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We took a foster dog 4 days ago and he's been a bit depressed, not eating nearly enough, no matter what food we give him, but all in all he is very calm and quiet. He's trained and does tricks, not violent even to cats. Slowly he's started to play with us and get close to us.

Hes a mixed shepherd, about 40 kilos, 4 years old and was taken to the dog house a few days before we started to foster him.

Today we took him to a coffee hose (no the first time) and people came up to pet him (not the first time either) and suddenly out of nowhere he attacked them in a violent way we've never seen before. No damage was done but he bit the guy's pant's and made a little bit of a scene.

A few questions:

  • Any idea why this might happen?
  • Are we to expect more reactions like this out of nowhere?
  • How to react to this behavior
  • Can we see this coming?
  • More importantly - we were considering adopting him after the foster time is over and we're having second thoughts, is there any way we can know if he is dangerous to us?

Right now we're a bit scared of him, not because of the reaction itself but because it was so sudden and unexpected.

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    Have you taken the dog to a vet for a checkup yet? This should be one of the first things you do with a foster to make sure the dog is healthy, and even then some things can be missed (e.g. giardia which is generally only tested if there are symptoms). – jeffaudio May 11 '15 at 13:16
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    I would also try to think up any descriptors of the man (e.g. gender, color, facial hair, clothing, etc.) Probably the person had something the dog didn't like from his past that you haven't encountered yet. If it truly was "out of the blue," this is a dangerous sign since it means the dog has been taught that general warnings (staring, teeth, growling, etc.) are inappropriate so he can only bite so you want work carefully to teach him these are ok. – jeffaudio May 11 '15 at 13:19
  • The shelter we took him from takes care of all of the veterinary stuff with all of the dogs, in that area he should be completely covered. – Naty May 11 '15 at 13:26
  • I would still have the dog checked (esp. fecal sample) by the rescue's vet. Many dogs coming from shelters can have illnesses due to the number of dogs they come in contact with. As an example our current foster was checked up by the shelter's vet and up to date on shots, but we found out she still has giardia so we are treating her for that. The rescue / org you're working with should have a vet you can go with discounted rates and vet bills are usually reimbursed (or at least tax deductible). – jeffaudio May 11 '15 at 13:30
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    I would strongly suggest asking a question (if it hasn't already been asked) along the lines of "What are the warning signs dogs show before being violent?" That way, you find out whether the dog has been taught to suppress these natural warning signs (which unfortunately can happen, as @jeffaudio mentioned, such as if a dog is punished for growling) or whether you have been missing the signs. Your course of action is going to be very different in each case, so I think ascertaining which camp you are in is going to be a helpful first step. – starsplusplus May 12 '15 at 10:25
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Because this is a foster dog, you should contact the shelter/rescue you are fostering for. They are ultimately liable for the dogs behavior and may want try different solutions, like having him foster with someone else.

Tell them what is going on, their response could be anything from helping you work through the behavior to trading him for a different dog for you to foster.

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