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Reactive, unpredictable dog, please help


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Hello lovely people,

I am currently looking for some fellow support as this morning I had a very upsetting walk with my dog Nacho. He is 7 years and grew up in Mexico. I recently brought him over to the UK as I decided to relocate to London. His sole role in Mexico was to protect and hunt animals that came in from the jungle. I never taught him this but appreciated the help so I never dissuaded him from it either. Now that we are in the UK unfortunately his behaviour no longer fits in. In general he gets overexcited when he meets dogs in the park and plays rough. He even growls and barks whilst playing. He always has. He has made a few friends in the park and in general is friendly, however this morning he was approached by a small dog whom he then attacked. The owner verbally abused me, saying that "my f-ing dog needs a muzzle. If I ever see it again without a muzzle I'm going to report you". I didn't even mention that he was on the lead and it was her dog that approached mine because in actual fact he is unpredictable. I never know if he is going to play or attack other dogs. I am quite upset by all of this. I have ordered a muzzle and a NO DOGS coat so that other dog owners don't allow their dogs to approach us but I also fear not allowing him to socialise will make the situation worse. He was in a training school but they have said he can longer participate as they would be endangering other dogs at the school and suggested I contact a behaviourist. Does anyone have any similar stories? I really need some comforting words at the moment. Thank you.
(((((Hugs))))) It's always horrible when someone shouts at you because of your dog. Things always seem better after a stiff gin, some chocolate and a good think through the issues.

Given his background, it may be that you're never going to entirely fix his unpredictability, so your first responsibility is to ensure that he can't harm (or even scare) another dog. So the muzzle and the coat are a good move. My dog wears a muzzle on all walks and is 100% accepting of and happy with it. Do make sure that it's an open, 'basket' muzzle that allows him to open his mouth, drink and pant. The sort that hold the mouth closed are both uncomfortable and dangerous (as the dog can't breathe properly).

He doesn't need to interact with other dogs. All you really want him to do is to be calm and under control round them, and you want him to be more interested in you than them. Have a read of this article to see how you can work on this: Behavior Adjustment Training: A New Approach to Problem Behaviors

You might also need to walk him different places and at different times so you meet fewer dogs. For the safety of other dogs, you might not be able to let him off lead. Or you might be able to find an enclosed field where he can run safely, maybe going at unsociable hours to there's no other dogs there: The Only Listings Site for Enclosed Dog Walking Fields in the UK
My 2 cents:
1. Different places and times for walking, where he is less likely to encounter random approaching dogs. Perhaps think very early mornings, London ought to be beautiful at sunrise :)
2. No dog parks where a bunch of random dogs congregate, getting into each other faces and spaces.
3. Find some dogs with whom he can play. Growling and being rough during play is not at all uncommon for some breeds, but can appear very frightening to others and their owners. I would try to limit his interactions to the few with whom he gets along well, and whose humans don't get bent out of shape over this
4. Grow a thicker skin yourself :) Forget that other chap, he may be having a hard life, who knows.... Really not worth brooding over.
5. Try muzzle to be on the safe side, and to prevent the unexpected.
6. See if you can get a GoPro camera, so you can video your encounters during your walks. You can wear it, it doesn't have to be hand held. It may help if everything goes wrong and you need to prove that he was on leash and the other dog approached off leash....
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Thank you both for your messages. I appreciate the input. When we first moved here he actually walked off lead most of the time until I got abused by a man who was scared of him. He was only trying to play but I understood that not all owners want to be approached by a big scary dog. That's when I started putting him on a long lead and then shortening it when we see other dogs. I do not allow him off lead anymore. I think maybe this has added to his frustration as he is no longer free to interact. I usually take him at hours where there are not many dogs, however, this morning I had to leave early so I took him at an unfortunate time. The park was full of dogs off lead and I was surprised by the amount that approached us. I am hoping that with the muzzle and the coat this will no longer happen. We do have doggy friends that he runs about with and I enjoy it very much however I do not coincide with the owners schedule all of the time. As far as the thicker skin is concerned, I will do my best, however, this is the second time that I was threatened to be reported and I don't particularly want to have to deal with the police. Walks are no longer a fun occasion at the moment, which he is probably picking up on.
Thank you for taking the time to answer!
If he is on lead and muzzled, and you're trying to avoid unknown dogs, and don't walk close to a group of off lead dogs happily socialising, then you shouldn't have any problem - but sadly, some people seem to think that anything bigger than their small Fluffykins is a threat.

If you do have local woods, there can be a lot of sniffing opportunities which can make it more interesting if your lad has to be on lead. You could also throw handfuls of kibble around for him to snuffle out, or even lay scent trails... The more you can give him mental stimulation on lead, the less he should be frustrated by not being able to go off lead. I think @Ari_RR always kept his lad on lead as he wasn't averse to a scrap with other dogs - he might well have more suggestions for keeping your dog happy.

He's a bit gorgeous, BTW (your dog I mean, not Ari_RR:D). Do you know what breed/cross he is?
I never really trusted unknown dogs, and even less so unknown humans.
Ari was a pretty big boy, over 100 lbs, 30", not a particularly friendly appearance.
And in his younger years we was prone to provoke and challenge other males.
And many other males didn't much like him, perhaps him being intact played a role too.
Bottom line - long lead was definitely the way of life for us, just like muzzle is the way for @JudyN and Jasper.

By long lead I don't mean an extendable thing. We had 30ft long and 50 ft long, 1" wide leashes, which can only be attached to harness (never to collar). A good idea to wear gloves. As far as operating such long lead - it's essentially keeping it rolled up when the dog is close, letting it go when he moves a way, so it's constant "roll-up up/ let go" action, which also means you need both hands free, which in turn means you need a bag or a backpack to carry other things in. There is no strolling leisurely this way, with a cup of hot mocha in your hand :)

He had his off-lead time too. When younger - we would go for off-lead walks/runs early in a near by nature park (5 am early, and the most remote parts of the park)

When he got a bit older and mellow - I could let him off lead more, and towards the end we would even have off-lead walks around our neighborhood, but by then he made peace with all neighborhood dogs, and actually became friends with some of them.

We do the best to train them, but at the end of the day environment management is a key element too.
Walks definitely should be fun!
For me - during his crazy years, it took finding alternative times, places... long leash..
I think a lot is trial and error, I would suggest keeping a free mind to explore different opportunities to manage the environment or to change the environment, not just focusing on how to alter the dog's behavior and reactions.
He's a bit gorgeous, BTW (your dog I mean, not Ari_RR:D). Do you know what breed/cross he is?[/QUOTE]

Thank you! He is a mix: the vet seems to think he has short haired pointer in him.

Indeed the long lead was working wonders for me: also a 30ft lead which I reel in when we see other dogs. I had done that this morning as well but the other dog came right up to us in our space. There was nothing much I could do except for pull him off the poor dog. The long lead had made me relax a lot too because I felt I had more control over him and he still got to be loose most of the time sniffing and running.

I should receive the muzzle tomorrow, after which I’ll have to train him to keep it on so I should have more info once he’s used to it and we start venturing in the park with it on. I’m really hoping nothing happens between now and then!

Thanks for all of your interest!
What worked for me with 'muzzle training' was to smear peanut butter in the end of the muzzle and let J lick it out, progressing very gradually to holding the straps behind his head, then doing them up and taking it off straight away, then doing it outside and distracting him for increasing periods while it was on.
We have an amazing field near us where we have a strange collection of dogs. Three months ago a St Bernard joined us, scared of people and other dogs. Field big enough for her to stay away from the others but still see them. Now she is happy to run with the others, including the little dogs.
Some may remember me writing about a rottweiler who was let of the lead at the gate and caused havoc. This dog now runs happily around the field after a slower I introduction on a long lead.
The biggest dog is a Newfoundland who is too posh to associate with the pack and just looks down his nose at them.
I think what I am trying to say is that a slow introduction has enabled this strange mixture of dogs to get along. Their interactions fascinate me. I hope your gorgeous dog settles, whether alone in the early morning or later in the day with other dogs
What worked for me with 'muzzle training' was to smear peanut butter in the end of the muzzle and let J lick it out, progressing very gradually to holding the straps behind his head, then doing them up and taking it off straight away, then doing it outside and distracting him for increasing periods while it was on.

How long was the process in total? I received the muzzle this morning and gave him some chicken through the muzzle but I haven’t yet put the strap on. I thought I would do some more this afternoon as well but I’m not sure when to attempt latching it up. At the moment he totally associates the muzzle with chicken and had no problems sticking his nose in. Is this something that you do over days or do you think if I try again this afternoon he may be ready to wear it in the park tomorrow?
I think I did it over a few days, but it was over 8 years ago now and I can't remember exactly. He was quite young, too, so maybe more adaptable. It's better to go slow than to push him, of course, and just be extra-vigilant in the meantime.

What I would do now is, while giving him treats, just holding the straps behind his head and fiddle with them as if you were doing it up. Then you can stop the moment you see him start to wonder just what you're up to.

I've had a quick look through this video and it looks really good:
Lovely! Thank you!

Yes I would rather go slow too. This morning I was extra vigilant as the park is usually busy at the weekend. Made everyone absolutely sure of my body language: turning around when seeing other dogs, visibly reeling in the lead so they would see me, getting him to sit when runners passed by (he barks at them) and it was quite a good morning. We also did training for loose lead walking so all in all it was a good walk.

Thanks for your support!

I am sorry to hear U are struggling, not only with a dog whose lifetime habits aren’t apropos in his new setting, but with other people who are exceedingly judgmental about his behavior, & apparently oblivious to their own responsibilities! -
Keeping my own dog from approaching or harassing a leashed dog is a very obvious instance where, if I fail, it’s my own bl**dy fault when things go pear-shaped, & my OWN loose dog is the obvious instigator, not the one on the lead, who cannot escape from the situation. :(

Nacho has 7 years of life-experience as a volunteer perimeter guard, chasing off all intruders, so welcoming k9 strangers into his personal space is foreign to his concept of how the world works, but dogs are highly plastic - he can learn new habits, he just needs time & space to practice them, & distance while he’s learning.
In Mexico, he had some k9 buddies when off his own turf - he can be sociable, he’s proven it; this is far from a hopeless case; he just needs new parameters. :)

All the suggestions above - a long line clipped to a well-fitting snug Y-harness, a basket muzzle that he is preconditioned to wear happily, LOUDLY & CLEARLY warning off other dogs & owners if they make a beeline for him - are excellent.

I would put myself between him & any approaching person [any species], which may require reeling him in briskly in order to get myself ahead of him, & get him safely behind me... so I would also suggest practicing really fast, enthusiastic recalls on the long line, spinning to gallop toward U just as soon as he’s called. :D
That may sound impossible, but there are tricks to get him very excited about coming to U speedily - I will post some variants, later.

The biggest hurdle? - habits are habitual. // Establishing new habits takes an absolute minimum of a month, choosing & diligently practicing the new, desired habit.
[U cannot remove one habit, & leave a behavioral void - U must swap an undesired behavior for a new, desired action in its stead.]
Also, the longer a habit has been practiced, the longer it takes to grub out the established habit, shoot and root, & transplant a new, infant-habit, which must then be nurtured to fluency.

He has spent his entire life doing untrained, instinctive behaviors - U didn’t train him to chase off intruding wildlife or stray dogs, he just did it, on impulse, & U didn’t stop him or prevent the behavior when it “sprouted”. [That’s not a judgment, just a factual observation. :) ]

Now, he lives in an urban environment, side by side with loads of other dogs, hordes of humans, no forest, & very little wildlife; he needs to learn a new social pattern, but - absolute worst-case scenario - digging out a deeply-rooted fluent behavior & replacing it with a new, fluent and preferred behavior, MAY take as long as the original undesired behavior was practiced.

I am not saying he won’t improve, nor do I believe it will literally take 7 years to make him consistently more tolerant of all dogs, joggers, noises off, sirens, approaching strangers, etc; only that he will be a work in progress, for some unspecified time. :)

Progress will not be a steady climb - There will be gains & backslides, especially when he’s abruptly confronted with an unexpected dog in his space; don’t panic, just go back a few steps & give him a bit more distance while he recovers. RETRAINING ALWAYS GOES FASTER THAN INITIAL TRAINING - thank Goddess. :D U might want to post that, maybe on the bathroom mirror as a daily affirmation, LOL.

I’d also suggest U start a simple log, both to track his progress & to help U remember just how far he has come.
When he makes small but significant improvements, it can be hard to recall just where he started, & a log encourages U to keep training. :)

- terry

Thank you so much for this wonderful message. I do know it will take time, and I know that I will have off days with frustration and sadness and other days where I feel we have made good progress.

It’s nice to know there is a place I can talk about these things without judgment. Speaking of which, no offence taken: his role as protector was essential in Mexico and served me and my neighbours well. Even the police once took him out looking for a thief who had just broken into my neighbours house. We all felt more secure with nacho at night. He has never bitten a human but has a very scary bark.

I guess I just hadn’t really thought how radical the change would be for him and of course this makes me feel guilty for his change of environment and of course my expectations. We are now on day 2 of muzzle training and he definitely seems to associate gnummy treats with it. I must admit I never thought I would have to put one on him but it would make me feel more relaxed, especially because there are many cases of loose dogs whose owners give no thought to whether or not other dog walkers mind their invasion of space.

I don’t however regret bringing him over as the possibilities for pets in the UK are entirely different. Unfortunately where I was living dogs are treated like simple guard dogs, placed on roofs with no shelter or water under the hot sun. They did not allow dogs anywhere so my life with my dogs was very restricted. Here we can have the occasional visit to the local pub and all sorts of hiking which we enjoy frequently because they are allowed on public transport. The UK is very dog friendly and they seem a lot happier than when they were in Mexico. I just have to remember that sometimes when I feel bad about how restricted nacho is on his daily walks and with a muzzle as well. I’m hoping to be able to hire a behaviourist so we can go back to how it was in the beginning. In the meantime, muzzle and NO DOGS coat should suffice.

Thank you all again for your input
No matter what you do in controlling your dog and doing the right thing you won't please everyone. There will always be people who think their dog can do no wrong and the sun shines out of its arse.
Put a yellow bandana on him,some people may understand what it with issues. I know not to approach or let my dog approach a dog wearing yellow markers.
My dog had similar issues to yours and we never let him off lead. Have a look at some of my early posts here for details. You may be able to find a field local to you that you can hire and have it to yourself to let him run free from time to time, without fear of other dogs and owners. A Google search will help with this.
So day 3 of muzzle training. He still sees it as yay treats but when I tried to latch it up he started pawing at it. Am I doing something wrong or simply he needs more time?

Found a very good time to walk them with not many people at all in the park, but I am still a bit anxious, which I know is not good because he picks up on it. My roommate has been so sweet: she has been accompanying me to the park so she can play with Dexter while I’m concentrating on Nacho but she will be leaving soon and I will be taking them out on my own again. It’s really annoying that one woman could make me so anxious about walking my dog.
I know, I've felt the same!

With Jasper, when I first started doing it up I'd have some major distraction - shoving more treats through his muzzle into his mouth, getting him to do a sit for a really good treat, for instance. And then take it straight off again. I doubt you're doing anything wrong. Each dog is different and if you persevere, hopefully you'll work out how fast you can go with Nacho and what works with him.

Just a thought, if you work on it outside (when there's no other dogs in sight), it might be there's enough interesting things to sniff that he'll be so distracted by them he forgets about the muzzle for a moment.

Too slow will always be better than too fast, though, as if he suddenly decides he really doesn't like the muzzle it will undo the good work you've already done.

Have faith in yourself. You're doing all the right things :)

This is, by far, my fave video of How To Introduce a Box Muzzle HAPPILY:


Notice that this F ACD is, as typical of her breed, not a fan of strangers - however, the trainer in this clip has excellent timing [with her marker, in this case, the “click!” of the box-clicker, held in her hand]. ;)

Using a marker to MARK an instant of desired behavior translates clearly to the dog, just what it is that we want at the moment - “What’s being rewarded, right now?”
We want different behaviors in different circs, & that’s fine - we just need to teach & reward the wanted behavior, in the particular context that we want it. // This Blue Heeler, while still giving the trainer stink-eye, LOL, is happily & confidently interacting with the muzzle, being progressively rewarded for 1st looking at, then approaching, then sniffing, then touching, etc.
It’s all done in thin slices of behavior, as very small steps, so that she can succeed & earn a payoff each time. The idea is to goofproof her learning, so that the thing we want is easy to inevitable, while those things we do NOT want the dog to do, are difficult to impossible.

Dogs are highly, highly contextual, & humans are very quick to generalize while dogs are very slow.
These species-specific differences can frustrate owners [& trainers!] who don’t understand that, to a dog, SIT on the kitchen lino is *not* SIT on the sidewalk is *not* SIT on the wet lawn after rain is *not* SIT on the chilly tile of a vet’s waiting-room is *not* SIT on tanbark in the dog-park, with a horde of happily barking k9s barreling about just on the other side of the airlock, which is *not* SIT on the sofa during a peaceful evening of telly.
To the dog, especially in early training, these are all wildly differing, & until they successfully SIT in each of those situations plus others, they won’t generalize the concept / label / potential cue, “sit” - whether that label / cue is verbal, a hand-signal, a body posture, or an environmental cue.

[Environmental cues are very handy - such as, “any time I pull out the cutting board, all dogs leave the kitchen & lie on their beds”, or “every time I pick up the baby carrier / car seat, Fido / FiFi, U go lie in Ur crate, & wait for me to come reward U”.
They can be used when we have both hands full, or are talking on the phone, or have guests, or are changing a wet diaper, etc.]

Dogs need to practice a behavior they are just learning IN * A * MINIMUM of 5 highly different contexts, before they will even start to cognitively attach the “label” to the action - the label is simply what we’re calling this behavior, during early training, & this label later becomes a cue, but only once the dog has very firmly attached it to the action as a tag. ;)

The label is said AS the dog does the behavior, never prior to it - eventually, when U think it’s securely connected to the action in the dog’s mind, U try it *once* & see if the dog does the behavior; if not, no worries, go back to using it only as a label.
If the dog performs the hoped-for behavior, hurrah! - we have a new, functional cue. :)

Each time a dog reaches 80% compliance [e-g, s/he can successfully do the behavior on ONE cue, 4x out of 5 cues], s/he is ready for the next step: add a distraction, or add distance [from the handler], or add to the duration [of the behavior].
The 3 Ds, distraction, distance, & duration, are the proofing process; if a particular behavior is not proofed, it cannot be called a trained behavior; the dog doesn’t really know it, yet, & cannot be blamed for any errors when the behavior breaks down.
It’s literally not their fault - it’s ours, for not proofing. :oops:

Last note:
Sue-eh?, a Canadian trainer who is most noted for developing public-access SD skills in assistance dogs, & competition-worthy performances in dog-sport teams, has a beautifully written training plan.
It’s FREE, it has all the proofing built in, it’s everything any dog ought to know as foundation behaviors, whether s/he is a pet, a national champ in a dog sport, a working military or security K9, or in any other discipline... hunting, herding, anything.

Training Levels is here:

Training Levels (originals) | Mind to Mind

Happy training, :)
- terry

Hi I rescued a dog about 4months ago he was very very reactive to Other dogs. I will be honest there were times when I thought I may have to return him because I was terrified he was going to attack other dogs and other owners didn't help as even though he was muzzled and leashed they looked at us as if he was a devil dog. I tried allsorts , a class wouldn't accept him because he was too disruptive, so I tried a behaviourist which just didn't work. Then on a walk in the park i met a doggy day care lady with a huge van and a whole pack of dogs from an Irish wolf hound to a Chihuahua about 8 in all. She was so calm and assured around dogs and invited us to walk with them. Well what can I say from being muzzled and leashed to running free with the pack has taken only a few weeks and he is now fine with all the dogs we see out walking. Find yourself someone calm and sensible to walk with and you and your dog will gain confidence. Plough your own furrow and do what you think suits your dog and trust your own judgement good luck Free Spirit.

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