The Grouchy Dog

Rufus is obedient, active, in good shape, and at times utterly unpredictable. What is going on with this dog?

Rufus was adopted as a two year old, as an owner give-up.  He had basic manners, was well taken care of, a little overweight, and obviously a man’s dog.  He was gentle with children, and had good bite inhibition, no guarding or aggression about food.  He did not like other dogs, but his new home had three, so he had to adjust.

Training and integration into the “pack” began immediately.  Rufus made a friend with the youngest dog, and was very tolerant of that dog’s antics.  After a few run-ins with the bossy female (all of which he lost) the two established some sort of entente.  The largest dog, a mellow old-timer, he targeted at unpredictable intervals with nips and snaps, growled challenges, although the dog never responded, nor returned an insult.  Rufus would have lost, as the old timer was a good twenty pounds heavier, had inches on him, and had an incredible bite, although it was never used directed at “family”.  

After the old timer died, Rufus would get in trouble with the bossy female now and then, but she could take care of herself.  A new puppy arrived, another female.  Rufus picked on her mercilessly, in spite of the female puppy’s overt submissive behavior and outgoing nature.  He would walk by the sleeping pup and nip her.  He would guard the doorway and not let the puppy pass.  He would suddenly growl and attack her, without any provocation.  

He never did any real damage, other than intimidate and scare the puppy, for his bites were never breaking the skin, but the terrorizing was not accepted in the household.  

Training increased, and Rufus – ever obedient – complied.  He was told to tolerate the puppy, and was richly rewarded for every second of peaceful interaction, or warning the pup off with a growl, but refraining from nipping or chasing her.  

Still the occasional unprovoked nips and grouching attacks continued.  

Finally the owners noticed that Rufus was not coming along for extended walks, and preferred to stay behind.  He often “paced” instead of trotted.  On days when he seemed “down”, his attacks on puppy increased.  Rufus was put on an NSAID (anti-inflammatory and analgesic) and within a day his demeanor changed for the better.  Rufus now ran alongside the other dogs for walks, began returning the puppies approaches with play bows and while he still stole the toys from her, he did so without intimidating the puppy or nipping at her.  Preventing the puppy from entering the living room by guarding the doorway decreased – Rufus now joined the family in the living room instead.  This confirmed that Rufus had been in pain, and had reacted inappropriately because of it.

Suspecting the pain to be joint-related because of Rufus’s breed, size, and conformation, Rufus was put on a joint supplement and continues improving.  He is more active, more tolerant, and has begun to play with the puppy and occasionally even with the bossy female.  His tail wags frequently, and he seems happier.  

Sometimes a grouchy dog is simply an “ouch-y” dog.  Consider a visit to the vet for behavioral problems that don’t respond to training and positive behavior modification techniques.  

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User Comments
  1. Carolyn Cordon

    On December 4, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    I offer you congratulations for this ‘winning’ story. Rufus’s behaviour may have meant a death sentence, but not in this case. I am so heartened by this tale. It’s the kind of thing all dog owners should read.

  2. Calare

    On December 5, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Carolyn, there were certainly moments when I wondered what we had gotten into with Rufus. We would make such strides, and then he would “blow it” spectacularly.

    And I wanted the new puppy to grow up happy and not fear sneak attacks…

    But we try not to give up on a dog, and it paid off. Rufus is a changed dog, and while he still gets a bit grumpy after a busy day, I can send him to time out in his crate and give him a bit of analgesic to ease his soreness.

    He has become much more demonstrative in his affection, he is playful and bouncy and clearly happier. I just wish I had looked at him and his behavior without his “history” in mind. Maybe I would have realized the source of his grouchiness sooner.

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