Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011
I can talk to you about dog nutrition until the cows come home. I am pretty confident in my advice regarding this but when it comes to canine behaviour I am stumped!
Over the years I have been given lots of different advice regarding my dog. Spencer is great with people, great with my rabbits and my cat but aggressive towards most other dogs. He appears to have fear-aggression. This is where he sees ‘offence as the best defence’ and when a dog comes too close he barks, growls and snarls until they go away. His intent is not to start a fight but to get the other dog to leave him alone. This is not usually an issue when he is running off-lead because he can ‘escape’ from the other dog if he needs to, but if he is in a confined space or on the lead the behaviour is often exacerbated.
Spencer appears to be particularly fearful of black dogs and it has been suggested that the facial expressions of black dogs are hard for other dogs to read and therefore they treat them with fear and/or aggression. He also is fearful of dogs which rush up to him or get in his face. He doesn’t seem to care whether his opponent is a bitch or a dog or whether he is on familiar or unfamiliar territory.
Previous attempts to ‘help’ him with this problem include him being thumped by the instructor at a training class when he growled at another dog – obviously I never went there again. Other trainers have told me to tell him off but this weekend I was given some very interesting and different advice.
Fear aggression can result from poor socialization as a puppy but I don’t think this was the case. Spencer was well socialized with other dogs and went to puppy classes, where he even gained his Bronze Kennel Club Good Citizen Award, but at 9 months old he started to become aggressive so I had him castrated. The trainer I spoke to at the weekend said dogs are going through a second fear-period at this age and that I probably had him castrated too young.
She also told me that if he is growling and snarling at other dogs through anxiety and fear then me telling him off or pulling the lead tighter is actually just making the situation worse – my anger/anxiety is heightening his fearful emotion and this is why physical punishment never works. Your dog will just assume that other dogs approaching equals pain. She watched me with Spencer as other dogs approached and told me I was giving Spencer physical signals which were encouraging his behaviour. I was getting tense and pulling his lead tighter. Her advice was to try to avoid situations which will trigger the fear response – when he is scared I should distract him and move him away.
I have been taking him to training classes where most of the obedience is done on-lead with lots of dogs working close to us. Spencer spends most of the two hours growling with his tail between his legs. I mistakenly believed he would eventually get used to it but this may not be the case so I have to decide whether to continue these classes or try something else that does not involve lead work.
Through my own experience I have found that Spencer is less aggressive when he has a job to do, i.e. at flyball or doing cani-cross, because he has something else to focus on. I now have him on a waiting list for a starters agility course so we will see how this goes.
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