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ragnarok20 in positivelydog

Dog Aggression?

So I adopted this dog a little over a year ago when he was 2.5 yeas old. I knew that when I adopted him that he was poorly socialized around other dogs because his previous owners had a dog that was aggressive towards other dogs. My issue is this: whenever we are on our walks he goes completely apeshit around other dogs depending upon proximity, visual contact, and the behavior of the other dog.

I don't think he wants to mess up the other dog but his behavior is pretty extreme. He doesn't show the tell tale signs of aggression like hunkering down, hackles raised and the bearing of his teeth. He does, however, raise his ears and his tail, starts kind of prancing, then lunges. When that doesn't work he grabs his lead and starts playing tuf of war (unless I let the other dog pass, in which case he whimpers and kind of howls).

I use a pinch collar with a harness as back up in case he manages to slip out of the collar and a chain lead a) because I read that it's suppose to dissuade the behavior, though it doesn't and b) because I don't want it to break because of him chewing.

I've tried food lures to modify the behavior, which has been ineffective as well two different kinds of bitter sprays on his nylon lead which just seems to make the behavior worse. Leash corrections have had about the same effect as food lures in that they distract him but only for a split second. I've tried to research training methods through numerous books (including Koehler) and websites but nothing seems to address the particular issues that I seem to be having and its embarrassing. Any help would be appreciated.


My go-to resources have been Grisha Stewart's BAT and Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed. I highly recommend you read both of those books. You can purchase them on Amazon.

This lady's channel is just AMAZING. Her name is Emily Larlham, and her channel is KikoPup. This video in particular pertains to the issue you're describing:
But I would recommend delving into her channel completely. All of it is likely relevant. :)

I would definitely get in touch with a +R trainer in your area. Someone with the IAABC or CPDT-KA certification is a nice starting point.

In general, I avoid prong collars, especially when working on reactivity/aggression due to fear and/or inexperience. I don't want to accidentally correct a dog for acting out of fear, because that's not helpful. If you're afraid of spiders, and I yell at you to knock it off and get over it, are you less afraid? Nope. So that's probably why the prong isn't working. Similarly, if the dog is over threshold, luring with treats doesn't help either. The trick is to find a safe enough distance (according to your pup) where your dog can see the trigger, but not overly react to it. That's what we call working under threshold, and it makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

Hope this helps get you started!
The video seems to deal with fear reactivity. From what I've read I don't think that classic operant conditioning will necessarily work since a) I don't think its a fear response based on the pictures I've seen of dogs in that state and b) his desire to interact with the dog is higher than his desire to get treats which is funny considering how food driven he is. Considering that, I don't think that prong collar I'd detrimental especially since they aren't designed to induce pain and are not capable of the kind of pain that a slip/choke collar would provide.

Furthermore, a regular collar would provide similar problems as a choke collar in that it can become flush with the trachea, damaging it and causing him to gt choked out. An easy leader could cause him to severely damage his neck, and a harness as a primary gives him to much control since it gives him leverage to pull against me (hence why it's only a backup).

I've tried to gain his attention before a trigger response occurs but as I said part of the problem is proximity so even if I do distract him prior he will go apeshit as they get closer.

Further, it's often difficult to consistently remove him from the situation in order to stop the behavior since the assholes around here let their dogs run loose all the time so even when there are situations where I could just turn around, numerous times a week there are stray dogs who follow us no matter which way I turn.
Well, the video shows fear reactivity, but these methods work well for straight up aggression, frustration/impulse control problems and over excitement, as well as all the different forms of fear (including actual fear for survival and not knowing how to handle a situation).

While I agree that prong collars are not on par with the level of pain that a slip/choke chain delivers, I don't believe that they are pain-less. There is a moderate amount of discomfort, and I want to avoid that when starting a behavioral training program. I always recommend a front-clip harness to start. Almost all dogs can be worked using these methods in just a front-clip harness. I don't recommend buckle collars, because they can damage the dog's trachea and lead to more stress enzymes being released that will counteract the work you're doing.

I'm not sure if you're aware, but the goal of positive training in these instances is to change the dog's emotional perspective of X trigger from "bad" to "good." Whatever "bad" is, be it fear or not, we can help bring about a new, "good" association in roughly the same way regardless of why "bad" existed in the first place. We only really want to know how "bad" came about because we don't want to repeat that in future, or it may be a separate entity we can work on aside from triggers. For example, if your dog is frustrated due to over-eagerness to meet another dog, we may help make seeing a dog and walking by them without greeting a good thing; but what will really make a difference is teaching impulse control and providing appropriate outlets for greetings (play dates, daycare, local dogs walks/hikes, etc.) that suit the dog.

Getting his attention prior to seeing the trigger doesn't really help him learn that X trigger results in Y reward. He's already focused on the reward, so he's not thinking so much about the trigger. That's a great form of management (preventing reactivity), but not a great way to modify behavior.

For off-leash pest dogs, I always carry with me Spray Shield citronella spray. Dogs don't like the sound, and tend to give us space just from hearing it, let alone if it actually makes contact and they experience the citronella nastiness.
This is why it would be a good idea to talk to a good positive trainer/behaviourist in person. They can give you tips on this stuff based on what your dog is actually doing, rather than what you are already convinced you are doing right, but appears not to be working for you.

Your description of your dogs behaviour sounds much more like excitement and frustration than aggression to me. If it is that, a class might be a good way of working on behaviour around other dogs that are behaving in a controlled way. But I could be quite wrong as I can't see your dog. Someone who can actually see you and your dog is much better placed to advise on that.

You could try carrying a tug toy, if he insists on playing tug with a chain lead. At least that way he's playing with something harmless.
Ok first things first:

I would drop the prong. Right away. IF this is fear-based (and it's hard to tell from your description if it's frustration or fear), it can create more problems, not less. And if it's out of frustration it may make the problem worse by adding pain to the frustration. I would use a flat collar or a martingale (a properly fitted martingale should be impossible to slip out of as it tightens to the size of the dog's neck when pulled on), or just stick to a harness if you're afraid of his slipping out of the collar.

I used a game called "Look at that" from Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed with my dog (who was reactive out of frustration at not being able to greet other dogs). You can find the whole thing outlined in the book (and don't let its being geared toward sport dogs deter you...it's helpful for ALL dogs). But the basic gist is this:

Keep your dog far enough away from other dogs that he/she does not react with barking, lunging, growling, etc. It's ok for your dog to NOTICE the other dog, but once they get to this point they can't learn anymore. They're over threshold. This is why leash corrections and positive reinforcement do not work for you. The dog simply cannot think. I liken it to trying to teach someone math problems while dangling them off a cliff. They're simply going to be too panicked to learn. So for the dog to learn to relax, they need to be far enough away from the other dog that they're not over threshold, but close enough to have taken note of the other dog.

So how do you find that in between point? Pay attention to your dog. Watch the dog when you see another dog in the distance and look for the signs that your dog sees the other dog and is about to react. Their ears may go forward (or backward). They may freeze in place and stare. Their tail may come up. Their hackles might raise. The warning signs are usually there. For my girl, it was a freezing in place, ears going forward and the tail coming up. After a bit of study, I could tell when she was going to react. And THAT is the point you need.

When my dog would notice the other dog, but hadn't yet reacted, I would say "Look at that!" in a bright happy voice. And when she looked back at me, she got rewarded (some use a click/treat if you're into clickers...for me she got a "Yes!" and a food reward, because she's REALLY food motivated). For your dog, you could use food (high value...we're not talking kibble or milk bones here...we're talking chicken or steak or something along that line). Or you could use a game of tug if you're dog's really into it. There are even leashes specifically made for tugging that you could get (check out Tillies Tuggies, for example...she's currently taking a break to catch up but should have more soon I'm sure).

The key is LOTS of rewards for looking and then looking back to you instead of reacting.

Eventually, if you do it enough, your dog will see that dog coming and turn to look at you. Excellent! Then you can move it closer. You don't want to move closer until your dog is ready because that puts the dog over threshold (and all you can do then is get your dog further away and let him calm down). But once the dog can walk past another dog at a distance of whatever you're working at (50 feet, 100 feet, whatever), then you can push it a little closer. Maybe they can walk calmly by when a dog is 30 feet away...so try pushing it to 28 feet or thereabouts. Don't go too close too fast, but you'll be able to get a little bit closer.

We did this and while YES, it takes some time (do not expect it to work overnight...we started to see some really solid results after consistently doing it for a couple months). But we went from not being able to be across the road from another dog without my dog losing her head and going nuts to being able to walk by another dog that's just a few feet away without a meltdown.

here's a picture of him

Martingale's have the same problem as regular collars and choke collars: in any kind of struggle they can become flush with the neck, causing your dog to choke itself out and potentially damaging the trachea thus presenting the same issue with which you fault the pinch collars.  To me, the possibility that those collars could create a negative association with other dogs is much higher as the point of the pinch collar is that a dog cannot choke themselves out.  Obviously there are breed specific issues, however, as if one has a dog without much fur, a pinch collar would not likely be appropriate as it could cause serious bruising.  (Most negative reviews on Amazon for instance stemmed from people with short haired dogs attempting to use a pinch collar.). Despite being the more vicious appearing of the options compared to its more innocuous looking counterparts I have found it to be by far the more humane.

As to your other suggestions regarding training I have tried variations on them in with little to no success.

If your dog is choking himself on a martingale, you have it fitted wrong. The point of a martingale is that it can only tighten so far, then it becomes a flat collar. They are useful for breeds with small heads and muscular necks. That isn't your dog though, so personally I would not choose one for that dog.

I do think you should stop with the prong. Your dog does have a short coat and prongs work by prodding him uncomfortably. A well fitted harness is least likely to cause neck problems.

April 2014

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