The Dog That Bit

Background: Cody is a 3 year old neutered male shepherd mix. His family includes two children aged four and six. Susan, the mother, was concerned because Cody had bitten one of her friends who had been visiting with her children. She was worried that the children were at risk of being bitten. Cody was also barking at visitors to the house and had started to resist going to his bed. He had actually growled at Susan when she tried to take him to his bed, which is where Susan had him go when there were visitors there.

Investigation: When we first arrived, Cody was in the middle of the room. He barked at us and I noticed his hackles were up. He did not try to approach us.

They have an open floor plan with the kitchen, dinning room and family room basically one big area. When we didn’t try to engage him Cody relaxed a little and went underneath the dinning room table. Susan grabbed his collar and took him to his bed. We then all sat at the dinning room table.

We spent some time talking with Susan and observing Cody. When we asked about bite to her friend Susan told us that Cody had been on his bed and her friend was in the chair next to his bed. She had been petting him and he bit her on the hand.

Cody’s bed was sandwiched between the chair and a door to the bathroom. There was a pile of children’s toys also near his bed. He seemed relaxed on his bed but kept his eyes on us at the table. When we got up I saw him visibly tense. We moved to the family room and I asked Susan to sit in the chair near Cody while Cathy and I sat on a couch further away.

I needed to judge how he was feeling without putting pressure on him. I tossed a treat near Cody’s bed and he took it. Taking the treat indicated to me that Cody was not overly stressed at this point. Then I tossed another a little closer to us. I continued this while talking with Susan, tossing them so they landed closer and closer to us. I then tossed a couple further away and Cody turned his back and got them. This indicated that he was not too concerned with me. Finally I dropped a couple right near my foot. The entire time I had Cody in my sight but was not making direct eye contact with him. After taking the two near my foot he leaned in and sniffed me, and then he nudged my hand with his nose.

I reached under his chin and gently stoked him. Susan said that he never lets strangers pet him. I explained that Cody requested had affection by nudging me, I hadn’t pushed myself on him or approached him. That was a big difference to Cody.

Prognosis: Cody actually likes people, but he wasn’t being given the opportunity to meet people on his terms. Due to where his bed was located people were getting into his space without his permission. Part of the issue was environmental, Cody’s lack of space. Part was that Susan wasn’t taking care of Cody’s distress so he had to do it himself. Also, although she wasn’t hurting Cody, Susan was being physical with him by grabbing his collar to take him to his bed.

Treatment: We had Susan move Cody’s bed to the other side of the room, away from the traffic pattern and the toys. We actually had her put in under an end table by a loveseat. We explained to Susan how important it was that if Cody went there it had to be off limits to everyone.

Next we worked on getting Cody to the bed without becoming physical by grabbing his collar. Cody responded very well and it took very little coaxing from him to go there on his own.

Then we had to “show” Cody that he no longer had to worry about people getting in his space. We instructed Susan to get between me and Cody when I got up and to and direct me to either sit back down or, if I was going towards the bathroom, to stay between him and me.

The first time I started towards him he stiffened but as Susan got between us and directed me to sit back down he relaxed very quickly. We repeated that a few time and after just a couple of times. Cody was not longer concerned with me at all. Susan was taking care of the situation so he didn’t have to. He didn’t react at all when I went toward the bathroom. He had actually fallen asleep, no longer concerned about his space being invaded.

We gave Susan homework of repeating what we had done, but with other people, including the children. She needed to position herself in a way to intervene when necessary. We also explained that while she needed to prevent people from getting into Cody’s space, she could also have guests use treats the way I had to help Cody re-associate how he felt about the visitors. They were not to try to “hand” them to him but just toss them or drop them so “good things” happened when people were over.

Results: We returned a week later to find a much different atmosphere. Cody immediately came over with a relaxed, happy demeanor, sniffed me and solicited my attention. Susan reported that they had had lots of people over during the week and while at first she had a little problem with Cody going to his bed she had resisted grabbing him. She said that after a couple of days Cody actually wanted to engage with the company. Occasionally he was getting a little overwhelmed, mainly when the kids were playing, but that he was taking himself to his place and was even relaxed enough to nap while the children played.

We received the following email from Susan shortly after our revisit.

Dear Jeff and Cathy,

I can’t thank you enough for your help with Cody. It all makes so much sense when you look at it from his point of view. What a relief we all feel! I can see that Cody is so much happier now and I’m no longer stressed worrying about what he’s going to do. You guys are GREAT!

Warm regards,


Well done Susan! This was a situation which could have easily ended Cody’s life if things didn’t change. Our hats are off to Susan for not only seeking help but for taking our advice to heart. She has our on going support if she ever needs it.

Note: The names have been changed at the request of our client.


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