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Fear aggression has got really, really bad :-(

(36 Posts)
MyDogAttacksOtherDogs Wed 10-Dec-14 16:39:10

Have name changed for this as I have posted before about my dog and I don't want to be recognized in RL.

We have had our rescue dog for over three years. We got him as a puppy (14 weeks) and he was absolutely brilliant for the first two years although he always had dreadful recall, whatever we tried to do. He also from day one disliked 'flat faced' dogs such as Boxers and Pugs and showed aggression to them but we researched this and were not too concerned as apparently it is a 'known' thing amongst dog experts.

However, in the last year, for absolutely no reason we can fathom, he has become terribly aggressive towards all other dogs. This is particularly when he is on the lead but not always. He lunges, snarls and barks at other dogs and also at cars, bicycles (today a group of bikes with children on them sad). No one else has walked him in the past year apart from us so it can't be that something has happened to him that we don't know about.
In the house he is a dream…loving, friendly, obedient and great with the DCs and other people. But out on walks he has become unbearable and we are blush and angry and sad at people commenting about our 'chien mechant' - nasty dog - (we live in France) and parents pulling their children away from him when they hear him making his awful noises and lunging at other dogs. For the last few months we have walked him at the quietest times of the day to try and avoid other dogs…but they can't always be avoided. We cannot take him into town with us anymore, or to any event with lots of people as he becomes extremely stressed and literally tries to attack any passing dog, big or small.

We have tried distraction techniques till the cows have come home…high value treats, praise, you name it but it has not worked and in fact he is getting worse. Various dog trainers we have read about seem to advocate distraction but it doesn't work with our dog…we have been trying for the best part of a year.

We are now at the point where we can't ask any friends to look after him now and again, if we want to go off for a few hours, as we can't trust anyone else to take him for a walk due to his aggression. He is fine in the house but he is a largish dog (labrador sized) and needs walks…he can't live the rest of his life never leaving a house and garden. Plus, part of having a dog (for us) is that they are part of the family and mostly he comes with us wherever we go…but this has become impossible.

I am very upset about all of this and I don't know what to do. I have looked for dog behaviorists but the one or two I have found are much too far away and not feasible. But, what would they do that we haven't tried already?

If you have read this far, thank you, and any words of advice would be so welcome as we are at the end of our tether. We love our dog but we can't spend the next 10 or so years with him housebound. sad

VivaLeBeaver Wed 10-Dec-14 16:52:04

Have you tried distraction techniques with high value treats like ham or cheese?

You see a dog approaching in the distance and start treating him before he sees the other dog. Keep treating and praising him as the dog passes. Ideally at first don't get too close to the other dog. Over time you can increase how close you get.

If at any point he reacts to the other dog you stop treating, say a firm no and put him behind you, so you're between him and the other dog. Then turn and walk in the opposite direction from that dog.

tabulahrasa Wed 10-Dec-14 17:01:10

Has he had a full vet check up?...my dog has a spinal issue that cause a very sudden seemingly unexplained reactions to all those things where he had previously been fine. He showed no other symptoms that I spotted. There are also other health conditions that cause similar issues, either because of pain or hormonal imbalances.

A behaviourist will have ideas that you haven't tried btw...and if you can find one, they usually travel to you rather than you doing the travelling.

MyDogAttacksOtherDogs Wed 10-Dec-14 17:01:13

Yes, we have tried ham, cheese, sausage, even bits of pancake (which he loves) and we have tried exactly as you say.
Putting him behind me is almost impossible when he is lunging and straining - he is a strong, healthy male dog. When I turn away I am dragging him with all my strength, with him growling and barking sad

SnakeyMcBadass Wed 10-Dec-14 17:02:16

I have a 3 year old fear aggressive dog, so I know how hard it is. There are things you can do to make your dog feel more confident and less likely to react, but I wanted to share some advice I was given on these boards by mistlethrush.

It's ok if you can't face walking a reactive dog every day. You can throw a ball, play scent games, spend a few minutes training a few times a day. Accept that this dog might never be comfortable around other dogs, and that might mean that he gets left at home on family outings and has his walks restricted. And that's ok. Because he's loved, fed, warm and you have his best interests at heart. Once you stop putting so much pressure on yourself, your relaxed vibe will pass down the lead and enable you to work on his reactivity without feeling out of control.

Good luck smile

MyDogAttacksOtherDogs Wed 10-Dec-14 17:02:52

Yes re vet check up... he was at the vets recently as he cut his paw. He has regular check ups as we travel to the UK with him regularly. Vet is very thorough. (He is a darling at the vet, wagging his tail and licking everyone, even when vet was putting staples in the cut!)

MyDogAttacksOtherDogs Wed 10-Dec-14 17:03:37

Thank you for the replies. I just want to cry…why has he become like this?

HelpMeGetOutOfHere Wed 10-Dec-14 17:11:22

For us it was because our black Labrador was attacked by another dog. He is now very stressed if another dog comes towards him. So much so that in all honesty he's a house dog. We have a largish garden and he has his ball thrown several times a day, the dc run up and down the garden with him. I throw a frisbee every time I go outside etc etc.

I do walk him a few times a week but he just hates other dogs. You can see him trembling as soon as he spots another dog and will start whining almost crying and them when they get too close he starts barking and snarling. We try and avoid places and times with lots of dogs but we live in an area with a lot of dogs.

It's not ideal and it's not our vision of dog owning. We have a terrier as well who is fine, is walked at least twice a day and loves playing with other dogs. But I'd rather he was happy and loves with us but not going for walks than in a rescue unable to be rehomed and then put to sleep.

Good luck finding a solution.

MyDogAttacksOtherDogs Wed 10-Dec-14 17:47:16

Thank you again for the replies. They really help.

LoathsomeDrab Wed 10-Dec-14 19:08:22

I'm another who's been where you are and knows how soul destroying it can be.

I'd definitely agree with those suggesting taking the pressure off a bit. It's ok not to be taking him out every day if the walk is nothing but stress for both you. There's all sorts you can do at home (trick training, brain games, etc.) to keep him happy on the days you don't take him out.

There's a FB page dedicated to compiling a list of secure fields that can be hired for private use. If he enjoys walks when there are no other dogs about then, if you can find somewhere local to you, it might be an option taking him out without the risk of running into other dogs.

DDog1 was severely fear aggressive, to the point that just leaving the house was an ordeal for him as he was constantly on guard looking for other dogs. Five years of behaviourists, one to one training sessions and everything else we could think of to help him didn't work and he ended up living as a house dog.

Initially it felt like failure but as he relaxed and got happier it became obvious it'd been the right decision for him. No, it wasn't quite how DH and I had envisaged dog ownership but he was happy and once the stress was removed he was the most lovely dog.

MyDogAttacksOtherDogs Wed 10-Dec-14 22:02:42

Thanks Loathsome, and what a fab FB page...we are not in the uk, though, and unfortunately there is nothing like that around here.

DDog is curled up in his bed, sleeping peacefully, looking angelic...and in the house he is indeed angelic.

It sounds like fear aggression is not easily treated and that perhaps it's something that just needs to be lived with and the expectations of dog ownership have to be adjusted. This may be ok, to an extent, but I do worry about what happens when we need to leave him with someone...I guess he'd just have to stay in their house and garden and have a ball thrown to him. sad

No walk tomorrow, then...we need to do some talking and thinking.

MsAdorabelleDearheartVonLipwig Wed 10-Dec-14 22:02:51

My boy became quite aggressive when he was three. I put it down to the fact that I was pregnant and my hormones upset him. He was very sensitive to change and mood. Perhaps it wasn't though? Perhaps he'd reached a teenage stage in his life and his hormones kicked in? Just a thought. They do have a teenage stage. I thought it was around two but perhaps it has kicked in in your dog. We were told to get him neutered, by my dog trainer and also a vet suggested it. Worked like a dream. My lovely dog was back.

Hope you sorry it out. Sounds very sad.

MsAdorabelleDearheartVonLipwig Wed 10-Dec-14 22:15:27

*sort it out blush

MyDogAttacksOtherDogs Thu 11-Dec-14 07:46:51

Thanks MrsAdorabelle.
Our dog definitely went through a teenage stage at about one (he became mischievous and suddenly 'forgot' all his training wink) but then he settled. He was neutered at 6 months.
DH is still thinking whether we should take him back to the rescue. But we all love him so much - in the safe confines of the house and garden! Out on a walk he's like a completely different - and nasty - dog.

MsAdorabelleDearheartVonLipwig Thu 11-Dec-14 08:31:28

God I don't know then. Seems a shame to have to muzzle him and keep him on a lead for the rest of his life. I wish I could help.

tabulahrasa Thu 11-Dec-14 08:43:59

I wouldn't be accepting that this is just how he is when it's been a fairly recent development...

Have you tried asking the behaviourists if they are too far from you? Or you said you bring him to the uk...could you see someone there?

Swingball Thu 11-Dec-14 08:48:03

I know a few fearful rescue dogs. There is no quick fix unfortunately but this therapy has worked well with a couple I know who are much better than they were. Takes some work though.

Swingball Thu 11-Dec-14 08:51:44

It is a training method I should say, it is just called 'Behaviour Adjustment Therapy'.

Swingball Thu 11-Dec-14 08:55:27

Behaviour Adjustment Training!! Just ignore me, don't know where I am getting 'therapy' from.

Chrismoosemama Thu 11-Dec-14 10:54:00

I'd second Swingball's suggestion of BAT training. If done properly it can be really effective. I'd have a read of the book and watch some of the videos on YouTube to properly understand how it works.

Basically the reward for the dog not reacting to whatever it usually reacts to is a 'functional reward' ie, whatever the dog really wants at that moment - which for fearful dogs is to get away from the scary thing.

So, you work at a good distance, just outside the dog's threshold and reward him by moving away from the 'thing/other dog' every time he stops fixating on it and offers a calming signal, such as looking away or sniffing the ground etc. (Read Turid Rugaas' book On Talking Terms with Dogs to learn about calming signals.)

This process doesn't fix dogs in terms of making them want to interact with other dogs, but it teaches them that they can relax and be calm around them and there's no need to be aggressive, so eventually you end up with a dog that can be walked where there are other dogs without reacting.

It's a slow process though and you have to work at the dog's pace. If he reacts, you've pushed him over threshold and need to extend the distance to the point where he's able to cope and start again from there.

The biggest problem is controlling situations so that other dogs don't charge up to him, pushing him over threshold, while you're working with him. It works best if you can find other people who have dogs to arrange 'set ups' with stooge dogs.

I have a dog:dog fear aggressive lad. (Well, I say aggressive, he's actually a super-wuss and while he will bark if he sees a dog on the horizon, he'll run away if they get up close.) We're using BAT with him and he is improving, but we're taking it at his pace.

CalamityKate1 Thu 11-Dec-14 11:19:19

Sorry but you DONT want to be treating him before he sees the other dog.

The thought process needs to become "Ooh! Another dog! Great! I get a treat!!" - not "Oh. I'm getting treats. That must mean another dog is about to appear".

The sight of another dog needs to predict great things in order to change his mindset. If treats predict other dogs approaching he's just going to start seeing treats as something bad.

Chrismoosemama Thu 11-Dec-14 14:12:47

If you're going the positive associations route then Calamity is right. You need to treat bomb him, literally shovelling especially yummy treats in, as soon as other dogs appear, not beforehand. It's the association between the lovely treats and the appearance of the other dog that will help change his mindset. For my dog, that wasn't enough to help him get over his fear and the functional reward of being able to retreat was the way forward, although now he's improved I do a bit of both, depending on the situation.

To be totally honest though, I would really recommend doing your best to consult a qualified behaviourist. Fear aggression is hard enough to deal with, without trying to do it without any back-up/support. If you could arrange to see an APBC or IMDT registered behaviourist while you're in the UK, many of them include follow up phone and/or email back-up in their fee, so they would be able to continue supporting you, even though you aren't in the same country.

CalamityKate1 Thu 11-Dec-14 14:27:38

....yep. The timing is crucial too and don't forget that being taller, you will probably see other dogs appear before he does. So make sure he HAS seen them before you treat. Then like Chrismoose says - shovel those really good treats in his face. When the other dog goes away, so do the treats.

HelpMeGetOutOfHere Thu 11-Dec-14 15:56:04

So if you can't afford a trainer/behaviourist, what would you recommend?

There are plenty of trainers around here but all over £100 an hour. I can afford the initial appointment. It's the regular appointments usually recommended for at least once a week and most recommended 2/3 a week.

tabulahrasa Thu 11-Dec-14 16:13:53

"There are plenty of trainers around here but all over £100 an hour. I can afford the initial appointment. It's the regular appointments usually recommended for at least once a week and most recommended 2/3 a week."

That's not how most behaviourists charge...it's an initial assessment then phone and email support while you work on the behaviour plan and follow up visits are done as and when needed, so at least a few weeks later to give the plan a chance to actually make a difference and also charged at a lower rate.

Some insurance policies cover them as well and some behaviourists do lower rates for rescue dogs.

Trainers are different and are a bit of a law unto themselves, behaviourists should be qualified and registered...pretty much anyone can be a dog trainer.

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