thing or a fear response. I’m not sure what my next steps should be with training. I am definitely considering a professional trainer now since he is still exhibiting this behavior with my mother and sister who feed him and look after him often. He’s never tried to bite them but I won’t disregard that possibility. Are there any techniques I can try on my own to maybe rule out some things? Or any suggestions of things I should be doing now to correct this? With me, he is quite literally my best friend and is very affectionate and loving. We have our moments of disagreements haha but nothing more than a timeout or taking away attention from him won’t fix.

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Dusty

dog-breed-icon

mongrel (mixed)

dog-age-icon

7 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression
Snarling
Growling
Snapping

Adopted Dusty for 3 months now. He was very well behaved shy and unsure of the environment at first. but after a month things has gotten a lot better. At 1.5-2 months in he started to barked at Grandfather (gf) when coming home. Slowly it has been his behaviour since then. we tried to stopped by scolding him, clapping loudly he usually stopped or tone down. But now seems like when we tried stopping him now it doesn't really work and seems more furious. And just a week ago, he started to growl, snarl, bark and even wants to snap when Grandmother (gm) and gf wants to walk into their room. Which will past by his usual chilling and sleeping spot.

Aggression Toward Familiar People Average Cost

From 22 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,000

Average Cost

$500

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