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Can fear aggression be overcome??

30451 Views 142 Replies 35 Participants Last post by  BleuHaus
I have a 15 mo. old and she is fear aggressive. Took her to the vet today and she was almost in the red zone(she was muzzled). She had to have ear check for infection and vet wouldn't even do both of them as Onyx was so upset. Does anyone have suggestions-one trainer I talked w/ suggested e-collar(she is bird/hunting dog trainer) but for fear aggression I don't think this is the way to go. Any help is appreciated.
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I do not have a ton of experience with fear aggression, but I do know that an e-collar will likely "blow up" a fear aggressive dog. LOTS of patience and socialization coupled with firm, fair leadership and handling WITHOUT CODDLING is in order. Whether or not you can overcome it will depend on her genetics. At her age, she will be in her most fearful stage, so that could be a good thing (meaning she is not really this bad). Others will post who have a ton of experience in this.
It can go into remission-that's what I call it.

You can get the dog as confident as you can, give them good leadership, consistancy, have them as comfortable as possible and allow them to be the best dog they are capable of being.

You can do it slowly, using desensitization and it sticks for life-remission but no cure-it's always there but not apparent.

You can do it quickly and then constantly need to reteach it every time.

That's how I feel about it anyway! But Kramer, Bella, Mariele, and now working on Ilsa (who is
batcrap crazy
) have all (knock wood) done really well using that slow, NILIF, calm, lots of obedience classes, baby step approach.

Breaking it down-need to think about it more-but look at all of those things above as a whole done very slowly over time and the entire time protecting your dog from a situation, person, event that will cause it to go into a panic.

For the vet office, many visits over time just popping in for a weight check and a howdy with lots of good treats makes a big difference.

There are a lot of good sites and with a link to the Yahoo shy dog group-worth joining just for the archives.

Do you have two dogs? How is the other dog?
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that is what I thought about the e-collar-it would just ramp it up more...I don't know of any behaviorists around here that I can go to at this time, so am kind of depending on this great site for help, thank you ZuesGSD for your comments! I know not to tell her its ok when she is in that mode-the vet today said at her age, socialization would probably not help...I disagree with that!! She is the only one in the litter that seems to have this as I am in contact w/ her breeder thru e-mail.
She is 1 1/2 hrs away, and I don't know how much experience she has with f a anyway.
At least you know your instincts are right on! That gives you at least a little protection from bad advice!:)
I agree with what's been said on the ecollar. I think they have their place but a dog already fearful getting 'bit' when she doesn't understand why or where it's coming from can only increase in fear. If they're doing something wrong - sneaking into the garbage or going over a fence - it's one thing. But saying fear is wrong and punishing for it just increases it. JMO.

Having others be around her, doing things in small steps, riding that fine line between uneasiness to show she'll be ok and the overriding fear when she's not thinking at all is sometimes difficult. As she builds confidence it will get easier.
Good luck!
I have a fearful dog, while her's is easier to handle because she will just fold up instead of being aggressive, I don't ever want to push her to that point.

Like John said being a FIRM but Fair leader. That is sometimes a lot harder than people realize. Usually there are triggers, the Vet's office, other dogs, etc. Identify the triggers, write them down and since you don't have any help local let's all put out heads together and see if we can come up with some type of program schedule that you can work on.

First with my female when I see she is concerned I have to be very strong, shoulders back, head up so she can feel that I am in charge and she doesn't have to worry. When a dog gets worried and feels that they have to handle all the stresses is when they will either become aggressive or just shut down. So part of this is going to be on you, practice your posture and also keeping your emotions in what I call the nuetral zone, just very very even, that will incourage your dog to be more even, centered or focused.

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Once they are fearful, is that always going to be the case or can this be overcome? It seems to me it is in their genetics and is the dogs make-up. This was my breeders first litter w/ her dam, but the father has sired "many litters". I am hoping that down the road this can be overcome. Onyx gets this way whenever anyone she is unfamiliar with approaches her she hackles and growls. If she is the appraocher, she is just fine.
I don't know if this has any relation to her , but when she was 10 weeks I took her to a 4-H(kids) class w/ breeder and her dogs. Onyx was sitting behind me and the trainer came over and (she is deaf) talked in a loud tone "to get that dog out from behind you" and pulled her out. She submissively peed and again peed when the breeder and Onyx' mom came near to her(we had had her for three weeks by then). I almost think this was an imprinting stage for her and thus the fear agressive behavior began...
I have a very fearful dog as well although he only barks and growles, he has never tried to bite. I talked to my trainer about it and she said to try to get his attention, and that if he makes a small sound or bark and then looks at me that it is a good starting point. For him the thing that sets him off most is kids, moslty because they do not know how to act around dogs. I would try to get her attention and praise her for that. I use a ball because my boy isint very food motivated.
The symptoms can go away, the problem is still there. (remission)

I think it is genetic and that breeding dogs who produce dogs with this trait isn't a good thing. It won't shut down the supply of GSDs not to repeat breedings of any two dogs and might help to restore the breed to only use solid, well tested animals for breeding.

While that experience didn't help, it certainly didn't cause the problem. The problem was there waiting to come out. Other dogs wouldn't have been behind a person to begin with, other dogs can handle a bad experience.
thank you for those links Jean!
It is genetic and in 90 - 99% of the time in can be managed. But the word is managed, but it isn't cured, it doesn't really go away, it is just managed.

With the Vet's office, if your Vet and staff will work with you, that is something that can be over come. It takes a lot of happy no stress visits to the office. I always do this with my pups, the Vet's office is one of my socialization places because I want my dogs to be as relaxed as possible there. So we go in and sit, do some OB sits and maybe downs if the pup/dog is relaxed enough to handle that. My Vet's office has two scales that are accessable from the waiting room, so we go get on the scale, most of the time when I have a young pup or a new dog the Vet staff if they have time will come and sit and be treat machines for my dogs. There was a good post on the Vet office problem with Timber1 and his dog.

The thing with the breeder at 10 weeks of age, wasn't a good thing possibly a fear period, but a dog with solid nerves would have been able to recover from that, so what I am saying is the problem was there with or without the breeder interaction.

Try to stop people from approaching your dog and let her approach them. Always carry a baggie full of the best treats in the world and have the person feed them to your dog without talking, petting or making a lot of eye contact. Raya wants to sniff people over before they try to touch her, so I am very careful to instruct people let her sniff first.

Are there any class settings in your area?
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been thru two classes, two different places. First trainer corrected her when she went under chair, and then growled at the dog next to us(she was 4-6 mos). She didn't give me the chance for correction. After that Onyx was afraid of trainer, but we went thru all 8 classes. Whenever trainer approached, Onyx peed. Next place, had to go thru beginners but was w/ akc kennel club. Trainers knew not to approach, make eye contact. Onyx never peed, but did growl/hackle w/ a lady that brought me a link for a prong. Then at the final class during testing, long down stay, little girl twirling about ten ft. from Onyx-she lunged and growled at child. Kept her eye on the girl for the rest of class. I should have had girl throw her treats,( hind sight) I want to go for more training-will begin hopefully in march, but would like a place that works on issues-so still searching for the right place, not many around here!
Onyx could actually benefit from the program in the book "Click to Calm-- healing the aggressive dog" by Emma Parsons. I have never thought I would give this a try, but.. wow. I had no idea something as simple as a clicker could make a dog actually begin to feel in control of a situation in which they normally feel NOT in control and at risk.
While the program is begun in your livingroom doing simple OB Onyx already knows, in a room she already knows, with zero distraction... in a few weeks, doing a lil click-n-treat(use special, high value treats in these distraction zones)in a very mild outdoor situation, then later after a few weeks in more stressful situations, thinks: "Oh, man.. clicker stuff is happenin'... whoa, I know what THIS means.. time to WORK! Just like at home in my very own comfy livingroom with Mom, when I gotta sit and down and do a watch command and stay and stuff! Hey, wait a minute.. Mom is askin' for one of those things right now I think.. oooooooh, it's SIT! I do WAY GOOD at sit! A snack is comin'! Yummm.. great!! Ok, next is... what.... stay? Down? What's next, Mom? " etc. Her sense of control comes in the idea that she is winning.. succeeding..easy OB she knows. Plus, The clicker takes the handler outta the pic-- our emotions can add to the frazzled dog's responses. Plus-- and this is BIG-- clicker means working.. not bad stuff happening! Working = better focus.. gonna get good stuff! Doggy also thinks "I went to a slightly stressful place today, and.. hmm.. nothing happened bad, I just worked hard, got praise and snacks, all good stuff happened, plus I was in control."
Read the book, then begin the program with Onyx. Weirdly, this can help the dog feel in control, gradually, in new situations in general. Then, move this-- clicker OB training, simple usual stuff she knows already but with clicker-- into gradually more stressful situations.
Another technique very useful (but also takes a loooonnng time) is click-and-treating in the midst of slightly stressful situations for when she does ANYTHING that indicates calmness-- finally rolling onto her hip while in a down position, sighing, etc. at the park while watching noisy, active kids playing soccer, for instance.
The clicking removes conflict.
I honestly have never been a big fan of the clicker idea... but seeing it in action is amazing! This kinda program takes a long time. But, it can help build confidence in her, distract-then-make-positive -associations-in-stressful-situations, and mark GOOD behavior (in her mind, it becomes GOOD behavior to relax) in these situations.
Wishing you and beautiful Onyx the best!!
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Forgot to add.. really upping her NILIF and your leadership at home had a hugely calming effect when you go out, as Jean and John have said. Why should she worry, when scary situations and your responsibility as super-duper-alpha to handle, not hers? Whew!
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The one BIG thing I have learned about training facilities and trainers is the many of them don't have a clue about GSD's and usually even less with fear based issues. I will tell you I have NEVER let an instructor correct MY dog. I am very proactive when it comes to my dogs unless there is a reason, the only corrections come from me or my DH, but I prefer to not use more positive and corrections are more for proofing.

Where ever you are out and have a chance of meeting some one have the worlds best treat with you, like bits of steak, roast, cheese, or in Raya's case carrotts, she will do anything for carrotts.
I agree that management will be key, and genetics definitely can't be changed. But you CAN work on changing her emotional response to stressful situations, as others have mentioned. I just finished a book called Control Unleashed, which might be very helpful to you. It's written, and the program was designed, for reactive dogs in agility, but the exercises could be used with any dog, even companions who will never compete in anything. She very clearly explains the concepts and the reasoning behind them, which are to basically reframe the experience from a negative, fearful, stressful one into a positive one. One of the exercises is called "There's a dog in my face!", and it teaches the dog that having strange dogs running up to them unexpectedly is a predictor of good things. Take away the fear, you take away the reason for the aggressive display, rather than just correcting the behavior without dealing with the underlying cause, which is what an e-collar would do.

It's not going to "fix" a seriously aggressive dog, and you might need to carefully manage her environment for life - or not, hard to know from a post on the internet how serious this is, nor am I a behavior expert. But I do know from previously having a fear reactive dog that you can make a lot of progress if you work at it. Jean is the poster child for that, with her house full of weird and wonderful doggers! Finding a competent trainer who is experienced in aggression, fear, and phobias, or a group class designed specifically to work with 'issues' dogs would help a lot.

Jean Donaldson's Dogs are From Neptune is also a good book for counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques.

Edited to add: I haven't read Click to Calm, as Patti suggests, but I've heard great things about it!
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I've had two fear aggressive dogs. All of the book suggestions are good ones. I have Click to Calm and it's very helpful. I think using shaping exercises to build her confidence is also a good idea. And I strongly agree that she needs to know at all times that you can handle everything. Once they really get that--that you can take control of and handle confidently any situation--they do relax. I had a lot of luck teaching focus exercises and then going out into the world with a treat bag, clicker and working the dogs.

As Jean says, it is a lifetime commitment but it can and will get better once you've got a daily counter conditioning program in place. Both of mine were so much better that people commented they couldn't believe it was the same dog.
After reading these posts i am beggining to wonder if my dog has some sort of fear in her too, i think someone mentioned that.I rememeber taking her to a friends house ,they had 4 dogs , and the whole time she hid under the table.

I dont know what to tell you because i am still learning.

My question is does she urine when lots of people interact with her at one time? Mine does ,is that fear?
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Bedlam your dog is absolutely fearful. All of the growling is fear based. Following through on your plan will help this greatly.
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