Fear aggression - some questions

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Pedro
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Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Pedro » Thu May 23, 2019 10:31 am

Hi,

**Having just written the below and re-read it, I now realise the length. Apologies! **

New to the forum, we joined after Googling around for help with fear aggression in our new rescue dog, Pedro. We've read a few threads now about classical conditioning and they've been really, really useful. In the past two to three weeks we've put the suggestions from those threads into practice and we're starting to see progress, so thank you.

Pedro is about two years old, from a Spanish dog pound (we're in the UK, he came into the country via a charity). We've no idea of his history, he's a mix, we're pretty sure, of Podenco and something terrier.

We've had him for seven weeks now. For the first three weeks we thought he was a really sweet, quiet little thing, but we understand now that he was actually probably 'shut down'. From about three weeks his behaviour started to change; he'd bark and lunge at bikes, other dogs, some people, cows(!), basically anything. Looking back now, and from reading a lot of threads on here, we now realise that a lot of it is fear aggression and we've put in place what we hope is a routine that will help him.

However, it's always nice to get reassurance that we're on the right track so what I'd like to do, if you'll help me, is spell out what we're doing and see what the experienced folks on here think?

Right, here goes:

1) Pedro's going to basic training classes, and not bad at look, sit, wait, leave, come etc. We practice this training at home, it's the final beginners class tonight and we're going to sign up for the improvers class.

2) "Lie down" is not going well, as Pedro's neck is pretty long and his legs are pretty short, so he doesn't need to squat down to get to treats placed on the floor in front of him. Any ideas?

3) We got to a point where nearly every night Pedro would wind himself up into a bit of a frenzy barking at something in the back garden (we're lucky enough to have a nice garden that attracts hedgehogs, cats, occasionally foxes). It would take a good half hour or more to calm him down, not what you need at 3am... We've got him back to using a closed crate at night, with a thick blanket over it to keep out light and muffle noises. He's now sleeping through, and so are we. Do we accept that this is how he will sleep for, well, ever?

4) We're no longer walking Pedro where there are other off-lead dogs, but of course there's often on-lead dogs, bikes etc. We try to be conscious of what and who is around and avoid by crossing the road etc but, again, that's not always possible. We always get him to sit as soon as were aware of something that may trigger him, and/or that we're trying to condition him into accepting calmly, and feed him a mix of cheese, cooked liver and cooked beef. Often that's enough, but, again, not always. If we're in a situation where he has started barking, but he's still distractable (I think I've invented a word) by the food, is the food still working from a conditioning sense?

5) Visitors to the house; Pedro barks at the sound of the doorbell and we've had one, mild, barking and nipping incident (we didn't see it, but suspect that he was barking at them and they bent down and reached out to try and calm him, and he nipped the hand). I suspect, if I'm honest, that we're more nervous about him around visitors than he is of the visitors themselves, but we've started asking visitors to drop bits of food on the floor for him but otherwise basically ignore him. Does that sound sensible? Anything else we can do?

6) We had a 'behaviourist' to see Pedro at the weekend, which, in hindsight, was a disaster. He (the behaviourist) put Pedro on a slip collar and was a strong believer in 'firm correction' by a quick tug on that collar. By the time he left, Pedro was, basically, terrified, and it's honestly set him back a good two or three weeks. This was the day before the nipping incident above, and we think was the root cause. Anyway, we won't be using that guy again, but on the plus side it's confirmed to us that what we were doing up to that point was the right thing.

7) Final question, and I assume it's a pretty impossible one to answer; how long is it likely to take, if we keep doing what we're doing (and doing anything else that you folks suggest), to get Pedro to a state where he's much more comfortable and calm in the big wide world?

We'd really, really appreciate any help or insight you could give.

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Nettle
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Nettle » Fri May 24, 2019 2:35 am

what lovely caring sensible owners you are- Pedro is lucky he came to you.

I have to do this piecemeal because the board times out with long posts.

In brief - so you can think over and ask questions:

All this sit-stand-down training isn't actually necessary. All a pet dog needs is recall (probably the hardest thing to teach) loose lead walking, and 'stay'. Note - you might like 'wait' as well - 'stay ' means 'do not move from there - I will come back to you' 'wait' means 'stop there - I am about to give you another instruction'. So you might reconsider the classes - does he seem happy there, protecting his space, or shut down?

When you or he sees something approaching that might upset him - don't put him in a 'sit' because - well, if something scary was coming towards you, would you want to be immobile? Quietly move him to the side away from the Scary, and when he is calm which won't happen until you are far enough away, reward him. Thus you acknowledge his unrest, take him somewhere safer and then make it good. Distances will vary by the day, but gradually he will become more confident and the distances will resolve with most things (some things will always be scary) without you doing anything else. He calls the shots here with what is scary. He drives the timescale.

Good that you spotted the trainer was useless - next time ask when you first contact them what methods they use. Run away screaming for anyone who talks alpha, pack, dominance, being the boss and similar.

The sleeping arrangements are doing what you both want, so leave them be for now. He might like to change them later when he feels more confident.

Do not let him come to the door with you when you have visitors. Let them phone as they arrive, then they know to wait while you get him behind a baby gate. Do not run to the door or the phone. You could put a note on the door if you get deliveries.

How long? Same length as a piece of string. Progress is not linear either - you'll get good days, worried days, regression, flying progress. He's only a dog, you're only humans. It doesn't have to be perfect.

You'll have lots of questions - please ask - no question is silly or trivial - if you want to ask, we are happy to answer.
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Pedro » Fri May 24, 2019 3:28 am

Thanks for replying Nettle.

He really enjoys the training classes and the practice we do at home; he's really food motivated and enjoys using his brain, so it's a good combination. His recall is pretty good too, he's no gundog (yet! :) ) but in the garden and in a secure walking field we've found he'll come back pretty well on command.

The classes are good for us too, because they show us that he can be around other dogs (there's six in the class in total) and be happy and engaged. There's the odd bark if one of the other dogs comes too close or stares him out (mainly the latter), but nothing major. He'll quite happily sit and watch what's going on, often with the other dogs within three or four feet of him, and the trainer has noted his progress.

On the trainer subject, we've realised over the five weeks we've been going that the class trainer is brilliant. We will signing up for the next set of classes and probably setting up some 1-1 sessions too, as she has her 'stooge' dog that she uses to work with and help dog-reactive dogs. The other guy was a recommendation from a colleague who'd used him successfully, but clearly for different kind of issues. Anyway, lesson learned.

As for visitors, he's not attacking them or barking (that's only at the doorbell itself, and we can work on that) and we have a hallway where we can brief them on what we would like them to do and not do. They'll them come into the kitchen and he'll wander around, occasionally wandering up to and looking up at them. We're not totally sure what his level of nervousness is if we're honest, but to be on the safe side we're saying to them to ignore him, and to drop bits of food on the floor while we stand chatting so he learns that visitors = food = good.

We also reminded ourselves last night that we've only really been doing what we're doing for about three weeks. It feels like longer (some days have felt like weeks...) but it's really early days and there is progress there.

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Nettle
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Nettle » Fri May 24, 2019 5:56 am

Great that he is enjoying his classes and you have a trainer who knows what's what. If another dog eyeballs, reposition yourself to break its line of sight. That will make P feels more trusting in your ability to deflect trouble.

Up to you, but I prefer visitors not to be associated with food or touch if a dog is undergoing rehab. It adds stress. IMO visitors should be dog-neutral rather than dog-delightful. So many of a dog's 'I am not comfortable with this' signals are missed by humans. But it's your choice. Remember this is all first-stage info I am giving you - your dog is still in kindergarten and the PhD stuff comes later.
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by JudyN » Fri May 24, 2019 6:34 am

It sounds like you're all doing great :D I'll see if I can add anything to what Nettle has said.
2) "Lie down" is not going well, as Pedro's neck is pretty long and his legs are pretty short, so he doesn't need to squat down to get to treats placed on the floor in front of him. Any ideas?
Ultimately, it doesn't matter if he doesn't get 'lie', and you don't want to frustrate him by him knowing you want him to do something but doesn't know what. So don't push it. (I failed to teach my long-necked dog 'roll over'.) What you could try, though, is moving the treat to the floor in your hand, and then covering it with your hand. If you wait, he might then drop his back end as well at which case you can say 'good!' or whatever and let him have the treat. You could also try 'catching' the behaviour - every time he lies down you say 'Lie!' and give him a treat.
3) We got to a point where nearly every night Pedro would wind himself up into a bit of a frenzy barking at something in the back garden (we're lucky enough to have a nice garden that attracts hedgehogs, cats, occasionally foxes). It would take a good half hour or more to calm him down, not what you need at 3am... We've got him back to using a closed crate at night, with a thick blanket over it to keep out light and muffle noises. He's now sleeping through, and so are we. Do we accept that this is how he will sleep for, well, ever?
My only concern would be that the thick blanket might be too warm in summer. My dog can also go bonkers at the end of the garden after dark, which we think is either because of foxes or cats, and as you say, it's no fun at 3am! I didn't want to not let him out in case he needed to toilet so eventually, I put an opened-out dog playpen across the side of the house, which could be accessed via the kitchen door (we usually use the conservatory door). Letting him out that way meant he had a small area he could toilet in, but couldn't get anywhere near the end of the garden. After just two nights of complaining about this and trying to get us to let him out the 'proper' way, he started sleeping through :D Whether this could help you depends on your garden/door configuration, of course, but it's worked brilliantly for us.
5) Visitors to the house; Pedro barks at the sound of the doorbell and we've had one, mild, barking and nipping incident (we didn't see it, but suspect that he was barking at them and they bent down and reached out to try and calm him, and he nipped the hand). I suspect, if I'm honest, that we're more nervous about him around visitors than he is of the visitors themselves, but we've started asking visitors to drop bits of food on the floor for him but otherwise basically ignore him. Does that sound sensible? Anything else we can do?
You might be planning this anyway, but you can start by ringing the doorbell yourself and giving him a treat, and also ringing the doorbell whenever you get home. It is always safer if the dog isn't right there when you open the door so you can also train him to go to a certain place (crate/room behind a stairgate) when he hears the doorbell - again, you can get your partner to stand outside and ring it.

I'm a little unsure about getting visitors to drop food. If he has any anxiety, the food could cause him to get closer to them than he would otherwise, and once he's eaten the food, he might find himself too close for comfort. It would be better for him to either see visitors as 'nothing important', or for you to give him treats when the visitors come. This also means that he's less likely to pester them! This might seem as overcautious, but remember it's still early days and he's still got baggage to unpack.

Some issues can be fixed within days, some can be a 'work in progress' for the dog's entire life, and some can only really be dealt with by management. It's very difficult to predict what scenario will apply to which issues though!

BTW, if you ever have any concerns about how your dog is doing with the trainer, have the confidence to step in and overrule her. Once my dog decided that sitting and standing a few times one after the other was a stupid idea and he might as well have a little lie-down instead, I usually let him do just that. But with hindsight I realise now that I should have left after the first half of each class, as by then his brain was too fried to learn anything in the second half, and he'd start behaving spectacularly badly!
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

Pedro
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Pedro » Mon May 27, 2019 3:08 am

Okay, you know I wrote

"As for visitors, he's not attacking them or barking (that's only at the doorbell itself, and we can work on that) and we have a hallway where we can brief them on what we would like them to do and not do. They'll them come into the kitchen and he'll wander around, occasionally wandering up to and looking up at them. We're not totally sure what his level of nervousness is"

Scratch that. My parents came last night, he went mental. Really, really barking at them, especially at my mum. They're the first people to come round since the terrible trainer, and he's now clearly terrified of any strangers coming through the door. We got him away into the garden, and he calmed down. When they were sat down be was fine, but if they stood up he'd start again, and at one point actually jumped up at my mum a bit, which I've never seen him do before. In the end he went in his crate until we went into a room that we could close him off to.

My parents were troopers, didn't engage him, didn't look at him, exactly what we'd asked them to do. They're in their late seventies though, we felt terrible, they shouldn't have to go through that. They've stayed over, so we'll see what he's like with them this morning. I'm meeting not good.

The were some heartfelt conversations in the middle of the partially sleepless night about whether we can do this :-(

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Nettle
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Nettle » Mon May 27, 2019 3:27 am

Of course you can see him through this. And what gems your parents are.

Dogs make simple connections, and your dog has "background" too, where visitors upset his security applecart every time.

When visitors come, shut him away until they have done the greetings and taken off coats and sat down. Any visitors you can't trust to ignore him totally don't get to meet him. With those you trust, put him on-lead and next to your chair on a bed or blanket that is comfortable for him, and from time to time give him a treat but otherwise don't interact. When visitors want to get up and go out, take him out first and scatter some treats in the room he is in. Then visitors can leave. Then he can come to the room they were in and have a good sniff about.

If he is being shut out for some time, make sure he has had a good walk and leave him with a stuffed kong.

He is on a huge learning curve, and so are you. He isn't anything bad - he's a very scared dog trying to get some control over his life, and he only knows how to do that in a dog way.

This isn't for ever - this is for now. Build these foundations and one day you'll look back and wonder how you could ever have thought it was insurmountable.

Stay with us. We know how to help and explain.
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by JudyN » Mon May 27, 2019 3:35 am

Pedro wrote:
Mon May 27, 2019 3:08 am
The were some heartfelt conversations in the middle of the partially sleepless night about whether we can do this :-(
I've been there, I feel for you :( But yes, you can do this.

What Nettle says - management is everything now. He needs to feel he's in a safe place when people come round, and he also needs not to be in a situation where he can practise his unwanted reaction. The more he does it, the more it will become learnt and hardwired - 'This is what I do when people come round'.

Management doesn't just give him a way of relaxing and not getting (too) stressed, it means that you can relax too. If you're anxious about what he does whenyou have people round, he'll sense this and it'll make him think these scary strangers are even more scary.

He's also at that awkward age when he feels it's time to grow up and act like an adult but still finds the grow-up world a bit scary - and he's the equivalent of a teenager... and you know what they can be like :lol:
Jasper, lurcher, born December 2009

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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Pedro » Wed May 29, 2019 5:03 am

Thanks for the replies. It's been an interesting couple of days...

By the end of Monday, after a lot of thought (and tears), we'd made the decision that Pedro was just too unhappy with us, regardless of what we did, and that we'd ask the rehoming charity to take him back. After mailing them yesterday and waiting for the call back (which was like waiting for a firing squad), I eventually spoke to them. They run on a foster-carer basis, they don't have kennels, so to take him back they need to find a foster who can take him, and they all currently have foster dogs or are in situations that would not be suitable for a scared, fear-aggressive dog (young children etc).

I did however have a good talk with the lady that runs it, both on the phone and at her house, about how we might deal with Pedro in the meantime, whilst we wait for a foster to be found. That may be a couple of weeks, so if, and it's a big if, we see a reasonable improvement in that time then he may stay with us. Obviously this is what we all want; an increasingly happy dog living with us, rather than an unhappy one that we have to hand back. So, we'll see. She's given us some Valerian and Skullcap pills that she's used with anxious dogs before and had good results with, so he's started taking those.

Also, we've been honest with ourselves and (as awful as this sounds) realised that we may not have shown Pedro enough affection and been 'playful' enough. We're used to having a much older dog, our previous was 17 when he died, who was very content to be quiet and just sit and watch what was going on, whereas a younger dog (obviously, I mean it's amazing how dumb you can be) obviously needs much more interaction, play and reassurance. It's like the difference between dealing with a 70 year old and a 7 year old, and we hadn't really realised that. Anyway, live and learn, he's now getting far more play and 'fun' interaction (even if some of that is the tone of voice we use whilst talking to him).

So, to some more specific questions. We have some visitors coming to stay this weekend, arriving late Friday, leaving Sunday afternoon. Now, we're very conscious of not setting him up to fail again, like we did with 'that' trainer, and with (unknowingly) managing the visit from my parents poorly. The safest option would be to cancel the visit, but they're very old friends, they're travelling a distance to see us and we've not seen them for months, so that would be a real shame.

The lady from the charity suggested that when visitors arrive, we meet them outside, with Pedro, and all go for a walk for five minutes before coming into the house. Does that sound reasonable, and then do as Nettle suggests about letting them get settled in a chair before bringing him into the room? To be honest, I'm not too worried about managing the initial 'meet', it's more about the rest of the weekend whilst people will be moving around the house etc. We did think that all of us, and Pedro, going for a longish walk (somewhere otherwise dog-free) on Saturday morning might be a good idea, as then he'll hopefully be more at ease around them in the house on Saturday afternoon/evening and Sunday. Does that sound reasonable?

All ideas and advice welcome. And thanks again for everything so far.

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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Nettle » Wed May 29, 2019 6:32 am

Sounds to me like a bridge too far - though kudos to you for thinking so hard about it.

IMO - and be aware that I'm not on the spot so can only go by what you have said (and thank you so much for your detailed input) it isn't the time for play and increased interaction - it's time for back right off and let the dog settle in before you make demands of him (which more play more training and increased interaction are). I always tell folks to let the dog set the pace, let the dog initiate interaction and for now don't put pressure on him by a lot of training. I know you have previously said how much he enjoys it, and may well be that is exactly what is happening, but back off from it for now and see if he 'asks' for more contact.

Re: your proposed visitors- not a good idea this time. May I suggest that they put up nearby or just visit for the day, which will give you the chance to keep Pedro away from them but with you devoting part of the day to his needs and comfort. Better times will come. Humans have speech and can explain to each other, but to your dog this might be a very unhappy situation, and he has no way of knowing that it is only temporary. Or maybe most of your family can meet your friends at a point away from home, Pedro stays home and one of you arrives to meet your friends later/leaves earlier than the rest of the family, so P is not on his own too long.

Otherwise there is a lot can go wrong, and if something can go wrong it usually will. I'm thinking of all of you here, because his will be the fear and yours will be the regrets.
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Pedro » Wed May 29, 2019 7:54 am

Thanks Nettle.

I suspect you may be right about the visitors, it's probably asking too much of him at this point.

As for the play/interaction thing, I get your point, but I think we're trying to balance leaving him to ask and knowing that he can ask; he'd become pretty withdrawn and our suspicion is that this is at least partly because he thought we didn't want to interract with him. Anyway, yesterday evening we encouraged him into a good twenty minutes worth of chasing a soft toy around the living room, which he clearly enjoyed, and last night he actually slept on our laps on the sofa for a short time, which has never happened. I am conscious of pushing it too far though; today he's not too interested and I'm not going to push it.

We're off to a secure field later for half an hour of off-lead running around, that usually brightens his mood.

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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Ari_RR » Wed May 29, 2019 6:52 pm

Best advice I got was to go at the dog’s pace, and help him along the way instead of pushing him out of his comfort zone.... which included stepping back at times and giving him the space he needs.
Everything takes time. I think once we realized that, and accepted that there are good days, bad days, steps forward and steps back - things became a lot easier to handle in the long run.

A longwinded way to say - good job, you all!
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by jacksdad » Sat Jun 08, 2019 10:06 am

Pedro wrote:
Wed May 29, 2019 7:54 am
Thanks Nettle.

I suspect you may be right about the visitors, it's probably asking too much of him at this point.

As for the play/interaction thing, I get your point, but I think we're trying to balance leaving him to ask and knowing that he can ask; he'd become pretty withdrawn and our suspicion is that this is at least partly because he thought we didn't want to interract with him. Anyway, yesterday evening we encouraged him into a good twenty minutes worth of chasing a soft toy around the living room, which he clearly enjoyed, and last night he actually slept on our laps on the sofa for a short time, which has never happened. I am conscious of pushing it too far though; today he's not too interested and I'm not going to push it.

We're off to a secure field later for half an hour of off-lead running around, that usually brightens his mood.
There is no way to know what a dog is thinking and you will torture your self and risk making bad decisions if you take this approach. I seriously doubt he was withdrawn because you "didn't want to interact" with him. if he is loose in the house, then he is free to approach, which means if he was "feeling" like approaching you, being near you etc. he would have done so. IF I were to bet money on what he was actually "thinking/feeling", i would bet he was feeling overwhelmed, needed a break, wanted some quiet. Becoming overwhelmed can come from sources other than you. He has a full day of other experiences that are not from/about you. At this point in his relationship with you, taking a break, decompressing may mean taking him self off to a quiet spot all by him self. That might change the more he learns you are safe to be near. But for now, he may need quiet time and space by him self. to us that might not "feel" love or not comforting...but to a scared dog it can be the most loving and kind thing we can do...give them their space. some humans are like this too.

Bottom line... don't take his "mood" shifts personally. What he needs to feel safe, comfort, to relax may not be what a human needs. and what he needs today...can change tomorrow and maybe change to a dog seeking you out for comfort. We get there by being safe and not putting pressure on the dog.

We can't ever show a dog they shouldn't be afraid by interacting with them in ways they are not ready for. However, we can most certainly set them up to learn they don't need to be afraid in specific situations. And the more they can learn this, the more it builds on it's self, and the more specific situations are in the "no need to be afraid column".

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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Nettle » Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:10 am

Wise, wise words.
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Re: Fear aggression - some questions

Post by Pedro » Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:48 am

I thought I should post an update. A foster carer was found for Pedro last week, so he's no longer with us :-(

The lady in question looked after him for just under a week when he first came over from Spain, and has two dogs herself. She actually only lives a few streets away and my wife arranged to meet her with Pedro out on the street to reintroduce him to her and the dogs. After a bit of initial grumbling he quickly settled down, and all three dogs had a good, happy, walk around the block together for about an hour. He went back to hers that night and she sent us a couple of videos of him playing with the dogs, and her, and being soft as anything around her children. He was like the dog we first met, it was both lovely and heartbreaking to see.

We had suspected that part of the issue might be that he was so used to living with other dogs that being on his own at ours was too unsettling, and that view still stands (although the charity remain unconvinced). Ironically, he came over with another dog who was described as his 'pal' who we thought about taking as well, but decided that two rescue dogs might be too much hard work. Oh the irony. Anyway, lessons learned all round, the important thing is that Pedro is now happy and the charity can have a bit more time with him assessing the type of home he needs to go into.

We will get another dog, but we're going to wait until probably the end of the year, then we have Jan/Feb/Mar with the new dog, when nothing really happens, to allow him/her to properly settle in at their own pace, before spring comes around with Easter, camping, etc etc.

Thank you all for your help and input, it has been really, really appreciated.

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