Is my dog aggressive, reactive, or just dog selective?

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Is my dog aggressive, reactive, or just dog selective?

Post by nikoba » Tue May 24, 2016 3:44 pm

I have a spayed 3.5 year old boston terrier that I adopted when she was just under a year old - Gertie. She had been bounced around a lot as a pup...from breeder to purchaser, who then relinquished her to the pound for aggression with the other female dog in the house, picked up by rescue group/foster home, moved to another foster home to receive patella surgery, and then to me...all within the 10 months of her little life at that point. The foster had told me that while Gertie was bossy/dominant with the other foster dogs, she wasn't aggressive. I bring this up, because she can be a little fearful in some situations and I think that's where some of her hyper-reactivity stems from.

Gertie has been going to daycare 2 days a week for about the past 3 years..never a bad report other than a couple times of her being snarky if a new or energetic dog gets in her face too much. She has a handful of dog friends that she enjoys being with, some she even wrestles and plays with. But almost every time we meet a new dog, she gets tense when they start to smell her, and after a few moments, she snaps/barks at them...even if they did it politely, and she'll still snap towards them even when they retreat. If they snap back at her, she doesn't back down...while it has yet to turn into a real fight where she actually bites, it's troublesome. Especially since the more time she spends with the dog, the more she relaxes and eventually enjoys their company. It's just the initial meeting where she is almost trying to say "I'm the boss, get out of my as I say and we'll be just fine".

And this is only when we attempt to "meet" new dogs. On walks, she is happy to ignore other dogs and passes by them with no issue at all. In fact in most cases, if we pass a yard with barking dogs, she shows calming signals rather than reacting herself. It's basically like if she can ignore the other dog, then she is fine, but if they want to meet her and sniff too long, she wants none of it. But if the other dog retreats and leaves her alone, she eventually wants to become usually takes either a couple walks together or just hanging out a couple times and then she's good to hang out. She shares her food and water bowls nicely, even her beloved balls & toys.

So is there a way for me to make meeting new dogs a more positive event so she doesn't feel the need to be bossy or defensive? I feel bad because I try my best to be calm and observant if we meet a new dog, but I'm wondering if I'm causing any of it? I also know that if she overreacts to a dog sniffing her and she snaps, my gut reaction is to make a vocal correction to scold her...if she carries on, I pull her away and make her sit. Sometimes that snaps her out of it, other times she's still giving the other dog the eyeball. If she withstands the dog with no snapping/reaction, I praise her and give her some my timing off?

Any help or suggestions would be wonderful. Thank you!

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Re: Is my dog aggressive, reactive, or just dog selective?

Post by mansbestfriend » Tue May 24, 2016 11:32 pm

Hi. It sounds like you have a wonderfully normal dog, considering the turmoil in her early life, with a small fear issue meeting strange new dogs.

Over-reactive behaviour is almost always a stress/defence display to create more safe distance from a potential threat (in your dog's eye view). I'd suggest search for something like " reactive meeting strange dogs " in the search box above, and check/read through the list of threads. Cheers. :)
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Sit.

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Re: Is my dog aggressive, reactive, or just dog selective?

Post by katej215 » Wed May 25, 2016 8:16 am

Hi there..she sounds exactly like my rescue dog! He is not interested in greeting other dogs, and when another approaches, regardless of how politely / friendly it greets, he will stiffen up and then snark but has never bitten but gotten a few noisy rows if the other dog has reacted back.

I would suggest this could be a confidence issue, particularly given she probably hasn't had the best start in life in terms of appropriate socialisation as a pup. What I would say is do not under any circumstances be tempted to scold will just made her more anxious next time another dog approaches, and she will start to associate being told off with other dogs approaching.

I know Nettle has said this many times - once a dog is into adulthood they don't need to meet other dogs, they don't need playmates. (check out the articles section, 'he only wants to play' ) Some dogs might enjoy a chase about, or greeting other dogs but many don't. If on lead approaching other dogs on lead, make sure she has enough space so she dosen't feel she needs to react. If she starts to fixate on the approaching dog, get her attention, block her view, anything to break that potential build up and once she has gone by without issue massively reinforce her.

If she's off lead, you really need to make sure she's got a great recall. If you see another dog, call her back, get her in behind you and tell the other owner to recall their dog. If the other dog continues to approach I always walk off briskly in the other direction with my dog focused on me in heel.

A great read is Grisha Stewart's - Behaviour Adjustment Training - the second book has got a lot of new and useful stuff in it for owners with reactive dogs - i really recommend it.

The other thing I would be questioning is whether a daycare environment is right for her, as it can be quite stressful even for dog friendly dogs. Its only a suggestion but it might be worth considering getting a dog walker.

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Re: Is my dog aggressive, reactive, or just dog selective?

Post by Shalista » Wed May 25, 2016 8:59 am

I would consider Bax to be 'dog friendly" and even i dont necessarily let him greet everyone. sometimes he'll be sniffing butts happily and then he'll do a lip curl and a little snark. that's fine, he doesn't have to be everyone's friend. if he gets to excited or snarks we walk away briskly. sometimes if we come back the next day and he wants to say hi i'll let him and they'll get along famously. (here's looking at you Kyto. (BIG shepherd mix that bax initially snarked and then get along so famously they disrupted our agility class with playing))

Other dogs in other environments he's fine. he's taken a hundred training classes and loves them all so he's very relaxed and happy to greet new people and new dogs at the training center, outside he might not be so happy. that might explain why she seems sort of okay at the daycare but outside of it she's unsure. Bax at least associates certain places with happy calmness, the training center, home, and the vets are all places were he'll calmly greet other dogs in polite fashion. outside of that he can be a bit hit or miss.

So moral of the story? she may be fine in her daycare (or not, maybe the experts have something i missed) but it doesnt mean she's great with dogs in other environments. and if she's not? so what. sounds like she's a lovely little girl. if she's not interested in a meet and greet i don't think her bright little world will be darkened one bit by just hustling her past other dogs. As Kate said, not every dog NEEDS to be social.
Baxter (AKA Bax, Chuckles, Chuckster) Rat Terrier, born 01/16/13

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Re: Is my dog aggressive, reactive, or just dog selective?

Post by nikoba » Thu May 26, 2016 11:50 am

Thank you all for taking the time to respond with some great feedback, I do appreciate it. Gertie really is such a wonderful dog and I love her to bits...sometimes to the point where I feel like a helicopter owner just trying to always do right by her. I have to remind myself that not every dog is the dopey, happy-go-lucky type pooch...and that is just fine. Thanks for bringing me back down to earth. While I've always been a huge dog nerd and involved myself with fostering and such...she is my first dog, and I don't want to be doing anything to "mess her up" so to speak.

Just to clarify...the daycare she attends is also one that I have worked/volunteered with for about 4 years. I have to really give them credit, they do a good job at keeping the playgroups in manageable sizes (no more than 20 dogs in a group) and based on temperament/size of the dogs. Everyone who works there has a love of dogs, a good sense of body language, and goes through thorough training. Dogs are NEVER left in groups unsupervised, and if a dog doesn't seem like a good fit for daycare, they speak to the parents about it. I know there are some less than stellar places, but I do believe this one is beneficial for Gertie and she seems to enjoy coming here. She loves all the handlers, and yes, while she's not romping around with every dog in her group...she does have a posse of like minded pooches that she'll sit on the sidelines with or on cooler days, cuddle up on blankets with.

I will definitely look into the authors/articles suggested. I know I'd like to look into Patricia McConnell and Ian Dunbar books too, as I think they each have something specifically for reactive dogs. Thanks again for adding your perspective!

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