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Dr. Gary
Dr. Gary, Dog Veterinarian
Category: Dog
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Experience:  DVM, Emergency Veterinarian; BS (Physiology) Michigan State Univ
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My female pit/lab mix is very aggressive toward strange dogs,

Customer Question

my female pit/lab mix is very aggressive toward strange dogs, and occasionally children. We basically kept her away from other dogs for most of her life because of that, but she did grow up with my other small dog (Boston/beagle mix). My older dog recently passed away, and I'd love to get another small dog, as my pittador got MUCH bigger than we were expecting, but she's especially aggressive with small dogs now, and all the professional training, obedience, and trips to the dog park haven't seemed to help her be less aggressive
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Sally G. replied 2 years ago.
Hello and Thank you for requesting me. I am sorry I missed you earlier. I will be on and offline intermittently today.But anything you send will come to my email and I will see it when I am next online as well any answer I give will go to your email:) If the dog is being put in the situation before being trained in a command or two of how you want her to behave around other dogs then she is being put too close into her threshold and being set up to fail. Please tell me what the trainers have done to work with you.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Hi there,Thanks for your response - I had meant to describe what we've already done, but I clicked submit by accident...Here's a brief history on Pepsi - we adopted her at ~4 months old, when my smaller dog was 10, and right from the beginning, she was VERY submissive to the little dog, not trying to get up on the bed if Katie was already there, coming running every time I had to cut Katie's nails or give her a bath, apparently to make sure Katie was okay, etc. Katie was a VERY laidback dog who actually LIKED for me to carry her around/snuggle in bed, etc., and Pepsi has always been much more "spastic," flailing around when I try to cuddle with her, and she startles VERY easily and is afraid of almost EVERYTHING.She was NEVER aggressive with Katie until Katie's last few months - Katie always had bad eyes (corneal ulcers, a cherry eye with the tear duct removed), and eventually she went completely blind. Occasionally she'd wander into the area where Pepsi's food/crate were, and only at those times, Pepsi would "attack" Katie, barking like crazy and pinning Katie on the floor under her and barking in her face - I don't think she ever actually BIT Katie, but she was very intent on dominating her, which she'd NEVER tried to do before.Pepsi was always reactive/aggressive around other dogs; I haven't been ABLE to walk her in the neighborhood because every time she sees another dog (or a lizard, or a leaf), she completely loses focus on me and tries to get at whatever it is. I tried treating her if she'd calm down, blocking her view of the other dog with my body, but it seemed there was NO way for me to get her attention and out of attack mode.I started working with her again after Katie passed away (on Christmas, actually :( ); we tried were basic obedience when we first got her, one-on-one sessions with a professional trainer and another obedience class (in ~March-April this year) with the same trainer, medication (20mg of Prozac and 2 pills a day (I forget the mg count) of Trazodone), an evaluation at a dog socialization-specializing ranch here in Tucson, where she did get calm enough that she got approved for overnight stays, but I haven't been able to actually do one because of the cost, and even a pet psychic (I was DESPERATE!), who suggested that Pepsi might feel like we didn't/don't love her enough and that she'd feel competitive with another dog. I also took her to the dog park near my house almost every day for a couple of months, with varying success. I started out with her muzzled, and she did get to the point where she could be off-leash without too many issues.She continued to be really aggressive toward small dogs in particular, keying in on them/chasing them both at the ranch and the dog park when people brought small dogs into the large dog area without checking. She's also still nervy around larger dogs if they aren't "polite," i.e., if they greet her by running at her, barking/jumping around and coming face-to-face with her too quickly. I eventually stopped taking her to the park because the last time we went (a couple of months ago), a small dog came into the large dog area, and Pepsi IMMEDIATELY lunged after the poor thing so fast that she tripped me with the leash and gave me a monster road-rash on my leg and arm. She didn't get to the dog, but I feel guilty subjecting other people's dogs to one who's so skittish.From my own impressions and the trainer's, I think Pepsi's issue is with UNFAMILIAR dogs; she calmed down and did the butt-sniffing ritual with several of the dogs at both the ranch and the dog park, but it took most of an hour to get to that point, and because I'd been interested in a specific breed (a Boston terrier, as I adored my last mixed one so much), all of the breeders I've been able to find were out of town and want to meet in parking lots or other public places with a very limited amount of time/ interaction, wanting to get the dogs close together right away to see how they get along, and that scenario just doesn't work very well for Pepsi. She's also very afraid in general, so any sudden quick movements by dogs OR people makes her jump about 3 feet in the air, and if it's a dog, she reacts by barking, lunging, etc.I'd really love to give her more practice meeting new dogs, but that hasn't been possible, given how much private training and the dog ranch cost and the logistics of possibly asking a trainer to drive all over the place with me to supervise meetings. In obedience class this spring, she could eventually be almost right next to dogs of various sizes without reacting (I had her in a separate room for the first couple), and the trainer tried a leash-"snapping" technique that actually did seem to work/get her attention and put her in submissive mode, but I haven't been able to try it yet.I'm out of characters; help! :) Let me know if you'd like more info!
Expert:  Sally G. replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for that information. It sounds like you have a couple of things going on with Pepsi. Because you mention your other dog wandering into her space when eating I suspect that there is some possession aggression going on . She also does not like other dogs coming at her so there may be some fear aggression going on as well. If we take dogs that act out and put them directly in the situation we know they will act out in then as I stated we set them up to fail. Dogs like this need to be trained very strictly in commands such as recall, leave it and a sit stay, before we take them around other dogs. Then we gradually build them up to being around other dogs either in a class or by staying at a distance from a park where they will not come in any contact with the other dogs but will be rewarded as we bring them closer to that threshold. This is behavior modification training. We always want to catch them acting good and praise and reward that behavior at the same time show them there is nothing to fear when in another area with a dog. The possession aggression issue gets treated a little differently. We want to put the dog on the learn to earn diet as they go through strict and consistent obedience training for the commands I mentioned above. This does not mean the dog just has to sit before you put a bowl of food in front of it, it means that the dog has to work for ever morsel of daily food and treats it gets. I will put my article below on how it works. Before you can take Pepsi out in public she must be trained in non distracting areas first such as inside the home , then you work her in the yard where there are more distractions , then in the driveway , then in the street in front of your home. You are gradually building up the threshold of tolerance around outside distractions this way. Then you may walk her across the street from a park and again gradually moving her toward the threshold. At this point to answer you r original question, bringing another dog into the home is not advised. I would also suggest that you walk her on a gentle leader harness that goes over the face and attach that to a martingale collar. Both can be found in a major pet store or on Amazon. Reactions to Actions or Learn to EarnCopyright Sally G In some instances with training depending on how well the dog responds to the above training you may also want to incorporate a type of ‘learn to earn’ training as well. What learn to earn training means is that you are taking charge of their entire life’s wants and needs. No more free food is put down in front of them. Keep the daily dose of food in a closed tin in the area where the dog is fed, call the dog to you and ask him to sit. When he sits, he gets a handful of food. Do this throughout the day using any command that the dog knows and the dog must obey that command in order to get some food. You will also take control of when the dogs can play. The toys should have been put away before this but if they were not, put all toys away, then when you are ready to play take out a toy and play with the dog, when you decide play is over put the toy away again. Petting does not come to them just because they nudge you, you decide when this takes place, which means you would call them to you and pet them at your discretion and ask that a command be obeyed . If they nudge to be petted, you ignore that, but you can give the dog a command at any time to obey and reward that behavior with petting. Again you always want to reinforce a behavior you have asked for. So even though you know the dog has nudged you to be petted, you don’t have to totally ignore the dog, in fact this is the perfect opportunity to turn that nudge into a trick or command and praise and reward the dog for that. Anything your dog takes for granted such as you opening the door to let it out, putting on a leash to go for a walk, allowing it to walk though a door before you, etc. these are all privileges to a dog that come naturally due to the human’s repetitive actions over time but many humans don’t realize this. So before you go through that door put the dog in a sit or wait and you walk through first then invite the dog to walk through. Again this should be rewarded with praise. Before you put the leash on you ask for a sit stay. Furniture is a no, no for dogs that have aggressive tendencies because it puts them in a higher charge over the others in the home, even children. Dogs should not just be allowed on the couch without specific invitation if at all. This need to be close and cuddle is more a human thing than a dog thing. Dogs do like to be close to the one they love and respect, but sitting on the floor next to that person will be enough to please them. This is not to say that no dog should ever be allowed on a couch, it is perfectly fine if you have stable easy going dogs. It is when there are problem dogs in the home that furniture should be off limits to all dogs. As mentioned above, in most cases dogs have developed habits that some owners allowed and gave in to over time but did not realize it. What might be helpful to the owner is to sit and make a list of all the good things your dog gets for free by an action that you have let the dog do for years. This will help you to turn those free behaviors into commands or tricks that can earn a reward. When the dog tries that action to get the desired reaction from you, stop and think, did I call the dog over to be petted? Did I tell the dog it is time to go out and that is why he brings the leash? Did I say let’s play so that is why he dropped the ball in my lap? All of those actions got the dog reactions in the past usually in a positive beneficial way to the dog. So now it is time to turn that all around. Keep in mind that dogs do what works for them and if it stops working they usually stop doing it. So when they growl or snap at you when you reach for that bone, it usually works as the human won't take it. I would never suggest to take anything from a growling dog, merely explaining that this works for the dog so therefore they do it. Using the learn to earn program does not really give them a chance to become possessive. Dogs that are well balanced within a group to begin with do not really need any of the above things to change; it is your right to spoil a well rounded dog! It is only homes with dogs in it that have social limitations around other dogs that should need the above direction. Barking and Lunging DogsCopyright Sally G Before we actually take dogs with unknown history is to start training them in non distracting places such as the home so they learn commands. Then you want to carry that training to the yard where there are more distractions and then once the commands are learned there you can try the street. I would do clicker training with the dog as it is a positive method and you want the dog to eventually associate positivity with being near others. The site below will take you step by step in this.As for the reward, in the home use cheerios, outside the home in the yard and street use hot dog slivers and when other dogs/humans pass use chicken slivers. When we put our dog in more distracting places for them we want to up the ante of reward. For walking in public you want to teach two commands very well,. Leave it and Heel. You will give these two commands constantly as you pass other dogs and if necessary hold a large chicken piece in front of the dog’s face for it to nibble on as you pass others. You want to set your dog up for success as you pass and this is why you are offering not only the commands but the treats at the same time. Give the commands like this: Fido Leave it, Fido Heel, leave it , heel , leave it heel etc as you pass the other dog/person. This is telling the dog what you don’t want it to do (the leave it) and telling the dog what you do want it to do (the heel). For every action you do not want to see you must give the dog another action that is okay or that you expect. If the dog has not fully learned these two commands then do not put him in a situation where he will come in contact with others as you are just setting the dog up to fail. When it comes to wanting to get closer to another dog or person on the street then I recommend the Behavior Adjustment Training. This sets the dog up for success. What you do is walk the dog to a certain point , near the distraction, and remove the dog before it has a chance to act out by turning and moving away, while praising and giving reward. Clicker training/positive method training/ print off video’s to see how clicker training is done, scroll down to videos method BAT is a good link for tips as well