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Old 09-03-2015, 09:21 AM   #1
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Default Mixed Signals From My DA Dog

For those of you who have been following my thread, I have obviously been concentrating mostly on training my mother's dogs. However, now I'm ready to start concentrating on Harvey as well since I've been able to partially hand over the reins to my mom for her dogs.

I realized I've never explained my personal dog, Harvey, to this forum. I've mentioned him here and there, but now I would like to get peoples' opinions on him and his behavior problems, and see if anyone has any fresh advice or experiences to share.

So here is Harvey's story. Harvey came to me a little over a year ago. He was supposed to be my first foster, but the bugger is such a charmer that I couldn't give him up. Little did I realize what I was getting myself into. Harvey is the most difficult to handle dog I have ever had. Even my mom's Akita, who is very severely dog aggressive, is simpler to manage than this guy.

Harvey is dog reactive, and selectively dog aggressive. Why? I have no idea, and one else does either. He reacts mostly to big dogs. Typical stuff - barking, lunging, growling. He will attack if the dog gets close enough. When he does attack, he does not do damage. He's been in 3 fights now, and all of those times there was no damage by either dog.
Now the funny thing about him is that it's not every dog. He's usually totally fine with small dogs (except for when he sees them on walks, he will react, but would not attack if they came near). I can also convince him to get along with any dog, and once he does get along, he loves to play. My sister has a french bulldog mix (Rusko), and this dog HATED Harvey when they first met because Harvey was no neutered. Rusko would try to attack him and Harvey would just think it's so fun to play with him during this. I had no idea he was aggressive until I took him to the dog park (you can guess how that went).

What have I done about it?
Well, mostly I've done counter conditioning. CC works, but only for the particular dog that I'm CCing with. I can make him totally comfortable with passing by a fence with a particular dog behind it, but if its any other dog, the training just goes out the window. Due to this lack of generalizing, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to improve on this problems.
I've also had a few sessions with a good trainer. She taught me some good techniques, but again, he doesn't generalize.

Why does he do it?
I have no freaking clue. I'm constantly changing my mind between fear, misplaced drive, and plain aggression. My trainer seemed to think it is misplaced drive, mostly because he can be semi-okay with another dog in the distance, but if that dog starts running or playing, that will trigger him badly. She also believes it is misplaced drive because he was a wonderful habit of ripping people's pants when he first meets them. He doesn't do it aggressively, he just does it. He'll go over to someone and be all lovey, wagging his tail and rolling over for belly rubs. As soon as that person stands up to leave, he grabs their pants (never their skin) and tears them.

What do I want?
I want to help him feel more comfortable in public. He doesn't need to be the most sociable dog ever, he just needs to be able to tolerate seeing other dogs and preferably not attack them if they come over (since it seems to be just too much to ask for people to NOT let their dogs run up to him).

Summary:
Basically I have a dog who comes everywhere with me who is always muzzled to stop him from grabbing pants and will freak if he sees a strange dog. Yet, he loves to play with other dogs, and will play with a dog that he was just freaking out about if I do the introduction right.
It could be fear, which could explain why it's only big dogs he does this to. Or it could be misplaced drive, which may explain the biting people's pants.
He only CCs to particular dog, and it does not generalize to all dogs being a good thing, just that one dog.

My questions:
Does anyone else here have a dog with similar problems? I don't mean typical fear reactivity, where the dog is obviously afraid. I mean, do you have a dog that displays such mixed signals that it boggles your mind? He loves to play with other dogs (A LOT), but will attack other dogs. He LOVES to be pet by people (seriously, pets from strangers is likely heroin to him), yet he will bite their pants. He begs to be pet and will roll over in anyone's lap, yet when he finishes interacting with a person, he shows signs of stress (particularly panting).
If so, do you have any valuable experiences to share? Do you have any idea why this mixed behavior occurs?
Is it normal for dogs to not generalize when it comes to CC? Is there a way around it?

I would love to hear anyone's opinions on this behavior. Harvey is a constant mystery, and I would love to get any bits of info that might bring me closer to ultimately being able to better train him.

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Old 09-03-2015, 09:21 AM   #2
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Oh dear, that is quite a long post. Thank you in advanced for anyone who reads the whole thing! So sorry to write a novel. Harvey is a complicated one, and I can be quite long winded at times.

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Old 09-03-2015, 12:23 PM   #3
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Wish I could help you. There used to be a member called Monkey on here. She had quite a bit of training experience. Maybe she could help you it she were to meet Harvey. I have no clue. I am great with theory but terrible with putting it into practice.
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Old 09-03-2015, 12:39 PM   #4
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First up it doesn't matter how long a post is! It's important to have as much infomation as possible so members can help you Can you say how old is Harvey and do you know his past? Iam not too sure about this selective aggression towards certain dogs ( Are you talking about certain breeds) Let me give you a example: About 4 years ago we were out on a walk Nipper is super friendly to other dogs but what happened next changed things slightly. A staffy pup ran over and bit Nipper on the ear she turned round and warned it off by biting the air so no contact with pup was made any way next came the mother staffy head as big a football and had a good go at Nipper I had no choice but to get close the staffy (mum) and growled it ran off the onwers appeared and were having a go at me as though it was my fault (sigh) any way Nipper is nervous of any staffy even the nice ones so she is selective on cetain breeds now and pushy dogs of any breed in her face they will get a warning not a bite cause she is properly socialised So maybe Harvey is similar. prehaps a behavourist is the next proffesional to help you BTW I don't go to that particular walk only very occasionaly and I always keep my eyes peeled for any dogs that are off lead and I always ask is your dog ok? Good luck
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Old 09-03-2015, 02:25 PM   #5
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Ah, yes, I forgot to include that information. I have no idea how old Harvey is or what his history is. I estimate his age to be around 2-3 years. He was found as a stray in a city North of mine that has a huge dog population. There are a lot of gangs and criminal activity in that area, so I he could have had any kind of life really.

My trainer and I are guessing that he was owned, but likely left in a yard for most of his life. He's obviously poorly socialized, and has problems with light obsession. If he sees a light (reflection off phone, lasers, whatever) he will become hyper focused and become just absolutely obsessed with finding the light and just staring at it. We're thinking maybe he was very under-stimulated when he was young and maybe began to entertain himself with lights. I'm guessing that once he reached sexual maturity, he escaped his yard (like so many young, intact males do when they reach that age), was picked up as a stray and ended up in my hands. He was fully house trained when I got him, so I do not think he was a stray his entire life. Who knows what could have happened to him during that time.
Oddly enough, he was quite socialized with cats.

It's not really certain breeds, but usually size. He does seem to react particularly strongly to bully breeds, but he will react to any dog his size or larger. He's actually gotten worse about it over the course of the year. I imagine it's a combination of things causing that. Partially because he was able to get into a few fights (cut me some slack, this is a first for me), partially because I can have very poor reactions to seeing other dogs (I have a rather nervous personality, and I tend to tense up and move urgently when I see a situation I want to avoid), and partly because he was neutered (I'm not sure what it was, but he seemed like a much more confident dog when he was intact).

I see what you are saying with your Nipper, and I think it's possible that he may have had a bad experience when he was younger. However, he's much more severe than your dog. You say your dog will give a warning snap. My dog will attack without thinking twice. Off leash dogs are the bane of Harvey's existence. It's a horrible experience whenever one comes along. People just allow their dogs to run up to Harvey (who is usually wearing a muzzle, but not always. Especially if it is particularly hot) and I can do nothing short of panicking and just doing what I can to keep the dog far enough away so that Harvey can't attack it. I'm sure my panic makes him worse, but it's hard to stay calm in that situation.

Even if he sees a dog outside the car window, he will become hyper focused and start growling.
Now the really weird this is this. He doesn't give a crap about my mom's dogs. At all. They are all big dogs. He takes one look at them and goes about his business. What? He confuses me to no end!

I've actually had a really hard time finding a behaviorist in my area. My trainer is a certified behaviorist as well, and she says it appears to be misplaced drive. She thinks that because he was poorly socialized, he isn't always sure what to do in situations, so he does something impulsive. Kind of like dogs humping each other during play. It's likely a combination of not knowing what to do, and also being afraid of the new situation.

In theory, my course of action would be to CC him in tons and tons of different dog situations. I've tried to do this in the past. However, many places where we see dogs (the dog park, local parks, etc), we run the risk of off leash dogs. When an off leash dog comes running up during the CC, everything goes down the drain. I just don't see how to possibly get him socialized and CCed to lots of different dogs without running into this problem and ending up two steps back from where we started.

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Old 09-03-2015, 03:12 PM   #6
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Is he the dog in your picture? Frodo is a cattle dog/border collie mix. He is also reactive to certain dogs, and I'm pretty sure it got worse when I added another dog to our household. He seems to react to certain behaviors, a dog eating grass or someone's dog being overly affectionate with their owner. He will also give a "correction" to my other dog which is not his place to do, so he gets a correction from me.
He was not raised right by the several people who had him before me. I am careful about what situations I place him in and I am very vigilant about him becoming over focused on certain things. We have been trained to use counter conditioning methods and rewarding good behavior, which means rewarding Frodo becoming not focused on something he has been obsessed about before.
I don't allow him to fixate. There is a time and a place for his drive, and he is not allowed to nip people or other dogs although he certainly seems to want to. That's why i don't take him anywhere that I'm not prepared to be 100% watchful over him.
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Old 09-03-2015, 03:18 PM   #7
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Kaos is a good person to have advice on this issue.
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Old 09-03-2015, 03:44 PM   #8
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That's the difference between Harvey and Nipper not your fault though
Nipper was well socialised from 12 weeks old and even before she had her last vaccinations I would carry her and let known friendly dogs have a quick sniff. It's good your trainer is also a behaviourist too Does she know any good classes with small numbers of dogs that aren't reactive but may have other obidience probems? CC is a good way foward though, Hand on heart she gives good warnings when it's needed and I don't discourage this but neither do I encourage it either! It's not my job to correct some one elses dogs and will let the owner know this by saying please stop your dog from doing what it is to make my dog warn theirs!! If they still don't the get message, then me and Nipper will walk away
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Old 09-03-2015, 05:45 PM   #9
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Unfortunately it is VERY difficult to give meaningful advice on aggression issues over the net. Without seeing the dog in person and taking a detailed history I am able only to make some very general comments. Incorrect advice at this point can do more harm than good, so most trainers will rely heavily on observation as well as owner's interpretation of behaviour.

The fact that your boy has some play history with some dogs is a good thing. The fact that he seems capable of making new friends with some dogs if introduced carefully is also a big plus factor. Finally, the fact that he has shown really good bite inhibition during the fights he has been in is another major plus. On the face of it, this is a case most trainers would be very happy to work with.

I don't think it is at all uncommon for some reactive dogs to be 'dog selective'. A bias towards being more reactive to larger dogs does often indicate an element of fear. There can certainly be more than one underlying (and sometimes conflicting) emotion driving reactive behaviour. Very often it is not JUST fear but some combination of fear, frustration etc etc. Dogs who are in conflict can be difficult to read, and it sounds like your boy could well be experiencing some conflict around both humans and some dogs.

Yes it is common for counter conditioning to be difficult to generalise, especially where the environment is uncontrolled and dogs regularly rush the dog you are working with. Sounds like you have done a nice job and had success with predictable situations such as dog behind fence where it is easier for you to plan ahead and be less tense yourself. Has your trainer suggested working in controlled set ups with some neutral dogs? Has your trainer observed your counter conditioning technique? It's really really easy to make minor technical errors that it takes someone else to notice. Has your trainer suggested any other impulse control work? Usually reactive dogs have fairly poor impulse control and working on this in other contexts can pay off. From what distance is your dog generally over threshold on seeing an unfamiliar large dog?

In addition I would discuss with your trainer whether your dog might be a good candidate for some operant counter conditioning. Some dogs (and worky herdy types often fall into this category) tend to feel better when you give them a job. If you have a savvy handler, and a worky type dog who is easy to train some solid fluent behaviours on, sometimes this approach is more successful than straight classical counter conditioning. In essence I am suggesting a low bar DRI (differential reinforcement of an incompatible behaviour). Having not met either of you I don't know if this is the way to go, just worth a discussion if you feel you are not making the progress you would like to be with straight classical.

Another option might be to experiment (in set ups) with using distance as a functional reward (BAT). It's unclear, but your dog might benefit from using the protocol for frustrated greeters as a way to manage the introductions to unfamiliar dogs.

Finally, once you have practiced your chosen technique in controlled set ups, I think you need to find some better situations in which to 'take it on the road' where there is less chance of getting rushed by an uncontrolled dog. This depends very much on your area, and what your dog's critical distance is, but ask your trainer for some ideas. You also need to have well rehearsed emergency protocols for times when you find yourself in a situation where another dog is going to come too close. These need to be practiced ad nauseum so that instead of panic you calmly execute your emergency plan.

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Old 09-03-2015, 07:28 PM   #10
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Thank you for all the responses, and especially to Kaos for all of that useful info.

FrodoMom, Frodo does sound similar to Harvey in the respect of certain behaviors triggering this response. Harvey does this as well, particularly when dogs move suddenly. I also try to be careful about the situations I put him in, but it can be tough sometimes since people around here seem to have zero control over their dogs, even in places where the dogs should definitely be leashed (IE, the street).

Quote:
Unfortunately it is VERY difficult to give meaningful advice on aggression issues over the net. Without seeing the dog in person and taking a detailed history I am able only to make some very general comments. Incorrect advice at this point can do more harm than good, so most trainers will rely heavily on observation as well as owner's interpretation of behaviour.
I agree that is difficult to give advice on this over the web. That's why I decided to use a trainer/behaviorist, but I still find value in gathering all of the opinions I can on the subject. =)

Quote:
The fact that your boy has some play history with some dogs is a good thing. The fact that he seems capable of making new friends with some dogs if introduced carefully is also a big plus factor. Finally, the fact that he has shown really good bite inhibition during the fights he has been in is another major plus. On the face of it, this is a case most trainers would be very happy to work with.
My trainer said this same thing! I'm positive he is a very workable case, it really just comes down to that I'm not experienced and am learning as well. I'm sure someone practiced could solve him faster than I can.

Quote:
I don't think it is at all uncommon for some reactive dogs to be 'dog selective'. A bias towards being more reactive to larger dogs does often indicate an element of fear. There can certainly be more than one underlying (and sometimes conflicting) emotion driving reactive behaviour. Very often it is not JUST fear but some combination of fear, frustration etc etc. Dogs who are in conflict can be difficult to read, and it sounds like your boy could well be experiencing some conflict around both humans and some dogs.
This makes quite a lot of sense. I generally do feel that he somewhat wants to greet dogs (because he really absolutely loves to play with dogs he knows well), but I know that he will attack. I know he loves getting attention from strangers, but there must be something driving him to rip pants.

Quote:
Yes it is common for counter conditioning to be difficult to generalise, especially where the environment is uncontrolled and dogs regularly rush the dog you are working with. Sounds like you have done a nice job and had success with predictable situations such as dog behind fence where it is easier for you to plan ahead and be less tense yourself. Has your trainer suggested working in controlled set ups with some neutral dogs? Has your trainer observed your counter conditioning technique? It's really really easy to make minor technical errors that it takes someone else to notice. Has your trainer suggested any other impulse control work? Usually reactive dogs have fairly poor impulse control and working on this in other contexts can pay off. From what distance is your dog generally over threshold on seeing an unfamiliar large dog?
Yes, my trainer did suggest that I work in a controlled setting with neutral dogs. Here is the problem - I have run out of dogs I know to work with. He is best friends with all of my friends' and family's dogs and I don't know anyone else with dogs. He has at least 8 to 10 dog friends he plays with and is totally okay with, but him making friends with them did not seem to improve his general reactivity.
My trainer has observed my technique, but only when used with her dog (who is very well behaved). Harvey barely reacted to her dog because her dog didn't really care about him. Harvey just did some mild staring, and soon enough he was fine approaching the dog and walking beside the dog.
Harvey's threshold is very ambiguous. It completely depends on the size and gender of the strange dog, as well as how the dog is behaving. Sometimes, it's 10 feet (Achieved this with a husky, so not small dog, inside of a petstore). Other times, it's over 50 feet (usually the case when walking on the street).
Harvey does have terrible impulse control. We work on this regularly, and it has improved quite a lot. He does a downstay before going out every door (okay as a release, but he isn't allowed to just take off. He has to go out nicely). He waits with the car door open until I say okay to go in or out. He waits for his food (when I feed him from a bowl, which is not super often) until I say okay. His impulse control is getting much better. I can even call him off from chasing a rabbit (only if I call him when he is just about to do it rather than when he is already dashing full speed after it).

Quote:
In addition I would discuss with your trainer whether your dog might be a good candidate for some operant counter conditioning. Some dogs (and worky herdy types often fall into this category) tend to feel better when you give them a job. If you have a savvy handler, and a worky type dog who is easy to train some solid fluent behaviours on, sometimes this approach is more successful than straight classical counter conditioning. In essence I am suggesting a low bar DRI (differential reinforcement of an incompatible behaviour). Having not met either of you I don't know if this is the way to go, just worth a discussion if you feel you are not making the progress you would like to be with straight classical.
My trainer actually did recommend this idea. You'll have to excuse my leaving out info, I've been out of town and training Harvey has been rather disorganized. But I'm ready to start doing again, so advice is very appreciated. When I had a private session with my trainer, she had me do this:
She had her dog lie on his mat tied to a pole. I stood about 50 feet back with Harvey. She would walk with me towards her dog (who was just lying there) and I would periodically use my "focus" command. If Harvey listened and was able to stop focusing on the dog, than I would reward him with bits of hotdog. If he tensed and became too focused to listen, we did a Uturn and tried again. As we started to get closer to the dog, she said that I should ask for tricks. So I would bring him to just above threshold (interested in the other dog, but still able to focus on me) and have him do tricks (unfortunately, the only one he knows right now is shake. My trainer said that actual tricks would be better for this purpose than obedience commands like down and sit). This seemed to work well, but I wasn't able to repeat it with more active dogs. But that is probably only due to my not having a lot of experience or practice.
I am interested in the DRI. Is this different from what my trainer suggested with the tricks? Please explain.
BAT sounds interesting! I don't have time to look into it just now, but I will later tonight. My trainer did not mention that one to me. We did LAT for a while, but it didn't really seem to work.

Quote:
Finally, once you have practiced your chosen technique in controlled set ups, I think you need to find some better situations in which to 'take it on the road' where there is less chance of getting rushed by an uncontrolled dog. This depends very much on your area, and what your dog's critical distance is, but ask your trainer for some ideas. You also need to have well rehearsed emergency protocols for times when you find yourself in a situation where another dog is going to come too close. These need to be practiced ad nauseum so that instead of panic you calmly execute your emergency plan.
The only place I can think of is outside of a pet store, but dog come and go so quickly it's almost hard to work with. But I will try it again.

Thank you for bringing all of that. This has really helped me organize my thoughts!

There's one big problem I'm having - Harvey's muzzle. I've done endless conditioning with him with it, but he always acts just a little bit different when he's wearing it. He seems more reserved and more likely to just go lay down instead of being involved with everything. I don't know if this is good or bad. I love the muzzle, because it allows me to feel relaxed. But he doesn't love it, and no matter how much conditioning I do, he just doesn't like it. He rubs his face on my legs when he wears it. I often feel like training with it isn't beneficial because he doesn't like it, and because he acts different while wearing it.

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