Meet Eddie, an 80-pound “American kennel” dog. He is one of two strays we rescued two months ago. While he gets on with his canine companion, he is dog-aggressive toward all other dogs. Walking him on a leash is a nightmare. When he sees another dog in the distance, he immediately zeros in on it, staring fixedly at the dog, and as we get closer he starts to tug at the leash, growling, barking, and tries to get to the other dog. I manage to hold him off, drag him away, and once the dog is out of sight, he resumes good behavior. He is friendly toward people, but his attitude to other dogs is intolerable. I am worried about him inflicting harm on another dog. We need your help and counsel.
Thank you for being one of the good guys rescuing dogs. The physical potential of a dog-aggressive 80-pound dog is a serious problem, because included in possible injuries are you and the person on the other end of the leash of the dog Eddie wants to dismember.
First things first: Eddie needs to get acclimated to a gentle leader to greatly reduce his ability to pull or drag you to the dog he wants to vanquish. The gentle leader works on the principle of leverage, as opposed to pain, as it will turn his head, which will cause his body to follow. In the confines of the home, Eddie needs to be taught “Leave it!” “it” being whatever you want him to ignore. You will probably need the help of a pro. It would start with the basics, teaching Eddie to earn treats by cooperating with sit, down, stay, and heel.
Then I would have somebody put a plate with a piece of meat on it in the middle of the room on the floor. With the command “Leave it,” Eddie would have to pass that meat-laden plate without so much as a tug on the leash (loose leash). This is accomplished by my “correcting” Eddie if he attempts to get to the plate, and praising with voice and a treat when he passes it on a loose leash. (I’ve been asked 1,000 times, “What’s my training methodology?” And 1,000 times my answer has been, “It depends, I’m a depends trainer.” So, my correction for Eddie when he lunges for the plate will depend on what works. Ninety-nine percent of the time with the command “Leave it” and a “leash pop” or startling noise, the dog is cooperative in a couple of minutes.
Next comes the practice of “Leave it” outdoors, with multiple and varied temptations that Eddie must ignore to earn his praise and treats, before introducing the strange dog that Eddie must “leave.” I want success to build on success before the “ultimate trial” of another dog.
Before I moved to the Vineyard, having had over 800 appointments a year training dogs, half for behavior problems, I’ve met quite a few dogs that entered what I referred to as the “zone” when they saw another dog. They went completely berserk with aggression, making it virtually impossible to redirect their attention. In that case I used an e-collar — relying on tone, or vibration, or electric stim, or a combination. I might say “Leave it” immediately followed by tone or vibe, and if necessary by stim. To get Eddie to ignore the chunk of chicken left on the sidewalk, it’s a quick “Leave it” followed by immediate tone followed by immediate stim. When timed properly by a pro, Eddie will “ignore” on tone to avoid stim, and soon thereafter cooperate on the verbal command alone.
Today, as I write this, I received a thank-you from an Edgartown lady, the owner of a 10-pound dog for which I used stim on the e-collar, because for eight years her tiny dog went berserk at the sight of another dog. The lady can now cruise Edgartown and Boston without her dog totally embarrassing her by metamorphosing into Cujo at the sight of another dog. Failing to stop a very people-friendly 80-pound dog from seriously aggressing at all other dogs will often result in the aggressor being euthanized, which is devastating to the owner and often unnecessary with the intervention of a knowledgeable pro.
P.S.: For those who might be interested, I’ll be at Bunch of Grapes on Dec. 7 at 7 pm with my dog Paula Jean, for a book signing for my just-released book, “Dog Training Diaries.”