Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?
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    Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?


    The problem:
    We recently adopted a Shih Tzu mix about 10 days ago, and has accepted us as his "pack." He generally does well on the leash, but when we see/pass strangers or other dogs he goes ballistic (barking/growling/pulling away). He also barks/growls at visitors to our house - which is a major problem.

    What we've tried:
    I've tried running with him, but it seems to have little effect so far. I also read today that you should bring treats along and offer them well before the "opposing force" is near, and to stop walking until the dog looks back and comes to my side (to stop the pulling). Also read today that I should put him in a room for 30 sec if barking at a visitor. I did try this method last time we had guests over, and he just kept barking.

    I'll try anything - I love the little guy, but my wife's patience is waning. The last thing I want is for someone to get bit before he's completely trained. Is there anything else I can do?

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    Senior Member wvasko's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Ok you have had this dog for 10 days, with his size and weight he's not too hard to handle. Walk him in areas if possible with less people and tell people that he is under training but can get agressive to warn them off. Let this dog get use to his new owners for at least a couple months and then start him in a training class. After 10 days if wife is losing patience maybe a dog is not the right choice for your family.

    If somebody picked you up and dropped you into a home in Germany to live with a strange family, in 10 days you (since you are smarter than dog) may start to adjust but I think there would be some problems. I know that sounds facetious but just think about it.
    Dinosaur Dog Trainer


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    Senior Member Thracian's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    You have to figure out how far away he needs to be from people before he starts barking at them. Have them stand there, then give him treats. A little closer, treats, and so on. This is not a short process. Patience is required.

    I second the idea that a training class will help after he's had more time to settle in. He's a cute dog. Hope you make it work with him.

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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Quote Originally Posted by wvasko View Post
    Ok you have had this dog for 10 days, with his size and weight he's not too hard to handle. Walk him in areas if possible with less people and tell people that he is under training but can get agressive to warn them off. Let this dog get use to his new owners for at least a couple months and then start him in a training class. After 10 days if wife is losing patience maybe a dog is not the right choice for your family.

    If somebody picked you up and dropped you into a home in Germany to live with a strange family, in 10 days you (since you are smarter than dog) may start to adjust but I think there would be some problems. I know that sounds facetious but just think about it.
    Thanks for the reply! I just got home from class & walked him, stopping him whenever he started to pull - worked like a charm! Now just to add some people to the mix. A question about that also - let's say I give him a treat as soon as he sees the stranger/dog. But then still is aggressive towards them as we pass each other, do I stop and reprimand, stop & firmly tell him "no" until he calms down, keep walking & ignore his aggression, or what?

    Quote Originally Posted by Thracian View Post
    You have to figure out how far away he needs to be from people before he starts barking at them. Have them stand there, then give him treats. A little closer, treats, and so on. This is not a short process. Patience is required.

    I second the idea that a training class will help after he's had more time to settle in. He's a cute dog. Hope you make it work with him.
    Will try the treats tomorrow when there's people out. I just walked him, but it's past 10:00pm here. For the training class, I'd like to get Cesar Millan out here - that guy is awesome!
    Last edited by Mandirigma; 07-14-2010 at 11:17 PM. Reason: Automerged Doublepost

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    Senior Member Entwine's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    I'd handle the problem with the people as so:

    When guests come over, give them a few tasty treats (high value, not just biscuits) to toss at your dog when they enter the house. Tell them not to make eye contact with the dog. They must completely ignore him other than tossing him the treats. No talking to him, gesturing at him, etc.

    This helps to establish that guests are a GOOD thing and that he does not need to fear them.

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    Senior Member MissMutt's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandirigma View Post
    Will try the treats tomorrow when there's people out. I just walked him, but it's past 10:00pm here. For the training class, I'd like to get Cesar Millan out here - that guy is awesome!
    Please don't use Cesar's methods on this dog. Your dog is likely exhibiting aggression because he is anxious and afraid. It is your job to make him feel better, and using punishment based methods will not achieve this.

    Do what Entwine said instead. And, if you're having a large crowd or having people over who will not comply with your rules, put your dog in a separate room for his own sake.
    Sam and ARCH UCD Marge CGC MX MJB RL1X RL2X

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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Quote Originally Posted by MissMutt View Post
    Please don't use Cesar's methods on this dog. Your dog is likely exhibiting aggression because he is anxious and afraid. It is your job to make him feel better, and using punishment based methods will not achieve this.

    Do what Entwine said instead. And, if you're having a large crowd or having people over who will not comply with your rules, put your dog in a separate room for his own sake.
    Yeah, I've noticed that Cesar doesn't use treats - I've wondered why, and how just giving the dog a "TSSST" and projecting a dominate personality works. Yesterday I read a case study on a dog that was exactly like ours - barked at strangers/dogs during walks, barked/growled visitors. The owner was using these positive reinforcement methods, and it worked.

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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    You should do some groundwork with this dog first before you introduce the dog to distractions like strangers and strange dogs. This is a basic outline: http://leerburg.com/groundwork.htm

    The dog needs to learn the meaning of the word, "No." I recommend teaching it as a negative punisher. This is an operant conditioning term that means when the dog hears the word he can expect the witholding of an expected reward because he made a mistake. This is better than a positive punisher because it helps avoid conflict with the dog and the kind of unwanted avoidance and displacement behaviors of dogs that are taught to always expect a physical correction following the word "No."

    The dog should be walked on a Herm Sprenger mini prong collar.

    Hopefully, after several weeks of groundwork that includes social isolation, and distraction-free walks, as well as training the "no" command, the dog will respond correctly to "no" in these problem situations when they're gradually introduced. If the dog blows you off when you give the no command in a situation where it is showing imprudent aggression, correct the dog with a single pop on the leash sufficient to demotivate the dog (this will vary with the dog's temperament). Don't use nagging corrections.

    Inappropriate aggression is annoying from a little Shih Tzu. My own dog is a large (28", 80 lbs) police work type dog. His threats carry deadly force with them. Inappropriate aggression from him is equivalent to me pulling out a gun at a random stranger and waving it around and shouting at them. I would be imprisoned for it. I have a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate aggression from my dog. It doesn't happen. Will you tolerate this from your Shih Tzu just because it's smaller? Like a little punk kid with a pocket knife instead of the man with a gun? Is that acceptable somehow even once?

    If you take the time to do the groundwork and walk on a prong collar it will be over before it even starts and there will be no need for any cruelty. If not, you'll be walking a little punk around on a harness.

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    Senior Member wvasko's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Using the mini-pinch is like flea hunting with an elephant gun unless you have enrolled in elephant gun school and learn how to use the new tool. Even then you're not gonna have much flea left. It's a rescue dog that nobody has a clue to it's past life. Take your time because guess what if your dog needs a prong collar to straighten it's act up it can be done later. What is the owner gonna do if the 1st correction he gives and the little dog panics and goes ballistic. Some dogs absolutely will/can panic.

    I like prong collars and use them on 95% of the dogs I train. Good tool but not for an amateur with a very small dog that can be controlled easily. New dogs need time to do some bonding with their new owners and environment before rough tactics are used. I learned that way back in dog training kindergarten school about a million years and 90 breeds ago.
    Dinosaur Dog Trainer


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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    I agree with the last reply but keep in mind I didn't say to jerk the heck out of the dog's neck with the prong collar. Walking on a prong collar is not the same as giving a hard correction with a prong. I am not recommending any force be used until three things happen:

    The groundwork is done including the use of the dog crate, social isolation and walking exclusively without distractions for a period of time.
    The dog learns the meaning of the word no as a negative punisher.
    The dog refuses to respond to the learned command and shows inappropriate aggression in defiance of its handler

    Only if all three conditions are met would I suggest using any correction and even then the force should be appropriate for the dog's temperament.

    People have a mistaken conception about prong collars and remotes. Just because they are capable of delivering higher levels of correction force than any other legitimate type of collar, doesn't mean you have to use it that way! I can walk my dog on both a prong and remote without ever giving a correction at all. I can give a correction with either one that is so delicate that a person could never achieve the same thing with a flat collar or harness because the dog would have no way of telling that the slight tug on the flat collar is actually a positive punishment. A prong or a low level nick communicates something where the flat collar always requires a pop hard enough the dog can tell you didn't just stumble.

    I know some people will not give the dog positive punishment at all. I can accept that some people will train their dogs this way, but I already pointed out how inappropriate the stranger aggression is and I don't think that distracting the dog with a cookie is the answer. This dog needs to be set up for success (without the distractions for a while) and when it's time to face the music, the dog's handler needs to show decisive leadership -- not excess violence. The groundwork period teaches the dog to expect this leadership from the handler. The right equipment allows the handler to provide the leadership in any situation with minimal violence.
    Last edited by Bart; 07-15-2010 at 06:39 PM.

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    Senior Member MissMutt's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    I don't think that distracting the dog with a cookie is the answer.
    This is a VERY ignorant statement and VERY rude IMO. YOU have a misconception of what it means to be a non-aversive trainer. You obviously know don't know very much about conditioning if you believe that it is as simple as distracting the dog in the presence of its triggers. What you ARE doing is working to change negative associations and rewarding the dog for calm behavior. Tell me, how will a dog feel better about the presence of strangers if you are issuing corrections every time he gets upset when he sees one? You might stop the barking and growling, but you will NOT change the association and you very well may wind up with a dog who gives no vocal warning ad instead goes straight to bite.

    "Minimal violence" is not acceptable. You CANNOT fight aggression using more aggression.
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    Senior Member wvasko's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Well believe it or not there are some dogs that aggression/aversives may have to be used and will cure the problem. I just like starting with easy stuff 1st. Especially with a new dog in new place. Notice I keep coming back to new dog in a brand new place with brand new owners that may be rank amateurs in dog handling. Careful just makes more sense to me in this particular case..
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Chances are this dog is using the barking/growling as distancing behaviour based in FEAR> he has not had the time to develop enough of a relationship with his new owners to trust they will protect him or remove him from frightening people/events. Fear does NOT respond well to punishment. This is not simply an OB issue, it is a behavioural issue and sending someone with a brand new rescue dog to the Leerburg site is, well, premature and not well thought out.

    I have had many clients who had fearful/fear aggressive dogs who had gone the balanced training/punishment based training route in the beginning. What they most often ended up with was a dog that USED to growl, stiffen or tongue lick before lunging and after having their signals extinguished through punishment got a dog that went from 0-60 full on lunge. Working on the FEAR itself through classical conditioning and then working on obedience (OC) works much better and does not have the same repercussions/fallout that is possible with punishment.

    OP, regarding your question about the cookie and the continuing to bark etc. CC is often called open bar/closed bar. You make sure the food reward is TINY and very high value and you have LOTS of it. Person appears in sight, bar opens..continuous repeated feeding, person passes, bar closes. The idea is to have the dog learns that the person/scary thing PREDICTS good stuff, literally changing the emotional response to the scary thing. So technically, in the beginning you are not rewarding a sit or calm or anything else, you are simply stuffing his face. Eventually when he starts to look at YOU when he sees scary thing, THEN you ask for a sit and calm and reward.

    The best site for information on working with a fearful dog is www.fearfuldogs.com , lots of info on the hows,whys, wheres etc.

    In the meantime, keep him on a leash, do as much avoidance of his triggers as you can while you do your research. Is he crate trained? If so, use your crate as his safe place when people come over, or use a baby gate and do not force him to interact. Ask all visitors to ignore him. This will keep everyone safe while you come up with a plan.

    Be aware too that often fear based behaviours can be linked to underlying physical issues (hypothyroidism, tick borne diseases, pain, etc) so if you make no progress you should think about discussing these things with a good veterinarian.
    Maggi and Cracker, Dog about Rosedale


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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Patricia McConnell has excellent advice on how to deal with this issue in For The Love Of A Dog. Chaper 5, Pavlov In Your Pocket, speaks directly to how to address this. Basically, it's classical conditioning and it takes patience.

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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Chances are this dog is using the barking/growling as distancing behaviour based in FEAR> he has not had the time to develop enough of a relationship with his new owners to trust they will protect him or remove him from frightening people/events. Fear does NOT respond well to punishment. This is not simply an OB issue, it is a behavioural issue and sending someone with a brand new rescue dog to the Leerburg site is, well, premature and not well thought out.
    Yes indeed, that's why I mention the dog read progam that amateurs have a hard time with, I don't have all the proper words but slow and easy is proper. I could never understand rush on something that will be in home for 10 to 15 yrs if lucky. As a professional trainer there is always a time problem but not for amateurs.
    Dinosaur Dog Trainer


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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    Using the mini-pinch is like flea hunting with an elephant gun unless you have enrolled in elephant gun school and learn how to use the new tool. Even then you're not gonna have much flea left. It's a rescue dog that nobody has a clue to it's past life. Take your time because guess what if your dog needs a prong collar to straighten it's act up it can be done later. What is the owner gonna do if the 1st correction he gives and the little dog panics and goes ballistic. Some dogs absolutely will/can panic.
    LOL, I love that!!
    I like prong collars and use them on 95% of the dogs I train. Good tool but not for an amateur with a very small dog that can be controlled easily. New dogs need time to do some bonding with their new owners and environment before rough tactics are used. I learned that way bacin dog training kindergarten school about a million years and 90 breeds ago.
    I like prong collars, too. I've used them with great success, but I'll agree--sticking a prong on a small dog that's brand new and hasn't learned "why NOT" (bark at that dog, bark at that person, etc) isn't the greatest idea. I've seen in some instances where a prong can make aggression worse (dog sees trigger, pulls and gets pinched). Everytime they see the trigger, they get pinched, because anti-pull training wasn't done, the owners skipped right to management. Great way to associate the trigger with more reasons to go ballistic.

    Quote Originally Posted by MissMutt View Post
    This is a VERY ignorant statement and VERY rude IMO. YOU have a misconception of what it means to be a non-aversive trainer. You obviously know don't know very much about conditioning if you believe that it is as simple as distracting the dog in the presence of its triggers. What you ARE doing is working to change negative associations and rewarding the dog for calm behavior. Tell me, how will a dog feel better about the presence of strangers if you are issuing corrections every time he gets upset when he sees one? You might stop the barking and growling, but you will NOT change the association and you very well may wind up with a dog who gives no vocal warning ad instead goes straight to bite.

    "Minimal violence" is not acceptable. You CANNOT fight aggression using more aggression.
    Yep, yep, and yep. Haven't we all seen the dogs who (according to owners) bite without any warning? I wonder what their past management/training was like? Growling was punished, freezing up was punished, etc.
    And to whoever made the ignorant statement, the point isn't to "bribe" or "distract" a dog who is lunging and acting ballistic with a cookie. Puh-lease.
    Last edited by LazyGRanch713; 07-16-2010 at 11:37 AM. Reason: Automerged Doublepost

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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    My advice was to start on the prong collar where there are NO TRIGGERS. My advice required the use of groundwork including social isolation, distraction or trigger free walks, and learning the meaning of the no command as a negative punisher (punishment by withholding a reward the dog is conditioned to expect) -- in other words, learning the "why not." Specifically the "why not" that the dog needs to reason is, "because my leader told me to knock it off in a way that I understand (the "no" command)."

    "...if your dog is absolutely committed to what she's doing -- say, barking out the window at the neighbor's mutt who loves to taunt her -- then there's probably no [startling] sound you can make that's going to get her attention. In cases like that, give up trying to get louder and louder from across the room and go over closer to her. I like to lure dogs away from context like that with a treat held right up close to their nose, like luring a donkey with a carrot, and then ask them to do something else when they're away from all the excitement." - Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D

    If McConnell is VERY ignorant and VERY rude, you need to discuss it with her. I don't advocate this.

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    Senior Member MissMutt's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    My advice was to start on the prong collar where there are NO TRIGGERS. My advice required the use of groundwork including social isolation, distraction or trigger free walks, and learning the meaning of the no command as a negative punisher (punishment by withholding a reward the dog is conditioned to expect) -- in other words, learning the "why not." Specifically the "why not" that the dog needs to reason is, "because my leader told me to knock it off in a way that I understand (the "no" command)."
    And again, I can't see how you're going to change the association doing only this. By teaching the dog no, you're teaching him that the behavior is unacceptable. But what about the underlying reason WHY he is reacting? Suppressing the behavior does not change the association. That's where counterconditioning comes in.

    And that Patricia McConnell quote is not what he should be doing with this dog. You need to prevent the reaction in the first place and feed treats at a distance where he is not reacting. The "luring" she's talking about has nothing to do with the scenario that the OP posted, because 1) the dog will be leashed and he can simply move away if the dog reaches its threshold and 2) the idea in the first place is to keep the dog under threshold by finding safe distances to work at.
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    First off - Thanks everyone for the wealth of advice! In this post, I have some good news and bad news.

    Someone had asked if he's trained yet. He is crate trained (from all outward appearances), he immediately goes to his crate if I open it - without being told. He's also housebroken, although there have been a few accidents (very minimal considering he's still new to the house, and 1 yr old). I also have a fabric/nylon webbing choke collar that he wears as his normal collar since when not being pulled hangs loose like a normal one would.

    I did try walking him last night for one last time before bed, around 10pm or so, using the treats before approaching the stimulus - in this case, someone's house where there were people or before walkers approached. He didn't do very bad with the mobile stimulus - the couple that walked by (he did bark at them a little and pull). However with the stationary stimulus - a person outside of their house, it was bad (he barked the entire time, tried to run after her, pulled, etc).

    In both instances, I gave him the treat prior to the stimulus getting even remotely close. I also gave him a few more treats as the stimulus got closer, or we got closer to it. I've also stopped walking whenever he starts to pull - this has been pretty successful, and I generally haven't been giving treats for this but a "good boy" praise.

    So now the bad news. He bit my wife last night and jumped up at our daughter. My wife and I were arguing, which escalated to yelling, and that's when he went after her face and got her on the cheek/mouth. He didn't go after me though - not sure why. Our daughter started crying, and he went after her too. He jumped up towards her face, but I really don't think he was going after a bite.

    He usually is a sweet, good-natured dog around us. Last night however, I think the yelling was too much for him and he went off. I realize it only takes one bite to my daughter's face and she's scarred for life, but at what cost do we keep him - hoping that it never happens?

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    Senior Member LazyGRanch713's Avatar
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    Re: Aggression towards strangers and other dogs - what to do?

    My advice was to start on the prong collar where there are NO TRIGGERS. My advice required the use of groundwork including social isolation, distraction or trigger free walks, and learning the meaning of the no command as a negative punisher (punishment by withholding a reward the dog is conditioned to expect) -- in other words, learning the "why not." Specifically the "why not" that the dog needs to reason is, "because my leader told me to knock it off in a way that I understand (the "no" command)."

    so in this context No just means "knock it off?" There's really no other information as to what the owner would like the dog to do?

    "...if your dog is absolutely committed to what she's doing -- say, barking out the window at the neighbor's mutt who loves to taunt her -- then there's probably no [startling] sound you can make that's going to get her attention. In cases like that, give up trying to get louder and louder from across the room and go over closer to her. I like to lure dogs away from context like that with a treat held right up close to their nose, like luring a donkey with a carrot, and then ask them to do something else when they're away from all the excitement." - Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D

    If McConnell is VERY ignorant and VERY rude, you need to discuss it with her. I don't advocate this.
    How is that ignorant, and how is it rude? And how is telling a dog to knock it off and leaving it at that any better than luring them away from the problem, getting them to perform something easy they know and treating that?

    Quote Originally Posted by MissMutt View Post
    And again, I can't see how you're going to change the association doing only this. By teaching the dog no, you're teaching him that the behavior is unacceptable. But what about the underlying reason WHY he is reacting? Suppressing the behavior does not change the association. That's where counterconditioning comes in.

    And that Patricia McConnell quote is not what he should be doing with this dog. You need to prevent the reaction in the first place and feed treats at a distance where he is not reacting. The "luring" she's talking about has nothing to do with the scenario that the OP posted, because 1) the dog will be leashed and he can simply move away if the dog reaches its threshold and 2) the idea in the first place is to keep the dog under threshold by finding safe distances to work at.
    My take so far on this dog training thing is that any one can stick a management tool (choke collar, prong, halti, all things that I've used) on a dog and make it do whatever the owner says. BTDT. Also pretty easy to pop a dog and tell them to quit and call the dog trained. (BTDT too). But as of late it's been pretty cool to me to actually be able to learn how to counter condition and watch a dogs' association with an object previously feared turn into something good. As Donaldson said, why settle for a dog who's tolerant of X stimulus when you can train a dog to actually LIKE it?
    Last edited by LazyGRanch713; 07-16-2010 at 05:00 PM. Reason: Automerged Doublepost

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