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What should I do? Reactive dog problems

(7 Posts)
MyFriendsCallMeOh Wed 06-Apr-16 12:52:39

We adopted an 8 week old rescue dog nearly 3 years ago. She's a ridgeback / staffy mix, now 30kgs. I did puppy training with her and she is very high energy, loves to play a lot.

When she was a year old, she had some sort of bad experience in kennels (she was already going there for daycare once a week and had stayed before). She nipped at one of the workers there and would only let certain people take her from her crate to play. We called in a behaviourist who had worked with that particular kennel before and with some pointers and training she started going back there for daycare. She had a certain amount of time outs though as she was showing mild aggression towards other dogs. We stopped daycare and started avoiding certain situations (crossing the road when we saw other dogs etc).

Since then, she has snapped at a couple of people in our house (hands moving quickly near her as people speak, never anything directed towards her). She has made contact but never left a mark or caused pain. She has never shown any aggression towards me, dh or any of the dcs. When guests come, unless they are super comfortable with her, we crate ddog.

Last year we got a puppy (chi / maltese rescue) and they get along fine after a rocky start. We thought that maybe another dog would help her.

We also found a great dogsitter this year who is a very good trainer and keeps dogs in his house for boarding. Both dogs passed the evaluation test and stayed for 2 nights. They have just boarded again for 4 nights and when I collected them yesterday, the trainer said that our first dog attacked another very docile dog and snapped at his wife and his child. He put them through their temperament evaluations again and they both failed more than once. Little dog is mirroring big dog's behaviour. Obviously they can't go back. He suggested training and some strategies to make ddog less nervous but I really don't know where to go from here.

I am in bits typing this, please don't flame me, are there any solutions out there?

Greyhorses Wed 06-Apr-16 18:42:20

I would consult a good behaviouralist to help you firstly as aggression, especially fear aggression is really hard to deal with. I have a dog who is also very reactive and sounds similar to yours although mine hasn't actually bitten (but would if given a chance!) Most trainers haven't got the experience to deal with this type of thing and it gets out of hand quickly.

My first piece of advice would be to stop putting the dog in situations where it could hurt someone. I can't go on holiday or go away as my dog won't be able to be around strangers in a strange environment so I just accept I can't go. Mine hate new things so we work on new environments very slowly, dog boarding would be a disaster for mine who is fear aggressive, most are more comfortable at home. I also would muzzle around strangers for piece of mind more than anything else, especially if the dog has snapped at people. We muzzle in busy areas and don't let strangers interact with her at all, it isn't worth the risk plus she is happier knowing people won't touch her so she isn't as defensive. Walk and train seperately also to avoid the two dogs mirroring eachother.

Have you looked at BAT training? You can do wonders by giving treats when the dog sees the 'scary' thing and is happy and relaxed so the dog learns that no reaction=treats.

If it is fear aggression the most important thing is to stop the dog from being stressed in the first place, so avoid the things that make the dog fearful as it just reinforces in the dogs mind that it is something to be scared of. So for example dog is scared of strangers, stranger touches it, dog is scared, goes to bite, behaviour reinforced.
If the dog walks calmly past the person or is shut away with a toy etc and is rewarded with a treat and learns that there is nothing to fear as the scary thing is at a safe distance then the problem is pretty much solved despite nothing actually being done but basic management if that makes sense? Not all dogs want or need to be friendly to everyone and it's less stressful for the dog to be safe and crated or shut away than be forced to interact with people it is frightened of.

Basically, I think you will never cure the dog but have to learn to manage its behaviour and that means massive changes in lifestyle for you unfortunatley. Some dogs just can't be fixed no matter what but we can improve and make things safe for them and us smile

TheDogsCat Wed 06-Apr-16 19:09:11

I'd suggest looking for a qualified clinical behaviourist or pet behaviour counsellor. You'd most likely need a vet referal and they cost a lot, but your insurance would cover it. They won't cure your dog, but they can assess what's going on and show you ways to improve and minimise her problems.

My own dog has a long term aggression issue as a result of a dodgy trainer (who called himself a behaviourist btw). However thanks to advice from a pet behaviour counsellor, he no longer has problems. His resource guarding isn't cured, and can't be cured, but so long as he never gets access to certain items (tinfoil, raw bones, rawhide) he will not display resource guarding issues.

MyFriendsCallMeOh Wed 06-Apr-16 19:41:17

Thank you both. I am in the USA and training is mostly different here. Although she has never seen one, many trainers here use correction to train (shock / spike collars are not uncommon). We have always consulted professionally qualified trainers who use positive reinforcement.

The other side of living in the USA is that we travel back to the uk once a year for 2 weeks. Our most recent dog sitter said he would sit her in our house which may help but total avoidance of anyone is pretty tricky. I have been watching YouTube videos by Glasgow dog trainer who talks about BAT etc and will look into behaviorists who practice this.

tabulahrasa Wed 06-Apr-16 21:20:50

Whereabouts in the US? Roughly, I mean I online know someone involved in training in the US and I could ask for recommendations of positive reinforcement trainers if you want.

If you can though in the meantime I'd avoid situations where the big dog is around anything likely to trigger a reaction and walk and train the little one separately.

MyFriendsCallMeOh Thu 07-Apr-16 03:38:48

I'm in Houston tx and would appreciate it Tab if you were able to reach out to a contact for recommendations.

I understand that training is about altering behavior but if ddog only displays this behavior rarely (a few times a year but obviously more than once is too often), how do you catch the behavior you want to alter? Is there a chance of training her to the extent where we can be confident to invite people into our home or leave her with a sitter?

TheDogsCat Thu 07-Apr-16 04:10:20

You don't train by catching the wrong behaviour, especially when dealing with a behaviour that has potential to turn into aggression. Rather, you focus on the desired behaviour. So with my resource guarded, we practised many, many take its and leave its with items I knew he didn't care about possessing. Then we moved to items he cared about but was happy to give up, gradually making things slightly harder. If I had any doubt as to his reaction I tried with him wearing a muzzle first.

In your situation, I wouldn't consider doing any training on this without te advice of someone qualified. I'm concerned about the fact the trainer said she'd snapped. A dog of sound temperament should never be in a position where they need to snap at a human. there should be a lot of body language warning before a dog snaps. If she is snapping without warning then there is potential for things to go very badly wrong.

Until you can get professional advice, your best option for managing her around visitors is probably a crate. Used properly this would give her a safe space and keep her and other people away from each other. It might also be worth working in introducing a muzzle to her. It's a useful first step in doing any sort of behavioural work with a dog that is a potential bite risk and might save time later. My preferred method is to use clicker training, with the focus on the dog choosing to put her nose near the muzzle, then into it, very slowly working towards fastening it on. you want to teach her that wearing a muzzle is a sign that good things are going to happen. That way if a professional needs her to wear it for safety reasons later, it's not going to add to her anxiety.

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