Redirecting Aggression?

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by brodys_mom, Jul 5, 2013.

  1. brody_smom Experienced Member

    I really had a hard time naming this thread. I also thought of putting it under "General Training". Here's the situation: We are surrounded by dogs in our neighborhood, many of whom are left out in their yards for long periods of time without the owners present. In the past, when any one of these dogs started barking Brody would always react by barking and running to the front window to see what was going on. This would happen over and over throughout the day and into the evening, as some dogs are out until close to midnight. I tried training a "quiet" cue, but once he had reacted it was hard to get him to listen. Then I tried adding a distraction, like waving a tuggie or favorite stuffed toy. This worked better. Now I can shush him before he even starts barking, and he will run and get his tuggie without being told. Yay! The house is much quieter now, and he is learning to look to me for direction before reacting.

    How is this a behavior problem, you ask? Well, take this same situation outside to our back yard. We have a black lab on the side of one fence and a (need I say it?) yappy chihuahua on the side of another. Any time we were out playing or training and one of these dogs barked, Brody would rush straight over and engage them. He was getting easier to call off as he was learning recall, but I hated having to shout to him over top of all the noise. So I tried the same thing that I did in the house, redirecting him to a toy. He has a partially deflated basketball that he loves to chase and bite. As soon as I heard the other dog, I quickly told him to get the ball as I kicked it in the other direction. He caught on very quickly, so now he looks for the ball when he hears the dogs, picks it up and shakes it furiously while growling ferociously. As soon as he's finished, he drops the ball and looks at me with his goofy grin, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. I am hoping there is nothing negative in this behavior, that he is simply learning acceptable ways to deal with his barrier frustration and there is nothing more to it than that.

    My concern is that he hasn't had a real face to face meeting with a friendly dog in many weeks, and I don't know what to expect from him when he does. I really feel like I need to start getting him out in the presence of dogs again, but I am having a hard time understanding what his feelings are toward them. He was really great in the off-leash park the two times we took him there back in March. He was okay in Petsmart when we were taking classes on Saturday afternoons until just after Easter. But since early May, he has started reacting fearfully toward other dogs and people, growling/barking and then alternating between pulling toward them and hiding behind me when he is on leash. When we are playing ball in the park, I leave his leash on, so if another dog comes into the area, I don't pick up the leash, just step on it, or throw the ball in the other direction. He rarely makes any move toward the other dog, just stops and watches it. If it moves toward him, he runs behind me, sometimes putting his feet on my back. The other owners have been able to call their dogs back, so none of these situations has turned out badly.
    The only possible cause for his change in reaction that I can see would be a series of 3 or 4 separate encounters with rude dogs who were off-leash when he was on. Each of them ran at him directly and the owners had a hard time calling them off. In each case, I made the mistake of stopping and trying to control him rather than just calmly walking away, but I was completely surprised each time and really didn't know what the appropriate response was. These happened over the course of about 4 to 6 weeks.

    Brody is now 12 months old, so he could be in a fear period. Should I wait a couple of weeks before attempting to get him in the presence of friendly dogs?

  2. 648117 Honored Member

    If you can afford it then I would recommend you talk to a good behaviourist. They should have/know a dog that would be suitable for him to meet that wont react even if Brody does, and will know how to deal with any reactions.

    Also, be very careful about the dog that you let him meet. I would recommend an older calm dog that is a similar size to him or smaller if you think he is a bit afraid of other dogs. (Lewis only likes meeting small, older, calm dogs and although Holly is fine with all dogs she prefers ones around her size).

    Remember to keep the leash slack. It's really important that you try to keep it slack to try to avoid barrier frustration and to keep it all calm. Maybe talk nicely to the dog that he's meeting to let him know that you like it.

    I don't really have much experience with this so that's about all I can suggest.
    brodys_mom likes this.
  3. brody_smom Experienced Member

    Thanks for your suggestions, 648117 (sorry, I don't know your name, seems odd to call you by a number :)). Is a behaviorist different from a trainer? I have had a hard time finding a trainer who services our area, so I don't know if their are any behaviorists around.

    I have been avoiding contact with dogs since the last time Brody went over threshold on a walk and tried to bite me. He did bite me once before, not breaking the skin, but still, pretty hard and left tooth marks on my thigh. Both of these were when he was on leash and frustrated about me holding him back when he was pulling and barking at dogs in their yards. I have mostly been walking him early in the morning and in areas where there are some people but no dogs. We have been working on calmness around strangers in different situations, like sitting at bus stops, walking by across the street from us, or in the parking lot at the police station or mechanics shop. He seems to be doing much better, not really reacting at all as long as they aren't directly approaching us. I thought I would do the same thing with dogs, start taking him places where people take their dogs that we can watch from a safe distance and move closer as he seems comfortable. I believe he feels much safer around the smaller dogs, for sure. Of the dogs he encountered, one was a large husky/shepherd, two were yellow labs and one a female pit bull. None were particularly aggressive, just over-excited and their owners took a long time to get them under control. In all 4 cases, he was scared enough to release his anal sacs, and in one, he pulled out of his collar and bolted for home, about a mile away.
  4. kcmetric Well-Known Member

    It is very possible he's going through a fear period, in which case yes, you'd want to avoid having any potentially bad experience with other dogs so it's not set in stone. My recommendations.

    1. I personally hate face to face greetings on walks. Leashes don't allow dogs to speak 'dog'. They inhibit the natural ways they would approach and produce calming signals they would normally practice in order to say, "hey, I'm no threat." You may even be adding to tension to the leash now that you have bad expectations of what may happen which would only add to the stress. That's why most dogs do way better off leash at parks.

    2. I'd start working on desensitization. Find his threshold. Is it 15 feet from a dog that he starts to react? 20? Don't go over the threshold. Once you're 20 feet away and he perks his head in recognition of a dog on a walk and doesn't respond aggressively, just looking at them, maybe perking up a bit, start rewarding with high value treats like hot dog pieces. Pop them in one at a time. You're trying to change the chemicals that start up production in his brain when he sees other dogs. We want to switch them from bad to good. Eventually he'll see looking calmly at them gets him rewards. Once you know he's 100% chill with that distance work your way up. If there's regression take a step back.

    3. If you're unprepared or accidentally go over threshold or the dog is approaching quickly and will soon cause Brody to get worked up do it a quick u-turn without getting worked up and just walk in the other direction. Cross the street if you must. Etc.

    4. Work on eye contact. Watch me on cue is great but you should also build up eye contact that you don't need to ask for. You may also want to teach a solid touch so if a boundary is crossed you can say touch, get him back close to you and then u-turn or pull of to the side or whatever you need. You can also use touch in the yard.

    5. In your yard I wouldn't throw the ball. I would wave it in front of you to come up to you. Hold it there and keep him interested. Start asking for eye contact, longer and longer eventually. Just build this up. So he looks directly at you when the other dogs from the yards get his attention. You can try a touch too and then making/holding eye contact.
  5. brody_smom Experienced Member

    Since I posted this, we have had two very positive interactions with dogs and people. One was at the home of a trainer. He did very well with her, and she was able to show me how to properly use the Halti to teach him loose leash walking. Then she brought out two of her dogs to meet Brody, one at a time. The first was an older male Papillon. He was very friendly and submissive. They got along great immediately. The second was a 2 year old female Brittany spaniel. She was a little bouncier, but Brody didn't mind her at all. We let the three of them run around off leash for 30 minutes or so with no problems. What a relief! Then last Friday I was playing my usual early morning game of fetch with Brody when this woman came into the park with her miniature Aussie Shepherd. I have seen them before, but they don't usually come very close, and when they do, I direct the ball away from them. This time, they were coming near us as we were playing on the side of the field where the garbage can is. The dog started moving toward Brody, and he immediately got very interested and trotted over. They did their sniffing, then pretty much ignored each other. Then Brody looked at the woman. I warned her that he is very shy with people, so she stopped walking and just stood there not looking at him. He walked right up to her and sniffed her hand. Then turned away. Meanwhile, I was giving him lots of verbal encouragement and praise. He came back to me and I gave him treats. He lay down on the grass and rolled around, rubbing his nose, etc. The other dog came up to me and let me pet him, and Brody was just fine with that, too. Then he got up and walked back over to the woman and let her pet him. I am very excited for him that he did this. It gives me great hope that he will one day be able to walk around anywhere without fear. He is still very excitable in the house and yard when other dogs are barking, and we have yet to have a visitor come to the house without him totally freaking out. Baby steps!
    jackienmutts, sara and southerngirl like this.
  6. kcmetric Well-Known Member

    Was he on leash when this happened with the woman?
    jackienmutts likes this.
  7. southerngirl Honored Member

    That's great that he was okay with the dog and women. Cheers for you and Brody.:D
    jackienmutts and brodys_mom like this.
  8. sara Moderator

    I wish I could redirect Oliver on to a toy... when there's anything different or new around he is completely focused on that. You're doing fantastic with Brody. You WILL get there!
  9. brody_smom Experienced Member

    I keep his leash on at all times, just let it drag, so technically, yes, but I wasn't holding it, if that's what you mean. I was close enough to pick it up, but he wasn't showing any signs of fear, no growls, so I let things play out.
    jackienmutts and kcmetric like this.
  10. brody_smom Experienced Member

  11. brody_smom Experienced Member

    Thanks, Sara. It feels like forever sometimes, but I've only had him 5-1/2 months, so I really am pleased that he is settling down. Now I really need to work on his reactions at home. People have to walk through our side gate to get to our front door, so Brody can never be in the yard alone, and we can't leave the door open in case someone comes unexpectedly. He is pretty territorial.
    southerngirl likes this.
  12. kcmetric Well-Known Member

    Exactly what I mean by the restricted movement on leash (or when his leash is being held and is not dropped).

    Keep up the good work with him.
    brodys_mom and southerngirl like this.
  13. brody_smom Experienced Member

    Yes, scary as it is to let go of that leash, sometimes it is the "safest" for the dog. Thanks for your encouragement. I will also be following your advice earlier about holding the ball to get his attention, rather than tossing it away. Somehow I missed that post until yesterday. I find his growling and vigorous shaking of the ball to be worrisome, even though it may be nothing. I would rather he be looking to me for direction, rather than looking for the ball to "kill" instead of barking.
  14. jackienmutts Honored Member

    How great - 2 positive interactions! (y) I know how incredible that's gotta feel!!! Does it mean all your problems are solved? No. But it sure has to show you *and him* that it's possible for him to have good interactions - and that's so important (for both of you!!). I know with Makena, every time we have one good experience, it gives me so much encouragement and motivation to keep on going!! Keep up the good work with him - just remember, even tho you had those good experiences, don't go too fast - give him lots of time, keep taking baby steps *at all times* (no matter how tempting it may be to push him). He'll get there and the journey will have been so worth it!!

    Keep up the good work!!!
  15. brody_smom Experienced Member

    Thanks, Jackie! I realize he still has a long way to go, but my spirits were so lifted, especially by the spontaneous one in the park. I will still be super watchful and continue to learn his signals, and try to let him take the lead in new situations. I also need to make sure he feels safe when strange people or dogs are approaching.
    threenorns likes this.
  16. brody_smom Experienced Member

    We met the same woman and her mini Aussie in the park this morning. The Aussie came running up to Brody and stole his ball, which was fine, all in fun. Brody went trotting up to the woman like she was a long lost friend, but when she offered the back of her hand to him, he nipped her. No bark, growl or other warning. Totally unexpected. I was so embarrassed and apologized. She said, "that's why you offer the back of your hand, not your fingers". The dogs continued to play, and we chatted a bit, but this worries me. He has done this before to another woman who I often met walking her dog. The situation was very calm and nonthreatening, he initiated the contact by walking up to her, not stretching his neck or anything, seeming very confident and friendly, then nipped the back of her hand when she offered it. Then there was the time he nipped a man on his back side, also no bark or growl, just nipped him as he walked past. That was the start of MY "fear period", when I started tightening up on the leash every time a person approached. Is this aggression, or something else?
    threenorns likes this.
  17. threenorns Well-Known Member

    you're actually not supposed to offer your hand at all, LOL. that's seen by many dogs as an aggressive move.

    you're supposed to just stand still and let the dog sniff you and initiate contact - when the dog presses up against you or similar, it's okay to pat but best is to rub the chest, not the top of the head, as a hand swooping down from above is very much like an eagle attack. me, when the dog initiates physical interaction, i squat down (no looming over him) then bring my hand from under and give them a good chest rub. usually about 30 seconds and the dog's eyes start to cross and the back leg starts jigging and then they flomp onto their back for belly rubs.

    i don't see it as "aggression" so much "oi - back off, bub! you're in MY space!"
    southerngirl and kcmetric like this.
  18. sara Moderator

    In the same situation, Oliver lunges. He does the same. Walks up like he wants attention, tail wagging then spazzes if they reach for him. I have to tell people to ignore him until he's climbing on their laps and even then not to look directly at him.
    southerngirl and threenorns like this.
  19. threenorns Well-Known Member

    this article is very comprehensive on the subject:

    the other thing about patting the dog on the head - ESPECIALLY if you have an older rescued dog - is that reaching for the head can make them flashback to being hit in the head.

  20. brody_smom Experienced Member

    The first time we met her, she did everything perfectly, just stood still with her arm at her side and let him approach her. He made the first contact with her hand, sniffed and then walked away. He went back a few moments later after I had given him verbal praise for the initial meeting, and she was able to pat him under the chin (I think). The second time, he had trotted up so confidently, but she didn't move toward him, just waited. She held her hand still as he approached, but then moved it slightly toward him, not over his head, just to his nose with the back of her hand, not the palm or fingers. He nipped so quickly and without warning, it took us both by complete surprise. I quickly picked up his leash, but kept it loose and gave him a verbal reprimand as I apologized to the woman. He didn't seem bothered at all, and just went about his business afterwards, chasing after the little Aussie who had stolen his ball. He has always been a mouthy boy, and in the first few weeks we had him he nipped my hands and arms too many times to count. This has pretty much tapered off, but it will resurface when he gets over-excited or frustrated about something and I ignore him. So could this just be a remnant of those bad puppy manners coming out when he gets excited? He likes to use his mouth to communicate, holding my arm in it to pull me somewhere or get my attention. Is this something he will outgrow, or do I need to teach him? I have started putting my hand under his chin, then gently rubbing the top of his snout as I close his mouth and say "no" or "quiet" if he is barking in my face. It does calm him down, but how do I know he won't nip someones hand again?

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