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Desperately seeking solution for nervous/aggressive RR-cross

(15 Posts)
MintyTea Mon 11-Mar-13 16:03:56

Hi all,

We are desperately seeking a solution for what to do about our Rhodesian Ridgeback/cross bitch.

We got her from a cat/dog home who said the following about her which turned out to be untrue:

- that she was good with people
- that she was good with other dogs
- that she was good with cats
- that she was a Lab/Staffie cross (she was such a mixture it was hard to tell what she was, but then we could see a faint ridge developing as she got older)

But it turned out soon after we got her that she is a nervous-aggressive dog who is bad with meeting nearly all new people (especially men), and bad with meeting other dogs. Once she knows you, she is very affectionate.

We have a 19-month old toddler who came along after the dog, and the dog so far doesn't have a problem with her, apart from knocking her over nearly every time they pass in the house and clawing her when she (the dog) is lying on her back (she doesn't mean it, she just still gets extremely excited if anyone pats her). We can live with this and prevent it, but I am very worried that there might be that one time that something happens and dd or one of her friends is injured. Or that they will get in the middle of some aggressive behaviour - eg if the dog sees a stranger and lunges. I do try to keep them apart but don't like to leave my dog outside for too long, and we don't have stairs so it's very easy for them to be together. When visitors with kids come, she has to be shut in a room and barks the whole time.

I fell two weeks ago while walking her as she was barking so aggressively at a dog across the park that she pulled me over, and I had to go to A&E to get my hand looked at. I still have whiplash pains in my arm and am too nervous to walk her now as she's big and strong. My husband works away during the week (it's a fairly recent thing and unavoidable) and so he can't walk her, and that would mean paying £50-plus a week for a dog walker. We've already paid upwards of £3000 for dog-walking services while I was on maternity leave as I didn't want to be pulled over while pregnant or caught in a dog fight.

She was meant to go and be dog-sat with my mum while I was working but got into a fight with my mum's lab and both dogs drew blood.

We have seen 2 behaviourists, one of whom came to see us on 3 consecutive weekends, and got some good advice, but it didn't seem to work after they had left.

Our instinct tells us that the dog would be happier with a non-toddler family, or child-free family, one who can spend hours a day training and walking, but I feel wretched at the thought of having to take her to a rescue centre after her coming from a rescue centre. I also don't want to take her back to the same rescue centre as they don't seem to assess their dogs well, and they don't do follow-up calls or visits of any sort. I'd love it if I knew of someone who could take her but how likely is that?

If there's anyone out there with some good advice, we really need it. I am aware that many of you will feel angry on reading this, but please, we need constructive advice - we are already beating ourselves up more than you could imagine.

Thanks in advance.

(PS. We are in East Scotland)

Callisto Mon 11-Mar-13 16:18:31

Oh dear, she sounds such hard work. Have you tried regular training classes, once or twice a week maybe? Also, how do you entertain her when she can't be walked as I can imagine that this must exacerbate any problems.

MintyTea Mon 11-Mar-13 16:34:25

Thanks for your reply, Callisto.

We just couldn't take her to training classes as she would act nervously/aggressively towards the majority of the other dogs.

We do take her to my parents' house and let her run round their large garden when we can (and she can run round ours and chase a ball, etc although ours is smallish) but it's not always possible. You're absolutely right, though - if she got a long walk every day I'm sure the nervous energy and aggression would dampen down.

It's a really unfortunate vicious circle.

Callisto Mon 11-Mar-13 18:34:10

I know she isn't pure Rhodesian Ridgeback, but would it be worth getting in touch with the RR breed rescue (if there is such a thing) as they may well either be able to give you advice specific to the breed or actually have someone who would be willing to take her on.

As for her pulling you over - could you try a halti/gentle leader kind of thing as dogs don't tend to pull on these. Do you feed her treats when she is doing her anxious/aggressive thing? It really works for some dogs - give her loads of tiny pieces of her favourite food whenever you see another dog so she begins to associate strange dogs/people with good things.

I am no expert or have any experience with a dog of this nature though. Hopefully someone with some useful advice and real knowlege will be along soon. Good luck.

tabulahrasa Mon 11-Mar-13 18:38:08

'We have seen 2 behaviourists, one of whom came to see us on 3 consecutive weekends, and got some good advice, but it didn't seem to work after they had left.'

Can I ask why not?

MintyTea Mon 11-Mar-13 18:48:19

Callisto, thanks - I didn't know there were breed-specific rescues but it's something we can search for.

We have tried a Halti, K9 Bridle, and 2 types of muzzles, and we have ordered a Thundershirt to see if that helps.

Regarding the treats, I always thought you had to reward only when they had calmed down and not reacted, if you see what I mean, and not reward their anxiety. Is this something you've tried, or seen others do? Thanks.

Tabulah, we did do everything as we were told, eg. one-word commands for "bed" and "down", etc, and she would (sometimes) do it with the behaviourist standing there, but on our own with her, even though we did things the same, it seemed to stop working. I don't know if we're just not dominant enough or using the right tones, but we do try to say it assertively and calmly. But you can see her anxiety taking over, and she just doesn't seem to hear. Sometimes even when she is not anxious she completely ignores commands and growls when you try to be firmer. It's a result of her not having been trained or socialised early in life.

Callisto Mon 11-Mar-13 18:52:43

The food thing is something that I came across on here, no experience of it myself I'm afraid.

RedwingWinter Mon 11-Mar-13 19:27:21

This sounds like a really tricky situation for you and first of all I want to commend you for keeping on trying through all of this. All of the problems you have can be solved and a behaviourist should be able to help, so it's disappointing the ones you've seen so far haven't helped. It sounds like you have a lovely dog in there albeit one with problems at the moment that are making things very difficult.

I just want to correct something in your earlier post which may be that the behaviourist didn't explain it properly. First of all, you don't have to worry about not reinforcing fear. Actually because fear is an emotion (not a behaviour) you can't reinforce it. Your dog can't help being afraid and you don't have to worry about not reinforcing the anxiety because you can't.

It's important to understand this because the thing that helps with a fearful dog is a systematic desensitization/counter-conditioning. This can take a long time but it works. It sounds counter-intuitive if you think you can reinforce fear, but makes sense once you know that you can't. Essentially you have to persuade the dog that other dogs are a good thing. You do this by giving treats when they see other dogs. They need to be high-value treats like pieces of sausage or cheese or something. Also, you have to be careful to stay far enough away from the other dog that your own dog isn't reacting.

At this point I expect you to say that would mean the far end of a football field. That's okay, it doesn't matter how big the distance is. Over time you will be able to gradually reduce the distance. You also will probably find at the beginning that you have to show the treats to the dog and provide them at a high rate. Over time, you can add a command (e.g. 'look dog') and your dog will start to look at you whenever she sees another dog. Then you can start to make her look to you first, before getting the treat, thus breaking that fixed stare.

There used to be a lovely person called Minimuu on the board and that's essentially what she explained to me and other people. You could search for some of those threads. It does work. I think it would be worth getting another behaviourist in (or one of the others back if you liked them) and asking them to spend more time working with you on this. Find one who is a member of the APBC if the earlier ones weren't.Sorry for writing an essay but I hope it's helpful. There is hope with a dog like this but it takes time, and practice at learning to handle it in the meantime.

There's also a book called Click to Calm which is good.

RedwingWinter Mon 11-Mar-13 19:38:14

Incidentally, like you I don't get on too well with a halti although it works great for some people. I'm not familiar with the K9 bridle that you mention, but I wonder if you've tried a harness that fastens with a clip at the front? (Apologies if that's what it is). I like the easy-walk harness but there are other brands too. Having the clip at the front redirects them when they pull so it works better than one that fastens at the back.

Booboostoo Mon 11-Mar-13 19:42:30

This is a tough one because your dog sounds like she needs quite a bit of training and work which is not necessarily something that is easy to do when you are busy with small children.

I would try:
- Adaptil collars and difusers, they help enormously with stress

- find some way of being able to walk her because the more she stays cooped up the worse the whole thing will get. What happens with the halter type leads, why don't they work?

- training takes a long time, both for dogs and for owners, a few weekends won't do it. You need an intensive period of lessons 3-4 times a week, using positive reward methods, until you are confident with the techniques and can apply them in new situations on your own.

- as above keep introducing her to other dogs, staying as far away as you need to (using a muzzle if you need to, to be safe) and rewarding her all the time for any good behaviour, e.g. looking at you, staying quiet even for a milli-second, etc. Place yourself between the other dogs and her and use a high value treat (liver, cheese, sausage) to try to get her attention.

MintyTea Mon 11-Mar-13 20:08:22

Redwing, thanks so much for your very full answer. What you say about anxiety is really interesting and I can give that a go, starting with when she goes crazy when the postman arrives and working up to a walk in an area where there will be other dogs.

Booboostoo, thank you too for your useful advice. The Halti didn't stop her pulling and the K9 Bridle can reduce her leash-pulling slightly and make her more controllable but it's not at all effective if she sees other dogs, people, etc. I hadn't heard of Adaptil so that's worth a try.

One of the behavourists suggested not using harnesses at all but just a half-chain-half-normal collar and a longish lead (which you could hold at a closer point to the collar at times of need). It does get tricky knowing which advice to follow, and you end up trying everything!

Thanks though, I really do appreciate the time you've taken to reply.

tabulahrasa Mon 11-Mar-13 21:21:40

I'm wondering if there's a bit of an issue with you being 'firmer' when she's anxious, if she's tense and anxious and you're tense and anxious - you're probably making each other worse if you see what I mean. But that's a hard one to do anything about other than try really hard to be calm and as normal as usual.

With what Redwing is saying - your longterm goal is to make her associate dogs with the good thing, your immediate one is just to distract her, even if it's only for a couple of seconds...that's what you're rewarding, until she realizes that she can ignore that dog over there and pay attention to you to get the food, eventually it should be a case of seeing a dog and her automatically looking at you to show you how good she is to get her treat, but to start with just looking at the treat briefly is enough.

Cheddars Mon 11-Mar-13 21:35:31

I think you need to give the Halti another try. It's difficult because you need 2 hands to use them properly (one hand down by the chin) so you wouldn't be able to push a buggy at the same time.

It took my ridge 3-4 years to come off the halti while walking on-lead, and 3-4 years of only going off-lead in huge outdoor spaces. Small parks held too many distractions, and people do find large dogs rather worrying. grin

If you are prepared to/have the time to put in the training and the walks you will have a lovely, calm dog who is great with children.

RedwingWinter Mon 11-Mar-13 22:57:41

The half-chain half-normal collar thing is called a martingale. It has its uses, especially with breeds of dog whose necks are bigger than their heads (because a normal collar would come off). But I don't think I would use it in your situation. It sounds like your dog is pulling quite hard and so they will end up pulling against the martingale anyway and make choking sounds. They won't actually choke, because half of it is a normal collar and it can't tighten that much, but they can still put some pressure on their neck. A harness is better because they don't get the pressure on the neck.

It does sound confusing, doesn't it, with lots of people giving different advice. I would ask a behaviourist to come and do several sessions with you (not just one where they explain what to do) because it's hard to learn how to do this, and much easier with someone to teach you. Cheddars is right, over time you will have a lovely calm dog. Well I think you already have a lovely dog, but over time she will be calm and well-behaved as well smile

baileysmam Wed 27-Mar-13 15:43:33

I feel so sorry for you and can sympathise with not wanting the dog to go back to the situation from which it come, i.e the rescue centre.
I'm having problems with my dog (not on your scale though) and like you have seen two animal behaviourists. It's frustrating isn't it? One bit of advice i did get from one of them though was to use a "CANNY COLLAR" which i've had more success with than the halti. Google it you may find it interesting. It's so frustrating because you look to yourself to see if it's something your doing wrong. I've kept dogs most my adult life but have not experienced anything like i am at the moment. It's such a shame.I really hope you manage to sort it.

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