Can fear aggression be 'cured'?

(16 Posts)
Onwardsandsideways Fri 16-Aug-13 23:35:31

Met a lovely lady & her dogs when out with Poochie yesterday; we got chatting & one of her dogs is fear aggressive, I gave her the name of a behaviourist recently recommended on another thread but neither of us knew if fear aggression is something that can be resolved - any of you clever folk know?

It can certainly be hugely improved. I've met a number of dogs who've come a very long way. They are probably not going to ever be the life and the soul of the party, but the aim is to allow them to cope with normal daily interaction - and many dogs can get to that level.

Our old boy has made huge strides over the last ten months, so much so that I am seriously considering taking him to classes in the autumn, something I'd never have considered a year ago. However, I wouldn't take him somewhere like a busy dog show for instance - I think he'd find that too stressful. I'll be happy if he can cope with our normal walks, which he is now mainly doing except when some numptie does the "Oh, he's only being friendly" routine with an offlead cannonball Labrador. angry That can put him right back. He's also considerably more confident with people he doesn't know which is lovely.

Lonecatwithkitten Sat 17-Aug-13 07:52:50

It can be, but it takes a tremendous amount of work. I have known two dogs who were fear aggressive in the vets, who stopped being fear aggressive. However, both of them had to nearly die and spend quite a bit of time being nursed with us to decide they didn't need to eat us.

VivaLeBeaver Sat 17-Aug-13 08:05:21

My fear aggressive dog is under the behaviourist at Lincoln Uni, Daniel mills who I believe is meant to be one of the top experts in the country.

I've been told that my dog won't ever be cured but we can learn techniques together to manage his behaviour.

About three months of hard work which has at times driven me to the brink he is a lot better......but still plenty of room for improvement, mainly where dh is concerned. I don't think I'd ever trust the dog in a situation where he's in a confined space with people he doesn't know well, I'll always have to have him on a lead and muzzled.

However when I first got him he attacked everyone and everything in sight, including me and dh. The vet, other dogs, my friends, dd's friends.

He's now fine out and about, can go off lead with dogs and people he knows. He's fine with me and dd's friends. He's pretty much stopped biting dh and the growling/snarling to dh though still an everyday occurrence is better.

I was told it couldn't ever be totally cured, as generally it stems from a nervous personality type which is hard wired, but it can be managed through training and careful interactions. My dog is a lot better than he was, but still finds some situations difficult and will probably always be reactive if pushed.

Onwardsandsideways Sat 17-Aug-13 11:02:28

That's interesting Lesser, if it's a behaviour that stems from a personality type then it probably can't be, but I wonder if its a result of an early incident it can be? The dog we met had been attacked by a Jack Russell when she was young & off lead, and has been fear aggressive to other strange dogs when out ever since - which is such a shame, she was lovely to me & my DC's, just kept a very wary eye on my pooch (who, unless you're ball shaped, has no interest in you whatsoever!). I hope her owner contacts the behaviourist and they find a solution. Thanks folks!

idirdog Sat 17-Aug-13 11:40:25

Most dogs with fear aggression can make such an improvement that they can function in "normal" situations, eg meeting well mannered dogs, greeting people etc.

Some dogs may still find some situations challenging eg meeting unruly "overfriendly dogs" but with correct training you will have strategies to cope with this and to prevent it impacting on the dog.

The reason for the fear aggression does not matter eg personality type of result of an incident if the training is concentrating on changing the emotional response to the trigger. Often the human owners misinterpret the reason why their dogs are reactive. So the JRT may have been giving off warnings that the owner had not noticed long before the attack took place.

Do not ever give up on a reactive dog but get professional advice that concentrates on reward based training under threshold- you will see remarkable improvement in a short space of time.

idirdog Sat 17-Aug-13 11:42:17

Just to say I have 6 reactive rescue dogs who where deemed unhomeable due to their reactivity. They all now compete at agility, obedience and 4 are PAT dogs. smile

Wow, idir. That's amazing (and gives me some hope!)

Armadale Sat 17-Aug-13 11:45:40

iridog what is reward based training under threshold, please?

Is this like, with my dog, If I have to walk him past a dog he reacts to, feeding him bits of sausage to distract him and doing it first by crossing on the other side of the road as the same side would be too much for him??

Viva, your post has really cheered me up. Our dog only nips when cornered by someone trying to handle him when he has already growled & tried to get away. Lots of well meaning people have told me he should be pts but I have always felt it is my job to keep him away from people in such situations where he can't get away, and seeing the point at which you started, which is much, much, worse, has given me confidence to carry on

I've been told to PTs or rehome my reactive dog, too. Despite the fact he has never hurt anyone, or put a mark on another dog hmm He's hard work, and I do get disheartened, but I took him on. It's not his fault he's a batshit spaniel with ishooos. He loves chasing his ball, he climbs up on to my lap for cuddles and is my DC's best mate. It's stressful sometimes, and horrendous at others, but mostly it's just...normal.

HoopersGinger Sat 17-Aug-13 11:50:38

My 4 year old lab snaps, snarls and chases away over friendly boisterous pups. He doesn't bite them. Sorry to thread crash but does this count as fear aggression?

VivaLeBeaver Sat 17-Aug-13 12:33:22

I've been told by a lot of people to have my dog pts. But I'm not giving up on him.

The fact that your dog growls first and only does it when cornered is really good. He's telling people to go away when he growls at them and they need to listen and back off at that point.

Our behaviourist has told dh that at any growling he's to walk away, no eye contact, no telling off, etc. our situation is complicated by the fact that when dh does this the dog will chase him, including up the stairs. Which the behaviourist said wouldn't happen. hmm

But like I say its getting better.

idirdog Sat 17-Aug-13 12:35:59

There is no scientific evidence for this just my opinion and observation but so many dog reactive dogs do seem to just luuuuuurve people. It seems they understand how people react, they know what to do to keep the situation happy. Often these dogs are giving out the same signals to other dogs but the other dogs just do not pick on on their signals and bundle in - the reactive dogs then need to up the anti eg lunge and bark.

Generally reactive dogs very quickly learn how to be calm and relaxed around well controlled good mannered dogs. There is just an increase in the "my dog only wants to play" type owner who gets away with not training their dog as they will not physically hurt anyone HOWEVER they cause major emotional trauma to many dogs.

When training reactive dogs there is a small line between distraction and learning to deal with the situation. Some situation distraction is the only way to go. Eg Mad bouncy dog charging over I would teach a lets go command or find it command and leg it!

However generally you want to change your dogs reaction to the other dogs so you do need your dog to acknowledge the other dog and whilst they are calm (under threshold) treat and treat. Even with the most toy driven dog I would do this with treats to start with.
1. if the dog does not eat he is over threshold
2. toys can wind up the dogs to an excited level and then it is hard to see threshold levels.

Your aim is to get your dog comfortable around dogs not just ignoring them. However you may need to start this from massive distances away. It may be by starting with a stuffed dog. It may be using a friend on the otherside of the football pitch.

Your dog looks at the dog you treat and move away or move on. Watch your dogs body language carefully even get someone to video it. You will see very subtle signs of discomfort.

Some dogs look away and just will not look at the other dog, some lip lick, some raise their tails, some sniff etc these are all signs you are a bit too close.

Some dogs just go over threshold way to fast to see the warning signals.

Use the places you avoid to try this out. The park usually a place owners with reactive dogs stay away from. Be the other side of the fence, work out your escape routes eg hide behind a car etc. Let your dog see other dogs at a calm distance and reward.

I run reactive dog classes and I can guarantee that they will be calmer than the "general" dog classes. They will be set up in a way that the dogs can handle the other dogs. Usually there is no reactivity at all and by the second session the dogs are happily walking in parallel and towards each other. But this does not mean they are "cured" In that location and with those dogs they feel comfortable, this then needs to be taken out on location.

VivaLeBeaver Sat 17-Aug-13 12:36:17

Afaik reward based training is what we were told to do to get the dog to associate something he doesn't like/is fearful of as a positive thing.

So if dh wants to come in the room where the dog is which normally results in the dog kicking off then dh has to bring cheese with him and throw cheese in the direction of the dog to distract him. This was coupled with me (when I was there) praising the dog if he ignored dh. We're now at a stage where we don't need to use the cheese as the dog started to be happy with dh coming in the room.

Onwardsandsideways Sun 18-Aug-13 20:55:52

Idirdog I agree there are more and more 'oh he's just being friendly' owners about and it's becoming a real pain! My ddog just isn't interested in playing with other dogs, she just wants her ball, but will happily tolerate other dogs coming up to say hello - and most get the message that she doesn't want to play and will back off...however, there's always the one that won't! And it really pisses me off that, as I can tell by my dog's body language when she's had enough and could get snappy, I'm the one who has to walk away whilst they call their 'just being friendly' dog off - which most of the time doesn't respond! Then I have to make my girl sit and wait whilst they have another attempt at retrieving their bloody dog! Really annoys me - why is my pooch the one who has to stop having fun, when she's being perfectly well behaved?! angry

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