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Help! My dog is aggressive with other animals!

February 20th, 2011, 08:12 PM
My husband and I recently adopted a 5 year old Boston Terrier from a friend of ours who could no longer give her the attention she needed. She's wonderful around adults and children, and listens really well at home. However, when we take her out and we encounter other dogs she growls and tries to bite. Her previous owner told us this wasn't a problem before...when she acts like this we tell her to stop and keep walking, but we can't take her to visit friends with pets because she won't stop attacking them (especially cats). What should we do??

February 21st, 2011, 12:52 PM
Could you describe a scenario where the dog becomes reactive on walks? Does she freeze or give any kind of warning behavior? Hackles up? What specifically does she react to (only dogs? on leash or off? is size or age an issue? is she greeting them first or is this from far away?) How do the other dogs react? Are their hackles up, or are their tails tucked?

More info will give us a better idea of what to suggest.

In the mean time you are doing the right thing removing the dog from the situation (a dog over its stimulation threshold will not learn anything or be able to calm down). You just need to figure out what her triggers are and work on either modifying the behavior or building her avoidance to the point that she will ignore them.

Cat chasing is more of a "leave it" or a "focus" issue (although a "leave it"/"focus" would also be a good command to practice for the leash behavior)

leave it

watch me game
(she doesn't say in the video, but you would add the command when you are sure that the dog will perform the behavior)

Gradually build up to both of these in environments where the dog can succeed (i.e. your kitchen/livingroom) and work up to more distractions.

In addition, I would also recommend that your dog stay leashed around the cats if you have to take her with you (it would be preferable to work on this behavior a bit before you expose her again) so that you can stop her from chasing them - chasing is self rewarding.

February 21st, 2011, 11:55 PM
Good advice from millitinimist :thumbs up.

I would suggest looking for a good behaviourist and possibly looking to join a postive training class. Ask around to others with dogs to see if they have recommendations or post back here with your location and someone might have suggestions.

Good luck :).

February 22nd, 2011, 06:08 PM
Thanks for the replies! Jez has reacted with her leash on and off, she won't start barking or being agressive until after she's greated the other dog. The dogs she reacted were all under 1 yr, but I didn't notice them doing anything to warrant this reaction (although I may have missed something). One of them was about 40 lbs heavier than her (she weighs 23lbs), and the other was a 5lbs yorkie cross.

She didn't freeze or hackle, but she seems to get agressive while they're smelling her. In one instance the other dog's hackles were up, and in another, the other dog just kept trying to smell her.

Do you think that the facts that the other dogs were so young makes a difference? Should I trying with an older dog?

We're in Regina, Sk, we plan on taking obedience classes with her in the Spring, but I'm not sure if this will help of not...

February 23rd, 2011, 09:07 AM
Yes, the age is very important!
I think we may have the same issue with our chi/dachshund mix (don't worry, you're not alone ;). At around 2 years old he began to have a fear reaction to puppies, especially large breeds.

I always recommend that people see behaviorists/licensed positive trainers over internet advice but here are my :2cents:

When dogs hit social maturity they become less forgiving of more assertive social signals. Puppies often give very direct/aggressive signals (though they are not themselves being aggressive) by doing things like approaching quickly head on or ignoring your dogs cues to back off. This then causes your dog to escalate their reaction. I have noticed with our little guy that many large dogs and most puppies completely ignore his signals, the same thing may be happening with your girl.

Calming signals are gestures offered by dogs to tell each other (and us) that they are afraid or uncomfortable - things like lip licking, looking or turning their body away, showing the whites of their eyes, dropping the ears back or sniffing the ground. The problem is we rarely notice these signals, we usually only see their escalation (snapping, growling, charging etc.) and we assume the dog is attacking out of nowhere. My guess is that your girl is having the same problem.

I like comparing little dog/big dog dynamics to the equivalent of a room full of people - some walking around and some driving giant SUVs. If someone bumped into you on the street, you might be a little miffed, but you're probably not going to react too strongly. If someone bumped into you while driving a truck, even by accident, you would freak out (at least I would) because of the potential injury they could have caused. Large breed puppies are like putting a toddler in the driver's seat. They are not aware of their bodies enough to prevent accidents, this makes smaller dogs nervous.

I doubt this is straight aggression, because in most cases your dog would actively pursue the others from the get-go. In our boy's case as soon as he chased the other dog away a few feet he settled a little and came back to us (but he would snap again if the dog tried to pursue him).

My suggestion would be to practice good greeting behavior on dogs you know she is on good terms with, and to try to find some good natured puppy owners who will hold onto their dogs that you can practice working around (one of the biggest problems with puppies is that people almost always let them greet anyone they see). Reward your dog for being near them and ignoring them (here is where the focus game will come in handy) and work up gradually to getting closer and closer. When this generates no reaction, try letting them greet, but just for a few seconds. DO NOT give her time to become reactive, just walk away and reward heavily.
This should take weeks of work.

I think it is an unfair expectation for a dog to be social with everyone it meets, but they should always be civil ;) She may not ever want to play with strange puppies (incidentally, puppies that our boy knows and is comfortable with can fall all over him and he doesn't bat an eye) what you are striving for here is avoidance behavior.

Here are some great books that may be of help. They are both short and full of good information:

Good luck, I do think a good socialization class would be a great place to start :)

February 25th, 2011, 12:00 PM
Thought these might also be helpful :)

(especially this one)