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I have a 2.5 year old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. When she was a puppy I took her to puppy playtime at Petco and she did fine, until she was 6 months old. Then she suddenly stopped wanting to play and growled if another dog came at her. After a few times, we were asked not to come; which is understandable. She still liked trading sniffs with other dogs, unless they were aggressive, and then she got hostile. It got worse; after a while the other dog didn't have to do anything. Needless to say, we stayed away from other dogs, even though she acted like she wanted to go to them. Eventually a dog 10' away in a store would set her off. I have no idea what might have started this behavior; it is like another dog hurt her, but I am reasonably sure that didn't happen.

Oh, she loves people, does a lot of tricks, and will reliably obey "come" or "stay" when she is 100' away from me on a walk in the woods. Other then interacting poorly with dogs, she is doing pretty good. She had her first heat at about 11 months and was spayed a few months later.

I took her to the behaviorist our vet recommended. She suggested enrolling in a good citizen class; being in a room with other dogs under closely controlled conditions should help. Chloe already does everything on the list of required behaviors except getting along with other dogs. So we signed up. At first it was horrible; Chloe was extremely agitated and couldn't concentrate on anything. The instructor gave us a prong collar, and that worked wonders. She calmed down immediately and started following orders. We have had three classes and she can now sit/stay 2' away from another dog, even without the prong collar. Some of the people don't have great control over their dogs and occasionally one will go at Chloe. When that happens she will responds badly. (admittedly I would respond badly if a man 3 times my size suddenly came at me, but still...) The instructor suggested that we go to a dog park and have her watch (from outside of course) the other dogs running and playing. We did that yesterday and had her sit/stay 5' from the fence; after explaining to the people there what we were doing. It was difficult because she really wanted to get in there and play. We gradually moved closer until she was at the fence. Then a dog put it's muzzle through the fence and Chloe growled and lunged. We moved back a foot and all was well.

We have 3 classes left. It is helping a bit; she can now see a dog 10' away without losing it; but I don't have much hope she will improve beyond that. I know it is not vital that she like dogs as long as she likes people; but I really need to be able to pass another dog on a trail without having a monster on my hands. It would be wonderful if she could actually play with another dog, as she seems to want to do that.

Any suggestions?
 

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First off, quit forcing her to interact with other dogs, and second, find a different trainer. Putting a prong on a fearful dog to suppress fear based aggressive behavior isn't going to make them any less fearful, and can make things much worse, since she now associates other dogs with the pain/pressure of the prong. And forcing her to be that close to the fence with strange dogs on the other side of it is not going to make her accepting of other dogs, it's just going to overwhelm her.

She doesn't need to associate with other dogs. She needs to know she can trust her humans to keep her safe.
 

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One of the best dogs I ever had did not like other dogs. Not even a little. She eventually learned to barely tolerate my best friend's dog, but that was it. She was a big girl, and her disdain for other dogs went way beyond simple annoyance.

It did not affect her quality of life, or my enjoyment of her, one little bit.
 

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I took her to the behaviorist our vet recommended. She suggested enrolling in a good citizen class; being in a room with other dogs under closely controlled conditions should help. Chloe already does everything on the list of required behaviors except getting along with other dogs. So we signed up.
I question the wisdom of the behaviorist.

Your dog will benefit very little from Good Citizen classes, where the curriculum is broad, general, and based on things like stay, recall, grooming, accepting a friendly stranger etc. What you actually need is "Reactive Rover" type classes run by a qualified professional (ie: CPDT), that concentrate solely on eliminating / reducing reactivity.
 

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First off, quit forcing her to interact with other dogs, and second, find a different trainer. Putting a prong on a fearful dog to suppress fear based aggressive behavior isn't going to make them any less fearful, and can make things much worse, since she now associates other dogs with the pain/pressure of the prong. And forcing her to be that close to the fence with strange dogs on the other side of it is not going to make her accepting of other dogs, it's just going to overwhelm her.

She doesn't need to associate with other dogs. She needs to know she can trust her humans to keep her safe.
This.

I have a reactive dog and have gone through a few classes specifically for reactive dogs, run by qualified trainers that specialize in working with reactive dogs.

The biggest thing I've learned is to learn to read my dog, and to VERY carefully select the interactions I allow him to have. I basically will never let him greet another dog on leash. I keep him away, and I will ask people to stay away from us if they seem to want to engage.

You're your dog's advocate, and she's telling you she's uncomfortable around other dogs and doesn't want to interact with them. Listen to her and respect her and she will gain some trust in you. In my experiene, once you back off and listen to her and gain her trust, you will have more leeway when it comes to passing other dogs on the street, etc.


Also, you say in your post she liked trading sniffs with dogs, unless they were aggressive. This says 2 things to me.

1) you were letting her greet dogs, I'm assuming on leash, which isn't good for basically any dog. It's highly unnatural for dogs to approach head on like that and it's just begging for a problem.

2) in order for you to know she doesn't like aggressive dogs, it means you let her interact with them. So you had a dog that already was showing a disdain for interaction with other dogs and then she had to deal with aggressive dogs as well which made it worse. Especially if this was on leash as I'm assuming, because knowing she is restrained makes everything 10 times more scary and negative for her.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Also, you say in your post she liked trading sniffs with dogs, unless they were aggressive. This says 2 things to me.
A year ago I used to let her trade sniffs. I had to stop that.
Now I have her sit/stay until another dog on the trail goes by.
She doesn't always hold the stay very well, but she has stopped growling. That is a small improvement.

My previous two dogs didn't particularly like other dogs either, but they enjoyed sniffing other dogs for about a minute and then were done. They were not at all aggressive or reactive. Perhaps it is coincidence, but this dog has a much stronger prey drive than the first two; though they were all Tollers.

We are in a somewhat remote area and the behaviorist we are using is it. I was hoping for something more directly focused on reactivity, but Good Citizen is what was available. A couple of the dogs in the class probably aren't ready for it. Chloe is doing well, except when other dogs act up.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Tuesday I took her for a walk. There was a dog off to the side of the trail; the owner was trying to get her to sit, but she kept lunging and growling at Chloe. We walked by, with Chloe at a relaxed heel. It was perfect.

At GC class that night there were 8 dogs and owners in a circle. We had to walk around each one, do a sit/stay as I shook hands with the person. The other dogs had trouble staying, but Chloe was perfect. Later, she sat and watched my wife pet other dogs; she clearly didn't like it, but remained sitting and quiet. Actually Chloe looked away from the other dogs; I presume that is a coping mechanism.

I am certainly NOT claiming any kind of cure; it could all blow up tomorrow. But it is awfully encouraging; at least she is capable of controlling herself..
 

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I work my dog outside the dog park, and I was going to share one of mine, when this one popped up. It is a Zak George video, he's being refreshingly honest about his mistakes, so this is the one I'll share. You will see a dog that is not enjoying her experience, it's a little over exposure, maybe this is what you are dealing with? Reactivity is complicated.
As for training, do what is right for you and your dog, take into consideration the results you are getting both in terms of behaviour and your dogs state of mind.
Your dog, by now, should be looking forward to class, enjoy the class and be gaining confidence, if not, reconsider that class. Your dog should be safe in class, that means dogs should not be getting in her face in a class, dogs should be under more control. If you feel the class is working, and your dog is improving and having fun, great.
Now I'll share the Zak George video, there are actually two, but I'll share the one where he 'self-critiques'. I would not put this dog in the situations he has, but that's me. The video will show you some fear behaviours and reactions to the that fear.
Zak George Dog Park Visit & Critique
What the heck, below is me outside of the dog park. Working on fun. Dog having fun while dogs inside. He is aware of the dogs, this is after some walking back and forth, I use treats & toys, this is way too close for a reactive dog at the beginning, but is a goal to have a dog comfortable around other dogs. Your dog need never be a dog park dog, some never are. I walk with people outside of the dog park, the dogs just hang out together, sniff, pee, amble around, and don't bother each other. I seek out and find compatible dogs and go for walks with them.
Me outside of the dog park
Lots of positive calm exposure will help overtime. By positive I mean that overall, your dog is having a good time in that scenario. That should include what happens in your class.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I work my dog outside the dog park, and I was going to share one of mine, when this one popped up.
We just stood outside the fence and watched the dogs inside; I hadn't thought of working her outside. She knows a lot of tricks; we can practice them there. Good idea.
 

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Okay, Tuesday she did great. Thursday we came across a dog and I had Chloe sit. When the other dog was near, Chloe went off on him; complete failure. Later we came across another dog, sitting on the edge of the trail; apparently doing what I wanted to do, but somebody has to be walking, so we did. Got by him fine, and then he went off on Chloe, and she responded in kind. Another failure, but this wasn't her fault; she would have been okay if he hadn't acted up. But I noticed she does better when she is heeling than when she is sitting.

On Saturday we came across 3 dogs and I keep her at heel walking the whole time. She was fine; a little pulling because the dogs excited her, but no lunging or growling. My other dogs pulled a bit near other dogs because they wanted to get over and socialize; I am not going to fault her for that.

So I am on to something, I think. I am going to walk past other dogs and forget about sitting for the time being. Maybe get back to it in a month or two.
 

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Look up 'parallel walking', you may find it helpful. Keep an eye on the other dogs; if they freeze, stare, tail goes up, etc. they may be about to react, do a turn around with your dog before they do, that way you can avoid the unpleasant surprise factor. I will sometimes scatter treats on the ground, if my dog is interested, his behaviour of foraging on the ground can reassure and calm the other dog and they don't react.
Motion is good, let your dog know you're not going to force her to confront or stick in front of the 'scary thing'. You can do u-turns or a half circle round depending on the situation.
It sounds like you are figuring this out. What is your trainer doing? How is that class going?
Finding peaceful dogs to walk with is awesome.
 

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Class was wonderful last night. We did a trial GC test and she was the only one that did everything right. Afterwards I greeted all the other people and pet their dogs while Chloe sat. Then I pressed my luck too far. There was a miniature Goldendoodle acting up badly and I had Chloe sit until he calmed down.(the idea was to build the ability to ignore other dog's bad behavior) Then we stepped forward to shake hands and he lunged at her. She responded in kind. So it was imperfect, but it wasn't her fault. (mine?)

The parallel walking idea would be great, but I don't have access to another dog calm enough to do it.
 

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Class was wonderful last night. We did a trial GC test and she was the only one that did everything right. Afterwards I greeted all the other people and pet their dogs while Chloe sat. Then I pressed my luck too far. There was a miniature Goldendoodle acting up badly and I had Chloe sit until he calmed down.(the idea was to build the ability to ignore other dog's bad behavior) Then we stepped forward to shake hands and he lunged at her. She responded in kind. So it was imperfect, but it wasn't her fault. (mine?)

The parallel walking idea would be great, but I don't have access to another dog calm enough to do it.
That last line is so sad...(no sarcasm), okay, but this can work out with two reactive dogs too. You might need a football field of space to start out, walking with a lot of space, but in the same direction (the other human needs to understand the exercise), and as you walk, you decrease the distance between you gradually, increase the distance if either dog gets antsy, etc. You may end up being able to walk side by side sooner than you think.
In class, you made a mistake, mistakes happen. Dogs can walk and chew gum at the same time, by which I mean, they can sit and obey calmly to earn a reward or avoid a punishment, while thinking about other things, and then do them. You need to think of your dog's state of mind while under cue/command so you know how far you can test things. Sounds like the handshake was a test.
I'll show you a video. My dog doing some trick things in a public place, you'll see at the end he rushes away & I have to do a quick leash grab. In hindsight, the entire time I trained, he was thinking of, and wanting to get to a lamp post (to pee mark it), the moment I gave him the opportunity (release/okay cue) he went for it.
<--really short 30 seconds

That's what I mean by walk and chew gum at the same time. The same thing can happen when your dog is doing what you want, and you think everything is fine, and then suddenly, boom, he lunges and does his thing. It's good to be aware, so if you are in an iffy situation, don't assume he can hold his sit.
Sounds like you are nearly finished classes?
 

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I've had dogs on both sides of the equation. One dog was bullet proof and one dog was hair trigger reactive.

The bullet-proof dog did not react to barking or lunging, and didn't escalate attacks. When I was training dogs, we put him into a fenced area, and then let fear aggressive dogs into the area. The fearful dog would bark at my dog, who would simply walk away, nothing "counter-aggressive". After doing this a few times, the fear aggressive dog realized that he was in no danger, and began to calm down after a few weeks of this kind of exposure.

After he died, I adopted an unsocialized, reactive fear-aggressive adult dog .... not on purpose. ;-) ... He came from a rescue with lots of reactive dogs in surrounding kennels. I let him play with a neighbor's dog that was gentle and would back off when growled or barked at. My dog realized he was in no danger, and began to calm down. He has learned to be much less reactive, but will still react to dogs that growl at him or lunge.

"So I am on to something, I think. I am going to walk past other dogs and forget about sitting for the time being. Maybe get back to it in a month or two." My point is that if you can find some more unreactive dogs, and repeat your experiences with them, your dog may calm down a bit faster. But, for now, you do want to avoid reactive dogs.

Assume that your dog had a bad experience with a reactive dog when he was 6 mos. Further assume that he now believes that all dogs want to hurt him. So, every time a dog growls at him, this is reinforced. So, you want him to learn that most ... and then "all" dogs are friendly and want to play with him ... Once he believes this, then you can slowly let him see dogs that are a little reactive.... and so on. He may never be completely calm, but you may reduce his reactivity.

These assumptions may be completely wrong ... but if you train as if they were true, you can reinforce the experience that you described in post #10 about 5 days ago.

BTW, as I try to do this with my own dog, I run into problems to small dogs - My dog is still wary, so he stares at dogs. When he does this with some timid small dogs, it scares them, and they may lunge at him ... So, my 80lb dog is more concerned with tiny dogs, than he is with average to large dogs.... ;-)
 
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