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Overly friendly--wrong signal

2235 Views 9 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Toby'smom
Our 2-year-old labradoodle has developed some fear-based aggression with other dogs. The thing is he is extremely well socialized and loves dogs he knows. The behaviorist says that he has a good set of dog calming signals but is afraid of unknown dogs and so acts tough if they get into his comfort zone. I wonder if this is a result of his puppy-too friendly personality. He used to charge up to every person and every dog he met (if off leash) He would jump or mouth the people. Thankfully he is over that now. He also used to charge up joyfully to every new dog he met. a younger labradoodle we know (1-year-old) does the same charging in your face thing. I think the charging at other dogs can put them off and scare them. The result is that more than once, another dog has tried to put him in his place. Now he has decided that unknown dogs are bad news if they come to close to him and need to be scared off or worse. Needless to say, we have had to give up our off-leash walks and keep him away from unknown dogs. Does anyone have any experience with this problem? It is so sad to have our dog who used to love everyone now have this problem with dogs he doesn't know.
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We now have had Toby "temperment tested" by a dog behaviorist. It turns out Toby has developed "fear-based aggression" towards certain dogs. We are going to try and "recondition" him through positive behavior modification and see if he can change his attitude. The process is to keep him away from bad situations but also, in a controlled situation, introduce him to different new dogs from a comfortable distance and reward him for staying calm. The dogs gradually get closer but not too close to freak out. Eventually they do interact and hopefully all is well. We will see how it goes. I am skeptical.

My point was just that I think Toby ended up this way because of his habitual "in your face" approach. Too many other dogs got freaked by it and acted aggressively towards him. It is sad because last summer he was in love with every dog he met and even occasionally went to doggy daycare. Now we have to keep him on leash and away from kennels, daycares and unknown dogs.

Another possible cause of Toby's fear-based aggression is lousy breeding. We got him from a do-it-yourselfer and he is from her first litter. Now she refuses to consider the possibility that Toby's temperment problem may be genetic and that she should follow up and investigate her dogs. Others have complained of temperment problems from this breeder. She now will not return my emails because I suggested she might kick in for the behavior training. Live and learn.
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Your dog sounds a lot like ours. Toby is now MUCH BETTER. He is able to play off leash with other dogs and goes to dog daycare once a week where he is completely relaxed. On leash he will still occasionally growl or snarl at another dog but is usually fine and the episodes are much less intense.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing but this is what we did. First, let me tell you that we have done A LOT of training with him. Our trainer felt that Toby was feeding off my anxiety and that he would be more relaxed if I acted relaxed and also was in charge. To be in charge, I hand fed him for about two months. This means instead of, here's your bowl of breakfast (and supper) now if your good you get a treat, it's work for your food. I would take his breakfast along on a walk and reward him for walking well on leash, sitting at the corner and being near another dog without freaking. This made a huge difference. We also did the desensitization training with the professional trainer (where he is introduced to other dogs at his comfort distance and rewarded for getting closer without freaking). Once he was doing better, he was ready for daycare and that also caused a huge improvement.

One thing I would suggest is to figure out his comfort distance. Take him to a dog park and see how far he can be from the other dogs while remaining calm. Start at this distance and just reward him for doing nothing at that distance. If you want, you can reward him for sitting or lying down or some other action. Clicker training works best here if you are familiar with it. Next, you need to move VERY GRADUALLY closer. Praise and reward. Don't move too quickly or you will set the whole thing back. It would be great if you could get him into a class where he could practise being near other dogs. You might even ask to take him there and just have him hang around at a safe distance and again, only gradually get closer. The key is not to hurry this and also not to use punishment or stern corrections. When we pass another dog I always talk happy talk to Toby and click and treat several times. This means he associates other dog with good things from me. It is important that you have a good recall with your dog and teach him good leash manners (hard with a puppy). If you have trouble controlling him on the leash, I would suggest the sense-ation harness (the one with the chest ring). It is more comfortable for the dog than a gentle leader or halti and gives you much more control on the leash.

I hope this helps. Let me know how it goes.

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That is good that Dante is comfortable with the gentle leader/halti. I hope you can find an obedience class that does clicker training. It is not so much the clicker itself as the thoughtful and never cruel approach. Another type of class you could try, depending on the severity of his issues and if it is available is called a "Feisty Fido" class. This is a class for aggressive dogs, so your pup who sounds like his issues are minor might or might not need that.

Dogs who have any aggression (fear based or otherwise) can be severely damaged by so-called trainers who use violence and or screaming to bully the dogs into obedience. For many dogs this approach scares them into more tension and aggression.

It sounds like you are doing all the right things. The soccer game would be an ideal place to practise with the other dogs, especially if you know Dante's comfort zone. You can start there, associating his calmness with good things (treats). If you do get too close to another dog (or it does to you) and Dante reacts, all you need to do is a u-turn and walk him a few feet away until he is calm. You don't need to react yourself (by jerking the leash or shouting no). Your not reacting shows him that there is nothing to fear and he doesn't need to protect you and that you are calm and in charge. If it is difficult to get far enough away from the dog, another thing you can do is to sit your dog and then stand in front of him, acting as a screen between him and the other dog. This will have a calming effect.

ONe good short book you might like is Turgid Rugaas's calming signals for dogs (there is also a video). It helps you to read your dog's body language and also offers some suggestions. For dogs, approaching head on is confrontational. They usually approach each other in wide arcs and don't go face to face right off. They turn their heads away to show the other dog that they mean no harm. A lot of humans don't understand this and bring their leashed dogs right at each other. If you are walking Dante and need to pass another dog or are at the stage where you want to try approaching another dog, move in an arc, never directly at the dog.

I hope this helps and keep me posted on Dante's progress.

Melissa and Toby
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