Out of control biting dog - advice?

Hi everyone,

I’m a complete newbie here - a friend who is forum regular recommended this site to me because I’d told her I was at my wit’s end with my dog, Ruskin. He’s a seven month old male English cocker spaniel (unneutered). I’ve had dogs all my life and my last dog was an English Springer/cocker cross which means in theory he ought to have been as mad as a box of frogs. But despite an imperfect upbringing from me, he was a sweetheart and pretty damn obedient.

Ruskin is not.

I’ve had him since he was eight weeks old. Not wanting to repeat my past mistakes, I’ve read many books on bringing up puppies (not just on puppies in general but on cockers in particular). I’ve followed all the non-force methods of positive reinforcement with him and have treated him with firm gentleness and love. But from day one he’s been… basically, a nightmare. And he’s barely improved.

The two biggest issues are aggression and toilet training. He bites me - ranging from playful nips to proper, blood-drawing bites - all the time and also swipes me with his front paws and draws blood that way. When I walk him (and he gets between an hour’s and and hour and a half’s off-lead exercise every day) he will jump at other dogs and attempt to bite their ears and muzzles. He’ll bite me if I try to catch and stop him. He also attacks my cats, despite their having both given him a good whack with a stiff paw on many occasions. I’m frightened one day he might kill one of them. I have no idea where this behaviour is coming from. I’m really firm with him, I tell him NO in a deep yet calm voice, I yelp if he bites me and put him away from me and ignore him so that he knows he’s causing pain, but it’s like he’s completely indifferent.

In toilet training - he doesn’t seem to distinguish between indoor and outdoor at all. I’ve praised him and given him treats literally every time I’ve seen him go outdoors. But even though let him out at least once an hour during the day, most of the time he’ll just mess around out there, come back inside, and then pee in the kitchen. Or he’ll pee outside, get his praise and treat, and then poo in the kitchen. The latest I get to sleep in these days is 5am - he demands to be let out, then doesn’t go, and half an hour later I’m crawling around cleaning up pee and poo from my kitchen floor.

When I first got him I put him in a soft-sided pen in my bedroom to sleep at night. Within two days he had demolished this, ripping the zips out so that he could escape. I bought him another, larger and more robust one. He threw himself at the walls so hard that he caused it to collapse on him. The vet’s behaviourist told me not to try a hard-sided crate as there was every chance he would seriously injure himself (he now sleeps on a chair in the corner of my room).

I try to offer him mental stimulation to keep him from getting bored (a snuffle mat, treat balls, all kinds of rawhide chews) but these mostly seem to make him more frustrated and aggressive. The only things he really seems to enjoy doing are running really fast and biting things really hard (we go through a huge rawhide bone every day).

Is neutering going to make a difference here? What is going on? I’ve had dogs my whole life and NEVER met such an aggressive personality. English cocker spaniels are supposed to be loving, devoted and gentle! And this is not a case of ‘cocker rage’ because he’s working rather than show type. I love him to pieces but at this point he’s honestly making my life a misery.

Any advice much appreciated. Before I have a heart attack and he eats my corpse…

I’d see a professional trainer, immediately, lest it get so out of control you have to put him down (even rescue may not be an option for a confirmed, hard biter).

I had similar issues with my newest dog - NEVER had trouble bringing a dog to heel, so to speak, until this one - and only at 12+ months did he mature enough to stop nipping and pounding me with his front feet. Mine’s a Dane, though, and they mature on a much slower course than smaller dogs, so if he were a smaller dog I would not have tolerated it past six months. You’re into the danger zone of the behaviors becoming permanent or nearly unfixable. Trainer. Now.

IMO he should already be castrated by now. My veterinarian advises spay/castration at 12 weeks of age.

From Here

Personally, I’d have him castrated, then work with a trainer. Euthanasia is another alternative.

I’m hoping to get an appointment with the behaviourist at my vet in the next couple of weeks, so hopefully she can either give me some methods to put a stop to this behaviour or point me at someone who can. I’m definitely going to get him neutered but I was advised to wait until he’s a little older for the sake of his joints - but if this is a ‘danger zone’ then maybe I should try and push that forward. Although I’ve also been told that his personality won’t be affected by castration and I shouldn’t hope out hope for that… there are so many mixed messages online and in print. It’s maddening.

For a Cocker Spaniel you do not need to wait for his joints at this age - get him neutered now. Get a trainer now. Until his behavior is fixed, I would also use a muzzle on him when walking him around other animals. Stop walking him off leash until you have control over him.

He’s still a puppy and may mellow out with age, but our friends had a spaniel with Spaniel Rage Syndrome & after spending a small fortune on trainers, they had to put him down.

I agree that it’s time to see a professional. I also think neutering will make a difference. I would have done it at 6 months, at the latest, so don’t put it off another week.

The house training - you said this:

Are you using a dog door? And are you just letting him decide to take himself out? That’s not going to get the message across about when and where he should be toileting. You personally need to be out with him every time, right there to treat as he’s going.

I would revisit the crate situation. If he really just can’t not hurt himself in a crate, then I would use the short leash attached to your belt at all times. He shouldn’t be free to roam around the house, peeing in the kitchen.

Keep in his kennel or with you observing at all times. Then take him out every three hours. If he doesn’t go while you’re out there, in ten minutes, then take him back inside and pop him in his kennel for ten minutes, after which he gets another ten minutes of opportunity. If you’re using the short leash, watch him like a hawk, and if he starts to assume the position, grab him and hustle him outside. Then big celebration with treats and things while he’s out there.

This is labor intensive, but he’s old enough to catch on, so it shouldn’t take long. Get him neutered first, though, so that the leg lifting impulse is reduced.
Also, there’s this:

Wait, are you saying that you walk him off leash? Because that’s a serious problem, not least because he won’t learn anything that way. Put him on a leash and teach him leash manners, which will include you learning not let him jump on other dogs. You shouldn’t have to catch him. You should keep the leash tight or step out of their way until your dog learns his manners.

The professional trainer will help you with the biting. It’s probably just high spirits, but you don’t want it to become a habit or to, God forbid, somebody to get hurt. As for your tone of voice - “firm” is good. “Loving” is good. For a biting puppy, I wouldn’t hesitate to shift into “menacing”.

Once your dog is older and better mannered, you can be more relaxed about letting him roam the house or get close to other dogs. For now, he needs to be kept where you can communicate with him, which starts by getting his attention.

Good luck! The Teenager years don’t last forever!

Just echoing what others have said. Get him fixed asap.

And for Pete’s sake, don’t let him keep charging and biting other dogs. Some people have dogs who will bite him back and may seriously injure him but, more importantly, other people out walking with their friendly, well-behaved dogs should not have to deal with your dog issues.

Have you considered getting another dog?

Say what?

Thanks everyone - lots of advice and lots to think about here. Clearly neutering is my first priority. Then the behaviorist.

He’s actually extremely well bahaved on the lead - and his recall is good too, when there are no other dogs around. But he loves to run, and since I live on the edge of the countryside we can often walk for miles without meeting another dog, and it’s a great chance for him to get that exercise. The problem is that once he HAS seen another dog, he flies off so fast that I can’t catch him, and then becomes totally deaf to the recall signal that he was responding to perfectly five minutes before. I wade in and pull him off these other dogs, and get bitten for my trouble. I’ve trained him to lead and recall in exactly the same way as my last dog, but clearly… they have very different personalities. I HATE that infuriating person with their uncontrollable dog who gets in your dog’s face and have always wondered why they don’t just keep them on the lead the whole time… now I’m in danger of becoming that person!

On the toilet training - I don’t have a doggy door, but I do have a tiny house. I can always see him. Every time he heads toward the kitchen/back door I get up, and let him out and stand with him. Over 70% of the time he’ll run around the garden, dig a bit, etc. and when I’ve waited five or ten minutes I’ll bring him in and close the door… only to turn around and find he’s peed or is pooing on the kitchen floor. Or he’ll wait five minutes and then run for the kitchen again and by the time I get there… I KNOW he’s not doing it on purpose but I’m damned if I can see why he would do that when he’s been shown time and again that if he does it outside he gets treats and praise, and inside it’s a stony silence.


I’m in England, btw. Conventional wisdom over here is that you should let your dog off their lead as young and as often as possible (in a safe area, of course) so that they learn to recall properly - their instinctive fear of being left behind as a small puppy means they WANT to walk to heel and want to stay with you, and by the time they’re older and braver it’s a habit.

I… really don’t think that would be a good idea.

How does he react if you scold him? I’ve had dogs that would respond favorably to that (i.e. not peeing on the kitchen floor anymore) and others that didn’t give a damn if I was annoyed at them. The latter were always more difficult to train due to their defiant personalities.

And the theory behind getting another dog is that a tired dog is a good dog, and yours sounds like he has a lot of puppy energy.

You could also just get him high. Both people and pets on pot can become very apathetic. Or so I’ve heard.

I’m thinking **Channing **means *instead of *rather than in addition to.

At least I hope that’s what he/she meant.

Oh, he doesn’t give a damn. I’ve never had a dog that didn’t care if I was angry or not before, and it’s so strange. Like a cat in a dog’s body.

Aaaah. That makes more sense.

I won’t tolerate an aggressive dog, if a dog snaps at me I will instantly turn on him and let him no without a doubt I am bigger and stronger and dangerous. That is exactly how it would be handled in nature and in most cases they respond to it. If I don’t see a rapid change I will put the dog down. Same with potty training, just let him know you won’t tolerate it. He has to know you are the boss.

Ok so he’s stubborn and alpha. I’ve had this same type of dog and after working with a trainer, he suggested a pronged collar (at first he suggested a Gentle Leader, but the dog got panicked and thrashed about whenever we tried to put it on, so that idea was abandoned). Anyway, I used to think that pronged collars were cruel, but the trainer explained to me that it mimics a mother dog nipping at the puppy to get him to behave. We kept the dog on a leash whenever he wasn’t in his crate…for at least a month if memory serves. He was actually bad walking on the leash & it sounds like your dog doesn’t have that problem. But you can use it to teach him how to behave around other dogs. A swift tug on the leash when he’s misbehaving will teach him pretty quickly what you expect.

We had a young Lab that morphed from cute pup to demon doglette over the space of a few months. She was not remotely as bad as the OP’s dog, but she was highly resistant to heel training and prone to occasionally leap up and rip our clothes with her teeth if annoyed or just for the hell of it. It was to the point that Mrs. J. half seriously suggested putting her out with the recycling.

Instead I proposed we take her to our kennel, whose main business was training dogs, especially for police and security use. We boarded her there for a couple of weeks under the tutelage of a young woman who was very good with dogs, and who worked a near miracle during that time. We got back a dog that was much better behaved, walked at heel, followed other commands and no longer tried to shred our clothes.

If this is an affordable step for you and you know of a reliable trainer in the area, it might be worth a try.