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Fear Related Aggression Reactivity

Discussion in 'General Dog Forum' started by houseof_fraser, Nov 20, 2019.

Is your dog reactive?

  1. No never

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  2. Yes Always

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  3. Yes Sometimes

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  4. No but used to be

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  1. houseof_fraser

    houseof_fraser Member Registered

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    Hi all,

    Just wondering if anyone had any experience or tips for a fearful dog with reactivity issues towards other dogs..

    Our 4 year old collie has always been of a fearful nature, she came from a very quiet hill farm in Wales and was fed on cornflakes and milk when weaned (the man was so so lovely but clearly not very intelligent & unable to care for pups properly...). She was very afraid of traffic at 8 weeks old when we brought her home and all attempts to ease this were futile (we live in a town so she was exposed every day to traffic with treats, praise, distractions but all to no avail).

    She was very friendly towards all other dogs and would rush up to them to say hello and lick them, she’d also roll over submissively, was never confrontational and always super excited to see other dogs and play with them.

    She’s always been submissive of me (the more dominant human), at first she was submissive of all humans and now she’s just submissive of me and rolls over and wees when I get home (if she’s outside, she can hold it inside). She also wees with excitement when people she knows and loves come round.

    At only a few months old she was unfortunately kicked by our sister in law who is afraid of dogs when she tried to come over and say hi to her baby (our nephew) & she was always told to get away from the child. We socialised her with two slightly older children as soon as possible so now she is very wary of babies but much better with slightly older children. She will however react if a child is on a skooter and rides past too close or sometimes bikes and screaming or running shrieking children. We are obviously worried that she could snap at a child if she was off leash or even on leash with a child skooting past very close, as they do.

    She had a bad claw where she was jumping around on a track we were hiking on and caught one of her claws, she had to have it removed by the vet as it was mostly off and bleeding and hurting her a great deal. She had a dressing and big padded walking boot the vet provided so we went out as usual. The first dog we saw she reacted to, she just barked and pulled towards it but she hadn’t done that before so it was unusual. I’ve got to be honest I don’t think we handled it the right way at the time as we didn’t have experience with reactive dogs & weren’t expecting it. We read up a lot about it at the time & decided to try the reassurance method with lots of treats and praise. Unfortunately she just got worse and worse. She reacts to loud vehicles if they come towards her, she lunges at dogs and squeals and barks and growls, she barks in a hyperactive way at children and snaps her teeth, she started to do it to livestock but we somehow managed to stop that reaction and now she can be in a field with all livestock and not react...

    Oh also it’s worth mentioning that our other dog was attacked viciously by a husky cross German shepherd and had big rips on the back of his neck (thankfully in the flabby part so not as nasty as it could easily have been) but it was a very frightening experience for all and she was very young. She was also attacked herself by a very large wolfhound who at first appeared friendly & although it didn’t draw blood she was very frightened. It was all just a series of unfortunate events that made an already sensitive puppy feel very insecure around all dogs.

    Obviously it’s hard to simulate it for her to get used to it as people cross the road when they see her reacting, she sounds awful!!

    It seems as if everything she was and is frightened of she’s turned defensive and aggressive towards. Also once she’s seen a dog she will be on high alert throughout the rest of the walk.
    She’s fine with our other dogs and our friends dogs who she must by now consider as ‘her pack’ but new dogs she is always reactive towards.

    On leash she’s awful and has been known to catch our legs with her teeth when lunging for other dogs. Off leash she’s much better when there is a ball around as she loves balls but if we aren’t expecting to see anyone and a dog suddenly comes up when she’s off leash she will go for it. She has not as yet hurt a dog that has come rushing up to her off leash but she does get on top of them and bark and growl like some kind of beast, usually ending with them squealing and running away. Obviously we don’t let her off leash when we know there are dogs around... but on those rare times that one suddenly comes from no where.

    We have since read that reassuring the dog is not a good idea as it’s basically reinforcing the idea that there is actually something to be afraid of /react to. But also being tough doesn’t seem to work either, one of us is a little more dominant with her and she still reacts despite being very obedient at all other times.

    We’ve tried distractions, she doesn’t get distracted easily put it that way and treats she’s not interested in once outside of the house.

    Oh one other thing, we muzzled her whilst on holiday and it made her much worse, I think because she feels she cannot protect herself.. She was much more reactive than even is normal for her and very growly etc.

    We also try desensitisation sounds at home of dogs barking, she ignores them entirely So at our wits end with it really.

    We are using YuCalm tablets at the mo but she’s only 14 days in so we are excited to see if there will be a difference, even a little with help us train her as she’s starting all walks on high alert now. We’ve tried Rescue Remedy and Pet Remedy but although it works to Calm our other pets down for different things it doesn’t seem to touch her.

    We have her on a Halti collar and have a halti training harness and lead on the way so we can have optimum control and feel confident to practice with her and help her overcome this. We also use Nervous Apparel on her neck and leash so that people don’t let dogs rush up to her and scare her.

    She’s the most affectionate dog with all people and dogs once she has met them a few times and gotten used to them. She adores cuddles and thinks she’s a lap dog, she’s honestly so cute and loving and happy. We love her to bits and just want her to be feeling calm and happy on walks and ultimately able to come off leash in all situations and not be afraid of other dogs who she used to love to play with.

    Has anyone had a similar experience and how did you go about reducing the reactivity?

    Thank you,

    Hatti
     
  2. JoanneF

    JoanneF Well-Known Member Registered

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    Wow, there is a lot in there so excuse me if I miss anything.

    My first question is when she left the farm. It sounds as though she may have missed out on the experiences she should have been exposed to during her critical 16 week socialisation window. Anything that isn't imprinted as a positive experience in the first 16 weeks is far harder to get her accustomed to and comfortable with. You can of course help to desensitise her to the things she is afraid of but it is harder and she may never be comfortable with , for example, children. Or adults if her experiences have included being kicked.

    Yes, that is understandable. She is trying to scare off the scary thing or person by acting aggressively. And it generally works for dogs, the scary thing usually does retreat so it becomes a reinforced behaviour. However, ideally you don't want her to have to be in that position in the first place, it's very stressful for her. Stress is also cumulative - think of a bath with a tap running into it faster than it drains off. So 'trigger stacking' happens - when stressful events mount up an a little thing that might not bother her on a good day tips her over the edge on a bad day (ie after other stressful incidents). She will have an invisible radius of space around her where she feels secure - it's called flight distance; anything closer will trigger the fight or flight response. Find out what that is and keep her far enough away from other dogs that she is aware but relaxed. Reward this calm behaviour - rewarding her is good, you said you thought it was reinforcing the fear - it's not. You cannot reinforce fear with reward. If you were afraid of snakes and I rewarded you with reassurance when you saw one, you wouldn't become more afraid of them (thanks for the example to @JudyN).

    Gradually, over weeks and months, not days, work on reducing the distance. This may mean you have to be selective where you walk - choose places with good visibility so you can give other dogs a wide berth, or where you can turn and walk away easily. But - be aware that if your dog has had a stressful episode the stress hormone can stay in the body for up to 48 hours so a distance she was comfortable with the day before might be too close that day. So the safe distance can change, watch her body language.

    Trainers describe behaviour like this with reference to the three Ds. Distance, as above but also be aware of Duration (your dog might be tolerant for 10 seconds, but not 15) and Distraction - how distracting the stimulus is; a calm dog might not trigger any reaction at a given distance but a bouncy one might.

    Alongside that you could train a 'watch me'. As your dog looks at you, mark and reward the behaviour. Ask for longer periods of watching. Then if a dog approaches, after you have worked on the distance issue, you can get your dog to focus on you and not the other dog. BUT - some dogs find this scary as they cannot see the thing they are anxious about so you need to judge your dog.

    I would take a guess that you are offering these too late or when she is too close to the stimulus. It's like trying to apply the brakes after you have driven the car over the cliff edge. If you can identify her flight distance, and keep her on the edge of that, that's when to reward. And my guess is backed up by you saying this - too close -
    A few other thoughts - how did you train the muzzle? If you just put it on without getting her accustomed to it, the additional stress may have affected her behaviour.

    And, I'd just like to say about this -
    - dominance theory has been thoroughly discredited as it was based on flawed conclusions from poorly observed evidence. It's no longer used by trainers and behaviourists who have kept their knowledge updated (there are still some dinosaur trainers unfortunately). The wolf pack it was based on wasn't a proper pack, even Mech who proposed it admitted later it was very wrong. You can read more about it here -
    Debunking the "Alpha Dog" Theory - Whole Dog Journal

    Finally, I can't finish without saying you may never get her to a position where she can run freely and play with strange dogs. And that's ok, I don't want to play with every random stranger I meet either, being neutral is much more normal so if you can achieve that, you will have done well.
     
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  3. JudyN

    JudyN Moderator Moderator Registered

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    I don't have time for a lengthy post now, so will try to keep it short....

    Being 'tough' won't help. If you tell her not to react, even if she listens to you, this will increase her stress. Like someone putting a spider on my hand and telling me I mustn't flinch... Reassuring her can help, but only if she is very close to her comfort level. Again, put that spider on me and tell me it's fine and I'll know darn well it's not.

    Step 1: Only walk her where she is comfortable - no dog confrontations, any dog spotted is so close to the horizon that she's actually not bothered. If she does see a dog, give her a treat and move her away. Any signs of stress - lip licking, etc. - you're going too fast.

    After several days of very low stress walks, she should be calmer overall - after a stressful event it can take days for the cortisol levels to drop. Now is the time to try to spot those dogs on the horizon, to give her a treat (NOT a reward for 'being good' - you are building an association between seeing a dog and getting a treat from you), and then walk away. Rinse & repeat until seeing a dog is a GOOD thing in her mind.

    Then VERY gradually reduce the distance. Be proactive, get her a yellow 'My dog needs space' vest/bandana, ask others to keep their dogs away, tell them your dog is contagious, take avoiding action, walk at 5am...

    More details here: Behavior Adjustment Training: A New Approach to Problem Behaviors

    Make sure she's mentally stimulated, with lots of brain training - she's probably very smart as well as very sensitive.

    If she's reluctant to take treats outside the house, use higher value ones, and try again once you've had several stress-free walks. (Remember that sniffing on walks can be calming - chucking a handful of kibble into long grass can keep her occupied.)

    In general, if you think you need a muzzle or halti, you're putting her in situations she's not ready for.

    If you think you might be missing body language signs that she's tense, check out this book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B003URRK44/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 The author has some videos that might help too. Take someone else with you to observe her if necessary - I've walked with a friend with her reactive dog and was able to spot lip licking, eye rolling, and so on that she didn't because she was so busy keeping an eye out for other dogs.

    Yes, that was me keeping it short!!
     
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  4. JudyN

    JudyN Moderator Moderator Registered

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    I knew we'd do it again, @JoanneF !
     
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  5. houseof_fraser

    houseof_fraser Member Registered

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    Thank you so much for your time in reading and replying to this with so much handy info! We have read it all and will re-read a couple of times and make some notes too before heading out to try and establish her safe space (we have already noticed that she doesn’t react to some dogs when they are across the town but she follows them with her eyes so that shows me that she definitely has a circle around her!)

    I think maybe we’ve spent too much time trying to ‘expose’ her in order for her to get used to it and not enough time gradually exposing and rewarding from further away. It’s difficult in town to stay away from other dogs but we can walk late in the evening to avoid coming in to too much contact (ie when we walk around a corner there’s often a dog just right there).
    Recently she licked my friends baby and has never shown any aggression towards babies, it’s really only when children run -could this be fear mixed with the herding instinct?

    We will certainly try everything you’ve pointed out and definitely be taking baby steps again with her, starting from scratch. It seems like there’s a lot of science behind this approach. Thank you!!
     
  6. houseof_fraser

    houseof_fraser Member Registered

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    Thank you so much for this info with handy visualisations (such as the spider!). I myself have anxiety so I can certainly relate to being fearful in certain situations.
    We will be going back to basics with her after reading your recommendations and Joanne’s and really working on getting her calm outdoors before moving on to far away dogs etc and rewarding with very high value treats. She loves her ball so that would be a good way to distract her and rewarding the behaviour when she ignores dogs walking past.
    We will be taking her out late at night as we live in a town and there are always dogs around the any given corner so at night we should have more chance of controlling her distance away from them to begin with.

    thank you so so much for your time and brilliant advice!

    can’t wait to get going with her xxx
     
  7. Kara 1

    Kara 1 Guest

    One of my dogs could be reactive with strange dogs and strange men ...his was fear aggression (more noise than anything ) but he was very frightened. ..after 2 yrs trying different things i changed my life to suit him and for the past 7 yrs i walk him and my others at 430am every morning so he can have an offlead walk without stress ...he was a different dog. ..
    I know alot of people think i am mad but we have had him over 9 years we dont know his past as he was a stray but he is a happy boy now ...
    Hope you find a solution that works for you...
     
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  8. JudyN

    JudyN Moderator Moderator Registered

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    Distraction, yes - but do remember that you are not aiming to reward her. She shouldn't be thinking 'Must be good, must be good, must be good...', she should be completely cool about the other dog.
     
  9. JoanneF

    JoanneF Well-Known Member Registered

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    Quite possibly - my terrier isn't keen on fast, shouty kids on scooters too, I suspect it's a combination of the noise and unpredictable movement.

    It occurred to me after I'd replied that you might like even more reading material ;) so you might want to look at this too.

    Start Here - Care for Reactive Dogs
     
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  10. Kara 1

    Kara 1 Guest

    I have also realised that merle collies are much more sensitive than black /white or tri collies ....
    There was a lurcher that had merle collie in him and he was super sensitive and afraid of most things
     
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  11. Mad Murphy

    Mad Murphy Well-Known Member Registered

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    Hi, Murphy is nervous its a breed fault among Stabijs.
    He was fine until our idiot neighbour scared him with a yard broom and thought it was funny a huge booming man with a broom and a 5 month old pup.. After that he was firstly barky at men then screechy children as has been mentioned the quick unpredictable movements and the high pitched screeching freaks him. Then some idiot with a black lab thought it was tough to let his dog bully a pup and would allow his dog to run to the end of the flexi barking and snapping everytime he saw us..
    Now we also have to watch for BBD (big black dogs).
    We use the watch me command , it works for George too who is overly friendly and convinced everyone he sees is a long lost friend that needs to be jumped on.. We anticipate as much as possible and use treats to distract and hold their attention. Of course you cant anticipate everything or the total idiots such as I met this week.. 3 BBD all off lead and one who tried to mount Murphy.. But we stayed calm and we walked on without paying it too much attention. He enjoyed the rest of the walk and stayed calm too.

    I have to say for us this and the adoption of George who thinks everyone is his best buddy has helped Murphy see that not everyone he meets is a mass murderer..
     
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  12. houseof_fraser

    houseof_fraser Member Registered

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    Thanks for this reply! We actually walk her late at night or early in the morning too and in areas where there won’t be many dogs and she is a happy calm and interested dog. I guess I just felt like it was our duty to ‘make her better’ and have her excellent on street walks and at shows etc but maybe we just need to accept that she just isn’t in to that kind of thing. Obviously we’ll need to work up to walking to the van/car during the day through town so that we can also go on some day time trips to secluded beaches etc but at the end of the day it’s the dogs needs first and we can just train her slowly in her own time whilst keeping her happy. Glad to hear you found a good solution by changing up your routines & that he’s a happy boy, that’s the main thing!!
     
  13. houseof_fraser

    houseof_fraser Member Registered

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    Thank you! I will be sure to read that! We really will try anything and everything. Already planning how to establish her comfort zone and work on distractions and praise. It’s good to know that what we are trying isn’t going to be counter productive. We have read so much and everyone has a different technique but it seems the opinions here are pretty unaminous on how to reduce her fear gradually and most from personal experience.
    Thanks again!
     
  14. houseof_fraser

    houseof_fraser Member Registered

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    ooh yes! I’ve found this too! A lot of our Merle friends of Instagram have the tendency to be weary and nervous! It must be in the genetics?
     
  15. houseof_fraser

    houseof_fraser Member Registered

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    hahaha love your description of Murphy thinking that everyone is a mass murderer Yes it certainly helps when other dogs in the pack are more confident...
    sorry to hear about all the bad experiences, I wish we could control everything that happens when our pups are small but you just can’t :-(
    Glad to hear that Murphy is doing well with George for reassurance
     
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  16. JudyN

    JudyN Moderator Moderator Registered

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    This :) Accepting the dog you have and adapting your life when necessary is very important. Lord knows we've had to do a lot of adapting over the years...;)
     
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  17. houseof_fraser

    houseof_fraser Member Registered

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    Yes absolutely! Hehe. We’ll be thriving to make her as happy as possible and certainly be trying all the tips above to help her be calmer :)
     
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  18. JoanneF

    JoanneF Well-Known Member Registered

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    Not sure about merles specifically but a lot of collies are sensitive souls so hard handling can really upset them.
     
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  19. DixD

    DixD Guest

    I had a dvd by Kathy Sdao on dog training. The one thing that really stuck with me is where she talked about dogs and emotional responses to events. We had a dog at that time, who I think was probably genetically neurotic, as he came from a stable environment into another stable environment. It could also have been that the litter was large (12), and, in any photos, he seemed to be at the edge of the group, trying to get to the milk bar. His breeder always ensured he got fed, but it may have caused some kind of anxiety he never got over.

    Anyway, sorry, I digress. Kathy explained how there had been an experiment done by scientists on rats years back. If I remember it correctly, the rats got a shock and then fed. This they did. But, if they got fed first, and then got a shock, they stopped eating. They associated the event with the last emotion they felt at the time. So, with this in mind, I would drive him to a quiet area, and let him wander about with very little stimulus, and gradually he calmed down, as he started associating being out with a relaxed frame of mind. we eventually were able to walk him there, and meet other dogs and people. He had never been aggressive, just hyperalert, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, at everything, even just going out the door. But he NEVER barked in the house, even at things out the window.

    He improved a lot and enjoyed his wanders, even though it was the same place every day. I’m glad we were able to give him some time, where he lived a relatively relaxed life, as he unfortunately became ill and died at 11. :(

    I try to always bear the event/last emotion correlation in mind, now, as much as I can (with human interactions too!).
     
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  20. Alexliu

    Alexliu New Member Registered

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    I have a shepherd dog over one year old. I used to be excited when I went for a walk and liked to bark, especially when I saw other dogs. And then I found out that running would calm it down.

    When my dog is hyperactive or jittery, I'll take it for a run. This will help alleviate extra energy and work out any nerves from being cooped up for too long or getting stressed out.

    A frisbee and some fresh air can work wonders. If your dog remains hyperactive, take breaks during a game of fetch. Every time they return the ball to you, have your dog sit and make eye contact with you before you throw it again. This can help calm them down.

    Try to avoid other dogs or dog parks until your dog is calm. Otherwise, too much social stimulation may stress them out even more.
     
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