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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hey all,

I recently moved in with some awesome roommates, one of whom is the homeowner. She has a very aggressive Chihuahua that I'm hoping for some tips on. She loves the little thing dearly and he's sweet when he's not completely losing his mind.

He's primarily motivated by fear, and his aggression is almost wholly regarding strangers, especially new people coming into the house. The doorbell or the front door opening sends him into fits of barking and charging the stairs, and will sometimes snarl at visitors and nip at their heels. Even when I come home, he'll charge the stairs and bark at me, though his tail is wagging and he doesn't display any other aggressive signals. He also barks wildly at the windows when he hears people on the street below, and it's almost impossible to take him anywhere as he'll bark and snarl at unfamiliar people and dogs to a degree that disturbs others. He's 5 pounds at most, so his aggression is easily ignored or removed from the situation, but a bigger dog would've been put down by now.

One of the primary issues I wonder about is that my roommate will pick the dog up when he displays these behaviours, which I wonder about -- doesn't that encourage the unwanted behaviours? She had classical counter-conditioning recommended to her, which I'm unsure of; it seems also like encouraging negative behaviours. He also sleeps in her bed. I'm not sure if any of this affects things given he's such a small dog.

Any tips for managing a dog like this and retraining some of the bad behaviours? I'm totally willing to commit to training on a daily or near-daily basis if it'll help. I don't really care for having to warn visitors that the dog might nip their heels. He's not my dog, but I do live with him and like I said, he's a sweet little creature when he's not going completely bananas barking at shadows.

We've tried:
- giving treats when people come to the door or come into the room so he associates visitors with happy things, but it's not been very consistent and so I can't tell if it's been effective or not. Not sure if this is worth continuing.
- saying "no" in a firm voice (this seems to be counterproductive and just scares him since he's so small so haven't done it more than once)

That's mostly it. Aggression isn't really something you can ignore him for and I don't think it's for attention anyway.

Thanks!
 

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You're on the right track with the treats, you just need to be consistent with it. Here's the classic video on how to use treats with fear aggression. You need to be consistent and you also need to only work with the dog before he reacts. Once the dog is barking, snapping, lunging, etc., they're too worked up to learn anything. Try again later.

Also, you can't reinforce fear, so don't worry about that.
 

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You're on the right track with the treats, you just need to be consistent with it. Here's the classic video on how to use treats with fear aggression. You need to be consistent and you also need to only work with the dog before he reacts. Once the dog is barking, snapping, lunging, etc., they're too worked up to learn anything. Try again later.

Also, you can't reinforce fear, so don't worry about that.
Thanks! I'm wondering about how to be consistent with something that's hard to predict like this (a lot of times the issue is the doorbell or someone coming into the house). We can totally fake it and have someone go downstairs and ring the bell etc. and train him slowly but surely that way, but is doing that consistently enough where real-life situations will also happen unpredictably or when we're not home?
 

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Thanks! I'm wondering about how to be consistent with something that's hard to predict like this (a lot of times the issue is the doorbell or someone coming into the house). We can totally fake it and have someone go downstairs and ring the bell etc. and train him slowly but surely that way, but is doing that consistently enough where real-life situations will also happen unpredictably or when we're not home?
When you're not home, the dog should be put away somewhere so he can't react. (Or at least so he's contained and not practicing behaviors like biting, etc.)

But yes, by setting up scenarios like someone approaching the door, ringing the bell, coming inside, you will help him to deal with it all the time.
 

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I personally believe you can reinforce fear, but I haven't read the article posted so I'll give it a read.

However in my experience, smaller dogs who are lifted or coddled when they experience something they find scary are being reinforced to believe that they are justified to find whatever they are fearful of scary because their owners are giving off signals that they were right to be scared.

My friend has a papillon named Moose, and she subjected Moose to situations that were safe that Moose felt were scary such as other dogs. She did this by visiting friends who had calm dogs who were older and moved away from moose when he tried to hide under her instead of picking him up. She encouraged them to interact so Moose understood they weren't going to harm him. He was also fearful of strangers and barked and hid and snapped, so she used the treat thing and left a bowl of treats by the door and told people to feed Moose a snack when they came in. At first he didn't take the treat but after a while he began taking them. All of this worked pretty well and now he can walk side by side with other dogs (however he doesn't like rambunctious dogs still) and he wags his tail when strangers enter the house. He still barks at the door when there's a knock but it's not out of fear, and once they're inside or standing on the front step he's happy to greet them with wags and licks.
 

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Ah! The article makes sense, but I believe personally it's different with thunderstorms. The source of fear is an outside force, and your dog cannot bite and attack the thunder (they can get stressed and bite you, but that's another training and reinforcement matter). If the chihuahua was simply running to the owner and seeking comfort from strangers when they came over it would make sense to pet them and lead or carry them to the stranger and speak in a soft tone and pet them and assure them it's ok, but with aggression I think it should be approached differently. I'm not sure I mentioned, but Moose (in my last post) was aggressive, and he just needed to see that strangers were good and not evil. She didn't pick him up but she made the experience with dogs a pleasant experience so he built confidence around other dogs. Picking him up is fine, as long as there is another factor involved such as treats and praise and reassurance when they're introduced to strangers. It sounded like in your OP, that she was simply picking up the dog and not addressing the issue, which can reinforce the fear in my opinion. But yes, cuddle your dog during thunderstorms or scary situations when they seek it out, but address the problem as well.

Hope this sounded right! If anyone sees something wrong with this let me know!
 

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You are correct. Please tell her to Stop picking the dog up when he is misbehaving. As I tell my students - you wouldn't pick up a Lab if he was doing something wrong, would you? Does he get any exercise? Walks? Games of fetch or tug of war? Puzzle food games and commands like find it? All dogs need to know that you are capable of taking the lead role. Otherwise they will do it for you - and start biting and other unwanted behaviors.
Yes, keep doing the positive reinforcement with treats. She may need a behaviorist at some point.
 
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