Huh? What’s “thyroid aggression?” Well, for us it was a long, hard, depressing, frustrating and scary two year journey to a miracle with a happy ending!
Have you been experiencing trouble with your dog displaying aggression when there is no need for it? Is this something that came on rather suddenly? It was for us and I was not only at my wit’s end, but scared to death I was going to have to give Riley up … or worse … have him put down.
It started one day when he was about 9-10 months old. This sweet boy, who had always loved attention from humans and got along with all the dogs at the dog park and everywhere else, suddenly went Jekyll & Hyde on us. He was standing at the window looking out when the mail person came around. I was standing in the kitchen and from out of nowhere he went absolutely ballistic! He went berzerk for no reason at all. I thought he was going to go through the glass window, I kid you not. I had to be peeled off the ceiling I was so startled by his sudden, overwhelming and totally unnecessary reaction. After all, the mail person had been making their daily rounds for the 2-3 months after he came to live with us with him calmly watching from the window without making a sound. I didn’t know it then, but that was just the beginning of our nightmare.
Things progressed to ongoing incidents of inappropriate aggressive behavior. Absolutely out of the blue he’d make an aggressive move when there was absolutely no reason for him to do so. Things like overreacting to people coming near me, which we contributed it to him simply being over-protective of me. It sure made it scary for me to take him anywhere. I got to thinking this dog had a screw loose somewhere, that there was something terribly wrong with him. I tried everything I could think of and anything I could find to change his aggressive behavior. I resorted to things that I’d never resorted to before and didn’t like what I felt forced to do in order to keep other people and dogs safe. Nothing worked.
I couldn’t let him near another dog for fear he’d attack it. We couldn’t even pass a dog on the other side of the street who was calmly sitting in their yard without Riley going crazy with that “kill look” in his eyes. If he’d have broken his collar or leash, it sure seemed that poor dog would have been dead before he knew it. I was afraid to take him on walks. Someone would come to the door and he’d scare the living you know what out of them with his bonkers behavior at the door. I had to crate him before I could open the door … and this behavior was even with people he knew.
We spent several thousand dollars sending him away to live with a professional K9 trainer for four months. We didn’t have this kind of money so bills were paid late. As fast as I could make it, the money was turned right over to the trainer. He was fine with the trainer, but got him home and it started all over again, all those thousands of dollars down the drain. During that time, we removed our old wooden fence and paid to have a chain link fence put in. Why? Because the trainer had a chain link fence and Riley was not reactive to anyone on the other side of that fence. That includes quite a number of dogs and all kinds of strangers. We figured his problem was that he couldn’t see through the wooden fence and so if we put in a chain link fence, he’d be able to see and his fence aggression which scared our neighbors half to death, would stop. It didn’t. He nearly gave a telephone repairman a heart attack one day with his fence charging antics. So what did all this mean to us? That it was my fault and I was literally devastated. If he could behave with the trainer and didn’t in my company then what else could it be?
I’m not proud to say that we even tried an e-collar and numerous other methods of training. I have more training books, training tools, collars and leashes than a person needs for a dozen dogs. Translation … more money down the drain. People told me it was my fault, I wasn’t enough of a Pack Leader so he took that position. Talk about guilt! I tried my darndest, but he always was more dominant than me .. of course the trainer was male and dominant so again, it seemed it was my fault. My gut told me it wasn’t, that something was just terribly wrong in my dog’s head. I had visions of all kinds of mental and other illnesses causing this. But with people telling me “it’s your fault” I was so confused. My gut said one thing, but I was hearing another. I was in tears almost daily wondering what I could do to fix the monster I’d supposedly created. Never in my life did I have nor have I dealt with an aggressive dog and so was at a total loss for what to do. I can’t even explain the emotional pain this was causing me, but it was significant. I kept wondering what had happened to my sweet, gentle boy. This monster was not my Riley!
I consulted with a more people than I can remember who owned dogs, and more specifically German Shepherds. I had to force myself to perform simple daily tasks. I pretty much could think of nothing else, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t concentrate (except for dwelling on this), I cried a lot, I was deeply embarrassed several times by his inappropriate behavior … it just totally messed with my life. People started talking of course, “why doesn’t she get rid of him before he hurts someone?” comments were being made. I stopped taking him to visit Grandma & Grampa or anyone else for that matter because I was so afraid of what he might do.
Now, part of the problem is that some of the behaviors he was displaying are normal German Shepherd behaviors. But he was over-the-top in several ways and most often it involved going into “protect mode” when anyone came near me. Nobody but me or his Dad could look him directly in the eyes or he’d go off on them. Because normal GSD behaviors were sprinkled in with his aberant behaviors, it was really hard to figure out what this dog’s problem was. Every time he’d act out, I’d go on yet another research trip on “what’s wrong with my dog?” or I’d find some other training method or trainer, buy yet another book or training tool. He started gaining weight from the clicker method because of all the treats you give them. I was driving both myself and my husband insane, but I was bound and determined to find the answer.
I had heard about a dysfunctional thyroid causing aggressive behavior but I had dismissed him having a thyroid problem. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea but it just didn’t seem like this was the answer. Finally one day I decided to research it and the puzzle pieces all started to fall into place. The more I read the more I believed that he had a problem with his thyroid. The day came when on a walk, he lunged at a small child probably less than two years old. There was no contact made with the child, I was quick enough to put him in a down before anything bad happened. But that was the final straw and there were neon lights going off in my head … acting aggressively towards small children is not totally uncommon for a dog because children under about 5-6 years old are at direct eye level and tend to stare or look at a dog in the face. For some dogs direct eye contact is a confrontation and some do not take that lightly. But …. aggression towards small children is also a sign of thyroid dysfunction. As soon as we got home, I made the call and it was off to the vet for a blood test.
We went on a Wednesday and instead of having the blood sent to our vet’s local lab, I opted to have it sent to Hemopet in California. Hemopet is run by Dr. Jean Dodds and the Hemopet lab is the best one in the country for thyroid disease testing. I wasn’t taking any chances, I wanted the experts to be the ones to test his blood. The following Monday the results were in (yes, they are fast!) and Riley was officially diagnosed with Hypothyroidism. I was bouncing off the walls happy! Why was I happy that my dog was sick? Because by then I’d done enough research to know that a small, very inexpensive pill twice a day for the rest of his life would supplement what his thyroid was lacking with a very good chance that this medication would get rid of his aberant behaviors!
There’s a list of about 30 some dog breeds that are prone to thyroid disease and German Shepherds are on the list. This doesn’t mean that only dog breeds on this list can have a dysfunctional thyroid, it does mean that if your dog’s breed is on it, they are more susceptible to having some kind of thyroid disease.
All to often, aggressive behavior is blamed on a lack of obedience training or “it’s an aggressive breed dog.” Some people like myself, work very hard training but it doesn’t have the effect it should have. If more people knew about thyroid disease causing aggressive behavior and had their dogs tested, we could probably cut down drastically on the number of dogs euthanized each year for aggressive behavior.
So, if your dog is displaying inappropriate aggressive behaviors, I urge you to have his thyroid levels checked. It’s a simple blood test that takes a few minutes at your vet’s office. You’ll have the results in a few days and if your dog is diagnosed with the disease, put him on and keep him on the prescribed medication. The meds are not expensive, I got a six week supply for just $12. After the dog is on the meds for six weeks, he needs to be retested to make sure the meds are working and to find out if the dosage is correct. Sometimes the dosage has to be played with a bit until it’s right. In our case, six weeks on the initial dosage both Riley and Nissa’s levels are in normal range. I decided to have Nissa tested, not because she was displaying the same symptoms, she wasn’t … but she did have some other ones that indicated she could have the illness as well. She’s a German Shepherds and GSD’s are on the list so I felt it important that she be tested, too. After the levels are within normal range, it’s usually recommended to have the dog retested annually. In my case because aggression is what happens to Riley, I’m going to have him tested every six months and I’ve found out that many owners of dogs with hypothyroidism that display aggressive tendencies do the same thing.
I’m now an advocate of vets including thyroid testing as a routine procedure when a dog goes for his checkups, at the very least for every breed on this list. It’s not expensive … total cost per dog was just $135.00 for the initial test and $85 for the retest and that includes shipping charges to California. The difference in cost is because a retest does not require some of the lab work that the initial test does. If vets around the country would do this, it could save so many dog’s lives, it’s absolutely worth it! The difference in Riley in just 6-8 weeks is great! I will never say that he can be 100% trusted, no one should ever trust 100% that their dog won’t bite or exhibit aggressive behavior because that’s just plain irresponsible dog ownership. Any dog, any breed can get aggressive, perhaps you heard about the the family’s Pomeranian that killed their infant?
I’m happy to report that I can now proudly say that Riley’s “just a German Shepherd!” I can take him for walks and actually enjoy it, I’m not afraid he’s going to want to chew up every dog and spit out the pieces, although he does have a prey drive so unleashed little dogs in close proximity are off limits. He still barks at the mail person, but it’s a bark (ok, so it’s a lot of bark!) but it’s not at all like it used to be. Unfortunately, I have no way to safely test him with small children, so they remain off limits as well. I do plan on having him temperament tested at my local dog club in September and I never thought I’d be able to say this, but I think he just might pass the test!
If you’d like to start some research of your own, here are a few links to get you started. Of course, definitely visit Hemopet, but in addition try these:
We're sorry but Riley's Place is Not Accepting Help Requests or Blog Comments at This Time. Help Can be Found by Reading Existing Posts and Comments.