with Dog-Dog Aggression In and Out of Class
have two problems. You've got the problem of changing the reactions
of a dog-aggressive dog, and you've got the problem of managing a class
with a dog-aggressive dog.
Let's look at
the dog first...
We don't kow
why the Saint dislikes other dogs. Maybe he had bad experiences as a
puppy. Maybe he has had no socialization. Maybe he's "dominant."
Maybe it's learned aggression from that prong. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the motivation is. It matters only
that he is in a stressed, negative emotional state when around other
lunging and biting is a symptom. The problem is the underlying emotion.
If you fix the problem, the symptom will disappear. If you deal solely
with the symptom, the problem will simply manifest in other ways.
- Get the book
and video "On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals"
by Turid Rugaas. The owner *must* become familiar with calming signal
-- must learn to recognize them and use them.
- Get the dog
out of the prong collar. Period. Obviously it doesn't keep him from
lunging, and it can only make the situation worse.
- Fit the dog
with a Gentle Leader and a basket muzzle. There is risk, because of
the dog's size, of the dog getting away from its owner. If the dog
is going to be anywhere near dogs, the dogs need to be protected from
it. Once the problem is more under control -- once the owner has some
experience and some success, then the muzzle can be removed. But at
this point, to have that dog near other dogs and not muzzled is negligence
on the owner's part.
- Use desensitization
and counter-conditioning to change the dog's emotional response to
other dogs. Class is probably not the place to work on this because
it may be difficult to get the dog far enough away from other dogs
that it can be at the edge of its comfort threshhold. Here is where
knowledge of calming signals is crucial. If the dog is too excited
to take treats or if the dog growls or aggresses, the owner has made
a mistake and gone too far too fast. The goal is for the dog never
to be pushed to the point of aggressing ever again. It is the owner's
responsibility to be aware of the dog's emotional state at all times
-- and to remove him from the situation if he is getting too stressed.
- If he aggresses,
do what you have to to control the situation obviously. But if the
aggression is minor -- growl or lunge -- don't punish the dog or yell
or anything. *You* (the handler) made the mistake, not the dog.
- Teach the
dog focus, first away from other dogs, then around them. Practice
in lots of situations so the behavior is well-generalized. The owner
needs to be able to get and maintain the dog's attention at any time
and in any situation. From this point forward, if there are other
dog's present, the owner must be focused on her dog, and her dog must
be focused on her.
Now about your
- You are in
a tough spot. You are responsible to *all* of your students. Realize
that having that dog in class will be very stressful to the other
dogs, particularly those who have been victims of his attacks. You
might recommend that she attend a different class to work on the problem.
If she needs this class, have her attend without the dog.
- Because of
the size of this dog, and his ability to overwhelm his owner, you
must manage proactively. Since you know he's dog-aggressive (and strong),
once you allow him into the class, you become liable for damages.
Require him to be in a properly-fitted GL and a basket muzzle.
- If the room
is too small to allow him to get comfortably away from other dogs,
then don't allow him back in class until he is able to be calm in
that tight space. Letting him in, even muzzled and under control,
will only over-stress him and undo any progress being made. Stress
- Make sure
he is capable of focusing on his owner in the situation. If not, he
doesn't belong in class.
- Make sure
his owner keeps him focused and working at all times when he is around
other dogs. Have a crate available for times when the other dogs are
working -- his owner cannot simply stand and watch the other teams.
She either needs to crate him and watch the others, or she needs to
remain 100% focused on her dog. Period. End of discussion.
biggest factor here is the owner. If the owner is diligent and committed,
you've got it made. If not, the dog is an accident waiting to happen.
mca @ clickersolutions.com
copyright 2001 Melissa C. Alexander
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