Journal of Rehabilitation of a Fear Aggressive Dog – Part 2

10 Jan

A quick Reintroduction – you can skip this first paragraph if you read part 1:

We got Whiskey, a 9 week old border collie puppy, from a breeder and he was fear aggressive from the day we brought him home.  We had so much to learn (still do) about Whiskey and about treating fear aggression.  I am not even sure it is the same for all dogs as each dog has their own personalities, threshold levels, insecurities, and ability to trust.  We searched high and low for trainers and each one tells you the same, ‘all the other trainers are wrong and they are right!’  Or something like that.  I don’t know who is right and who is wrong.  I think some trainers will work for some dogs and others will not.  We did not like the first trainer we tried.  She was a Caesar Millan personality and I liked his show but now I watch his show with my new experiences and realize what is portrayed in one session may work for the moment but does not permanently fix the dog.  The second trainer we tried was after a lot of research and videos that DEMONSTRATED success with dogs with aggression.  So, I had great faith in the method.  The trainer did a demo and actually gained Whiskey’s trust in 20 minutes, not an easy feat.  But, there is always more than meets the eye with a fear aggressive dog.  We signed on and worked with him including two board and trains for 8 months.  It was up and down and we saw success but not huge success and we reached a point where we just did not think long term change was going to happen for Whiskey.  The method involved an ecollar and more than one trainer I talked with promoted the ecollar as the way to fix a fear aggressive dog if done properly with a trainer.  As I said, Whiskey seemed to actually be back sliding and we knew that long term change wasn’t going to happen after giving it our all for 8 months.  At this time I called and interviewed almost every trainer who works with dogs in our area.  I had some interesting conversations.  Most wanted to come do a 2 hour session and then leave it in my hands with a “follow up” if needed and phone support.  They were going to teach me to read Whiskey’s body language.  I agree that learning to do this is important and although I am hardly an expert, I had already become more than a novice in this department especially when it came to my dog.  What I wanted was someone who was going to work with me regularly, someone who had done this before successfully, and someone I felt had a good knowledge base.  I took a leap of faith with a new trainer and I admit I was hesitant for a few reasons I won’t go into but we have been working for about 3 months now and I will share our work and successes to date.

At 9 weeks:  If Whiskey saw ANY person at any distance – would growl.  Any person who tried to touch him, he would try to bite.  We couldn’t even walk behind a person or dog on a walk.

At 5-6 months:  Learned how to walk on walks without growling but if let off leash would run up to a person barking and possibly biting.  He would try to bite anyone who would try to touch him.  He would growl at anyone at too close a distance.  He would lunge and growl at dogs.  He would growl at people in our house, bark aggressively, or pee depending on situation.

At 10-11 months (end of time with first long term trainer):  He could do walks fine and ignore people on walks unless they spoke to him or made eye contact, in which case he would growl or rarely lunge.  He would try to bite anyone who would try to touch him.  He would growl, pull towards (to attack) dogs on walks, he would react to anyone walking by our fenced yard very aggressively (people and dogs, dogs would be much worse).  He would act very aggressive to new people who entered our home, trying to lunge at and attack them.

Started with new trainer at 11 months old.  We see her about every 2 weeks.  Each session, she gives us new games to play.  She also encourages us to keep Whiskey successful (non-aggressive) as much as we can!  The less he can practice aggression, the better.

Game 1:  Whiskey parties – Anytime we see a trigger, we throw a party.  We make a big fuss and very yummy food falls from the sky.  As soon as the trigger goes out of sight the party stops.  Sometimes we do set ups where we have someone be the trigger, this is where they come out from around the corner, we throw the party until they walk back around the corner.  We repeat at different time intervals.  Other times, it is just real life whenever we see a trigger.  If we see someone walk by the house when we are outside, we throw a party and have food fall from the sky.  If someone comes over, I use the word “friends” and throw food at him and have the person throw food at him.

Game 2:  Touch – This is the usual touch one would teach for obedience.  We had already taught Whiskey it but to keep encouraging it so we can use it to have him eventually touch a scary person’s hand.  We actually had him touch my son’s hand (scary person) this weekend since Whiskey was getting used to him being at the house.

Game 3 – Focus games – teaching Whiskey to “Watch Me,”  show him food and get him to look at me for the reward, even when the food lures him to a different direction, he learned to keep his focus on me not the food.

Game 4:  Auto watch – this game is where you stand like a tree with the dog on a leash and say nothing.  You have a bunch of treats behind your back and wait (for a long, long time sometimes) until the dog gets so bored, he sits or lies down and then looks at you.  You reward only when the dog is sitting or laying down and looking at you.  Each time they look back at you, you reward again, throwing the food at their feet.  This teaches them to calm down and relax.  This is good in stressful situations when new people come over.

Game 5 – Where’s the dog / stranger?  This game asks the dog to look at the trigger.  You click and reward at the head turn and then they look back at you for the reward.  It is sort of a strange one, Whiskey did well with it in set ups but not well with it on walks yet.  He doesn’t take food well on walks.

Although we haven’t been officially taught this, we also do BAT by Grisha Sterwart as that seems to really help Whiskey.  When he sees a trigger, we let him “take in the information,” and then make a wise choice such as a head turn (or sniff or some other calming signal – for Whiskey, it is usually a head turn) and then we click and walk away.  We then sometimes extend the reward by letting him check out something he wants (where there are squirrels or something) and then walk back towards to trigger and repeat.

My gut feeling is that the parties and BAT have been the two most successful things so far, that and keeping him in a non-aggressive state as much as we can.

His progress:  Things go up and down, of course, but right now he has been showing positive movement!  Here are improvements we have noticed.  He is only reacting to people walking by our fence (on the sidewalk) about 10% of the time.  The big problem we have is that he got our other dog to start barking at people and Whiskey will react if Ares (our other dog) reacts so we now have to make sure Ares doesn’t react and then let Whiskey make the choice on his own not to react.

He is choosing at times, not to react to dogs walking by when outside.  He used to react 100% of the time.  Now (if we keep Ares from reacting), he can be distracted from reacting (by playing or being called over for a party) – while before NOTHING would stop him from reacting.  His first reaction is to react but he is learning to control it.

He is learning to accept new people in the house.  My son and his girlfriend have been at the house more for the holidays and we had to have Whiskey on leash the whole time.  Whiskey is now off leash with them and we feel pretty relaxed.  At first it was off leash only while they were sitting.  Then we were able to move to off leash when they were sitting and if they got up to do things.  Now, we only deal with when they first enter the house and we throw food at him and he adjusts in 1-2 minutes.  We need to try it with other new people soon.

He is also less reactive to dogs on walks.  He watches them closely but then turns to walk away like we do in BAT.  He knows I am not going to approach them.  He never growls or lunges and I think he would only if the other dog did (that was what he was doing previously but I don’t know as we haven’t seen a dog growl and lunge at him in a while).  He is projecting better energy towards dogs too.  Dogs used to react much worse towards him since he projected very fearful aggressive energy and now we don’t see that as much.  Little dogs can be a  pain, they often pull and bark!

He still struggles with running children next door.  He will sometimes just watch but if they get too close to our fence, he loses it but I understand that is where his threshold is at.  We just can’t always predict when they are going to do that!  We are going to try some BAT perhaps next time they are running crazy near our fence so he can learn to make better choices.

More Updates – PROGRESS!!!

We continue to invest a lot of time and money into our PROJECT DOG.

Whiseky 7 mo








However, we have finally been seeing more success lately.  We went in for his 1 year vet visit and saw a different vet.  She suggested adding Trazadone and increasing his Prozac.  Whiskey is now taking 30 mg of Prozac and 100 mg of Trazadone.  The trazadone has made a big difference.  I think we might need to increase it more but here are some of the changes we have seen:

  • Whiskey would see people walking by and run to the fence barking.  He almost NEVER does that anymore
  • Whiskey would see a skateboarder go by and run to the fence barking.  He might run to the fence to watch but not bark and sometimes ignores.
  • On walks, he is even more relaxed about people he sees on the walk (remember that he used to be aggressive at the sight of a person on a walk when he was 4 months old).  Now, he barely notices people.
  • People have talked to him and he doesn’t growl, some will even say his name and he won’t growl.
  • A dog will walk by and Whiskey used to go nuts, running up and down the fence, very upset.  Now, he will run to the fence and just watch.  Sometimes he will react but it used to be every time.
  • We can easily distract him from a dog walking by with a ball or frisbee game and he won’t even pay attention to do the dog.
  • On walks, he will see a dog and sometimes be able to remain calm, other times, get “watchful” but less reaction than before and is learning to go in another direction when he sees a dog.
  • Relaxes much sooner when we have company.
  • Was able to be near a “stranger” without issue by his choice after only seeing her for a few hours.
  • Is more willing to let us necessary evils (brush, wash, cut hair) without as much stress or growls
  • Acting more relaxed and calm in general.

Our trainer, Karen, is on maternity leave so we have been going to a new class where they work on BAT 2.0 through Teamworks.  Today, we had Whiskey right up close to the trainer and had him do all his tricks including roll over right next to her and he was fine with it.  Next time, they will bring a dog to practice BAT 2.0.  The vet said she had a dog like Whiskey that she couldn’t touch (and by the way, she couldn’t touch Whiskey) who can now be handled by the vet after being on Trazadone so I am hopeful that we might get there.  Will he ever be trust worthy?  I don’t know but other dogs have gotten there, so why can’t Whiskey?  He is such a sweet lover, so full of fun, and has such a funny little personality.  I will keep you posted, I hope the next time I write, I have another list of big strides in the right direction!

Update:  Whiskey continues to make progress.  He seems less stressed.  He ignores people on walks.  His ability to deal with dogs he sees on walks is better.  He can walk away,  he will stare but not aggress.  I am ready to decrease the distance between him and people and work on people giving him more treats.  The trazadone has been the biggest help.  We are doing BAT 2.0.  He is doing well with that.  I need to do some friendly vet visits.

May 2014 – Whiskey is almost 1 year and half.  It is hard to believe we have been working on his issues for this long.  He is continuing to make good progress.  Today we brought in a potential pet sitter to meet him.  His first reaction was to get aggressive but she started throwing treats to him and he immediately calmed down and an expression of anticipation rather than aggression on his face.  We went for a walk and he was a little nervous but did well.  After the walk, we went back to our house and threw the ball for him in the yard.  He chased the ball when it was thrown by me and the “stranger,” Abbie.  He was off leash with a new stranger and did great.  We went inside and he was tired but not stressed with Abbie in the house.  We talked for a bit and he was fine the whole time, relaxed and happy.  She was able to walk around him without him stressing out.  She continued to feed him food and he was happy to take it.  We are going to meet every other week where he will hopefully associate her visits with great food, walks, and ball time.  We also did BAT again today and he did very well with another dog in view.  He was watchful but able to turn away and not focus on her.  He also did a bunch of training and activities in the presence of Siri, another border collie who was there for BAT.  He had a great day and the progress he has made in the last year and half is promising.  The biggest change happened after the trazadone, so I highly recommend that to others.  He still has a ways to go but I wasn’t sure we would ever make it this far, so hopefully we can continue to move forward.  The goal is to set him up for success and try to keep him from having any experiences that trigger him so he learns what it is like not to be stressed and anxious all the time.  He also has solid poop now, for his first year, he was so stressed that his poops were runny every day.  He will still be runny for time to time but it is nice to see that his body is settling down and his anxiety is significantly less.

Lesson learned – well, maybe… so, it was suggested that I bring him to the vet’s office when he isn’t going to see the vet so they can throw food at him so he can associate vet = good things.  We tried that today.  Ugh!  I didn’t factor in the fact that vet techs think they know how to work with a fear aggressive dog and one size fits all.  Our plan was to have one person toss food at him from a distance.  It was working fine until another lady decided that she was going to try to and now two people were focused on him and she was a little more demanding so he wasn’t willing to get the food from as comfortably – THEN, another lady was “instructing” the first two how to do it.  She was walking right up to him even though he was clearly going over threshold and was under the impression you need to  just not look at the dog and walk towards them – she reached her hand out further to “encourage” him to come closer, which set him off more since now hands were moving in his direction (a big trigger), he started shaking and I knew I had to shut the whole thing down immediately.  I grabbed the bag of food and sat on the floor, ignored the people and just started feeding him, hoping to offset the “bad” experience he just had with some good, “mom is close, giving me treats, people are now leaving me alone.”  I fed him until he calmed down and wasn’t shaking and then we left.  I don’t really know how to go back without giving them a lesson on how to read dog signals and working with a fear aggressive dog.  The third woman, clearly thought she was “educated” in this situation and you always walk the line of advocating for your dog and pissing people off who think you know nothing about dogs since you are just the pet owner and they are a vet tech and know EXACTLY what one should do.

May 15, 2014 – Today we had our second “play date” with our future dog sitter.  We are working on building a relationship between them and also hopefully working on his stranger anxiety issues.  I gave him an extra 50 mg of trazadone about 30 minutes before she came.  I played ball with him for about 15 minutes before she got there (he had not had any exercise all day as it has been pouring rain).  We started outside and he had an initial negative reaction.  His reaction set off Ares (our Golden) which made things worse for Whiskey.  Abbie started feeding Whiskey food right away and he calmed down.  We went for a walk to get out some energy.  When we got back she gave him some more food and we entered the house together.  Initially upon entering, he was a little unsure with some small woofs.  We got out the ball and she started to play with him.  I would return the ball to her so she didn’t have to get close to him.  She would also throw him food from time to time.  She would ask him to sit and he would.  She asked him to go to bed (go in his crate) and he did.  She gave him two cookies while in there but he did become nervous while the gate was closed and he could see her.  We didn’t keep him in long, just long enough to give the two cookies and then let him out.  Another time she told him to go to bed and we didn’t close the gate at all, just threw food inside after he went in.  He then “asked” for more ball time so we did that some more and then played frisbee for a little bit also.  She then threw him a lot more food (fairly close).  My last idea was to play hide and seek, which he loves.  At first, Abbie and would hide together.  Whiskey would wait with my daughter.  We would say, “Find Abbie.”  He came right up to us and would get a treat.  He even licked her hand.  Then I tried it where just Abbie hid and I sent Whiskey to find her and she would throw a treat at him when he found her.  He did very well.  It was a great ice breaker.







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