Sees Another Dog. Tail up, Freezes, Stares

When he sees another dog from a distance, he freezes, stands tall and his tail goes up. He stares.  If too close, he will rear up on his back legs.

Boycie is huge – a two-year-old Cane Corso weighing over eight stone. Where the man is stronger and not so concerned, the lady owner is petite. She’s a lot lighter than Boycie.

Calm and interested

I found a confident and polite dog. They have worked very hard with the beautiful boy from the start.

Boycie’s attitude towards me was ‘calm and interested’ rather than overly-friendly. This is exactly how they would like him to be with other dogs – when he’s on lead in particular.

Stares and freezes when seeing another dogWhen younger, Boycie used to be enthusiastically friendly when he saw another dog, rushing over to it. Ten stone of muscle charging at them may not be funny for a small dog – or the human. They have worked hard training his recall which is now great so he spends a lot of his time off lead.

His change of attitude towards another dog, when he himself is on lead, has gradually worsened over the past year or so. No particular event they can recall triggered it but are determined for it not to get any worse.

He started also to obsess with constant marking when out and even licking other dogs’ pee. They had him castrated a short while ago which seems to have stopped this, but may not have been helpful where is attitude towards another dog is concerned. (Castration has been proved not to be the universal quick fix for aggression that was previously thought).

Changing how he actually feels about another dog.

Now they have some hard work to do which I know they will approach with the same dedication they did his recall.

They will work on changing how Boycie feels when he spots another dog while he’s trapped beside them on lead. It’s not about ‘stopping’ what he does, but changing the emotion that makes him do it in the first place. Dealing with it at source.

Boycie’s whole attitude is one of not wanting that dog too close. On lead he’s denied that choice of increasing distance if he feels it’s necessary. He has become increasingly reactive.

To work on this there are one or two other things to do at home that may well help. One is taking responsibility for protection duty. This doesn’t mean he shouldn’t bark at all, but that they deal with it in a certain way. If he doesn’t rely upon them to make the decisions regarding safety and protection at home, he’s less likely to do so on walks.

With a dog this size, ‘dominating’ and controlling him isn’t feasible. In this day and age when we know better, it’s also not ethical. Instead, the dog can learn to make his own correct decisions.

The first thing is that he should get as little opportunity as possible to rehearse the behaviour. The more he does it, the more of a habit it becomes.

Trust in his humans

Boycie needs to trust the person holding his lead to make the right decisions when he’s trapped beside them. He is saying ‘Go away’ when he sees another dog because he wants to increase distance. To his mind the dog, for whatever reason, could be a threat. He freezes as soon as he spots it, however distant. He is unmovable. If another dog gets too close, he rears on his back legs to lunge.

Boycie needs to trust them to increase distance to a comfortable point (for him) immediately.  After a while he should realise that he doesn’t have to make so much fuss when he sees another dog. His humans will be attuned to him.

With time, patience and help, they will change the way he feels about other dogs. He will begin to associate them with good things – fun or food. After some weeks of following our plan, he should be able to get close without reacting. He will either ignore the dog completely or engage with his person with instead.

‘Calm and interested’ is our ultimate goal when he sees another dog too.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Boycie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Cane Corso’s Protective Instinct

Cane Corso had been in rescue for fourteen monthsA Cane Corso (Italian Mastiff) was bred to guard the property and hunt. Taken into a family home, she is bound to be a challenge as Brooke’s original owners probably found out. She had been in the care of a rescue organisation for fourteen months before coming to her new home. She is now three years old.

It’s not surprising that, due to a mixed past and her genetic inheritance that she is suspicious of strangers and dogs. Suspicious implies fearful and protective.

Brooke’s new owners knew what they were taking on four or so months ago. They have already made terrific progress. They know that there is still a long way to go, particularly where Brooke’s encountering people, dogs, traffic, bikes and so on is concerned. They can’t predict what her response will be.

After one unfortunate incident when someone came to the house, they are also very careful to train their visitors!

I am making Brooke sound like a difficult and touchy dog, but for the most part this isn’t the case. She is highly intelligent, loving and gentle with the people she knows. I found her friendly and biddable.

A dog like this makes a nonsense of ‘dominance’ techniques (confronting a dog, facing or pinning it down to ‘show who is boss’). That would be the fast track to a nasty bite and a dangerous dog. Fortunately Brooke’s owners would not consder doing these things, but in some respects they are not clear what they should be doing.

Effective leadership has nothing to do with dominating, though it does mean making decisions and standing firm; encouraging a dog to be respectful where our own personal space is concerned – especially a dog of such strength and power.

Leadership is about consistency, calmness and confidence. Most dogs are predisposed to wanting to please their humans, so we tap into this. We cut down on confrontational commands and enlist her cooperation with encouragement and reward. Whilst demonstrating to Brooke that her warnings of danger are valued, actually dealing with the danger is not her job – it is that of the leaders. Brooke should be ‘off duty’ and trusting her humans to see to things – especially when out on walks where, on lead, effectively she is trapped.  She is trapped, attached to someone who is nervous and worried, who may not react as a leader should in the eyes of a dog when encountering things she perceives as a threat. It is no wonder an already protective breed can go into full guarding mode.

Leaders are not nervous or worried. Leaders are decisive. It’s a sign of strength and not weakness to walk away from possible trouble.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.