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).

Calm Down. Less Excitement, less Reactivity to Dogs

Calm down, Louis!

Young Staffie Bulldog mix, Louis, is an excitable delight who finds it hard to calm down!

Surprisingly, he does with ease something requiring real self-control that many other dogs would find hard. When the doorbell rings, as they go to open the door he takes himself off into another room! No barking.

He was let out to join me and had a good sniff.

Then the jumping up began.

He seldom jumps up at his owners now but he will invariably jump up at any other people who call at the house.

This is not really about jumping up, is it. It’s about excited, friendly greetings with maybe a tinge of anxiety.

Face to face is where dogs think greetings happen.

Imagine how hard it is for an excitable dog that isn’t shown what the human protocol for welcomes is – in a way that he understands.

Why does he keep jumping up despite scolding? The result must be worthwhile in some way. He gets a result that hypes him up even more. This will be attention of some sort from either the visitor or the couple who feel they need to intervene.

Trying to calm down his excitement

Louis trying self-control while he has his photo taken!

For Louis to gain some self-control he needs to calm down. People need to help him by not reacting to the jumping up but by showing him and reinforcing the greeting behaviours the do want with the attention he craves.

There is a fine line to what they can do! The smallest touch or silent drop on the floor of food may have to be enough. Any more and he will be jumping up with excitement again.

Louis is such a biddable dog. He really does his best. I took the photo of him trying with all his might to sit still for long enough. Look at that ‘trying my damnedest to sit still and please you’ Staffie face!

Louis with his own humans is different to Louis with others.

He jumps up at people but not his own two humans.

However he may react to other dogs when on walks with his owners, particularly on lead, but he’s fine dogs when out with other people. (Louis runs free with other dogs three times a week with a dog walker and is no problem at all).

Their concern started with a fight between Louis and a dog they had walked him with for a couple of months.

The dog he knew, with issues of his own, was muzzled as usual. This time there were two smaller dogs in the group and all four dogs including the muzzled dog were off lead. There was a lot of ball-throwing (guaranteed to wire dogs up) and more humans in the mix than usual.

It was all too much. The excitement sparked trouble. It had gone past the point where they could calm down.

The larger muzzled dog eyeballed Louis who suddenly retaliated. The two dogs were immediately parted – with some minor damage to the human hands that were involved.

Once something has happened, owners very understandably get nervous.

Walks are never quite the same or as enjoyable again.

Now when Louis is on lead and sees another dog, he may lunge and bark. How much of this is generated by the tightening of the lead by his worried humans they can only guess. How near to the other dog that it happens can vary.

I suggested they have a ‘week off’. A complete break from worrying about encountering other dogs. To avoid them altogether for a week. Walks are to mean something different – not simply as much exercise as they can cram in for an hour going from A to B.

Both they and Louis can have time to calm down and enjoy wandering, mooching, going nowhere in particular. Take a look at this: Take time to smell the roses (or pee if you are the dog), by Steve Mann.

Louis, after all, is still socialising with his friends and other dogs three times a week with his walker who has not problems with him at all.

During this week they can rehearse and role-play what they will do when they see another dog. The couple will work on an escape procedure for if they are taken by surprise.

They can do more work on the desensitisation they have already begun – encountering dogs at a distance where he can cope – the threshold. They will now add counter-conditioning – associating other dogs with the good stuff. We have worked out quite a tight plan of exactly how to do this for real.

“Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

The couple say they have spotted Louis’ thresholds already but they have either kept advancing or avoided the dog altogether. This is just what most people do and why these things usually don’t improve.

Currently they may try to distract him. Although this may keep the peace, it doesn’t teach him anything. Louis needs to know the dog is there, that it’s at a comfortable and safe distance and that he’s not going to be forced too close for comfort.

Then he will be helped to start feeling good about it.

If he’s so relaxed and enjoying his walks as I predict he will be when he has managed to calm down, they may even need to point the dog out to him. This will avoid a sudden surprise. “Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Louis. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).