Dealing With Fear Aggression Toward Other Dogs

By Mary McCready

Here are the main elements of the method discussed many times on this list for dealing with your problem: You need to remove the fear from the situation before you will be able to work her off lead around other dogs.

The shake can doesn't work on the long-term emotional response.

  1. Use Food: Walk your dog in lead where you will encounter other leashed dogs. The instant you and your dog notice "the stranger", in the distance, begin to speak happily and confidently to her, and feed her generously delicious treats such as meat that will cause her to associate the presence of the strange dog with getting good things. Arrange your path so you do not get too close to the dog, judge how close you can go by monitoring her reactions; you want her to stay calm enough to eat the food. When the strange dog is not in sight, put the food away and take it out again when another dog comes into view. You want her to notice that whenever she is in the presence of strange dogs, she gets wonderful treats that disappear when the dog goes away. You are interfering with her practicing her "fear/aggression" response. You are working on replacing fear with "pleasure" in the presence of other dogs.
  2. Use a head halter (if not already). It lets you guide your dog in stressful situations where she is likely to lunge without adding physical discomfort to her perception of the "other dog". It can have a calming effect on its own. It gives you confidence that you can control her. Use a short leash with a halter, keep her close to your side, and use food lures at first if necessary to turn her away instead of having her aggress toward the object of her fear. You are teaching her she can *ignore* other dogs instead of displaying her threats to them.
  3. Gradually decrease the distance between your dog and others, monitoring where she feels safe. You are desensitizing her gradually instead of permitting mistakes to happen. But at the same time you are moving steadily forward toward confidence.
  4. Give her something useful to do to replace the aggressive response. At a distance but still in the presence of other dog, where you can gain her attention, have her "sit", "down", "stand", "stay" "watch me" etc., and reward for her compliance and attention. You are teaching she is safe to obey and work around other dogs (as in obedience class but extended to less structured settings)
  5. Communicate leadership. Show her by your attitude and body language that *you* will protect *her* from advances by other dogs. Step between her and another dog if one of them is staring/reacting to the other. Be confident and happy. Know her thresholds for responding aggressively, and consciously stay under them; this communicates that you know what she needs. 6. When she is off lead, you will need to be very active about preventing other dogs from approaching her when she is working. Don't expect her to be "friendly". Allow her to keep her distance from other dogs and focus entirely on your instructions without fear of advances. This is the approach that has worked for me. It requires attention and effort, but it does work.

Mary McCready
Parkhill ON Canada pet owner
Copyright, Mary McGready, Aggressive Behaviors in Dogs list, July 20, 2000.
All rights reserved.
No further reproduction is permitted without express written consent from the writer.
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