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Fear Aggression in Dogs – How to treat

12 Aug

Dog Fear Aggression is one of the most difficult behavior problems to deal with in dogs.   There are different types of aggression in dogs and it is important you know what type of aggression your dog is showing because how you treat dominant aggression vs. resource guarding (a type of aggression) vs. fear aggression  are different.  Dogs that are showing aggression because they are afraid and lack confidence usually will not improve if they are then treated with a heavy hand.  The idea of PACK LEADER is well known and is often thought of as THE method of treating all behavior issues in dogs.  With the show Dog Whisperer by Caesar Millan, it appears that everything CAN be fixed with pack leader mentality.  This is not to say that the concept of pack leader is not important, it is, but how it is used with a fear aggressive dog has to be done carefully or you can make things worse.  If you start doing the Caesar “touch” or the alpha roll with a fearful dog, you will just make them more afraid and will therefore not get to the root of the problem.

It is NOT POSSIBLE to fix fear aggression in a day or week.  If anyone, including Casear Millan thinks he can come to my home and fix my dog in one session, then they don’t understand serious fear aggression.  In serious cases, fear aggression can take years to fix.  We have been working for one year now and we have made a lot of progress but we still have a fear aggressive dog and it may take a year or two more to hopefully get to the point where he begins to resemble somewhat of a “normal” dog, although he may never be there completely.

So what do you need to do?  First, you do need to be a strong leader for your dog.  Your dog needs to know that you are its protector and that you have his or her back!  Your dog needs to be fully bonded with you and have full trust in you.  You need to be an advocate for your dog and not put your dog in situations where he will be overly stressed, worried, or fearful.  You need to tell people to back off, not touch him, keep him away from anything that frightens him such as people, children, or other dogs.  You will gradually increase him in controlled situations to his fears but first he needs to know that you are his protector before the rest will begin to have real strong positive impacts.  If your dog is afraid of other dogs, then whenever you see another dog, you turn and walk away and increase your distance as much as you can from other dogs.  YOU move away ALWAYS.   If you cannot for some reason, you find some way to distract your dog.  Our dog likes to look for bunnies, so we bring him to the side of the woods and tell him to look for bunnies and other dogs can pass by and he won’t pay attention because we keep saying, “where are the bunnies?”  You also build trust by playing your dog’s favorite games, teaching him obedience in a non-stressful obedience setting (if he is afraid of strangers, this means you do it at home by yourself, watch Youtube videos, there are lots of great videos out there… and if you have a border collie… lots of which are fear aggressive, it will be easy, border collies are soooo smart, get a clicker and some treats and your border collie will be doing Calculus in no time).

After you have full trust and are very bonded with your fear aggressive dog, you begin to work on his fear aggressive issues.  You do this in POSITIVE ways.  You never want to treat fear with a negative stimulus (chain jerks, yelling, poking, alpha rolls, etc.)  You also need to remember your dog cannot learn if they are very stressed, so you have to go PAINFULLY SLOW.  This is why it takes so long to make progress.  You have to keep your dog very far away from what he is afraid of, just close enough that he notices but feels far enough away that he feels safe, then he can learn.  You begin to de-condition him.    There are many different “games” you can play and there is something called BAT that seems like it wouldn’t work, but it does, it is just SLOW.

I will tell you that I am a type A person and an overachiever type and now I have this adorable dog that I love, who is so smart that I want to take off leash and run and play with but can’t be around people or dogs!  Here I am trying to read and learn about how to fix him.  I read these CRAZY things like BAT… I will admit, my first response was not positive… there has to be a better way or a faster way… and we started with the SHORT CUTS… but they didn’t work and when we tried a bunch of the games, they all helped but he actually seemed to respond to BAT a lot.  For those who don’t feel like looking it up right now and don’t know what BAT is, I will give you a very short description…

There is BAT and BAT 2.0, I mix the two… but what I do is have someone with a trigger (or I find a trigger, i.e. a dog, on a walk) a bit down the road, we walk towards the trigger, when my dog, Whiskey, notices the trigger, I guide him (gently) to a stop (we are at a nice distance – as you get better you decrease the distance) and let him just watch the trigger (not obsessively stare) and then choose to do a positive response (usually walking away from the trigger but could be sniffing, yawning, shaking, or licking), I click (or say a loud YES) and we walk away from the trigger (his reward is walking away from the trigger).  Then we repeat.  If he doesn’t choose a positive response soon enough, you guide a turn and reward at the turn, if he reacts negatively (stare, growl, bark, lunge) then you are too close and you do it again and don’t get as close to the trigger.

If you read some of my other posts on my journal of fear aggression with Whiskey on this blog, you can read about some the games including “Autowatch”, “Throw a Party,” “Four Steps to Focus,” etc. that you can do as games to work on aggression.  You can also use touch to help work on his fear of people and the better obedience training you have, the more control you have in general.

If your dog is very fear aggressive, you will probably need medication.  Medication has been a huge help to Whiskey.  We started with just Prozac and it helped a little but we added Trazadone and that made a huge difference.

Whiskey is less afraid / aggressive when out in public.  When he is in our house, he has some territorial aggression in addition to his fear aggression but we are now at the point that he has to be created when adults (we don’t trust children) first come in the house we crate him but after they come in the house and are there for a bit, he can be let out and as long as they don’t try to touch him (he is very afraid of touch) he does not react anymore.  This is a huge improvement over a dog that acted like Cujo anytime he saw a person in any situation from the time he was a baby.  He wouldn’t even play ball with strangers as a baby, now he will play ball with any stranger willing to play!

I can’t stress enough how severe he was and how far we have come in a year.  Some people would look at where he is now and think we are crazy to keep a “dog like him,” but he has come so far and we see progress on a regular basis so I don’t see any reason that we won’t continue to see progress if we keep working on his issues.  I know of people who have managed to pass the Good Citizen/Canine Test eventually with a fear aggressive dog, so that is our ultimate goal.

He is a wonderful dog with his family.  He is very loving, playful, cuddly, and bonded.  If you have a fear aggressive dog and are working on rehabilitation, good for you!  It takes special people to do it.  Most of world (since we hear it a lot, even from family and friends) would just put the dog down.

 

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