I frequently get calls about aggressive dogs. Many times, the behavior is based on fear – usually because of a lack of early socialization with other dogs or a fear that came about from being attacked by a bigger, bully-type dog. Based on that traumatic experience, these canines may have lost the confidence in how to greet and play and instead use aggression to keep all other canines away.
Why? Because it works for them.
Owners of these fearful pups should start with gradually getting their dogs comfortable with bigger dogs. This must be done with many easy experiences with one or two softer and easy going, bigger pups.
To make certain that the fearful pup one is not overwhelmed at the very beginning (a huge confidence buster) it would be important that you control the following aspects of the other canines in the exercise:
- Size of the other pups (not overwhelmingly larger)
- Behavior of the other pups towards him (basically ignore him, do not bark or lunge)
- The distance of the other dog to him. (not to close – don’t push the envelope too soon)
The goal would be to be able to allow him to experience easy dogs at a distance at first for a low non-intense greeting and, because everything is controlled on leashes, he is able to have a controlled and more positive emotional response (at a distance) which he has never had before.
By doing this you are able to change his expectation of greetings.
Obviously this activity needs to be controlled, so practicing at dog parks is out – at least temporarily.
This needs to be a planned activity so that your pup can get gradually used to large, passive, non-lunging type dogs that, as he gets used to the dog, the distance gets shorter.
The Open Bar Technique
The technique I’ve used over the years is called “the open bar technique”. This involves giving your dog an extremely high value food treat that he only gets when in the presence of other canines in this controlled exercise – regardless of his behavior – good or bad.
Here are the rules:
- The “bar” opens for the reactive dog each and every time big dogs come around.
- The “bar” closes immediately after the big one goes out of sight.
- What is available at the “bar” for the fearful dog is an extremely high value food treat that is never available any other time – only when big pups are around.
- Only big dogs hold the key to the “bar”.
When the other (distraction) canine is brought into view at a distance you open the bar and regardless of your dog’s behavior begin praising/treating. It may be helpful to tether your pup to a stationary object and use a reliable and sturdy flat buckle collar only to free you up for handing out the goodies.
As soon as the distracting canine is taken out of sight, close the “bar”.
Now this exercise could take weeks or months depending on quantity/quality of exercises done daily and how bad this behavior has gotten.
Wait! I know what you’re thinking: “It sounds like I am rewarding bad behavior.” Right?
Not at all.
What the reactive dog eventually learns is that big dogs now mean something fabulous!
You might be surprised that one day he will begin to seek out big dogs to be around him because great things happen!
Remember to have patience. Train every day and gradually get different big dogs a little closer to the reactive dog as he is able to handle a closer proximity to big dogs.
I also highly recommend that you have an experienced trainer work with you on this until you reach a comfort level with the exercise.
Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”