Aggressive Encounters with Older Dogs

Bear is relaxed at home but can't be trusted with other dogs out on walks

Bear

Bear on the left is a 4-year-old mix of Jack Russell, Springer Spaniel and Shitzu! He lives with JR Nellie and an older Border Terrier.

All three dogs are very friendly without being pushy and life would be fine if Bear could be trusted with other dogs when out on walks. Unpredictably, he can mix with some other dogs when they are all off lead, but more often he is reactive and aggressive, particularly when either he or the other dog is on lead.

Friendly Jack Russell Nellie

Nellie

It probably all started when Bear was a very young dog; he would race up and down the fence with the neighbour’s very dog-aggressive larger dog doing the same thing the other side.  There would have been lots of barking and snarling. With hindsight it would have been a lot better if Bear had not been allowed to do this because he was already honing his hostile dog-to-dog skills – learning from the older dog.

Bear has attacked a couple young dogs out on walks which may well be doing them the harm that the big dog next door did to Bear.  It’s important that he never has the opportunity to do this again.

In order for Bear to learn reliable recall, working for food is the easiest and most efficient incentive (play and praise also can be used).

One might think that the work starts outside the house, but no.  A dog that is pandered to where food is concerned isn’t going to want to work for it. Bear won’t eat his very good food unless extra fish is added. I offered him a piece of cheese and he just  walked away!

Soon he will eat what he is given, he will go to his bowl rather than having it brought to him and he will eat it up without tasty extras added. Only then he will begin to value the more tasty stuff and they can then start to work on his dog-reactivity.

It is essential that he comes when called – not just when he feels like it but when there is another dog about. If he ignores them at home when they call him or want him to do something, he certainly won’t come running back when called if he’s spotted another dog.

When food gains value as a currency and they themselves gain more relevance so he more willingly does their bidding, they can then be using the special tasty stuff for rewards and reinforcement rather than bribes added to his food to make him eat!

 

On High Alert for Other Dogs

On high alert for other dogs when outOdoe is a bit of a mix – a delightful mix! There is certainly Terrier and probably Whippet in there. He had an uncertain first two or three years. Eight years ago he was brought over from Ireland and this was followed by time in kennels and at least one other home before his present owners adopted him six years ago.

He now has a wonderful home with a lovely caring young couple who have put in a lot of time to train him and make him happy.

Unusually motionless

Odoe however doesn’t come over as a very relaxed little dog; he may chase a bird outside followed by some tail chasing, and although I’m sure he’s not like this all the time I found him often unusually motionless. He sits and he stares. When out, he’s on high alert. Possibly when they can relieve him of his daily fears out on walks he will loosen up a bit. I hope so.

He is reactive and scared of other dogs – especially when he is on lead, but it is very likely that they worry unnecessarily and that this is part of the problem. He has never actually harmed a dog. He is also scared of large vehicles and will lunge at them.

This is really very brave. He is a little dog attempting to chase away things that scare him.

On high alert for other dogs

On high alert for other dogs, as they get nearer to him there is a ‘threshold’ beyond which he goes to pieces – hackles, lunging and barking. When they can they avoid this by escaping as soon as they spot a dog. This is a lot better than forcing him onwards, but it doesn’t teach Odie anything that will help him.

Up to a certain distance he is okay, and then he will flip. His owners can see it coming from is body language. This is Odie’s ‘threshold moment’. With a dog that indicates his threshold as clearly as Odie, the job is a lot easier, because it is here the work needs to be done to increase the dog’s confidence, enabling the threshold to expand over time until he can pass by other dogs without reacting – trusting in his owner.

As with many dogs, exactly how far away from the other dog this threshold is will vary from day to day, depending upon how stressed and tense he is and, importantly, how his walker is feeling also.

Odie starts out on walks in a state of high alert, scanning around looking for dogs. A calm dog walking on a loose lead is not looking out for trouble. Just as some people are a bit paranoid, always expecting the worst, a dog can be the same – especially when nervous messages are being sent down the lead.

There is More Going On Than Meets the Eye

Labrador Shepherd mix from GreeceZorba is probably mostly a Labrador-Shepherd mix, three years of age. He was found as a stray in Crete and was brought home by a family who unfortunately couldn’t keep him because he and one of their dogs fought to the extent they had to be kept apart.

Previous to his straying he may well have had a good home. It is hard to see how otherwise he could be so polite and well trained. He will have spent considerable time in quarantine kennels and he has survived all this change very well.

However, what he seemed like initially to me and what his new family of just one month also believed him to be like, hid a different dog. He was very quiet and calm, almost withdrawn, a little aloof perhaps, and there were little signs of anxiety like lip-licking when anyone left the room. They mentioned he would never give them eye contact. The two teenage daughters found they had to work hard to raise any enthusiasm in him for play. For a young dog he seemed to lack joyfulness. It may be he was being reinforced and rewarded for holding back because of all the effort that was being put into him. Each morning they would go to him and pay homage whilst he reclineZorba, unusually, giving eye contactd on the sofa. I suspect he wasn’t used to this sort of treatment.

From the moment I arrived I only gave him attention when I chose to – played hard to get if you like. There was no pressure on him whatsoever to react for me. Soon he was giving me lots of direct eye contact and actively working for me, doing as I ask after just one soft request – doing things they didn’t even know that he understood! I did a mock play bow and he immediately copied me and then rolled over onto his back, playfully. It’s like he came alive. It was wonderful.

Predictably the problems that they are struggling with are the meeting of other dogs on walks. In his previous home Zorba has had to protect himself from the other dog, as a stray he has had to look after himself, and all the noise of other dogs in kennels will not have helped.

With the humans in his life becoming more relevant at home – worth working for and looking to for guidance – and with calm loose lead walking gradually put in place, along with their appropriate reactions when other dogs appear, things should gradually turn around for the delightful Zorba.

He needs PG – my definition of Leadership: Protection and Guidance.

Email received two and a half months later: “We had a lovely holiday, but it really did highlight the areas of our training where we had probably been less focused than we should have. So we all committed to going home and ‘doing it right’. I feel that we had really expected too much too soon and had tried to move on too fast. Since our holiday we have really started again from first principles and I have to say, you’re absolutely right. At last we are seeing consistent improvements. We are still working on a good loose lead walk and it is so much better. We are getting a fabulous amount of eye-contact from him now, something we never had before, and he is almost a different dog. I feel that he is really with me, rather than feeling that I have ceased to exist. He is responsive and gives a lot of eye-contact.At first I found it difficult to see how loose lead walking would help with aggression to other dogs, but although he’s by no means ‘cured’, I’m beginning to get his attention far more when dogs arrive… but as long as they are far enough away, I can now get his attention and he will look at me instead. I suppose over time we will hope to be able to move closer – but I think that’s way off in the future – lots of consolidating to do first.
At home he continues to be a perfect sweetie. But – he’s starting to play – just a little bit, but it’s a start! He has just discovered that a ball can be fun. All this has happening over the last couple of weeks since we’ve been totally concentrated on small steps – coincidence or because he’s relaxing? He really didn’t care less about retrieving  anything a few weeks ago, now he likes it. I don’t think I’m imagining it – he does seem to be a little bit more relaxed around the home. So excellent progress from our point of view and perhaps the main thing is by adjusting our expectations we’ve actually made progress.”
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.