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Puppy aggression issues

(7 Posts)
MsNg Sun 21-Oct-12 22:21:48

My puppy is 6 months old and suddenly, two weeks ago, started acting really aggressively towards a lot of other dogs, usually larger more intimidating breeds. I can see that it's nervousness that always come out as agression with her but I corrected her on this months ago and she was being so polite to other dogs. I am pulling her away, grasping her by the muzzle, turning her head away from the other dog and saying 'No!!' very sternly and gruffly to her very much in her face.

She's also being aggressive to others dogs, ones she's usually friends with, when I give her a treat and there's another dog around - with the same treatment she seems to be improving a little with this but we have to find steady dogs and owners who are OK with me offering pup a treat near their dog knowing that she's likely to snarl and snap at their dog. With a few tellings off and retries each day she's improved but we're not there yet.

Today she bit my friend's four-year-old son in the face - not at all hard, she didn't leave any mark but he was shocked. He wasn't doing anything to annoy her other than being noisy (and my DS is pretty noisy and she's coped fine with it) though she was fairly hyped up; we were just out for a walk. I grabbed her, turned her away and gave her another very gruff telling-off.

Am I doing the right thing? Do I need a behaviourist? Is this just a fear phase? She was a little like this when I first got her and she was nervous but she has seemed increasingly chilled out up to this point.

Lougle Sun 21-Oct-12 22:33:55

" I am pulling her away, grasping her by the muzzle, turning her head away from the other dog and saying 'No!!' very sternly and gruffly to her very much in her face. "

Please don't do this sad

If she is nervous, that sort of telling off will reinforce to her that she should expect something unpleasant to happen.

My dog is very fearful of other dogs, and we have just been to see a behaviourist. She recommended using a 'Look, dog' phrase with a clicker and yummy treats. The idea is that as soon as our dog looks at another dog, we click and say 'Look, dog' in an encouraging voice, then treat. When the dog goes out of view, we stop treating.

The other thing that can be used is 'BAT' and the behaviourist was showing us that his 'threshold' was actually quite a lot further away than we realised. So, if your dog is reacting to other dogs, you can try clicking when he sees another dog, then immediately turning away in the opposite direction and treat as you walk.

The idea with both of these is to get a positive association with seeing dogs, then the distance can be gradually reduced.

MsNg Sun 21-Oct-12 22:44:12

Ah! Hadn't thought of it that way Lougle! I do praise her and reward her whenever she greets another dog nicely at the moment which she does about 75% of the time. It seems to go wrong most often after she's gone in for a first sniff unexpectedly or if the other dog is restrained at a distance or if it approaches her suddenly that she bares her teeth and starts snapping; she does better if I greet the other dog first and/or I'm saying 'gently' to her in a soothing voice. When she's doing well she starts a game or just sniffs, wags politely and moves on. Perhaps I just need to be a lot more on the case about 'introducing' her to other dogs rather than expecting her do do it herself?

rachmultiplemum Sun 21-Oct-12 23:11:35

Hi, its classic fear aggression and i am afraid that you are not handling it in the right way at all.

As your dog’s ‘guide’, you need to watch her carefully to see how she is responding to other dogs. You may never understand exactly why she is reacting with aggression – but you can go some way to helping her to deal with dogs more calmly and confidently. A confident dog isn’t aggressive. Any dog showing aggression towards another dog feels threatened. She feels she needs to defend a resource: either food, a toy, possibly members of her human or canine family, or her space. Most often, she is defending her space.

Once you understand that dog aggression is largely defensive, you can see that very few dogs attack without provocation. Even fewer attack without giving very clear early signs that they are feeling threatened. It’s up to us to see those signs and protect our dogs. When she feels more confident, you can help her to face the situation AT HER COMFORTABLE PACE.

These are the signs to look for. They may all happen, they may happen in different sequences. Some dogs only show a few before lunging, so you need to watch your dog carefully to see how she looks when she’s uncomfortable:
1. Body goes stiff
2. Back legs are right underneath her body and stiffened
3. Front legs may be stretched forward a little
4. Body may lean backwards slightly
5. Tail is upright and stiff. It may be wagging, or wind-milling. Neither of these is a sign of friendliness, it simply means adrenalin is pumping through her body and all her systems are on alert
6. Ears go stiff and upright
7. Hackles will appear along her neck first, then her back and haunches. Raised hackles like this can indicate fear as much as aggression
8. Her pupils will dilate and she will stare
9. She may ‘huff’
10. As she prepares to attack, her ears will go back and the muscles in front of them will be tight
11. Her lips and mouth will go tense and move forward, so that you can see her front teeth, possibly her tongue, with a real snarl
12. She will freeze.

10, 11 and 12 are the signs of a dog about to bite. You need to make sure you have removed her from the threat before she reaches this stage.

The important thing is to be in control of the way you react to her growling/barking/lunging. The thing to aim for is to always stay calm and never engage with her. Don’t shout at her, yank the lead or push her. Don’t try and force her onto the ground. Don’t even speak to her. All these things will make her feel more threatened so that, when she next sees a dog she finds threatening, she’ll associate that dog with the upset of being told-off. Her behaviour will get worse. Shouting is very like barking – it’s a sign to your dog that you’re getting over-excited and aroused. If you shout, all you’re doing is suggesting to her that you’re joining in with her barking, which is likely to make her double her efforts.

Try to avoid putting your dog in a situation where she feels the need to lunge at another dog (person, post-box, bike, etc). Once she is at this stage, she has gone ‘over threshold’ and will find it very hard to even hear you, let alone respond to anything you ask her to do.

I am passionate about ‘setting your dog up to succeed’. Success, in this situation, is being able to respond to other dogs calmly and (eventually) with a friendly, soft eye and a safe greeting. It’s your job to help her do that, and the only way to get there at first is to make sure she isn’t in a position to go over threshold.

I don’t mean avoid situations. Not going to the park and being around other dogs will never teach her to feel easy in her environment when she sees something threatening. You need to watch her carefully whenever she sees another dog so that you can help her deal with it.

You will need:
Plenty of half-pea sized pieces of cheese or other tasty, smelly treats that she really loves
A front-attachment harness
A lead – held loosely

When you see another dog coming towards you, watch yours carefully for the above signs. As soon as she shows any of them, stop and let your dog watch the other approach while on a loose lead. If she strains towards the dog, you have already let her get too close to it and she is starting to get over-reactive.

Now you need to look carefully for any calming signals that she might give. These signals are used to either calm herself (or you!) or the other dog. You may also recognise these as signs of stress. Mirroring them back to your dog is a really effective way of calming her – although hard to remember to do when you’re concentrating on treating her, holding the lead, and the treats, and being aware of where the other dog has got to!
1. ears held back (not pinned to the head, that’s a sign of real fury)
2. eyes blinking
3. lip-licking
4. yawning
5. paw lifted
6. head turned away
7. panting
8. scratching
9. sniffing the ground
10. sniffing her uro-genital area (not an easy one to mirror back to your dog!)

She needs to be given a treat for showing any of them within 2 seconds of doing them.
Then take her AWAY from the other dog immediately.
You need to take her away, because this in itself is a reward. You’re showing her that you’ve understood how threatened she feels, and that you’re helping her out by getting her away from the threat. Once you can see that she is calm again (soft eyes, loose body), you can try turning back to the dog and letting her watch it again to see if she might be able to get closer. If not, give her a cheery, ‘Let’s go then,’ walk away and give her a treat.

This can take weeks, if not months, before she can deal with other dogs. Nothing happens overnight, especially not with dogs who have problems with other dogs.

If you have time and someone who can help with a reliable, very calm dog, it’s incredibly useful to have some sessions with them where you can work on getting closer and closer to each other. Never go faster than your dog’s pace. Read her signals carefully, and always back up if she can’t cope with the other dog at any time. End on a good note – then try and come back the next day and try the session again.

If you can do this regularly over a period of a week, you will make much quicker progress than if you can only work with strange dogs at random times on your usual walk.

If, at any time, the other dog follows (and this is rare, if you’ve caught your dog’s unease early enough), don’t engage with either it, its owner, or your dog. Just walk away calmly and keep walking until the dog loses interest (even if you’re in the next county! It’s a tough one, but it’s vital that you stay calm). It will give up eventually, if your dog is focused on you. Keep treating your girl every time she manages to look at you.

And finally, if you have a dog that behaves aggressively, don’t give yourself a hard time. We all make mistakes around our dogs. Dealing with dog aggression is difficult, and takes a lot of patience. If, like me, you tend to be self-conscious, then being with a snarly/spitty dog and feeling the whole world is looking on is a very uncomfortable experience! If you feel you’ve reacted angrily and made things worse, just take a very deep breath, shrug your shoulders, go home and have a cup of tea (and chocolate!). There’s always tomorrow, and you’ll get there eventually smile

MsNg Mon 22-Oct-12 08:16:41

Thank you so much rach for taking the time to explain all this thanks I'll get started today :-) I'm sure that pup will be much happier with this than all the tellings off.

ChickensHaveNoEyebrows Mon 22-Oct-12 11:10:41

OP, I paid a behaviourist last week for this same issue with my 15 month old dog. She recommended the technique that Rach highlights, and it really does help. I'd been forcing interactions between my dog and other dogs in the misheld belief that it would help his socialising. I've probably made him worse. Now, we are walking the other way if he shows any signs of stress. In fact, we are teaching him that if he looks away from the other dog, we will walk away. He is already looking at me when he's uncomfortable, and the reward is a game of fetch in the other direction. He seems more confident with dogs at a certain distance already, because he knows that I'll keep him at a comfortable distance.

Lougle Mon 22-Oct-12 12:41:20

MsNg, I'll be willing to bet that you will see changes within a day or two smile The session with the behaviourist was so enlightening for me.

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