Bernese Mountain Dogs Articles and Information
"My Bernese Mountain Dog is growling and showing aggression, any advice?"
We all like to think of the Bernese Mountain Dog as oversized Pussy Cats but this can be a very misleading conception of this breed, they are very big dogs and need very firm discipline and training of the most positive kind right from the start. Get it wrong with your Bernese Puppy and some six months later you will have a Bernese Brat who is already very large!
Typical of some of the mails I get in on this subject is the one I have added below and a wonderfully detailed reply from Ruth Reynolds at Pioneer Bernese on how to deal with this problem
".... he was begging after a cookie one of the triplets was eating today and I walked into the room and he jumped up on our couch to lie down, he is allowed on the couch. I did my usual, snapped my fingers and pointed and said go lay down, usually he jumps off the couch and goes to the other room and lays, but he put his head and ears back and growled at me. I went to grab his collar and he almost bit me. I then told my daughter to leave the room. I got his leash and he came to me and let me take him outside though he acted funny.
.I know this is not usual behavior for a Bernese, I even called the breeder to see if they have heard anything like this with the other pups, she said they have not and was shocked to hear this. We adore him but I feel a little scared now of him, he's a BIG DOG and I don't want that and I'm worried about my children and other people who visit and their kids!
I guess my guestion to you is, has any of your Bernese dogs or anyone else's you know acted this way? I feel like it's something I did wrong but he's spoiled and loved deeply other then us scolding him, raising our voice or me rolling up paper that's all the discipline he's ever had, he listens well most the time. I don't know what I should do, I don't want to break my kids' and husband's heart as he's extremely close to him, any advice? THANKS"
THANK you for taking the initiative to seek some help with your precious Berner Boy. When I hear of an aberrant behavioral change in a dog, I immediately think of a physical cause. From the limited information you've given however, I think it's less likely your dog's onset of aggression is physically based and more likely is a behavioral issue.
Here is something from the Pioneer Bernese website which you may find of interest.
BMD puppies need strong leaders in their humans. The concept of leadership should be fully understood before owning any dog. Berners are working dogs, not lap dog pussycats, although one might think so as one lounges with a Berner on the couch. Because the correct temperament for a Bernese is that of a true working dog, the Bernese should be assertive in some situations and aggressive if necessary. "Necessary" to a dog may be simply taking charge when no one else is clearly in charge.
One's ability to anticipate the day when one's male Bernese will challenge to the point of growling and even biting if self discipline is not developed as a youngster, is difficult for many novice owners. Though the Bernese is not typically thought of as a tough dog, some are. To do the work he did in his native Switzerland, the Bernese had to be protective. We find our dogs follow that inherited tradition of loyalty to hearth and family. A Berner needs a job. An unemployed Berner is often rude and mischievous.
You answered the pertinent question you did not ask which I perceive to be, "why is my dog being aggressive toward my family" when you said he is spoiled and the discipline he has had has been with a rolled up paper (likely just a threat to strike him). Your dog does not respect you. If he did, he would never think of growling at you. Just like with children, it's necessary to invoke compulsory behaviors in order to gain and maintain respect. Children's rooms need not be tidy nor their beds made up each morning. But requiring these things builds their self discipline to do things because they are asked to do them. Dogs are no different.
I suspect your Boy has had far too much "rein" in the daily goings on in your household and not enough guidance and compulsory actions required of him. I also suspect he is somewhere between 9 and 13 months old which is a critical time in a dog's development because they often have a surge in their Will to Power (an innate drive to facilitate personal survival).
In my experience THE MOST IMPORTANT thing an owner can do for a young dog is to establish self discipline in the dog using a positive reward system of training. Lots and lots of requirements every day. Little things. Dozens of them.....all rewarded with praise and perhaps an occasionally food reward. Actions like waiting at doorways, moving out of the humans' traffic path rather than just laying there to be stepped over, being considerate rather than rude with bumping and jumping up are all manners of self discipline exercise for a dog. Each time you ask your dog to do something and he does, you reinforce an innate drive in him to please you. Teaching him tricks is a great way to incorporate compulsory requirements that are FUN! Ultimately, when pleasing you is his reward, he will be a reliable dog. Right now he seems to be to be a bit egocentric. :-)
It is my suggestion you first counsel with an animal behaviorist to determine if the changes you and your family must make to remedy this challenge with your dog are things you're willing to commit to do. You are highly advised to NOT use a dog trainer who utilizes dominance training to overpower the dogs he/she works with. This often breeds a higher level of suppressed aggression. Seek a professional who uses rewards rather than punitive actions to teach the dog new and desired behaviors. It is highly likely that changing this dog's behaviors will require your family's changing the way you all interact with Jake. From there you will be better equipped to make the decision to either train your dog or attempt to rehome him.
The situation with Jake sounds like it is at a critical turning point.
My suggestion is that action should not be delayed for the safety of your dog and your family.
Best to you and your Berner Boy.
Give him a scratch in his favorite spot from me, please.
Canine Behavioral Services
And with many thanks to Helen Hollander, Barb and Chumley, Pat Tackett, Vilma Briggs & Andrea Brin who also sent me much useful information on this issue:
First, has your dog been neutered/spayed? This can make a big difference!
Get your vet to do full bloodwork and physical check, some aggression response can be due to a physical problem causing pain or even Hypothyroidism. Get a full check up!
The Aggressive and Shy email group
The Association of Pet Dog trainers
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