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Old 02-02-2013, 11:41 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Thresholds and aggression -- long

I think I may have noticed something with Kaiser and I wanted to run it by you more knowledgeable types

Kaiser will get all huffy puffy on our walks too, but we rarely encounter dogs that way (only occasionally). Most of this behavior occurs at the dog park on the RARE occasion that other people show up. As some of you know, the dog park I go to is not heavily used and the people who do show up don't do so on any sort of schedule (at least not during the winter months). So, I'll use his behavior at the park for my following post.

It seems, in my opinion, that Kaiser initially reacts to a dog (not ALL dogs, but quite a few) in two different ways:

Way 1 (most dogs): Growling and/or huffing and puffing then barking following by throwing out his chest (who's the baddest dog now kind of attitude), raised hackles, charging the fence or pulling to the end of the leash.

Way 2 (only a few dogs): Apparent serious attempt to "get into it" with the dog. Much more aggressive in his behavior. Starts with the above but very quickly escalates to almost an utter hatred for the other dog.

So, how I deal with the first scenario is this: If we are going TO the park and there are already dogs there, we do obedience up to the gate and he MUST show indifference to the other dogs (or at least a diminished level) before he is allowed in. If we are already in the park and a dog comes up to it, I try to distract Kaiser with the ball, frisbee, or whatever I have to get his attention away from the dog.

With this, it seems I am able to get Kaiser back under the threshold for reactivity. Once he realizes the new dog isn't going to challenge him, steal me or Dakota away, or whatever his reasoning was to at all big and bad to begin with, he is absolutely cool with playing.

For the second situation, I literally have to drag Kaiser away from the other dog and put him in time out before he calms down. Nothing else I do, aside from putting hands on him, will break him out of his aroused state. In other words, that threshold has been completely breached and he is so worked up that nothing else I say or do will snap him out of it.

My first question is this: What has spurred his reaction with some dogs and not others? (It used to just be dominant, aggressive males...now he reacts to most dogs)

Second question: What KIND of aggression am I dealing with? Two different kinds? It seems like the most prevalent form (scenario one) is fast acting but goes away once he gets calmed down. He is able to then play with that same dog he initially reacted to. The second scenario is a no holds barred reaction and he will only act sensible after quite a bit of time has passed and if I don't allow him back near the other dog. For example, a white dog attacked him a few weeks ago because he was "protecting his owner" (so claims the owner). Kaiser saw this same dog come to the park a few days ago and absolutely blew a gasket when they came to the fence. They went to the adjoining park (for small dogs, even though the dog wasnt small) and Kaiser FINALLY settled down (after a time out) after about 10 minutes of watching the other dog play fetch. I did do some leash work when they left, walking Kaiser by the dog hoping to desensitize him (and working on "leave it")...which worked somewhat (he still growled) but I think he was so tired from playing that his initial knee-jerk reaction was muted.

Third question: How do I deal with this and how do I learn more about his thresholds?

Gosh that was long and probably a bit scatter-brained. Please let me know if I need to clarify anything. Thanks!
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Old 02-02-2013, 11:52 AM   #2 (permalink)
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For the second situation, I literally have to drag Kaiser away from the other dog and put him in time out before he calms down. Nothing else I do, aside from putting hands on him, will break him out of his aroused state. In other words, that threshold has been completely breached and he is so worked up that nothing else I say or do will snap him out of it.
The key here is to get his focus back on your BEFORE he passes that threshold. You said that Way 2 starts the same as Way 1 but gets worse. Your goal should be to not let the dog get even halfway into Way 1.

Quote:
My first question is this: What has spurred his reaction with some dogs and not others? (It used to just be dominant, aggressive males...now he reacts to most dogs)
It could be many things. Sometimes it a look the dogs give him or a slight raise of the tail or some other extremely subtle body signal that we humans just can't see or understand.

It might also be that he is developing a 'bark first, ask questions later' attitude.

I am dealing with this with Mauser. He was attacked at dog training awhile back and ever since he decided that all dogs are out to get him and he should attack first - even if they aren't showing any signs (he was ambush attacked).

I would start by NOT taking him places where there are unleashed dogs that you do not 110% trust to not get into it with him.

The more times that happens the worse he will get.
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Old 02-02-2013, 11:58 AM   #3 (permalink)
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It might also be that he is developing a 'bark first, ask questions later' attitude.
I see this with a lot of foster dogs who are actually not bad at all with other dogs, but the "intros" go amazingly horrible.
They want to get the 1st bite in. I think it happens because they had a bad experience in the past, quite possibly, like Lauri's dog, got attacked before so they want to make sure they're in control of the situation from the git-go.
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Old 02-02-2013, 12:00 PM   #4 (permalink)
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The thing is, he is great otherwise. There are two boston terriers across from where we live that he ADORES (the male, especially). The dog park is the only fenced area where Kaiser can get his exercise and be off-leash. Its an absolute necessity for me, since I can walk him for hours (theoretically) and he won't tire. Its just not the same as running and playing. Same thing with training...it will temporarily wear him out (for like 30 minutes, MAYBE an hour) but the only way to maintain my sanity (and his) is to take him to that park to run around. And because there are *usually* no people there (unless we specifically set up a play date), we generally don't have a problem. When people arrive, he only reacts sometimes. Its frustrating for me because I don't always have the ability to leave and them bring him back later.

I do my best to "snap him out" of his elevated emotional state, but when I say it can go from scenario one to scenario two very quickly, its VERY quickly. As in, He might be one puffed chested growly bark out before he has decided that the dog is his mortal enemy. I always try to distract him first if I see the people and new dogs coming. I don't just wait to see what happens. I think its more dependent on the particular dog he is reacting to as far as if my actions will "get through" to him or not. Does that make sense?

I'm trying so hard to learn about his behavior, but I'm having trouble with this one
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Old 02-02-2013, 12:03 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I see this with a lot of foster dogs who are actually not bad at all with other dogs, but the "intros" go amazingly horrible.
They want to get the 1st bite in. I think it happens because they had a bad experience in the past, quite possibly, like Lauri's dog, got attacked before so they want to make sure they're in control of the situation from the git-go.
He has been attacked in the past a few times, so while he never started something he WOULD always finish it (or try) if another dog came at him. His reactivity to most dogs now though is a new thing...so this does make sense.

Maybe paired with his still very juvenile mindset? (he's only 1 year old)
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Old 02-02-2013, 12:10 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Yes, as he matures and get a bit of confidence, he'll start being more reactive.
This is one reason dog parks are not a great place to do socializing, unfortunately.
Even one attack can leave a dog this way.
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Old 02-02-2013, 12:12 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Ugh this stinks. So with age and confidence comes...more aggression/reactivity (are those words interchangeable?)? I mean I can certainly remove him if someone else comes, which would stink but I will do it if I have to. How will I "fix" the problem though?
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Old 02-02-2013, 12:14 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I agree with Lauri - who knows why he reacts to some dogs and not others? There may be very subtle signals given out by the other dog that you don't even see, but Kaiser is reading them loud and clear. In any case, it's not doing him any good to be continually exposed to those kinds of situations. It's not going to make his reactivity any better, and will likely make it worse.

Cassidy was highly leash reactive, but fine with most other dogs off leash. She was free to greet or not, and to move away if she wanted to, which probably gave her confidence. For the few that she had an issue with she would be casually sniffing the other dog, and then instead of calmly moving on, they'd suddenly be snarking at each other. It happened so fast we never saw it coming, and we had no idea why that particular dog and not any of the dozens of other dogs she had been perfectly fine with. Since this was a small percentage of dogs and she clearly loved going to the park to chase balls and swim (we have a very tiny yard), we continued doing so, but there was never any physical harm done and we also had a bulletproof way to get her back - all we had to do was say "Cassidy, ball!" and bounce it off the ground and she'd immediately break off and get the ball. I would be uncomfortable with a dog at the park that I had to physically drag away from other dogs, it's really not fair to the other dogs and owners there.

Lauri is absolutely right about keeping him BELOW threshold - getting a dog back after they're already over aroused can be difficult, so make sure you are far enough away from his triggers that you can get him to redirect to you before he blows in a full reaction. Learn to recognize the subtle signs that he's nearing that point - he may go very still, his ears may go forward, his facial muscles may be tense, and that's the point where you immediately do whatever you need to do to get him back, including increasing distance from the trigger. (ETA: Not after even a single "one puffed chested growly bark".)

Honestly, this is not a dog I'd be taking to a dog park. Maybe to work with him at a distance, outside the fence, but not inside off leash. Every time he goes over threshold he's being allowed to practice bad behavior, which will inhibit your efforts to fix this. If you can work with him around other dogs below threshold you can gradually raise that threshold over time.

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Old 02-02-2013, 12:16 PM   #9 (permalink)
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It might also be that he is developing a 'bark first, ask questions later' attitude.
Exactly, and that's why it's counterproductive to continue putting him in that situation.
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Old 02-02-2013, 12:18 PM   #10 (permalink)
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How will I "fix" the problem though?
I don't know if this will fix his problem but here's my suggestion.

Doe she have a favorite toy - one that he would walk through fire for? Or a favorite treat? You need to find something that he loves - and I mean LOVES!

Take that thing with to the park. You'll need to be VERY vigilant so you know exactly when another dog is approaching. Let him notice the other dog than INSTANTLY whip out that favorite thing and totally engage him with it.

What you want to teach him is that when he's at the park and another dog approaches, his FAVORITE thing in the whole world appears - from YOU.

The goal is to have him see a dog approaching the park gate and then instantly look to you for his thing.

Does that make sense?
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