Canine Behavior/puppy afraid of big dogs
Hello mam firstly i would like to tell that my puppy is almost 6 months old and your advice has helped him he is doing totally fine while walk and is also house trained well by now but we have a issue while walk if he sees a dog he will act wild and sometimes shut downs completely his tail goes in between his legs we try to encourage him and boost his confidence but it doesnt seems to work.And there is a big dog in my neigbhr he is afraid of him most and the owner are also so irresponsible they see my baby they give there dog commands like go and make them bark at him and strangely when any dog enters my boundary my boy stands for his turf dont know why he acts so afraid on walk.I seriously want that nobody laughs at my boy and bullies him it would be great if he can stand for himsely .It may ssems thati am overtaking these but i love my baby and want that he stands and guard for his turf so that he grows in confidence and bloosoms ..
Thank you for your question. I'm glad to hear that he's improving with your other previous puppy issues.
What you're describing is a dog who is frightened of encounters with unfamiliar dogs - especially when on leash. This is very common. When dogs are attached to us by a leash, their freedom of movement is limited. They cannot create the space they need to feel comfortable and they cannot outright flee if they feel threatened. So they will often bark, lunge, growl or snap at strange dogs trying to tell them to back off. Then, we usually respond by yanking or jerking the leash, scolding our dog for being "rude" and "embarrassing us" and if we're really frustrated, we may even swat their bum. So, now we have a dog who has communicated as clearly as they can to another dog, "Back off. You might be dangerous." and then this is followed immediately by punishment (leash jerk, verbal scold, possibly other physical punishment). Now we have just confirmed for our dog that he's right - the strange dog is in fact dangerous because he got in trouble when that strange dog was present.
So the next time he sees that dog, he's likely to tell him more firmly to back off. And he may start telling him sooner (while the other dog is further away). Now he's saying, "Back off!! You ARE dangerous. I get in trouble when you're near me." And then we repeat the punishment from last time, and maybe we jerk on the leash harder or scold more intensely because he didn't learn the lesson last time, or because he's making a bigger scene and so we are responding in kind. And we've just confirmed for our dog that he's right - that dog is dangerous, maybe even more dangerous than last time because he got in trouble while the dog was further away....
So how do we help a dog feel more secure when they see strange dogs? There are a couple of things we need to do.
1. Keep enough distance from the strange dog that our dog takes notice, but doesn't yet feel threatened enough to start fussing over it.
2. While at that distance, have a party with your dog. Rain treats from the sky. Tell him what a brave dog he is.
3. As he begins to show some comfort and interest, allow him to tell you if he wants to move closer or further from the strange dog. He may want to take a step or two closer, or he may want to keep his distance, but look from another angle (maybe across the street), he may want to move 10-20 steps closer or he may want to move further away. He may start to move closer and then suddenly realize he's closer than he really wants to be... In any of these choices, our job is to encourage and support his decision. Allow him to change position as he's comfortable and if he's suddenly closer than he's comfortable being, help him escape to a distance where he feels comfortable.
NOTE: He may be comfortable being 50 feet away from the dog, decide to move closer by 10 feet, suddenly decide he's too close and then he may require to be 70 feet away to feel safer. Trust that he knows where he needs to be to feel safe. The distance he requires is likely to vary from moment to moment depending on the rest of the environment and his mood/confidence at that moment. If he's comfortable at 50 feet, but then a car backfires near him, he may need to double his distance for a while because something scary just happened. Or, if he's had a really great experience, he may be comfortable at just 20 feet one day, but the next dog he sees, he needs more distance (or the next time he sees that same dog, depending on everything else going on for your dog at that time and within the last few hours).
There's a great protocol called Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) which essentially teaches you how to empower your dog to be confident enough to make his own choice about whether or not he wishes to engage with another dog (or person or object - anything that scares him). This protocol teaches him that he doesn't have to bark and fight offensively in order to protect himself. Instead, he can choose to greet and walk away, he can choose to just ignore and move on if that feels safer or he can choose to not go near at all if that feels best at that moment. The key is learning to read your dog's emotional state (most especially fear and stress signals which can be quite subtle) and then allowing him space to make decisions to feel safer (or helping him make those decisions to avoid escalating his sense of stress).
This website is dedicated to the BAT protocol. There is educational material, videos, handouts and if you join, there are support groups that can help you hone your skill and design set-ups for practice as well as teach you about doing what we call Stealth BAT where you are working on the skills with your dog, but the other dog/handler aren't aware that they're helping you....
The most important piece of advice I can give you on this topic is this:
YOU MUST BE YOUR DOG'S ADVOCATE. YOUR PRIORITY MUST BE HELPING YOUR DOG FEEL SAFE. YOUR OWN SENSE OF EMBARRASSMENT MUST BE SET ASIDE AS YOU AVOID PUTTING YOUR DOG INTO SITUATIONS THAT MAKE HIM UNCOMFORTABLE. THIS MEANS TELLING STRANGERS CLEARLY AND FIRMLY TO BACK OFF, LEAVE YOUR DOG ALONE, DO NOT ALLOW THEIR DOG TO APPROACH YOUR, ETC. AS YOU ARE WORKING WITH HIM TO IMPROVE HIS CONFIDENCE, BUT HE IS NOT YET READY FOR SUCH AN ENCOUNTER AND HAVING A GREETING RIGHT NOW WILL UNDERMINE ALL THE WORK YOU'VE DONE SO FAR.
This is hugely important. So many people will tell you that dogs love them and so it'll be OK. Or they'll insist that their dog is friendly and gets on with all dogs. You need to stand firm, put yourself physically between your dog and the potential threat (from your dog's point of view) and insist that they abide your rules with your dog. If necessary, walk away. You cannot be afraid to offend someone because you don't allow them or their dog to interact with yours. We do not allow strangers to pet or hold our human infants. We do not need to allow strangers to pet or interact with our dogs either. As you practice and your dog gains confidence, he will tell you when he's ready to interact, and he'll tell you when he needs to stop engaging in a given interaction (if you're paying attention to his subtle body language cues).
Another great resource for you will be the book Click to Calm - Healing the Aggressive Dog
, Emma Parsons
This is a counter conditioning strategy to help your dog learn that the appearance of strange people and strange dogs (and any other thing that scares him) reliably predicts something awesome to happen in his world. In doing this, we change his emotional response from "Oh no! Possible threat!!!" to the much more comfortable and confident, "OH YES!!!! Strange dogs mean Cheese!!!!" or whatever his favorite treat is.
As for his behavior when strange dogs come onto your property. That is called territorial aggression. This is his property and he will defend it. But that doesn't necessarily mean confidence. It actually often stems from a fear of a challenge to his space and his stuff and so he responds with an offensive display that says "get off my property. I don't want to fight you!" It's great for a dog to announce the arrival of a strange dog or person onto our property. But we don't want our dog to feel a need to fight with that new arrival. Better that they are so confident in themselves that they have no need to bluff and bluster. As you work on his public fears, you will probably also see some change in his property behavior. If not, you should work the same exercises you find on the website and in the book specifically from on your property as well.
As for your neighbor, a plain conversation will be necessary. Your dog is still a puppy, and for the neighbor to allow their dogs to harass your dog is setting your dog up to be aggressive and at some point your dog is likely to fight theirs and you don't want that. It is necessary for their dogs to leave your dog alone. that means it's necessary for them to respect your request that they not encourage their dogs to interact with yours (at least not until your dog is ready for such an interaction), and if they continue to allow or encourage their dog to harass yours, a call to the authorities would be appropriate. It's no different than if they were encouraging their teenage child to harass your toddler. That would be unacceptable. And it is just as unacceptable in this situation as well. Being gracious is important when you discuss it with the neighbor, of course. Being self deprecating can be useful. Present it from a position of, "I know your dogs are great and super confident, but right now I think they're just a little too much for my puppy to handle. He's still learning about how to interact with dogs and yours seem to be intimidating my shy boy. I'm working on it, but I think that if we continue to have these encounters before my boy is big enough and feeling ready for it, then we may actually cause my dog to get more and more defensive. I'm already seeing his defensive responses grow and I want to nip that in the bud before he attacks someone's dog and I get in trouble for it. It would be such a great help to my training if you could just keep your dogs away from mine until my dog is ready for such confident dogs as yours..."
If they laugh, they laugh. That's their problem - not yours. If they refuse to be cooperative, then don't hesitate to speak with the authorities as you are trying to be diplomatic, but you cannot stand by and allow them to use their dogs to bully YOU - which is what would be happening if they refuse to be responsible with their own dogs.
I hope some of this proves useful. You are clearly very dedicated to doing right by your dog. Please feel free to followup and let me know how things are progressing.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine