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Backstory:

Some back story, my 1.5 year old lab mix is a super sweet girl. She has never been aggressive towards humans and just loves life. She is a super high energy dog, we take her for long walks and hikes every day. We also have a large yard where she enjoys playing with our neighbors blue heelers through the fence. Generally, she is pretty obedient. Her recall is awesome and she listens to most of our commands.

Her first signs of aggression:

About 7 months ago our neighbors dogs became quite aggressive towards my wife and I. They keep finding ways into our backyard and have even bit my wife and I. Since that has happened our dog has taken it upon herself to "protect" us when we are back there. She paces the fence and barks at the neighbors dogs until we leave the area. If we get close to the fence she will try to bite at them through the chain link. One day, I was working out there and one of the neighbors dogs bit my shoe from under the fence. My dog grabbed our neighbors dog by the neck and pulled it under the fence. I was able to break up the fight before any damage was done, but it was a scare. My neighbor and I have a plan in place to replace our fence with something that would keep their dogs out and so that they won't be able to see each other. We are just waiting for the ground to thaw.

Since then:

She hasn't had many positive interactions with other dogs since then. She really doesn't pick up on other dogs social cues. She is high energy and loves to play, sometimes when she tries to play with older or lower energy dogs it doesn't end well. If they growl or nip at her then she responds by starting a full blown fight. She usually bites them and latches on. This has happened 3 or 4 times now and we are struggling with how to navigate it. It is a difficult thing to practice because it involves putting other dogs in danger, so I come on here to see if anyone has any advice on things I can do to train her to A) read other dogs social cues better and B) not react when she is rejected by other dogs.

I spoke to a local behaviorist and she suggested putting her through obedience school again. She is starting intermediate obedience training next weekend. I just don't know if that will solve these specific problems.

Please let me know if you need any other details or have questions. I'm new on here and I just want to do what is best for my girl.

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  • Welcome! Did she had some kind of puppy club (meet other puppies regularly) or similar socialization through her young life? Mar 12 at 5:35

1 Answer 1

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Can you train her to understand other dogs' social clues? No, you cannot. First because you are not in her head and cannot implant knowledge into her, and second because dogs learn 90% of this in the first 6 - 8 weeks of their lifes.

Can you train her to not react to being rejected by other dogs? Probably no, because this is already a behavior she internalized. It's very hard to go from "this stimulus requires that reaction" to "this stimulus requires no reaction at all".

What you can do (and probably what the behaviorist is planning as well) is replacing "this stimulus requires aggression" with "this stimulus results in something good when I do that other thing".

In simple terms: your dog already has good recallability. You use that fact to offer her something she likes very much (like a very special toy or treat) when you call her out of an escalating situation. This is classic conditioning and goes something like this:

  1. You establish a new command. Don't use the generic "come here" or "heel" for this, but make up a new phrase. For the sake of this example, the new command is "beetlejuice".
  2. In the safety of your yard you train beetlejuice with her. Every time she comes to you, she gets a special reward. This can be a toy or dog treat or a short play session, but it has to be somethin your dog absolutely loves and would do anything to get. And she will only ever get this for beetlejuice. Never else. You create an artificial scarecity to make this reward extra rewarding. At the same time, you have to reward her every single time you call beetlejuice, because if she learns that sometimes her obedience doesn't pay off, she might decide not to follow it every time.
  3. From now on you always bring the special reward to your walks and hikes. You should train beetlejuice in these environments as well to further internalize the behavior. One or two times on each long walk should be enough.
  4. In the dog park, if your dog growls at other dogs or you notice a situation that you think might escalate, you call beetlejuice and your dog gets the special reward. It's always best to intervene before the situation escalates because that also makes it easier for your dog to follow the command instead of staying in the moment and continueing a fight.

There are some additional tips to make the special reward extra rewarding, but those are hard to describe in text. You'll have to do some playacting as well. Act as if you are playing with the toy and you're having the best time of your life, but don't let her play with it even once for an entire week. After that week you start training beetlejuice and play with her with the new toy. Never give her free access to the special toy. Or act as if the special treat is the best food you ever tasted in your life several times before starting the training. Make her want it. The dog trainers should be able to give you in-person instructions and help you with this.

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