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Aggression

Yorkie Aggression Issues

Overview

What represents an aggressive Yorkie? Is it barking? Growling? Or does it cross the line at biting?

Is it clear what is causing your dog to act this way...Or are you stunned about how your graceful Yorkshire Terrier is behaving? First, one should know that this behavior is not a common trait of this breed. However, this can be seen in some rescued dogs that had negative histories or in some dogs that do not understand proper hierarchy. 

When a Yorkie shows aggression it may manifest in several ways:

• Snapping - This is a warning, without actual biting that breaks the skin

• Nipping - A fast, light bite that does not break the skin

• Biting - A severe form of dog aggression, this should be considered serious and training should be implemented right away to correct this behavior

• Growling - A warning that the dog is thinking about snapping, nipping or biting...Something is highly disturbing him or her....Or the dog is feeling threatened and vulnerable, thus putting them on the defense.

• Barking - Barking loudly with a deep tone, suggests aggressive behavior

Tips to Help when Children are Involved

A Yorkshire Terrier, or any other dog breed, may become annoyed if play time with young children lasts too long or the play is too rough. 

Playing with a puppy or dog is an aspect children in your home will look forward to the most. Nevertheless, children should be taught to never pick up and toss (even if it is a short distance onto a soft element such as a pillow), push or tease the dog. A Yorkie may see actions as the child trying to establish dominance over the dog... And the Yorkshire Terrier may then react by showing dominance; purely by impulse.

Things to Look at First

Teething - When a Yorkie is aggressive, one of the first elements to take into consideration is the dog's age. Is your Yorkie a puppy? Is he between the age of 4 to 10 months old? If so, what appears to be aggression may sometimes actually be categorized as a teething issue.

For many pups, this phase brings about intense itchiness to the gums along with great discomfort. This may be near constant or have it's peaks and down times. The bottom line is that nipping or acting aggressive may be due to this temporary issue.
Yorkshire Terrier looks unhappy
This is not to say that any sort of hostile behavior toward family members or anyone else should be tolerated... however understanding the reasons for nipping and acting a bit hostile due to teeth erupting can often be resolved by offering relief to that issue. Our teething section covers more details, however 2 helpful tips are to offer frozen flavored ice cubes and the proper chew toys. 
Illness or injury - Canines, of course, cannot tell us when they are feeling bad or are in pain. Puppies and dogs may either retreat (find a quiet place to be alone) or they may act out (aggressive behavior, nipping) if they are feeling vulnerable from a physical ailment. 

In the case of acting out due to injury or illness, a Yorkie may bite, nip at, bark at or otherwise act aggressive particularly when his owner attempts to pick him up, touch him (during grooming, baths, etc.) or when feeling that he is being encroached upon (his personal space is "invaded") when he is feeling weak or in pain. 

When a dog that otherwise has friendly, "normal" behavior, suddenly acts aggressive, it is often due to an underlying health problem that is affecting that dog enough to make him feel vulnerable - even with human family members that are trusted.

Exact Training to Stop Aggressive Behavior

For this, we are going to look at a question that one of our site Members sent in. Though you will see that this revolves around a rescued Yorkie and aggression towards one particular family member, the advice to stop this behavior can be applied to any Yorkshire Terrier that is behaving this way towards anyone in the home. 
Member Question:

We recently adopted a Yorkie from our local animal shelter. He was an owner surrender, and is about 2. After we have had him about 6 weeks now, we realize things they told the shelter are not true and we suspect there may have been possible abuse. 

The problem we have is this. My 73-year-old father lives with us and when we brought our Yorkie home, my father was in the hospital. When my dad came home, our Yorkie barked at him nonstop. We tried to introduce him by letting him just go in his room on his own, and still he would bark. He will also go up to him and smell my dad, and lick him, and then snap at him. 

My dad uses a walker, and our Yorkie will go after his heels and ankles anytime he walks, we tried him walking without the walker, and same result. He just doesn't like him.

We know he has never done anything to him, we have 5 dogs total, and all our dogs go in his room. In fact, one of our dogs will now jump in front of my dad to block him from being attacked. 

My dad bent down to pick up a piece of paper, and our Yorkie ran from across the room to attack his hand. Not just bite him but attack. He has 3-4 puncture wounds and he since he is on blood thinners, he bled quite a bit. I am very concerned. I have not seen him act like this with anyone else.

We have tried him giving him treats when he doesn’t run up barking at him, but all that seems to have done is have him get a treat, then go back a minute later while he us walking, and bite him. We tried a water bottle and he just gave him a little spritz of water, but as soon as he had his back turned, he would go after him. 

The only thing I can think of is that our Yorkie thinks my dad is in his house. But how can I redo that? I don't want to rehome him again, but can't have him barking and biting my dad. I'm afraid he will go to bite him and my dad will jerk away from him and fall. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. Thank you. 
Answer:

We can understand how difficult this must be. We believe that you are correct that the shelter did not tell you all... however, they may not have known.

We have seen this before; chances are that your Yorkie was abused and/or neglected by an older gentleman. What he may have endured could even have caused him to develop PTSD. This can and does happen (about 5% of military dogs suffer from this).

Canines are able to group humans by gender, height, scent, even hair color. As you probably know, canines have excellent long-term memory. The past is not forgotten. And your father, unfortunately, may remind your Yorkie of terrible events.

There are some things that you can do. Though, with your father being 73, we are not sure if this will present any difficulties. In addition, since you have other dogs and we are not sure of how things are done with them, this as well may present a problem.

You may want to make the following advice is a rule for all of the dogs in the house, as this can only bring about positive results no matter the dog.

The two main issues to work on are: Respect and consequences.

Respect: No matter this Yorkie's history, he must learn that your father is to be respected. For a dog to respect a human, he must see that human as his Alpha. Being an Alpha involves very fair treatment and a mutual respect with an appropriate human to dog relationship... So, no doubt your Yorkie did not receive this from his previous owner. This will be new to him. So, not only will this help resolve the issue, but it will also help your Yorkie separate his previous owner and your father as two distinct individuals.

Consequences: While giving treats for good behavior is indeed an important aspect of teaching a dog right from wrong, in cases of severe behavioral issues such as being aggressive, consequences must be given as well.

To bring about changes in regard to both of these elements, we recommend the following (and again, you may need to do this well all of your dogs, which will have no ill effects):

Training Steps:

1. Any food, even a small treat, is NEVER given until the dog obeys the 'Sit' command. Your father should be the one to command a 'Sit'. If your Yorkie/other dogs do not yet know this command, start training immediately. All bowls should be placed up high on a counter. The dog is commanded to 'Sit'. Once he obeys and is remaining in place, your father places the bowl down.

Any snacks are given in the same way. Dogs know that food equals survival and ensuring that a dog 100% fully understands who is responsible for keeping them alive creates a huge sense of respect.

2. While this may not be applicable to your situation, any time that your father would leave the house with your Yorkie, he enters and exits first. The Alpha always enters/exits the den first.

3. For now and until this resolves, this Yorkie (and for practical purposes, all dogs) should always be physically lower than his humans. If the dog is on the floor, humans need to be sitting or standing. No one should be sitting on the floor with him. And to maintain this physical authority, the Yorkie should not be allowed to be up on the sofa or on a human's bed.

4. For consequences. It is vitally important that you have a canine playpen or small gated off area for time outs. A separate room will not work. This needs to be an area in which the dog can see the family but feels ostracized, albeit temporarily.

The very moment that this Yorkie growls, snaps at or gosh-forbid goes for a bite, he is to be immediately placed for a time-out. No words should be spoken to him. No eye contact should be made. The rest of the family should behave as if he is, by all accounts, completely invisible. If needed, remove the other dogs to another room or have someone take them outside, etc. so that your Yorkie receives ZERO interaction.

All dogs see the world like this: Within the pack (family of humans and pets) that live in the den (the house) there are Alphas (human leaders) and Betas (animals). If a dog believes that he did something so wrong that his pack turns their back on him, he will seriously re-think his actions.

So, immediate banishment is needed. Be careful even about what you say to each other during this time, so that the Yorkie does not mistakenly believe that he is being spoken to.

How long a time out lasts depends on at which point a Yorkie notices that he is being ignored. This can vary from 5 minutes to 20 minutes. Once you (from the corner of your eye) sense that he is distressed about this, allow 5 minutes to pass.

5. Then, release will be conditional. Bring the Yorkie back to whatever positioning he was in at the moment that he acted aggressively. For example, if your father was crossing the living room and stooped to pick up a paper when the Yorkie tried to bite him, have him repeat that action. See what the Yorkie does.

If he is aggressive again, immediately banish him by following the previous advice. When it is time, repeat the conditional release.

When a dog is aggressive like this and has actually bitten people, it may take anywhere from 4 to 5 cycles of banishment/conditional release per day and up to 2 weeks in total; however, he will learn that aggressive behavior has no place in the den (house). And trust us, there is no dog that willingly and voluntarily strikes out on his own, not wanting to be part of the pack.

To summarize, the aspects of teaching respect via food (and entering/exiting), authority via physical positioning, and teaching that growling or attacking your father will not be tolerated should all come together to bring peace and a better understanding to this Yorkie.

In fact, dogs that act out like this are certainly not happy dogs. Feeling tension, stress and spikes of adrenaline severely impact a dog's ability to enjoy life. Once this training is complete, he should be a much happier, more well-adjusted dog.

A word of caution: When a dog snaps, bites and/or draws blood, this should never be taken lightly. You will need to decide if training through this is safe for your family members. Especially when it comes to young children and seniors, feel no shame if you decide that the risk of more bites (before training is complete) is not a risk you are willing to take.

Some cases warrant bringing in professional help. You may want to consider hiring a professional canine trainer for one-on-one sessions that take place in your home.
Did you find this advice helpful? If so, you'll love the YorkieInfoCenter Book, the most comprehensive Yorkshire Terrier care book that exists; now in both hard copy and eBook. 
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