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Discussion Starter #1
We have a 3 year old neutered Great Dane. He was well socialized as a puppy, and is generally an all around friendly and personable dog. We have always made at least weekly trips to the dog park and he has always done great with other dogs. About 6 months ago we moved across the country and since then he has become unpredictable with other dogs. He has become aggressive towards other dogs when he's on the leash, as well as aggressive to some people while leashed. None of which had ever been an issue at our previous home. When we take him to our local dog park he is great and never has an issue. However, we have a small fenced in dog area where we live, and he is extremely aggressive towards dogs as they are coming in especially, walking past, and even aggressive towards a select number of dogs even when inside. All of this while off the leash. Once they are inside he is usually okay, but he is unpredictable with some dogs. Today we walked towards the fenced area and he was so aggressive before even going inside we had to just continue walking, I could hardly pull him away. He was full on aggressive, hackles up, teeth out, growling, barking, lunging. Had there not been a fence I'm not sure what he would have done to the poor dog on the other side. I am at the end of my rope with him. It's to the point I'm afraid to walk him when my husband isn't with. What can I do to get my sweet boy back? I'm willing to try about anything. My plan is to hire a dog trainer after September when work slows down if we cannot solve this at home, but I would love some help to at least be able to walk him without being afraid of what he will do in the meantime.

We do also have a 6 year old Basset Hound who is friendly with everyone, but has picked up some of the same behaviors since moving. Not nearly as serious, but I would like to solve his issues as well, however the Great Dane is my priority for obvious size and overpowering issues
 

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I'm sorry to hear that you're having these issues.

First thing - have you spoken to your breeder about these problems? Your breeder should be informed of his aggression/reactivity problems, and you should also be asking whether dog/dog or dog/human aggression has been an issue in their lines.

Second thing - when was he neutered?

Third thing - when you say 'aggressive', what do you mean? Does he try to attack the other dogs? Does he growl with his hackles raised and attempt to body block them? Do you intervene in these situations? If so, how do you intervene? If you don't intervene, would a fight break out? Has he ever bitten or drawn blood on another dog?

I doubt the move impacted his behavior significantly. While moving can add a lot of stress to a dog's life, you also happened to relocate right at the age when aggression/reactivity issues commonly crop up. So I believe that this behavior is largely circumstantial in relation to your move. That being said, it does sound like he has significant barrier reactivity issues which are likely rooted in stress or fear. Barrier reactivity means that any time a dog is leashed, or on the other side of a fence, or something is stopping the dog from getting somewhere, the dog becomes increasingly stressed and eventually lashes out to the point of barking/growling/snarling/raising hackles. Eventually, if the dog is allowed to perform this behavior regularly, it could end up provoking a bite.

Here's what I think you should do moving forward:

0. Putting this at the top of the list because it's the best thing you can do. Hire a trainer. It is of the utmost important that you hire a trainer who follows LIMA (least invasive, minimally aversive) protocol and who is force-free. That's not to say that the trainer has to be what they call 'purely positive'. But you do need a trainer who doesn't use coercion or force on your already stressed and/or fearful dog. If the trainer you speak to uses works like 'alpha', 'pack leader', 'dominant/dominance', etc., run for the hills. Absolutely do not allow any sort of dominance- or pack-based trainer anywhere near your dog.

1. Make an appointment to visit your veterinarian and have a basic physical and blood panel run. Make sure the blood panel includes thyroid testing. Physical pain, or a thyroid imbalance, can cause an increase in aggressive behaviors. I think this is unlikely, but it's good to rule it out as a cause for the issues you're having.

2. Stop going to the dog park. Period. If he is questionable or unpredictable around other dogs, it is not fair to other owners to put their dogs in jeopardy. A Great Dane, as I'm sure you are aware, can do incredible damage in a very short period of time. It's simply not okay to take that risk under any circumstances.

3. Stop walking him with your Basset Hound. Reactivity-type behaviors very easily transfer from one dog to the other, so your Basset will likely continue to become more reactive if you walk them together while your Dane is acting out.

4. Start walking your Dane at times of the day when you're least likely to run into other people and dogs. One of the most important factors in working with a reactive dog is not allowing the reaction to occur in the first place. Every time your dog reacts to something (if the reactivity is stress/fear-based, as I am guessing), his behavior is reinforced. Either he reacts and the 'scary thing' goes away, or he reacts and you turn around and walk the other way. Meaning that you're unintentionally teaching him that his reaction keeps him safe. So you need to manage your walks with him carefully to prevent reactions as much as it is possible. It's also important that you NEVER punish him for reacting. Punishing him (either by telling him 'no', jerking on the leash, putting a prong collar or e-collar on him, etc.) is going to make his reactivity worse, because it will only heighten his fear and/or stress.

5. If you're using a choke chain or prong collar on him, stop. P+ or aversive tools do not work to reduce reactivity. They either terrify and shut down a dog entirely, or increase reactivity. Below is a photo of the set up I use with my anxiety reactive Dane. The red collar is a martingale collar; the pink leash is a regular 6' leash. The blue head halter is a Gentle Leader; the green harness is a Freedom harness; the purple lead is a double-ended Kong leash. When I'm working with my Dane, I use exclusively the pink/red collar and leash. The purple leash is kept slack in my opposite hand. This is so I'm working with the most basic and least aversive tools possible a vast majority of the time, however the purple leash/head collar/harness works as an 'oh sh*t' backup plan in case a person or dog somehow manages to sneak up on me and my dog reacts. This setup ensures that I am able to control my dog and keep everyone around me safe while not adding undue stress with my training aids.



6. Work on impulse control exercises with him. These can even just be in your home during your regular training sessions. Look up 'It's your choice' training and start using some of their protocols. It may not seem relevant to his issues, but teaching impulse control and critical thinking skills may help him remain under his reactivity threshold when you're working on more complex training that is directly related to his reactivity.

7. This is the type of thing that ideally your trainer would work with you on. But the general protocol for working with a reactive dog is exposing them to their triggers at a distance that keeps them under threshold. So for instance, your dog is triggered by other dogs. In order to 'fix' this issue, you would expose your dog to the sight of other dog's at a distance that your dog won't go over threshold or react. At that distance, you first begin to work on LAT (Look At That) exercises - you want your dog to acknowledge the trigger, not fixate or react, and then you reward when your dog breaks focus on the trigger and looks elsewhere. If your dog won't break his fixation, you're too close to the trigger and you need to move further away. When your dog becomes comfortable with breaking focus on the trigger, you can begin to calmly incorporate easy commands, such as 'sit', or 'down', (or whatever your dog is good at) at this distance. When your dog finally stops acknowledging the other dogs at this comfortable distance, you attempt to move closer to the triggers for your next training session. Then you start with LAT work again, then work on calm commands. Rinse and repeat.

7. If you don't see improvement after working hard on the issue for several months, do not be afraid to inquire with your trainer and/or veterinarian about medicating your dog if his reactivity is rooted in anxiety. There's an excellent thread from an incredibly knowledgeable member here about her journey with her reactive dog, Molly. I'd suggest reading it: http://www.dogforums.com/general-dog-forum/422457-medicating-molly.html

This type of training takes a very long time. Months at a minimum to see a small amount of progress. And setbacks will happen if you push too far, or too fast, or use punishments instead of reward-based training. You will probably need weekly sessions with your trainer for a little while, however after you have successfully learned the general process you need to go through with your Dane, I'd imagine that monthly or as-needed sessions would be just fine.

It's a really long and tough road, and it can be exhausting and frustrating when all you want to do is take a walk and not have to worry about what other people and/or dogs you may come across. Eventually you will see progress, however, and your patience and hard work will pay off. Just to be truthful, I don't think reactivity is ever 100% solved. Just like mental disorders in humans, it can be managed and improved significantly with work and time. It will likely never just vanish, and your training will need to continue throughout his life.

I can probably provide a bit more insight if you would reply with the answers to the questions I posed at the beginning of this post.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you so much for your detailed answer! We definitely have new things to work on! We got him from a family friend who got him as a young puppy and changed their mind on owning a Dane, so I don't know anything about his breeding. I didn't grow up with Danes and know they can be goofy, so we spent TONS of time socializing and getting him used to every dog and every person possible.

He was neutered at around 1.5 years.

His aggression ranges quite a bit. Some days it's only barking and hackles up. Other days (like yesterday) its lunging, barking, growling. We've never gotten into a situation where he's drawn blood or actually bitten a dog. But he has jumped on another dog, and then been fine the next second. We have a large dog park near our house and we've never had an issue at, he's never acted the least bit aggressive there. It's only on the leash and in the small, fenced dog area where we live that he's had issues.

He's certainly an anxious dog by nature, which is likely what this is rooting from. When he's nervous at all he lifts his front leg and quivers his shoulder, and he does that throughout the day.. That started probably 2 years ago. weve since taken him to the vet and they've done bloodwork and X-rays, as we thought some aggression could be resulting from pain, everything is normal.

Of course we love our Finley to death and simply want to find out how to fix this. He generally really does love other dogs and people, it's just those occasions when he's unpredictable that we need to work on. I completely agree that we need to stop going to the park by our house until and if we get this resolved. You've given us some great tips and things to work on! Thank you so much!
 

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Not a problem, and I hope some things I mentioned help you out!

This isn't meant to be an admonishment of either you or your friend who originally purchased the puppy, but unfortunately anxious Danes who are fearful and reactive have become very common due to an upswing in the breed's popularity. Due to the demand for Danes, and the relatively low reputable supply, backyard breeders have really found a foothold in the breed. And backyard breeders are producing dogs for one thing - money. They don't care about temperament or health or longevity or the breed standard. And it is out of these breedings that I am seeing Danes like yours, and my own Zephyr, who are plagued with behavioral and mental issues.

It's likely your dog came from a less than reputable breeder because reputable breeders make their buyers sign contracts that give them the right of first return, meaning that if your friend had purchased from a reputable breeder, the puppy would have been returned to that breeder before being allowed to be rehomed with you (or anyone else). That doesn't mean that he isn't a great dog or a great companion, it's just important to know where our dogs came from in order to understand their increased risk factor for certain common genetic diseases, such as DCM, several cancers, and bloat. My Zephyr is also a rehome, and his original owners purchased him from a less than ethical breeder, so it sounds like our boys have a lot in common!

Two things to be taken away from all of that. The first is that if you ever want another Dane, going through a reputable breeder who health tests, breeds for temperament and to standard is the best way to go. Danes are supposed to be 'gentle giants' - calm, stable, confident and biddable dogs.

The second is that I'd highly recommend health insurance if you don't already have it. Bloat is thought to be genetic, and since you don't know your dog's lineage and it's likely the breeder didn't either, bloat is a big risk. Secondly, other contributing factors to bloat include heavy exercise with a full stomach, dogs who are prone to digestive issues/IBS, AND dogs who are anxious or have nervy temperaments. Bloat with torsion can be a $3,000 - $7,000 immediate medical bill, so it's pretty necessary to have a credit line open that can accommodate that type of expense, and an insurance plan that will help you by reimbursing at least some of that cost. There are quite a few threads about insurance on this forum that you can read for more information. I have Healthy Paws, personally, and I think the coverage, cost and customer service I get is remarkable.

Please feel free to ask (via thread or PM) if you have any other questions or if you'd like more feedback about this situation. I moderate a Dane group that has over 30,000 members and spend a lot of time trying to give whatever assistance I can to people who are in need of help, so I don't mind in the slightest :)
 
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