Going In With The Right Mindset
I believe you when you tell me your dog is aggressive (whether it's a display or true intent to harm). I do not need to see your dog being aggressive to another dog as that detrimental to both parties and completely counter productive.
When working with any dogs that are aggressive to other dogs my initial aim is to find the range at which the dog shows no reaction around other dogs. It is also to go in with the idea that the dogs may never actually meet.
Identify Your Dogs Non-Reactive Range
It is only when you identify the distance at which your dog needs to be from another dog to show no reaction can you take that as the starting point as your dog is in a position (mentally and physically) to learn. And when I say no reaction that does not just mean no barking and lunging on the end of the lead. There are normally many more subtle body language reaction signs that build to barking and lunging.
What are some of the signs your dog may display that say it is uncomfortable and stressed with a situation?
- Hiding behind you (natural avoidance)
- Running away (bolting = natural avoidance)
- Licking lips
- Eye staring
- Raised ears
- Stiffening of the body
- Raised hackles
- Raised erect tail
- Or tail between the legs
- Rolling over in submission
- Low emitting growl
- Raised lip showing teeth
- Barking and backing away
- Barking and lunging forward
- Lunging as the dog goes past
- Lunging as the dog turns away
Finding the Starting Point
It is only when you identify the non-reactive range or distance of your particular dog, can you start woking them around other dogs (and only ones that show no reaction).You must create understanding and trust with your dog and give them an 'opt out' option before your dog shows any subtle signs of reaction. Only then will your dog see you making good judgement calls about other dogs and that you provide the solution to avoid conflict. It is then that you can start to decrease the range slowly by walking behind another non-reactive dog. Eventually you should be able to walk beside each other with dogs on the outside and handlers in between them. This is now a close range and therefore putting both dogs under more pressure. Stick with the idea that you want both dogs to ignore each other so don't let them meet. It's important that time is taken to build the trust between the handler and dog and the other handler and dog. I know it's tempting to let them meet but that may just tip the balance. Finish on a good note and part your ways when both dogs are calmly ignoring each other.
Isn't that what you wanted in the first place?
Building Up The Tolerance
Gradually through this process you will build up the number of dogs that your dog is comfortable around. But always remember your 'active avoidance' options so your dog learns it's more positive to avoid conflict by following your calm lead away from the other dog and focusing on you and your praise.
Letting Go Of Your Ideals
- Stop thinking your dog needs 'friends'. Take the pressure off them. As they get older they're less inclined to make new friends, just like us really. You may offer them all the social contact they desire.
- Stop taking them to places that are heavily dog populated or past houses whether there are dogs reacting behind fences. Take the pressure off them and don't return to the 'scene of the crime' if your dog has already had an incident there.
- Stop correcting, shouting or yanking on lead when they're reacting. It hasn't made them stop reacting yet, has it?
- Stop setting your dog up to fail and concentrate on how and where you get your dog's focus and positive responses.
- Let go of your human ideals. You may want to walk along the beach with your dog and let them off lead to have freedom but do you honestly have control of your dog and do you believe all others present have control of their dogs too? Do not put your dog or other dogs at risk.
- Be realistic in your expectations of your dog. They are stressed and need your understanding and support. Focus on what your dog is trying to tell you. They need TIME and SPACE. Don't rush things.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended as a full guide in how to improve your dogs reactive behaviour around other dogs. If you have a dog of concern please seek professional help from a positive dog behaviourist or trainer who can assist you through the process. There are no quick fixes for type of issue and each dog should be looked at on a case by case basis. However you must be prepared to invest your time and understanding to get the best results with your dog and be realistic with your expectations. Be responsible and keep you dog on a lead (and wearing a muzzle if advisable) and build up to your ideals once you've built a stronger responsive relationship with your dog and can see improvement.