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Background info: We 'rescued' a male doberman, roughly 5 years old almost exactly a year ago after he was surrendered to his vetr due to ongoing medical issues. He is on thyroid medications, his last thyroid tests were this summer. He is on anxiety medications due to his fear of bicycles and constant anxious pacing. He is better with these triggers when on meds, but not completely relaxed. He is always aware of everything and on guard.

So he was on the couch with my husband, tail against husband's leg, head to wall. Asleep/still while husband petted dog's head/neck. Dog "with no warning" nailed hisband in the hand and bolted, leaving significant swelling, bruising, and while he didn't break skin he left a red tooth mark in the center.

I have attempted to replicate the situation, and every time the dog becomes upset with my touching it's shoulders/flanks, and his ears give tell far before he turns his head to my hand. This is workable, right? Since there is a tell it can be worked with?

We have kept him off furniture since the event (which is n't hard since he has never had an issue with being told he cant be up there) up until today when I tried to test him. He clearly knows his place with our other (smaller) dog and won't challenge him at all, won't drink from the water dishes if the small dog is there first. We feed in kennels and don't allow other resources like food/treats in common areas just incase.

He has some leash aggression, but it is very minimal and I have worked with it since we got him, no worries with that. Just concerned about how to repair the dynamic and trust with him and my husband, and how to prevent future aggression like this event.
 

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Sounds to me like he could have some kind of neck/shoulder pain....Neck spinal problems are something the breed is predisposed to. I think before assuming that his reaction is totally a behavioral thing, I would take him to the vet with a description of his behavior and have the vet do complete check for pain.

If he is feeling pain, or even if his response is strictly behavioral, your “testing” for the problem probably isn’t helping him. Either you’re triggering the pain, which will make him less and less likely to want to be touched by you, or, if it is behavioral, you are constantly pushing him over the edge of what he can tolerate without putting into place any kind of plan to help him.

It sounds like at this point, you know what kind of interactions with you seem to set him off--go to the vet with that info; have him checked out. If he gets a clear bill of health, then approach a animal behaviorist to develop a plan for working with this behavior.
 

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I agree with everything Mel said.

Wanted to add - petting sleeping dogs is sometimes a bad idea. There's a reason there's a saying, "let sleeping dogs lie." A dog that is asleep doesn't always react like a dog awake. The bite that occurred when your husband was petting your sleeping dog is not the same as a dog that will react to stimuli when fully aware/awake. I'd suggest leaving him alone while sleeping...stop allowing him to sleep on furniture/with you and leave him be while he's asleep...he may be one of those dogs that reacts poorly to stimulation while sleeping. While it's not ideal in terms of temperament, if you can manage that in your home, you would set him up for success instead of failure.

Additionally, like Mel said, I'd want to check what may be doing on since this is new behavior and you've isolated it to being sensitive to an area. I would want to rule out pain...not to be doom and gloom but that could be a reaction to something like Wobbler's, or bone cancer, or who knows what. With any behavior change like that my first reaction is to make sure there is nothing physical causing it.

As Mel said, I would absolutely recommend not "testing" this behavior, because every time he "practices" this it will get stronger and stronger. For now, I'd put management strategies in place that would avoid situations that would provoke this behavior, since you know exactly what will cause it.
 

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Wanted to add - petting sleeping dogs is sometimes a bad idea. There's a reason there's a saying, "let sleeping dogs lie." A dog that is asleep doesn't always react like a dog awake. The bite that occurred when your husband was petting your sleeping dog is not the same as a dog that will react to stimuli when fully aware/awake

Mel Brings up a great point here - I was getting ready to post up something on the same line : Our 10 year old female - got me one time at a early age - She was sound asleep - laying right next to me - For some unknown reason - I started to pet her - Boy she woke up quicker than a puppy shaken there tail ! And snipped me ! It scared her as much as it did me ! She took off - I maybe have been wrong here - But I followed her to the other room - she had her head down - I gave her the signal to come to me and she did - still with hared down - I gave her a pat on the head and everything was good with the world - I told my wife about it And SAID NEVER-- NEVER mess with her when she is sleeping ! Never !

When Big girl go's to lay down for the night - petting in over - I think - This just me thinking out loud here - But it may be some kind of instinct - they are asleep and when waken suddenly - they react as if something is trying to get them - As I said - this is just me thinking - She is the only dog we have had to do this though .

Great advise from above posts I may add . I would never keep doing what may provoke him ! It's a trigger alright - a trigger that there's going to be trouble IF you don't quit !

Good luck !
 

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Update: we saw the vet, ran a thyroid panel, cbc/chem, and urine. Turns.out his thyroid is perfect, "in the sweet spot" per our vet, butr he has bladder or kidney stones! Our vet is still concerned about the lack of growling before biting, but stated that the stones easily explain that response to my husband petting him. He is now on the appropriate urinary diet, and we are pplaying with his anxiety medication doses as instructed by the vet to see if they caused the lack of growling.
 

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Because you don't know his history, it's very possible his previous home punished him for growling. This is very common in homes that don't understand canine communication.
 

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Update: we saw the vet, ran a thyroid panel, cbc/chem, and urine. Turns.out his thyroid is perfect, "in the sweet spot" per our vet, butr he has bladder or kidney stones! Our vet is still concerned about the lack of growling before biting, but stated that the stones easily explain that response to my husband petting him. He is now on the appropriate urinary diet, and we are pplaying with his anxiety medication doses as instructed by the vet to see if they caused the lack of growling.
Very glad you got in to the vet.

As stated, some dogs that have been punished for growling stop doing so as a warning. It's possible this dog is one of those, and he now escalates from a very subtle warning directly to a bite. The more you can start to read the really early, subtle warning signs of discomfort, the better.

Re: his anxiety and behavior - are you working with a trainer at all? There are some great training protocols that can help when done in addition to medication.
 
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