Posts Tagged ‘fear aggression’

Tips for rehabbing a fear aggressive dog- Solid K9 please help!

04 May

We started with a severe case of fear aggression in an 8 week old full bred border collie pup.  He was fearful of everything, he was weary of playing, he was unsure of our other dog, he growled at half the people in the family such as the two young girls and one son. He would growl at every stranger he saw and he didn’t like to be held or touched.  At a dog park, he stayed with his big brother at first and did okay but as he got more afraid, he started getting aggressive and started attacking the other dogs.  We tried him with a muzzle and he muzzle slammed them.  We had people try to pet him with his muzzle on and he would try to bite them. Off leash he would stay with us but started venturing further out to scare away the bad guys, barking and showing teeth.  One man just laughed since he just a puppy and I came and got him but a child got scared and ran and that made him run after him and nip his leg.  Nothing too major but it made things clear to us, he needed help!

We hired 3 different trainers.  Fired the first one on the first day.  The second one was an e collar trainer and he went to a board and train but he took a very harsh stance and Whisky is very fearful, so harshness breaks trust so although we learned somethings, he regressed because he was too heavy handed for his temperament.  The third trainer was a positive trainer, she didn’t do e collars but we encorperated what she taught us that heled his anxiety, that was working, along with what was working with the ecollar to find a mix that seemed to work for him.  We used it lightly for small things and use it for big things that were serious at medium but not use it for every command that he would follow anyway without the collar anyway.  Too much collar causes great anxiety for him, so overuse is a problem for him but used correctly for him, it is a great tool.

We work on densenitisizing him to many things that triggered him, one at a time and on obedience at the same time.

  1.  Easily crate trained
  2. when guests come over, he will want to go to door but will go to bed on command.
  3. sleeps by self in gated area near open crate
  4. will wait for dinner politely if asked
  5. will take turns pulling meat off  a bone with his brother while I hold it
  6. can take any food from him
  7. will play ball with strangers (wouldn’t when young, was too afraid of them)
  8. Ignores people on walks (barked and lunged when young)
  9. can ignore people in house IF I can trust they will ignore him(most people I don’t trust the people, they think they know better), so we crate or gate him 90% of time
  10. cant have people touch him, big no, will bite.  Not too hard but enough… after he has bonded with someone consistently for a few months, he will approach them and make it clear, they can touch, he might climb in their lap.  He loves touch from us.
  11. he will do touch games for treats with strangers
  12. dogs are a big trigger, on a walk, he will ignore 75% of time unless other dog initiatiates.
  13. dogs walking by his yard, set him off big time, he can be called away, if alone, will usually listen on first call, if his brother is out there barking (brother never listens), he won’t listen until 4th call.  I reward every time.  If collar is on, he comes right away.  He will distract himself from the stress by bringing us a ball or frisbee to throw.  It is all anxiety.
  14. if a dog comes to edge of gate, He will try to bite him and goes crazy.  Harder to call him off, collar I can on high, words, not until up to six tries or if I throw a ball.
  15. His brother is a huge instigater, he acts much better when his brother is not out there but we don’t have control over brother, old sick dog, didn’t do well with e collar.
  16. He can chase our cats, getting better.  Cats mostly stay upstairs and dogs stay down.  Sometimes cat decides to come down, dog rushes cat, 95% dog listens and I call him and he listens and cat runs up stairs, once he caught cat.  We separated them, no damage done to either.  He also chases bunnies that he could catch but chooses to,run slow,because he likes the chase and doesn’t really want the catch part.
  17. Goals:  Trust him consisting with people (but that means trusting people to follow his rules, no look, no talk, no eye contact, and NO Touch, and no fast movements)which may not be realistic?
  18. Goals:  Get him conditioned to,accept other dogs, he lives with one fine now and he likes,to play, he just needs trust and coping mechanisms, but how,do,we get there, saw videos but I don’t have access to calm beta dogs to practice with…
  19. Goals:  be able to take a vacation again!! please!  Everyone says kill the dog, but we love him.

would love to hear from Jeff Gellmen at


Updated, post on our Prozac trazadone fear aggressive dog

30 Apr

Many of you have asked for an update on our pup.  First, I am waiting on an iPad so please excuse my mistakes, later I hope to come back and fix any error or typos with a real computer but thumb typing isn’t my thing.

So, Whiskey is 4.5 years old already, time flies.  We still have his brother, Golden Retriever, Ares, who is almost 11.  They adore each other.  Ares is getting old though and we don’t know how much longer we will have him for.  Whiskey still takes Prozac each day, 30 mg, and 200 mg of trazadone in the morning and 200 mg at night.  If we miss a dose, you can tell.

He sleeps in as we like to and is fully awake and bugging us after 11:00 am.  He usually wants to play or interact by each then.  We usually will either throw a frisbee, throw a soccer ball, play get the dog with tug included, or catch the hose game.  After he will settle down for a while.  Later, he asks for a second play time and we do one of the same or dog training.  Finally, around dinner, we take him for a walk.  On a weekend, we might go to a public park or our 4 acres where he can run for leash and run in the creek.

On walks:  he ignores people, 99 percent of the time unless someone gets right in his face talk to him or f he felt his space was being invaded.  We keep distance from people in general, he wears a vest that says give me space.  When walking in close proximity, I have him heel to me and he is fine.  He never lunges or tries to go after people like he used to. He doesn’t seem triggered by them at all.  He trusts that we won’t let them touch him and this is the only thing that would set him off.

My sister in law thought she was “different” and could touch him and it would be fine, so she did, he gave her a light bite to say, no, I am not okay with that.  I think it was good, he controlled the bite, didn’t over react and made a clear statement, she handled it well too by reading his message, not overreacting and not freaking but just moving on calmly.

When people come over, he can be behind a wire only fence hat he could easily break through but it acts as a psychological barrier to define his space.  He sees someone new, he will give a little warning growl but that’s it.

He can be loose,in the house with strangers if they follow he rules and are not fearful.  They must do no look, no touch, nomination all, no eye contact.  Then they must play some bonding games with him, that’s all it takes.

Other dogs are the biggest problems.  His brother Ares, makes it worse.  He gets Whisk all,triggered by barking at them.  When Ares passes, we will have better luck calming Whiskey about other dogs.  He sees dogs on walks and gets tense but I say, leave it, and he will probably ignore.  He never starts it with a dog but if a dog starts it with him, he will get more physical and difficult to distract.  I would never put him face to face with a dog, maybe a puppy, slowly.  I think he has potential but it will require work.

i tried to meet with the Si Means Sit trainer to discuss Whiskey’s progress and what we learned about him and how he responds.  I really feel like an expert with all I have read and worked through with my dog and I know I am an expert on MY dog since I have trained him it’s many approaches and have learned how he responds to different methods based on his needs.  I was hoping he and I could work as a team, that I could learn from him and he could adjust things based on what I had learned works and doesn’t work,specifically for Whiskey.  He didn’t seem interested in that, he seemed to imply HE was the he expert on all dogs with anxiety and you have to push them to get anywhere.  Pushing Whiskey shuts him down, makes him lose,trust, and no growth is achieved because all he has is flight, flight, fear going on.  You have to teach these dogs at a place of safety, close enough to the water that they see it, maybe get their feet wet but don’t throw them n and hope they learn to swim.  It’s called threshold and I strongly believe in it.  So, I was very disappointed not to continue  what I was hoping could be a partnership to continue to improve Whiskey.

We have been busy with other things but still work on his training and hope to get back to a situation where we can find someone to help us work and on his proximity to people and dogs.








Whiskey is turning 3 – Border Collie / Dog Fear Aggression Blog

16 Nov

Our sweet border collie will be 3 in a few more weeks, wow, how time flies.  It is late so I will keep this update short – but here are our most recent stories:

Whiskey Meets a Lab Face to Face

We have this neighbor who has an invisible fence.  It freaks Whiskey out since all he sees is dogs that are loose.  When she has friends over with dogs, they are often let loose with her dogs.  They may get a collar too but haven’t been trained with it so they still run right through the fence, zap and all.  So, I am walking Whiskey and a Lab comes charging over from their yard (not the first time).  I panic a little (got to stop doing this as I am sure it doesn’t help Whiskey).  I yell that my dog will EAT their dog… okay, I don’t say but I say they better get their dog fast because Whiskey is “not good with dogs.”  She is too slow to get over and Whiskey is face to face with the lab – I wasn’t prepared.  Whiskey didn’t know what to do!  He did nip at the dog but baby nips, no outright attack, nothing the dog even felt at all – it was very minor.  The lab did not even know what was going on.  I was trying to keep Whiskey away from the lab – I should have tried just walking away, I don’t know if that would be better or not but I was trying to just put myself in the way… maybe not smart either but I didn’t think the lab meant any harm and Whiskey wasn’t going to intentionally bite me… so finally, the lady comes and gets her lab and apologizes to Whiskey – asking if she can pet him, HA?!  No…  The good news was that it was not a terrible experience, Whiskey was face to face with a dog, he did not get bit and he did not REALLY bite the other dog.

Whiskey Walks by Dogs Closely

We have also been in more and more situations where Whiskey has had to walk by dogs or have dogs within just a foot of him.  He has handled it very well.  He had concern but was not overly anxious and was able to ignore and move on quickly when I asked him to.

Talking to Whiskey

More people have been talking to him lately, he doesn’t growl anymore when people do that!!!

Bonding with my Oldest

When we got Whiskey, my oldest son was away at college so Whiskey did not know him and he was not trust worthy.  He did come and stay with us so Whiskey learned to accept him in the house but they had an agreement to just ignore each other.  Now if we are on a walk and away from the house but see my oldest away from the house and tell Whiskey that it is “ge ge” (what we call him, Chinese word for oldest brother), he wags his tail and runs up to him!

Called off from the Cat

Since Whiskey moved in, the cats had to move their domicile to the second floor.  Whiskey would chase the cats and I don’t trust him with his high prey drive.  The cats learned they stay upstairs and the dogs always stay downstairs.  Sometimes, the cat comes down on the stairs and sticks her head through the rails to meow at me about something and Whiskey sees her and starts to chase her, running at the stairs – however, I have been able to call him off mid-chase!  This is good so that maybe, if ever needed, I could call him mid-chase from chasing a dog or something.

Final Update

He continues to improve!  We are going to be talking to a new trainer and either way, we will continue our work to make him a non-reactive dog someday!


Dog Fear Aggression Journal 7/13/2015

13 Jul

Adorable, Cute, and Fear Aggressive








I continue to journal about Whiskey, our sweet Border Collie.  He is now 2.5 years old, wow, how the time flies!  We continue to treat him for his fear aggression and although it is a lot of work and CONSUMES a lot of our life, it is rewarding.  He is such a sweet boy and his family loves him dearly and he loves us so much as well.  He continues to take 2 Trazadone in morning along with 30 mg of Prozac and then 1-2 Trazadone at night (each Trazadone is 100 mg.).   He is an energetic, smart, loving dog with a typical quirky border collie personality.  If you have ever had a BC before, you understand how intelligent they are and how different than most dogs.  He acts more like a 5 year old child than a dog and we hold conversations with him because the number of words in the English language he understands is CRAZY!  He “talks” back with different types of barks, sounds, and body language.  We usually know what each other is saying without too much trouble.  It really is a different experience to connect with a dog at such an intellectual level. As I have said before in my posts, building the trust with your fear aggressive dog is vital.  Now that we have it so strongly, I worry so much about bringing in new trainers to help us “get to the next level.”  So many dog trainers have so many different philosophies about dog training.  Some are the “Pack Leader Type,” some feel you need to “Break your dog down first,” – when I heard this I cringed!  This type of leadership is the WORST thing for MY DOG.  For dogs with dominant personalities who need to be brought under control, it might be the perfect fit (I personally have never met a dominant dog) but for a fear aggressive dog who lacks self confidence and is very fearful, if you were to BREAK IT DOWN, you would undo EVERYTHING I just worked for in the last two years.  So, I have to be careful that no trainer I work with has or will use this approach with my dog!  He knows I am the pack leader, this no longer needs to be established so I don’t need a pack leader type trainer either.

What he needs is consistent exposure to what he fears with someone who is confident, not afraid, knows when to back off, and can provide him many opportunities to see that what scares him is not a threat.  As he continues to get this feedback to his brain, he will begin to relax and the scary item can get closer and closer but never should it be pushed on him to the point that he is shaking, fearful, or loses the trust in me that I keep him safe.  Finding trainers who will do this is next to impossible but I keep looking!!!  I have some more calls to make.  Most trainers only know how to “train” and most behaviorists only seem to take you so far and then don’t seem to follow through to the end.  I need someone who will listen to BOTH me and my dog, not someone who says, they know better. At this point and more than two years of training, classes, therapy, and living with my dog, I know what he needs and what has worked.  We have come so far and I want us to make it further!!

Whiskey needs to spend time with more company in the house that he doesn’t know.  We had our first guest, A, for 5 days and 4 nights.  Since A is a child (pre-teen), we could not ask of her what we might be able to ask of an adult – no touch, no look, no eye contact (one thing from Caesar that is very important to Whiskey’s comfort with strangers).  A loves dogs and she is a child and he is more nervous with the unpredictability of children.  So, we had to keep him behind a gate, on leash, playing ball (ball will distract him from anything), or in a downstay by our feet.  His reactions were very small over all compared to former visitors, again, showing improvement.  He would do small growls when she would show up at first after we had been gone or first thing in the morning.   I felt that I could probably have let him loose but safety is a priority, so I did not.  The last day, he was begging for food from a downstay and she came and gave him a cracker.  She and he both got up and he went to her.  He really just wanted to sniff her and I could tell by his body language that he was not aggressively going near her, so I asked her to stand still, he went and sniffed her and then backed away because she moved and it scared him, he let out a low growl to say, “hey I am scared,” and I went and put him behind the gate so he could feel safe with distance.  He did the right thing though, when she moved, he backed away.   This is the point, I felt we were at – where he is still quite nervous but he is learning to move away now.  I probably should have rewarded him at the time but I didn’t know if he would know if I was rewarding for the moving away or the growl and I didn’t want to risk that he wouldn’t know that it was the move away that was the correct behavior.

I think that slowly we can begin to do a little bit more, I am VERY conservative and only do things that I fully trust I can tell where Whiskey’s head is at by his body language and energy – although he does need to start going to people on his own and sniffing them and realize that nothing bad happens AND that if at anytime he feels unsure, he can leave.  I wish I could repeat this drill a 100 times, I just need some strangers who don’t fear dogs!!!

I keep hoping to have more time but the time is flying by with all this other work I find myself busy with!!

Will update more later!




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.


Progress with Whiskey – Border Collie Fear Aggression

27 Apr

April 27th 2015

Onward we travel in our quest of helping a very fearful Border Collie escape his demons.

Whiskey is over 2 years now and we have spent lots of money on different trainers, training techniques, and invested much time into learning these many methods.  We have had some great gains.  If you consider Whiskey at 10, being the most aggressive Cujo attack dog who wants to attack and bite any person or dog he sees, we went from a 10 to 6.  This means we still have a long way to go as the goal would be to get to a 0 (not going to happen) or 1, maybe 2.

Here are some of Whiskey’s old traits / Progress in red.

  •  Just seeing someone, would start aggression.  Sees people nearby, does not react.
  • Anyone talking to him, would start aggression.  Shows some mild stress when people say his name but does not get aggressive usually.
  •  Any dog, in sight would start aggression, whining, fear.  Can see dogs on walks and ignore them.
  • Any person entering home would be an outright attack.  Can be guided to deal with strangers entering to house and watch calming – inside crate, tied, or on leash.
  • Anyone touching him = bite.  Still a problem, does not like touch
  • Anyone near him = tries to bite.  People can stand near him now and ignore him and he is fine.
  • Wouldn’t even play games with strangers.  He will play games with strangers.
  • Could not be distracted from his fears.  He can play ball and avoid things that scare him like a dog walking by.
  • Would see children and always lunge and attack.  Children still make him nervous but he does not try to lunge and attack by default anymore.
  • Would see kids playing in yard next door, would try to attack through fence.  With ecollar, will ignore kids running around yard, up to fence, and playing ball.
  • Would see dogs walking near fence, would charge fence, bark, and whine.  With ecollar, will just watch dogs walk by fence with no barking, charging, or whining.


So, you can see how much progress we have made.  We have found that using the ecollar with the really tough situations is helpful.  We use it just with the charging outside (kids playing and charging after dogs), he actually doesn’t even get “zapped” much anymore because he knows he is not supposed to charge the fence and will usually remember and just stop himself or listen as I give him a verbal warning first, if there is time.

We also try to continue with the positive reinforcement rewards for everything as well.  We even pair the ecollar with treats, “dog walks by, Whiskey chooses not to charge, bark, or whine, then comes inside, he gets a treat.”

With nicer weather coming up we need to start finding more scenarios where we can work with getting closer to other dogs and practicing people touching him, those are our two biggest hurdles.

We did have to take him to the vet and had to totally sedate him for the exam.  It worked out okay.  We also increased his trazadone to 200 mg am and 200 mg pm in addition to his prozac to see if we can lower his anxiety more.



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.


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.