Dog Aggression (continued)

Dog-to-Dog Aggression  – Solved

“Problem solved! Dog-to-dog aggression no more.  My aggressive dog Jack is as placid and docile as can be when another dog goes by”.    It’s been three weeks and it’s time for a check in… and this is not where we are at.  Not to say no progress has been made since the last post.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite:  Katie, Jack, and her trainer, Katrina, have made some good progress!  Just not “problem solved” quite yet.   Here is what has changed.

Improved Equipment

  1. Better Muzzle.  Katie bought a new muzzle for Jack.  Says Katie: “It took a LOT of micro-adjustments to get it fitting just right.  At first, we put it on too loosely and he clawed it off his face.  We tightened it up, and then we got a quarter mile or so of VERY reluctant running and then the face claw.  More tightening.  Longer periods of running without the frantic clawing.  He still runs a little bit stiff-legged like a solider when he has the mask on but it is getting better.”
  2. Better Harness. Katie bought a new harness for Jack.  The old harness fit him like a feather and he really loved it but Katrina pointed out it was too loose. Even when the straps were tightened up, Jack would pull against them when he sprinted after a squirrel or bird and after a few days the straps would have worked themselves imperceptibly looser.  It wasn’t even something Katie would notice until a close encounter occurred and Jack set about backing himself out of his harness and into attack mode. 
  3. Separating training from exercise.  “I know it sounds crazy,” says Katrina.  “The problem and solution are wrapped up in Jack’s exercise activity, which is running alongside the bike.  But Jack has two problems, not one.  The first problem is he needs to blow off steam, because he was born to run and needs to do it.  The second problem is a training need: he needs to be able to ignore distractions.”  For him, the Kryptonite distraction is another dog.  So, Katie kept up with the runs, did her best to avoid other dogs, and instituted SEPARATE training rides, shorter ones, to focus on the dog aggression. 

Less Aggressive Behavior

  1. Better behavior when seeing another dog at a distance.  This month, when Jack saw another dog but the distance was great (or the dog’s behavior was meek) Jack did really well at minding his own business. 
  2. Better behavior when seeing another dog close by.  When Jack saw another dog in closer proximity, Katie reported better results with Jack by doing this:  a) pulling the bike and Jack off the path.  B) shielding Jack with the bicycle, creating a physical barrier between the threat (the other dog) and Jack.  C) lifting jack’s front two feet while the dog was passing and practicing the “look at me” command.  This really worked! 

“Don’t baby talk to him while the other dog is going by,” Katrina advised.  “Pandering and coddling is the wrong tone.  He needs to feel safe and to know that you’ve got this.”  Katie can vouch that this much is true.  Her total attention makes all the difference.  She saw it one time this week when she pulled off to the side as she saw another dog approaching in the distance.  Instead of focusing on Jack she answered an incoming call.  Jack could tell that Katie was not fully engaged in the situation and … the dog got closer and Jack went out of his mind.

Other Problem Areas

Katrina spent some time watching Jake and Katie work together.  These were her coaching tips for Katie.

  1. Work on your leave it / look at me skills.  These are the foundation for subsequent skills.  If you don’t have this mastered, no other training is going to gel with Jack.
  2. Test for teachability.  On lighter exercise days, it may be futile to try to work with Jack when he has too much pent-up energy.  “If he won’t look at you or sit on command, you are not in teachable territory.”  
  3. Broaden your teaching program.  Jack is a smart dog.  Learning is a language that strengthens the bond between you.  I recommend you back up with Jack’s training program overall..  Start teaching him a variety of skills and commands so that he experiences success, sees how it pleases you, and starts that self-sustaining learn/reward/bonding cycle. 

Next step? We’ll check in with Katie and Jack in April.