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Thread: Aggression towards other dogs

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Aggression towards other dogs

    So...some of you may know we "adopted" a dog from a co-worker whose fiancee has an autistic daughter and the daughter had autism and couldn't handle the dog (he's large and overly licky). The individual we adopted him from took him for someone that (literally) found him. We are (all) fairly sure that he was abused as a puppy because he only follows directions when he feels threatened (raised voice, etc) or is interested in the food treat (he knows a number of commands, from drop, fetch, sit, down, off, etc). For the most part, he's good with the kids and with the cats (we've had some shoe and toy eating issues). He's mostly fine inside out house (though he's chewed up the blinds when we've gone outside to swim and can hear us), he's fine outside...until he sees another dog.

    And then, he goes crazy. Like, lunging, snarling, slavering, insane. Like, I'm gonna rip your head off insane. Its generally not *quite* so bad with little dogs, but with bigger dogs like himself, its ridiculous. It make me wonder if the original owners wanted to fight him (he's a pit-lab mix). Its to the point where only Scott can walk him, we can't take him to the dog park during times when there might be other dogs (none of which helps get him exercise, although he's really lazy--at the dog park, he runs one lap, rolls around and then just lays there until its time to go). What can we do? Because if this gets to the point where he snaps his leash or harness or Scott can't keep ahold of him and he attacks another dog (or worse, a person trying to protect their dog), the dog is going to get put down and we'll easily be found liable.

    Yesterday his response was so intense (Scott ended up hurting his knee that he's had surgery on and has problems with and barely managed to keep a hold of him) that I called a rescue group for pit bulls for advice and was basically told that everywhere was full and I might as well take him to the vet and put him down humanely, because the animal shelters in the area wouldn't even try to rehab a dog that was aggressive like that to other dogs (and I get it, its a prioritization of resources). Another group offers a free training and behavioral program that we could take him to, but we can't take him when he can't (reasonably) get along with other dogs (its a group class). In the mean time, I was told to just get him a muzzle for when we walked him so "at least he couldn't bite another dog".

    I've dealt with "normal" dogs and dogs with some issues before, but this is beyond my skill set.

    I know that he has some insecurity and anxiety--he chews on things if he's alone too long and he cowers if anyone gets loud, and does this weird thing where he likes to stand between people's legs (even the kids' legs, even though it means they are sitting on them)...and I'm guessing the two are connected somehow, but if we are going to keep him, we have to get a handle on the aggression--the other stuff we can deal with more easily.
    Last edited by thalassa; 16 Aug 2016 at 12:20.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

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    Apprentice of Doom Shahaku's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards other dogs

    I want to chime in here, but I also feel Rae'ya will give much better advice. I will say our German Shepherd can be pretty scary. We're careful to check that no one is around when we open the door and will go so far as to take her across the street so she doesn't have to come face to face with a strange person or dog. We also use a gentle leader face harness. It controls the face of the dog, which is very helpful, but you always have to clip the safety cause they can get the nose part off if they try hard enough.
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  3. #3
    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards other dogs

    1) Yes, the two are almost definitely related. Dog-dog aggression like that almost always stems from an underlying anxiety disorder, and the other things you've described point in that direction too. A consult with a behaviourist and some meds would help, but may or may not be on the cards for you. Find out if there are any board certified behaviourists near you and find out if that's a path you and Scott are willing to go down (cost wise).

    2) Get a basket style muzzle to walk him in. You need to keep other people's dogs safe, and it's the responsible thing to do. Train him to wear it by holding it near him and feeding him treats, then bringing it closer, getting him to eat treats off the muzzle, then through the muzzle etc, so that he is voluntarily putting his own face in there. It MUST be one of the basket style ones... the type that he can still pant in and that doesn't restrict air flow around his face when out walking. They're also handy in that you can shove treats through the end so that you can reward and/or countercondition.

    3) DO NOT WALK HIM ON A CHOKER CHAIN! I doubt you are, but if you are, chuck it in the bin right now. Get either a head halter (like the Gentle Leader one Shahaku mentioned) or a FRONT-CLIP harness like the Easy Walk Harness or the Black Dog Balance Harness or similar. Anything around his throat will just arouse him more, as the sensation of strangling increases stress hormones and reduces oxygen flow to the brain. Don't bother with anti-pull harnesses either. You need something that will help you redirect his attention to you while you work on counterconditioning and desensitisaton.

    4) In the short term, avoid other dogs like the plague. We'll need to expose him to other dogs in low frequency doses a little down the track, but right now, avoid them. If Scott sees another dog, he needs to turn around and walk in the other direction ASAP. BEFORE the dogs starts going off his nut.

    5) Learn his early warning signs. Reactive dogs show signs of stress well before they go off their nut, it's just that people don't often recognise them. If you are out walking and his ears perk up, his pace quickens, he starts breathing heavier, he starts pulling etc etc... TURN AROUND NOW. Don't keep walking towards the other dog. Keep his attention on you and bail out of the situation, shoving food in his mouth the whole time.

    6) Jump on Sophia Yin's website and youtube channel and watch everything you can about 'counterconditioning and desensitisation'. There are three stages to this... 1) teach him some groundwork commands (using high value food rewards) that you practice on leash until he is perfect at them when no dogs are around. 2) expose him to other dogs WAAAAAAY off in the distance, where he hardly even notices them or he's only showing very early warning signs... then shove food in his face. If he's taking the food then you can redirect his attention back to you by asking him the commands you've been practicing. 3) build up the intensity slowly, slowly, slowly. If he gets reactive, you've gone too fast. This may take weeks and it may not work without anti-anxiety medication on board. Watch Sophia Yin's videos, because she explains all the early warning signs, plus the groundwork and steps to go through much better than I can with the typed word.

    7) Stop ALL negative responses to him. Don't yell. Don't raise your voice. Don't threaten him or feed into his stress levels at all. a) it doesn't work and b) it damages the trust relationship and makes you unpredictable in his eyes. Think of a lot of the stuff you do for Sharkbait when he's in a reactive headspace... same principles with the dog. If he's reactive, his thinking brain is switched off and he's in red-zone fight-flight-freeze mode. We need to avoid that at all costs while doing the groundwork, and learn to recognise the early signs (his 'fiddle' signs) so that we can take steps to diffuse the situation before he flicks into red zone.

    8) This will be a long, hard process that will take a lot of commitment from you. Seriously consider whether you have the time and resources and inclination to try it, because it's not easy. The alternative is to never take him out of the backyard, but then what happens when you have to take him to the vet? Or when he accidentally gets out of the backyard? Also consider that if it's anxiety related, it may get worse. Anxiety tends to get worse as they age, and they will develop reactive behaviours towards other things that previously weren't an issue. Getting on top of it now will be easier than dealing with an escalated series of triggers later on down the track. But you and Scott need to have a serious discussion about how far you are willing to go with him.

    Let me know if you need more... I'm short on time right now but that's the quick version. I trust your research skills and your ability to translate some of your understanding of child behaviour onto dogs (not exactly the same, but a lot of similar principles in terms of how to approach a dog in red zone vs a special needs child in what used to be called red zone)... so I will unleash you on Sophia Yin's website and let you do some digging around. There's a lot of misinformation about dog training on the internet, so just be careful of that if doing your own research. Feel free to run any websites passed me and I'll tell you if they're okay or not.

  4. #4
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards other dogs

    I can't really add anything to Rae'ya's wonderful post. It is a fear issue, and if he is happy with you then he possibly feels he's protecting you. But it IS a problem and only you can decide how much effort you can put in. Give it a few months if you can, keep notes and see what - if anything - improves. The sad thing is that this dog has been so deeply affected by his early life, and nobody is going to give him the benefit of the doubt if he ever gets off the leash and does real harm.

    Halti collars (not sure what they're called in the US) were always recommended for dogs that pulled. With St Bernards they can - and have - pulled me off my feet in the past and I'm no lightweight.

    Bear in mind too, that if he is a labrador/pit bull terrier cross that this is a mixture of a terrier and a sporting dog. Not easy for the dog to handle and can cause problems with his instincts. But I really do wish you well with him.
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  5. #5
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards other dogs

    Rae'ya--After talking with our new neighbors (the hubby works with a group that rehabs fight dogs) and him seeing our dog, he seems to think its likely that Radio was a bait dog.

    We've started using something like a halti head harness, but the part that goes around his muzzle is a little bit thicker and more padded and it acts more like a muzzle when we take him outside. Its a bit creepy really, because he acts super submissive once its on...but at least he can be walked now, without worrying about biting another dog (unless he got it off, which he can if given the opportunity, but when confronted with another dog with the head harness on, he's now mostly growly and confused).

    Is his behavior something where anxiety medication might be helpful and worth exploring with the vet?
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

  6. #6
    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards other dogs

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    Is his behavior something where anxiety medication might be helpful and worth exploring with the vet?
    Absolutely. Anxiety meds help bring their brain chemistry back into line, which then allows them to stay in a learning-brain frame of mind more easily. The ONLY thing that dogs learn in reactive-brain is two things... 1) that being aggressive may make the other dog go away or 2) what we call 'learned helplessness', which is basically when the brain becomes so overwhelmed that none of the fight-flight-freeze strategies have worked that they completely shut down and will shut down around that trigger in the future (this is the doggy equivalent of cowering in the corner with your hands over your head blubbering and being unable to register anything around you... it's what Cesar Milan does to dogs to 'cure' them). That's why walking very reactive dogs and allowing them to 'practice' their reactivity doesn't work... because counter-conditioning and desensitization only works in learning-brain mode. So the idea is to use medications to keep them in learning-brain mode, then retrain the reactive behaviour when there is no anxiety component to it. Then wean off meds once the new neuron pathways are in place.

    So long story short... yes! lol

    Also... the 'completely submissive' response to the head collar is one of two things... shut down (fighting back doesn't work so he gives up... which is actually not really a nice place to put them into) or a trained response to wearing a muzzle (which is a possibility if he was once in the fighting ring). Dogs don't really do 'submissive' behaviours... that's a complete myth perpetuated by dodgy research done in the 1940's, which has since been completely disproven but which humans like to believe because it's the way OUR social structure works. Dogs do 'fiddle behaviours' or 'appeasement behaviours'... which are basically body language cues that say 'I am stressed by this, I don't know what to do, I am not a threat to you, please calm down'. Most of what people call 'submissive' behaviours are actually fiddle behaviours and what they tell us is that the dog is stressed.

    Exactly what does he do when the head collar is on? Stress cues are things like the whites of his eyes showing, licking his lips, furrowing his brow, raising his eyebrows, turning his head to the side, getting a 'worried' expression on his face, and flattening his ears back (also others, but those are the ones that tend to be misread by people as 'submissive', 'guilt' or 'calm'). If he's doing that then you need to countercondition him to the head collar... basically make the head collar a really positive thing by feeding him lots and lots of yummy food or treats when it's around and/or on. If he wont take food with it on, he is very stressed!

    Also, still make sure that you aren't making him go near other dogs, even with the head harness on. He's clearly still stressed out by them, it's just the the head harness changes they way he reacts... it's not changing the way he feels! When out walking, if another dog approaches, turn around and go back the way you came. Work on keeping his attention by taking lots of treats and training him to sit and watch you for a treat. You still need to reduce his stress and avoid his triggers... it's just sounds like it's a bit safer to do so now. Medication may help... they almost always do, but they aren't a magic bullet and you still need to do the retraining stuff.

  7. #7
    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards other dogs

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    Also... the 'completely submissive' response to the head collar is one of two things... shut down (fighting back doesn't work so he gives up... which is actually not really a nice place to put them into) or a trained response to wearing a muzzle (which is a possibility if he was once in the fighting ring). Dogs don't really do 'submissive' behaviours... that's a complete myth perpetuated by dodgy research done in the 1940's, which has since been completely disproven but which humans like to believe because it's the way OUR social structure works. Dogs do 'fiddle behaviours' or 'appeasement behaviours'... which are basically body language cues that say 'I am stressed by this, I don't know what to do, I am not a threat to you, please calm down'. Most of what people call 'submissive' behaviours are actually fiddle behaviours and what they tell us is that the dog is stressed.


    Exactly what does he do when the head collar is on? Stress cues are things like the whites of his eyes showing, licking his lips, furrowing his brow, raising his eyebrows, turning his head to the side, getting a 'worried' expression on his face, and flattening his ears back (also others, but those are the ones that tend to be misread by people as 'submissive', 'guilt' or 'calm'). If he's doing that then you need to countercondition him to the head collar... basically make the head collar a really positive thing by feeding him lots and lots of yummy food or treats when it's around and/or on. If he wont take food with it on, he is very stressed!
    Honestly, his demeanor changes in a way that I can only describe as sticking a pin in a balloon. He just sort of wilts or slumps (I feed him into his harness with his favorite treat (broken up freeze dried beef or buffalo liver cubes))...his tail stops going, his head and ears go down (not really back, more droopy). Even with his favorite treat, he sort of backs away and yes, he'll turn his head away to get out of putting the harness on (and then he'll try to get the treat by going around it).



    Also, still make sure that you aren't making him go near other dogs, even with the head harness on. He's clearly still stressed out by them, it's just the the head harness changes they way he reacts... it's not changing the way he feels! When out walking, if another dog approaches, turn around and go back the way you came. Work on keeping his attention by taking lots of treats and training him to sit and watch you for a treat. You still need to reduce his stress and avoid his triggers... it's just sounds like it's a bit safer to do so now. Medication may help... they almost always do, but they aren't a magic bullet and you still need to do the retraining stuff.
    We don't take him near other dogs, approach wise, if we can help it, but since we are in an apartment complex, he still sees them from time to time (out the window or balcony doors, or coming in and out if we can't redirect him in time.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

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