Aggressive Yorkie? Here’s the Fix
When you think of the Yorkshire terrier, an aggressive Yorkie probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. However, the Yorkshire terrier is one of the breeds that is prone to aggression – they just aren’t often taken seriously for it.
Think of this – when was the last time you saw a Yorkie that was extra jumpy and extra vocal? Perhaps it was nipping. It isn’t as uncommon as one would think.
In fact, smaller dog breeds like the Yorkie are more prone to problem behaviors like aggression because the problems aren’t seen as a huge deal to a lot of people. Gee, that Yorkie sure is loud, but I guess they’re called yippie dogs for a reason, right? When a pit bull jumps on a person, it’s a problem. When a little dog does it, it’s still a problem; it’s just the type of problem that often goes ignored.
However, the Yorkshire terrier can be fiercely territorial and overly aggressive, something that plenty of Yorkie owners can attest to. With that in mind, how can you expect to deal with your hyper-aggressive dog?
First, let’s take a quick look at the Yorkshire Terrier temperament.
The Yorkshire Terrier
Small in size but big in personality, the Yorkshire Terrier makes a feisty but loving companion. The most popular toy dog breed in the U.S., the “Yorkie” has won many fans with his devotion to his owners, his elegant looks, and his suitability to apartment living.
The Yorkshire Terrier, nicknamed the Yorkie, seems quite full of himself, and why not? With his long silky coat and perky topknot, the Yorkshire Terrier is one of the most glamorous representatives of the dog world, sure to attract attention wherever he goes.
Because he's so small he often travels in style — in special dog purses toted around by his adoring owner.
The long steel-blue and tan coat may be the Yorkie's crowning glory, but it's his personality that truly endears him to his family. Oblivious to his small size (weighing in at no more than seven pounds), the Yorkshire Terrier is a big dog in a small body, always on the lookout for adventure and maybe even a bit of trouble.
Yorkshire Terriers are affectionate towards their people as one would expect from a companion dog, but true to their terrier heritage, they're sometimes suspicious of strangers, and will bark at strange sounds and intruders. In consideration of your neighbors, it's important to tone down their yappiness and teach them when and when not to bark.
They also can be aggressive toward strange dogs, and no squirrel is safe from them.
They also can be territorial despite their small stature. However, just because they can be aggressive doesn’t mean that it has to be a problem for your Yorkie!
Aggression in Dogs
When your dog or puppy regularly growls, snaps, or bites, you have a serious behavior problem on your hands. In fact, aggression is the top reason why dog owners seek the help of a professional dog trainer.
And it’s not just the “scary” larger breeds of dogs that are prone to aggression; any breed is capable of becoming aggressive under the right circumstances.
If you want to cure your dog’s aggression, you ultimately have two choices:
You can take the approach of punishing the outbursts of aggressive behavior, or you can try to get rid of the root cause of the aggression.
Punishing your dog for aggressive behavior usually backfires and can escalate the aggression.
If you respond to a growling dog by hitting or yelling, it may feel the need to defend itself by biting you.
Punishment may also lead to your dog biting someone else without warning. For example, if your dog growls at children, it’s letting you know that it’s uncomfortable around them.
If you punish your pet for growling, it may not warn you the next time it gets uncomfortable. It may simply bite.
That’s why we don’t want to use it as a tool for fixing our own dog’s aggression.
Even if you think punishment is warranted in certain situations, and on the surface, it seems like the punishment ends up “working”, it usually does so at a huge cost to the relationship between you and your Yorkie puppy by making your dog fear, resent and sometimes even hate you.
This is the classic case of positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement.
How your dog feels determines how he will act. That’s why we believe that the best way to cure your dog’s aggression is to target the root cause of your dog’s aggression.
Recognizing Aggression in Your Dog
When a normally placid dog becomes aggressive, visit a vet to rule out medical causes for the sudden change. If your dog is still fighting mad after following these steps, seek help from a certified dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
Any dog has the potential to be aggressive. Genetics, personality, socialization, home environment, obedience training, and the current situation all attribute or dissuade from aggressive behaviors. Please note it is very important not to subscribe to breed stereotypes as “aggressive” breeds can be (and usually are) very sweet and “sweet” breeds can be aggressive.
It can be very difficult and complicated to diagnose aggression!
Call a professional and work with them to test, and if necessary, address any aggressive behaviors.
Signs of dominant behavior include blocking people’s/dog’s path; barging through doors; demanding attention; protecting of sleep area; stopping eating when approached; mounting legs or other dogs; approaching another dog from the side and putting his head on the other dogs back/shoulder; inserting himself between you and another person or dog (e.g. when you and your significant other hug); and lunging at people.
Any one item may not turn into a big deal, but should be monitored.
If you are comfortable, you should discourage dominant behavior with training and diversions so your dog will look to you for direction.
Recognize when dominant behavior crosses the line to aggression as dominant-aggressive dogs are dangerous.
The signs of a dominant and aggressive dog include staring; excessive low-range barking, snarling, growling and snapping, standing tall, holding ears erect; and/or carrying tail high and moving it stiffly from side to side.
However, beware, often a dominant aggressive dog will give no sign before biting.
Remember that a dominant-aggressive dog is likely to attack; retreat without running.
Fixing the Root Cause of Your Yorkie’s Aggression
According to the American Kennel Club, there are actually three common types of aggression in dogs, and each type stems from a different root cause emotion that your Yorkshire Terrier feels.
Just as a human might be driven to anger by jealousy, revenge, hatred or low self-esteem, dogs have their own different reasons for why they act aggressively. And in order to have any hope at fixing their aggression, we need to get to the root of the behavior.
Let’s take a look at the three types of aggression in dogs.
Dog-to-dog aggression is a very common form of aggression in Yorkshire terriers. Its root can usually be traced back to poor socialization; a dog who was poorly socialized as a puppy may be aggressive. The same applies to dogs who were in isolation as a puppy and continued to be socially neglected as time wore on.
One of the most important things you can do to help your Yorkshire Terrier NOT be dog-to-dog aggressive is to make sure he is properly socialized as a pup, and not fearful around other dogs. Most people think that proper socialization is just letting your dog hang out with other dogs, like by taking them to a dog park.
However, people often don’t realize that the most common dogs at dog parks also don’t know how to socialize! So, if you’ve got a dog who is dog-to-dog aggressive, don’t think that just dumping him into a dog park is going to help you – it won’t.
From our experience, dogs who are antisocial actually have a very specific problem.
They don’t know how to read the body posture and cues being given by other dogs, and this makes them more likely to be fearful and overreact with aggression, because they are essentially blind to “getting a read,” on how other dogs are feeling about them.
As you can imagine, if you couldn’t tell the difference between whether another dog wanted to play with you or bite you, that would make it pretty hard to be a confident dog in a social setting, wouldn’t it?
Since you wouldn’t know how to read other dogs, you’d be full of social anxiety about whether how you were behaving was being accepted or rejected by the other members of your pack. A properly socialized dog does not have this problem, because it has learned how to read eye, body, posture, and tail wagging cues; which researchers believe is the non-verbal language dogs have evolved to communicate with each other from the wild.Non-socialized dogs simply haven’t learned this language yet; that’s why they struggle to get along with dogs who have.
If you feel like your dog is bad at reading other dog’s social cues, we have a Socialization Course that helps dogs learn how to read them.
A fantastic option for new puppy owners is to invest the extra money into finding a local doggy daycare, dog walker or pet sitter that has pre-screened their dogs as ‘dog friendly,’ where you can expose your dog to proper socialization.
When you bring your dog to a doggy daycare facility where they can interact with a whole pack of other friendly dogs, here’s the beautiful thing that happens…
Your dog will have a desire to do something, let’s say it’s to wrestle with another dog. There will be some dogs who want to wrestle at that moment, and there will be some dogs who don’t want to wrestle at that moment. Your dog will attempt to wrestle with one of them and will either be met with a “NOPE” response from that other dog (with some sort of avoidance response) or your dog will be met with a “SURE! Let’s Play!” response.
Over the course of a week, your dog’s behavior towards other dogs will be continuously met with a variety of social body cues that you or I could NEVER hope to teach him. These are cues only taught by other dogs. And if he’s met by negativity there is almost undoubtedly another dog in the pack who’d be happy to play.
However, if your dog is like a social ‘bull in a china shop,’ and thinks everyone should want to play with him, when you introduce him to dogs that aren’t as willing to play… (where your dog continues to try to play, oblivious to the other dog’s social cues that they don’t want to play)… your dog is going to end up getting bitten over and over again… and will start to think that all other dogs are bad.
So please, when getting your dog around other dogs, do it in a pack environment, that way at least one dog in the pack will want to play rough, and your dog will learn how to tell the difference between the one dog who wants to play and the others who don’t.
One of the most common forms of aggression in dogs is resource guarding-related aggression. Resource guarding, also commonly referred to as possession aggression, is very normal dog behavior that can be caused by several factors. Dogs who better protected their food or mates from others were more likely to survive in the wild. However, just because it’s normal behavior, doesn’t make it a behavior that we want in our domesticated dogs.
For example, it’s unacceptable for our dog, even if it’s a puppy, to lash out at a toddler who crawls onto our dog while he’s eating a bone, or to have a dog bite someone’s hand simply because the dog feels the desire to hoard some food while someone was trying to pet him.
Resource guarding can show itself in a few different ways, from growling at you when you reach for your puppy’s food, to your dog taking food into another room to eat it or grabbing things and running away with them.
Oftentimes, resource guarding can start to develop when young puppies are competing for food with their littermates.
This is because the puppy who is the best at stealing all the food usually gets the biggest and strongest and is most likely to survive. Try to get puppies from a breeder who feeds their pups in an environment where there is not as much food competition.
I learned this lesson the hard way, because my own golden retriever, Tucker, was born to a litter of 16 puppies! And because Tucker’s mother only had 10 nipples, it created a food competition situation I couldn’t avoid… and that I have had to continue to work through with Tucker.
Here’s how NOT to handle possession or food aggression.
Do NOT attempt to take the item away from your dog with force; especially if he starts growling at you. That’s a good way to get yourself bitten!
Trying to take a resource that your dog wants away from him WILL ONLY make your dog more aggressive.
Instead, here’s some things you can try with your Yorkie:
Try to spend a lot of time feeding your puppy by hand when he’s young. Spend time taking food from a puppy and then giving him even better food, so he knows that he always gets rewarded if he gives up food and doesn’t need to be fearful about you taking his resources away.
Spend time teaching your dog to drop items on cue.
We recommend teaching dogs how to drop items of low value, like a plush toy, first, and rewarding those dogs with higher value items like tasty treats, or a fun game of tug. You want your dog to realize that ‘Giving Things Up… Gets Better Things, Faster’. We believe this is so critical a skill that it should be one of the first two you train.
Don’t chase your dog if he does get ahold of something he’s not supposed to have.
With my dog Tucker, we were able to get him to overcome his food aggression by putting a leash on him and letting him drag a leash around the house. This was beneficial because if he ever got ahold of something he wasn’t supposed to, instead of just grabbing for the thing he wasn’t supposed to have in his mouth, I simply stepped on his leash (which was 6 feet away from his mouth – far enough away to not be deemed a threat to his resource) and took him over to his crate, where I’d make him go in.
But here’s the trick…
On the way to the crate I would ask him to “drop it”. And since we’d already worked on drop it he knew what this meant. If he decided not to drop the item, I let him keep it, but he had to go in his crate with the item for 20 minutes.
But if Tucker obeyed me and dropped his item before he got to his crate, he didn’t have to get locked inside of it… PLUS I’d give him a treat from the treat bowl if he dropped the item. So he got extra goodies from me for obeying.
Putting dogs on a leash ducks the confrontation and potential retaliatory bites that can occur if I tried to stop my dogs possession hoarding by yelling or hitting or reaching for the item the dog has in its mouth.
It helps the dog realize that life is better if HE decides to give something up, in a way that didn’t involve aggressive punishment, and instead just involved giving my dog two choices… to either keep what he has, but be in a timeout. Or drop it, get a treat of equal or greater value, and not be in a timeout.
Taking this approach to training a dog to be less aggressive when it comes to protecting their resources will result in a dog who slowly builds up more and more tolerance and acceptance when it comes to sharing his things, because this approach is aimed at teaching him that we really aren’t trying to steal things from him like he thinks we are; and allows him to chill out and become less paranoid.
Dog to Human Aggression
If your dog is acting aggressively due to root causes of fear, territorial or defensive aggression (where they feel the need to protect you or your home excessively) or they have dominance aggression issues, we recommend that you seek the help of a veterinary behaviorist.
Trying to teach yourself some dog training methods for these types of aggression is not recommended.
A veterinary behaviorist will do a full work up to see what type of training, treatment or medication might best help your dog overcome his aggression issues. Veterinary behaviorists have helped more dog owners with their dog’s aggression than any other industry and they are experts at working with your dog’s breed type challenges, so PLEASE seek out their advice if your dog is aggressive towards people.
Most experts agree that dog to people aggression is one of those dog behavior problems that you should look to try to manage, instead of cure. Fortunately, there are lots of resources for helping you manage your dog’s aggression, and if you’re looking for a great place to start, we recommend learning how to manage your dog’s aggression by taking our ERT (Emotional Recalibration Training) Program For Aggressive dogs.
You Can End Aggression in Your Yorkshire Terrier
Yorkies are great dogs; they’re not the most popular toy dog breed by chance. They have great personalities in general, and are a manageable size, but sometimes they can pick up on bad behaviors, such as aggression. In these situations, it’s important that you solve the root of the problem to ensure that the problem doesn’t continue or get worse.
Lack of training and socialization is almost always the cause for either people or dog aggression. It is so important the dog understands you are the leader. As I said in other articles, I do not subscribe to the need to “dominate” most dogs. Most dogs will understand you are the leader if you just lead.
The problem is, many people don’t know how to lead their dog or what their dog needs. Instead they attribute human emotions to the dog – and dogs are not human and do not process the world the same way that humans do.
If you think your dog might be showing any signs of aggressive or dominant behaviors, please contact a dog trainer. A good dog trainer will teach you how to work with your dog and through simple exercises and obedience training show your dog you are the leader and that he or she can trust you!
Is your Yorkshire Terrier showing aggression? Find the root of the problem. Once that’s done, you can train a yorkie and work to actually solving the problem, rather than covering it up or suppressing the reactions that may occur due to the problem.
Finally, feel free to enroll in our ERT course to help your dog to overcome any other emotional or persisting aggression problems that it may have!