Hello, some background information for my dog: I have a Jack Russell mix who is about 3 years old. She was found by a friend as a stray when she was between 4-6 weeks old. She was unwell at the time and as a vet nurse I took her to work with me and had her treated, eventually taking her on as my own. During this time that she was unwell (2-3 weeks after we found her) she missed out on her key socialization as her illness required her to be isolated in the hospital. After she recovered and we had her home for a while we noticed her behavioural issues starting and she was diagnosed by a behaviorist with fear aggression. Since then I have worked with her for the last 3 years and she has improved, while she is still fearful of most things in life she does not show as much aggression (while she has never bitten anyone, I am not naive as to say she never will, I do believe that if she felt extremely threatened and was not able to escape then she would). She generally just needs 10-15 minutues to adjust to meeting someone new, and then whilst she is still cautious she can become quite friendly. I hope this is enough information on her.
My question is: Whilst she does not bark all day (she is kept inside and taken outside frequently throughout the day) there are periods that she will bark -seemingly at nothing although she may hear something that we don't. But mostly she just gives one low "gruff" noise repeatedly or frequent growls when she hears something outside. I understand that this is just her being cautious and fearful of the noises outside but I was wondering if you had any advice on how to manage this? I have previously been advised to distract her with a task such as sitting or laying down or "going to bed" however she continues to bark and grown even whilst doing these things. And trying to distract her with toys (when she eventually is quiet) does not seem to work for long. Do you have any other suggestions for me? I am happy to provide more information if needed
Ok before I can offer a suggestion, I need to know:
Who is your behaviorist, what are his/her credentials?
What methods has your behaviorist taught you to counter condition the dog?
What method of training are you using (clicker, food reward, "attention", etc.)
Distracting a dog that is in fight/flight ("But mostly she just gives one low "gruff" noise repeatedly or frequent growls when she hears something outside") is impossible. You cannot "ask" for a trained behavior if she is truly in fight/flight, you can only redirect and you must be cautious about this: offering a treat (toy or food) is rewarding the fear. I'm not altogether convinced this dog is responding to fear because I can't see anything from here AND ALL DOGS BARK. The fact that she muffles her response tells me she is under "control" (many dogs just go "wild" for no apparent reason to us). It is NORMAL for dogs to vocalize (mine does it many times a day, always with a "muffled" woof because she has learned I am not happy with loud voices lol). IF a dog HAS A REASON (a dog barking outside, a person at your door or passing your door), you cannot and should not do anything to stop this behavior because the dog is doing her job: communicating her perceived threat TO YOU. Let's say my dog goes to my front door (she only does this now - since I've moved out of my large house into an apartment - when someone lingers in front of my door - UPS guy, etc. - or passes) and signals me. I ALWAYS respond by ignoring HER, opening the door a crack, and then telling her to "stop". This allows her to SEE for herself that I AM checking it out and I AM communicating "nothing to worry about."
The JRT and its first generation hybrid is a tough little dog intended to go to ground after prey MUCH LARGER. IF something interferes with the genetic wiring and the resultant puppy becomes fearful, then what was intended as courage becomes potential fear aggression. By age three to five, if your dog is at risk of active dog to human aggression, you will begin to see it (beginning with growling, progressing to teeth baring, approach, snap, then total withdrawal). You don't report any of this. You might want to challenge your dog's bite inhibition by using the following video:
Now let me point out to you that if YOU...."while she has never bitten anyone, I am not naive as to say she never will, I do believe that if she felt extremely threatened and was not able to escape then she would" would behave in exactly the same manner. You're not about to take a hammer to a neighbor knocking on your door to borrow sugar, but you are certainly capable of fighting to the death for your own life or the life of a loved one. So is your dog, so is every dog. The more heavily socialized and FRIENDLY any dog is, the better protection in the event that the dog perceives (through your pheromones and body language) that you are under serious threat and will act upon it with no fault in the dog's temperament. I would like to encourage you to use positive reinforcement and never discipline or punishment and to SET ASIDE your fear that she will "act out" inappropriately because, to me, it seems unlikely.