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Posts Tagged ‘border collie adoption’

Updates on Working with a Fear Aggressive Dog

27 May

It is hard to believe that Whiskey, our Border Collie, is 2.5 years old now.  Putting the time, money, and energy to help a dog with fear aggression is a lot for a family to take on.  Now I wish I had some video of how bad he was when he was younger to see how far we have come because our hard work is paying off.  One thing, however, is that different things may work for different dogs and having a large number of different things to try and consistency in using your arsenal of techniques is vital.  The first thing you must have is a strong relationship of TRUST with your dog.  He has to know that he can trust you 100% of the time and that you will protect him, everything else builds from this.  This means that you have to be careful about choices you make in his treatment because certain choices can take away that trust and then the other things you do will not be as effective.

Building trust means that you understand dog psychology, dog signs of stress, and in particular you can read YOUR dog for stress and step in when you see your dog in stress and stop the situation.  Examples of signs of stress include tail between the legs, ears back, certain “looks” in their eyes, yawning, shaking (both literally and shaking off like they are wet), whining, growling, movement away from stressful situation, sniffing of ground or looking away in avoidance, and more.  One of my kids hugs the dog all the time, he tolerates hugs from this child because he is part of our pack but he often shows signs of discontent during the hug and I have to tell my child to keep the hug short.  There used to be so many situations that would trigger all of the above signs of stress but now we are happy when he is able to do a shake (like he is shaking off water but he isn’t wet, I will refer to this as a wet shake from now on but this does not mean he is wet) to calm himself rather than growl and lunge, it is a much better way for him to deal with the stress.  We reward him and tell him “good dog” when he makes choices to use these calming signs rather than let his stress build to aggression.  He has been able to get this point, however, because he knows that I will not put him in a bad situation.  For example if we see another dog or a small child, he knows that I will take him in a direction that walks us a far distance from the stressor rather than keep us right next to them.  Before, he would lunge, growl, bark, or try to bite at the dog or child because he did not trust that he would be safe and felt the need to act on it.  Now, he trusts that he will be safe so he can relax.

Medication is another item that helped a lot.  We had him on just Prozac and it helped a little.  We added Trazadone and it helped quite a bit and then we doubled the Trazadone and got even better response.  For him, he just has so much anxiety, he needs the medication.  We tried not giving it to him to see what would happen and he just started shaking terribly and hiding, he was a mess.  On the medication, he is calmer, wants to play, is loving, and acts like a normal dog with the exception that we still have some fear issues but they are much less severe and we continue to work on them.

Positive training Vs. E-Collar Methods – At first we tried Sit Means Sit as they promote a lot of videos of curing any dog with problems.  We signed up but Whiskey was more than they bargained for.  If it had been the person who created the company instead of a Franchise Owner, we may have had more luck.  I have seen people successfully use the E-Collar with what seems like fearful aggressive dogs BUT with that said you must remember that you are dealing with a dog who has FEARS.  Using a negative tool on a fearful dog might be a bad idea unless you are one of the few experts with tons of training who do this for a living and would take the dog in until he was fixed.  If you just get a package with 3 lessons and some group classes (what is typically sold by Sit Means Sit) this is not a fix for a dog with severe Fear Aggression for even the most dedicated owner!  Whiskey learned a lot of obedience but he is a border collie and knew a lot of obedience before we started and obedience was not our goal.  We want him to be able to play with other dogs and not eat small children and bunnies.  Sit means Sit is not designed to do this, at least not the one locally.  We did learn a lot in general and I do think there is a place for the E-Collar for working with Fear Aggressive dogs, I will get to that in a minute.  After spending almost a year without much progress, we moved on to positive only methods (the ANTI-ECollar people).  I wrote about a lot of things I learned in other blog posts so I won’t repeat that here but that was money well spent overall.  It continued to build trust between Whiskey and I.  It also helped condition him to relax during stressful situations and in combination with the trazadone that was started during that time, we really started to see progress.  Overall, I would recommend this approach if done with someone who really knows their stuff and helps you do it with your dog as a first approach rather than the E-Collar.  I did, however, say I felt E-Collars could help and what we found is that in certain situations where positive training was just NOT working no matter what we did, a negative reinforcement was the only option.  This is not a good first line of defense though since it does not build trust.  Right now, Whiskey still has a problem charging our fence outside when the kids in the next yard over play ball, run by quickly, or if dogs walk by on the street.  We tried over and over with positive reinforcement to stop this but could not get anywhere.  It was also hard to time and be consistent with positive reinforcement in those situations which did not help.  He really needed to have the positive reinforcement EVERY time and it was not feasible with life to catch him EVERY time (you might be in pj’s, cooking dinner, not have cookies on you, just can’t stand out there and do it, etc. etc.)  so we put on the E-Collar and as soon as he charges the fence, the button gets pushed and he is now choosing to ignore the kids in the yard (that was easier for him than the dogs walking by).  He will also sometimes ignore the dogs, he may still whine, or will get a toy for you to throw to distract him but he is coming up with alternatives for you and if you call him when he does charge (when we forget to put the collar on him), he comes in the house right away.  Gradually, these situations will no longer be an immediate trigger for him as we continue to condition him to relax and not get into a state of flowing adrenaline when he views these situations.

Our walks have changed dramatically.  We used to be able to even see people or dogs, now he ignores people, ignores children, and even ignores dogs if we walk around them (he watches them for about 15 seconds while we walk around them but then looks forward again).  He does still react negatively if someone comes up on him abruptly like a jogger and doesn’t give us space because he thinks he is going to be hurt – not sure what to do about that yet but we will have to work on some conditioning of that.  He also does not attack the door when UPS drops of packages and is quicker to accept people in the house.  He even went to one of our regular guests on his own and asked to be pet by her when usually he doesn’t want anyone but family to touch him.  We will continue to work with having people in the house because that is one of our biggest problems that limits his life and our life.  We don’t like locking him up and he doesn’t like it either.  Once he is tired from a walk, he does VERY well strangers walking around as long as they aren’t small children being unpredictable.

I also really want to work on getting him together with other dogs but I need to find a trainer who will do that with me.  We may use the E-Collar for that and consider Sit Means Sit for that again since it worked for that in the past.  However, I need to make sure I keep his trust so that is why I hesitate a little.  He is also listening better with our cat.  If she shows herself, he knows he is not allowed to go near her and will listen to me to get away – if I am not there, that is a different story – which is why he stays crated when I am not home.

That is our update for now, sorry for any typos or crazy sentences – too lazy to proof read 🙂  I will keep you all updated.

 

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.