On Not Being Intimidated By An Aggressive Irish Setter

Dear Adam: I have a six month old Irish Setter named Indy. She is very smart and seems to be a quick learner except in one area.

I have read through your book and your dog problems advice column but have not found a suitable solution to my dog aggression problem and was wondering if you could offer some useful advice.

Whenever Indy is out of her crate, she will snatch any item that is not hers, most often from the countertops but lately includes book bags, clothes etc. When we try to remove them she gets very aggressive about keeping the item (snarls, growls, has even lunged at my son and daughter) and lately the situation seems to have escalated.

While in her crate, if there are items around her crate and someone picks them up to place elsewhere she will get very agitated also. Otherwise she is a very active but pleasant companion.

We have tried telling her no, no, no but it is a stand off because we are not willing to put life and limb to the test to enforce our command. The only way we can get her to leave the item is to offer her a treat as a distraction. This is a very scary situation. I have asked the advice of a dog obedience trainer and they suggested I not get involved in this type of struggle.

At this point it is very difficult to put feelings aside and return the dog to the breeder, but if necessary that would be an option. Can you give us any helpful advice. I have tried many of your ideas but I guess we know who the ” top dog” is in this situation. Is there any hope? – Michael.

Dear Michael: Here’s the deal:

He’s a six month old puppy, right? If you’re going to nip this in the bud, YOU MUST NOT BE AFRAID OF YOUR DOG. At 6 months, she’s not going to kill you. But if she can sense that you’re afraid of her, it won’t matter WHAT technique you use. She knows she “owns” you.

The other thing is that I would recommend RE-READING the book. I state very clearly, in several parts of the book, that negative (unwanted) behavior must be corrected. Yet, you insist on distracting the dog with a cookie??? Doesn’t make sense.

You spent good money on the book. Follow the advice in it properly and you will get amazing results.

Now, for the flip side of the coin: The easy thing to do would be to take the dog back to the breeder. If you cannot muster the courage to deal with the dog because you’re afraid of her (hey, at least you’re being honest)… then take her back, as she’s too much dog for you. And if you do this, get a dog with a very soft temperament, and then follow the advice in the book and get back to me.

A dog with a softer temperament is much easier to train. However, even a soft dog can become aggressive if you’re consistently anthropomorphizing the dog, and not raising her by understanding her drive and what motivates her.