I was in Kennesaw yesterday working with a new Home Dog Training client and his Bull Terrier, Wilma.  Wilma’s most pressing issue was her jumping on the furniture and stealing food.  We were able to fix these inappropriate behaviors in short order and moved on to Wilma’s other issues of not listening and bolting out an open door.  We were making excellent progress on these issues and solved all of them after a rather long, but very productive lesson. 

Let your rescue dog know he is now is a safe environment 

My client was very happy with the results and looking forward to practicing the processes we put in place. As we were finishing up, a friend of my client stopped by and had a dog training question for me.  His dog is very aggressive towards other dogs and he asked me if there was anything he could do about it.

Dog on dog aggression can be triggered by many existing or prior issues.  Because of that, I asked my client’s friend if he could further elaborate.  After some “careful digging”, I picked up on some crucial points about the friend’s dog.  I learned that he was from a rescue group and had been passed among multiple families before my client’s friend adopted him about ten or twelve weeks ago.

My client’s friend thought it would be a great bonding experience to take his new dog to a dog park to play and “he thought” feel safe and happy.   Well, that didn’t work out too well because his dog got into a big fight with several other dogs at the park. He then took his newly acquired dog to a doggy day care where he thought his new dog could play and be happy.  He was told by the doggie day care providers that his dog became very agitated, and they had to keep him separated from the general population.

Whenever we rescue a dog, it is impossible to know what their prior life experience may have been.  Because of this, we should not spend a lot of time trying to figure out what previous experiences “may be triggering” their current behavior and mannerisms. We should spend the time focusing on their current issues and understanding what we can do to try and mitigate them in the “here and now”.

The bottom line is that my client’s friend’s dog is afraid of other dogs.  Also, because he has been passed around among multiple families (packs), we can assume that he has not created a steady level of safety and security.  Although this issue often reveals itself in aggression towards people, it can also take place with a dog displaying inappropriate and sometimes aggressive actions towards other dogs.

What we need to do is to strengthen his dog’s sense of security when he is around other dogs.  We also need to create a consistent environment that allows the dog to understand that there is a leadership figure that is always there to protect him. This would be the figure “who has his back”. (In the “dog universe” this is the “alpha pack leader”.) I suggested the following exercise to start the process:

  • Place his dog on a chair or sofa next to him so that they can both have an unobstructed view out a window and into the outside. The dog should not be on his lap or in a position that is higher than the owner (i.e. on the back of the chair).
  • Instruct another dog to walk past the window while on a leash.  Make sure the dog is calm and focused on the owner.  They should walk about twenty to thirty feet from the window.
  • If the friend’s dog starts to bark or become anxious, verbally correct him and then redirect him away from the window. This is done by getting up and walking him around the room for a minute or two.  He should be on a leash.
  • Once he is calm, they can return to the window and take their prior positions.
  • Repeat this process until the friend’s dog is relaxed with the other dog walking past the window.  It should get to the point where his dog doesn’t even look or pay attention to the dog walking outside.  If needed, he can give the leash a slight tug to maintain his dog’s calm focus.
  • It is time to ramp it up. I wanted the friend to take his dog to the front door. He should set the scene by having the door open and placing his dog in a sit about ten to fifteen feet back from the front door. They should have a clear sight of things passing outside. His dog should be on a leash, and he should be next to his dog while holding the leash with minimal slack.
  • Have the other dog walk in front of the door about twenty to thirty feet back from the door. The other dog should walk past the door in a parallel direction. The outside dog should remain calm and keep focus on his handler.
  • If the friend’s dog becomes adrenalated, starts to jump, bark, or lunge towards the doorway, he needs to be corrected. The friend should make his correction sound, give the leash a firm tug, and walk his dog around the house until he returns to a calm and focused state.  They can then return to their position near the door.
  • Repeat the above steps at the door until the friend’s dog could care less about the outside dog passing by.
  • Now, move the friend’s dog halfway to the door and repeat until he is calm again. Continue this until he is at the doorway.
  • Now that the friend’s dog is sitting calmly at the doorway, instruct the outside dog to start moving closer to the doorway as he passes. He should still maintain the parallel direction in his walk. This will minimize any assertive body language that might be interpreted by a direct approach between the two dogs.
  • Continue this process until the dogs are within five feet of each other and can calmly sit. If one becomes agitated, adrenalized, or cannot maintain focus on the owner, walk that dog around for a moment until calm.

I suggested that the friend repeat this process for at least three to six weeks to build up a reliable experience based on repetitive behavior.  By taking the process slow and always having them on leashes with the ability to move away, if needed, it gave the friend a heightened sense of safety and control.  This is a critical factor in reestablishing his dog’s sense of security.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.