Looking for more ideas regarding leash reactivity - lunging/barking/aggressive...

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pghboxers

Boxer Buddy
Hi there!

To keep things on the short side...I have a very leash reactive boxer boy, between 1-2 years old. We adopted him about 3 months ago. He was neutered by the rescue. We have no idea of his history, other than we was an owner surrender. These issues were not apparent at the time we adopted him - he got along great with our boxer at their initial meeting (both on leashes). They've gotten along fine every since. The issues began getting worse as we came across more dogs in public.

When walking (either alone or with our other boxer), he walks great on a loose leash and is able to work very well with me. As soon as we see another dog, it is as if the world closes in around him and all he can see is that dog (or cat, actually). He gets very focused, and is hard to break out of the "spell" - so to say. As the other dogs approach, I can normally keep him from acting aggressively. We move over, give the other dog more room, and walk by at a brisk pace. However, if the other dog so much as looks at him the wrong way - gives a bark or growl - makes extended eye contact - anything our guy interrupts as a challenge...the lunging/barking/growling/hair standing up/teeth showing/etc. starts. Also to add..off leash he is fine. He has been to dog parks and daycares with us initially, and never had an issue. We stopped going in an effort to have 100% control over his interactions with other dogs, once his issues started to show.

Things we've been doing...

-Working on our "watch" command. We practice everywhere.
-Going on walks without our other dog - focusing entirely on him.
-Taking treats with us everywhere.
-We are using a prong collar now, per our trainers advice (I know controversial topic - but we really have tried everything else - nothing else yields us enough control. We do alternative with an easy walk, however it really does not do much when he gets going)
-We make an attempt to go 1-2x/week on a busy walking trail with other people/bikes/dogs as we live in the country and rarely encounter another person at home.
-We had 6 private lessons at our trainers, and are now trying to slowly get involved her their group classes. Right now, we're trying to go twice a week when we're able. He generally has one outburst at class - I'm sure the other owners must hate us :( So embarrassing!
-We make trips to the pet store about every other week as well. We work on our obedience there, practice "watch", "heel", etc. We stay far away from other dogs, and leave without buying anything often times (as waiting in line is too risky for us still).

Anybody have any other suggestions? He is doing so well with obedience training, I'd LOVE to show in in obedience and rally next year (maybe even agility), however we need to get over this hurdle first for sure!

Thanks guys!! Sometimes it just gets sooo frustrating..you gotta make sure you're not missing something easy here!
 

whiskers

Boxer Insane
I don't like doing a watch me command in the presence of triggers like this, because it's more of a band aid. Nice obedience compliance if your dog will do it, but in the end you still have a dog that doesn't know how to respond properly on leash to other dogs, you still have to be super aware of your surroundings so that you can cue it in time. In short, your dog is still reactive.

What I've had success with and what others find works well too, is to go against the grain a bit and reward your dog FOR looking at other dogs. Now you're changing your dog's perception, and it becomes a game for them. It's called the "Look at That!" game and there's a detailed description of it in the book Control Unleashed.... but here's the gist:
Akin Family Dog Training Affiliations

If you Google it you'll find other brief descriptions of it too. It works well but it does require that you be careful of your encounters with other dogs. One of the most important things too is that you prevent him from having any more reactions, because every time it happens it just further reinforces the behavior.
 

pghboxers

Boxer Buddy
I don't like doing a watch me command in the presence of triggers like this, because it's more of a band aid. Nice obedience compliance if your dog will do it, but in the end you still have a dog that doesn't know how to respond properly on leash to other dogs, you still have to be super aware of your surroundings so that you can cue it in time. In short, your dog is still reactive.

What I've had success with and what others find works well too, is to go against the grain a bit and reward your dog FOR looking at other dogs. Now you're changing your dog's perception, and it becomes a game for them. It's called the "Look at That!" game and there's a detailed description of it in the book Control Unleashed.... but here's the gist:
Akin Family Dog Training Affiliations

If you Google it you'll find other brief descriptions of it too. It works well but it does require that you be careful of your encounters with other dogs. One of the most important things too is that you prevent him from having any more reactions, because every time it happens it just further reinforces the behavior.

Thanks for your reply! I will look into that some more! We're also doing "click when calm" as well, which I forgot to say in my previous post. And as far as it requiring us to be careful of our encounters with other dogs..well, I'm sure we'll always have to be careful. Even if we get him to a much better place wise with other dogs, I'm sure we'll need to keep our eyes peeled.

I love my trainers, but it is always nice for some more options and ideas! I have a lot of time to devote to training right now, so if there is a time to get this under control its now.
 

pghboxers

Boxer Buddy
Alright! I just purchased Control Unleashed, Feisty Fido, and Click to Calm on Amazon! Hopefully I can read them and gain some insight and ideas into this behavior. In the mean time, I'll be avoiding triggers and trying to have produce training classes without any incidents.

Sometimes I think "ugh..I knew I couldn't handle two boxers"...but I wasn't prepared and the rescue did not disclose any aggressive tendencies. I've contacted my rescue a couple times now for more ideas, only for my emails to be completely ignored and blown off. So..I take it I'm on my own as far as they're concerned. They're a pit rescue mainly, you'd think they'd be able to come up with some ideas/thoughts on the situation. But that's a whole different topic I suppose...lol.

If anybody has any other thoughts, please chime in!
 

larrygs

Super Boxer
Looks like you are off to a great start. A few more comments,...

It is very possible he did not show leash reactivity before. Layla developed hers at about that age. At the time, she was also fine with day cares and dog parks. Unfortunately it got worse for awhile since we didn't know how to deal with it. Many trainers and dog handlers don't either. Finally got great help from a behavorist who specializes with reactivity. Had to undue some of our missteps. During this training we stopped going to dog parks and day cares. She was too jacked up, would always be at a high stress level, which gave her a very quick trigger. It has worked out and she is great now on leash. We actually get comments from other boxer owners struggling with reactivity about how calm she is.

Jack's also started to develop some reactivity at the same age. It is different from Layla's in that he is more level headed. However we don't want it to get worse, so we are currently desensitizing him. We began by letting him watch dogs come and go at a local mall, from a petsmart and a dog park. This is done initially from a distance. If he stays calm and returns his attention to us we reward him. We repeat and progressively moved in closer. If he goes crazy, no reward and regroup. It also means we were not attentive to the state of his mind and went too fast. We practice this for a few minutes every weekend or two. At this point we are actually walking a few steps inside petsmart and then leaving. The key is to keep his head below threshold and reward good behavior.

Finally, they really pick up on your stress and anxiety. So try to stay calm and positive. Good luck!
 

johann

Boxer Insane
First, give up caring or even thinking about what others think of your dog and his reactions. It is hard to do, but this made a huge difference for me in how I treated Johann when he was having outbursts (instead of getting embarrassed/frustrated/angry, I stayed calmer and removed ourselves from the situation). I started noticing poor dog behavior from the "quiet, calm dogs"...like a steady stare and stiff posture, so I could get Johann away from that dog(s) before he had a chance to react (this was where I used the watch me command).

As Larry said, the key is to keep him below threshold and reward for any calm behavior around other dogs. The reward can be a treat, or it can even be retreating from the sitation in a calm manner. We spent a lot of time doing the "look at that" game with other dogs, starting at a very far distance and slowly working our way closer.

Another thing I'd recommend is to ditch the prong collar ASAP. When your dog reacts to another dog and gets a correction from the prongs (even if you aren't doing leash corrections), the pain will make him associate "Dogs = pain", which can lead to worsening reactions and aggression. I'd outfit him with a gentle leader or halti so that he can have control over him, but not cause pain/discomfort that can make the situation worse. A well fitted gentle leader will give you much more control than an easy walk harness will. There is a good sticky thread at the top of this forum about fitting and accustoming your dog to a gentle leader.

Good luck with your boy. Stick with the training and behavior modification plans and I'm sure you will have success. Is there anyone in your area that teaches a Fiesty Fidos type of class or a B.A.T (behavior adjustment training) class?
 

pghboxers

Boxer Buddy
Thanks for your replies! We'll continue to go slow and I did find a "Growl Class" at a local trainer. It's more of a drop by style class, which is perfect for us because we can't always commit to one specific day a week for several weeks in a row. I will be calling them today and getting the ball rolling in that area.

As for the head collar vs prongs...I'd be interested to learn more regarding which one makes more negative associations. I imagine that when 80 lbs of boxer lunges hard at the end of the leash - any type of collar will leave a negative impression. A head collar is going to give him some serious neck pain, and I'd have to believe negative associations. He also, like all boxers, has a very short nose - my vet has told me in the past she doesn't recommend head collars on boxers. I tried martingales for a while, but they had the same effect as choke chains - continually choking him until I could pull him far enough back to me to give him a second to breath. The prong collar provides a very brief effective correction - he lunges, he receives an unpleasant correction. He comes back to me. He is calm, he gets a treat. He then randomly receives treats while he's calm. I feel as though the head collar would indeed help to restrain him, but may not actually aide in training him. I do understand that he may be getting the message "dog=pain", but he's also getting the impression that "lunging=pain", and "calm=treat". I will talk more to folks about it - our trainer and boxer friends, and see their thoughts. I do appreciate the idea though!

I wish it seemed more fear based - something he may "grow out of"...but honestly he shows no signs of fear at all, only aggression. He stiffens his posture, stares down the other dog, then as soon as the other dog moves he lunges. He's such a good boy otherwise...and I'm sure we can accommodate our life for him even if we still have these issues forever. It'd just make me sad to say goodbye to our agility and obedience dreams!
 

pghboxers

Boxer Buddy
Update...! We went to class tonight (at a new location with new dogs - same trainers) and had NO issues. Not a growl, bark, or anything. He was perfect! We actually got to participate in class successfully. Other dogs barked and growled at us a couple times, and our guy had no negative reactions at all. I hope he doesn't get any belly aches - he earned himself a ton of pieces of hotdogs, cheese, and bologna tonight! Thanks for all your suggestions guy...hopefully we keep moving forward!
 

johann

Boxer Insane
Update...! We went to class tonight (at a new location with new dogs - same trainers) and had NO issues. Not a growl, bark, or anything. He was perfect! We actually got to participate in class successfully. Other dogs barked and growled at us a couple times, and our guy had no negative reactions at all. I hope he doesn't get any belly aches - he earned himself a ton of pieces of hotdogs, cheese, and bologna tonight! Thanks for all your suggestions guy...hopefully we keep moving forward!

Such a good success for you both! :)

The idea behind a prong collar is that it is a punitive/punishment training technique. This type of training is very effective at teaching what NOT to do (ie, don't lunge, but doesn't necessarily create a calm and happy dog around others), but not what TO do (relax, trust that you have control of the situation). If the gentle leader is used effectively, the dog won't get enough leash length to really lunge....I kept Johann on a 4 ft leash and kept him right next to me. It will also give you the ability to get him moving in another direction without pulling on his neck.
 

larrygs

Super Boxer
Ditto regarding the prong collar. Saying that, we could not use a head collar with Layla. We tried and she really freaked out, set her back weeks. I know it works for some, just not us. IMO, the problem with any special collar or restraint is that they are too smart. They know if it is on or not. I very much agree you want them learn to relax and be calm.

Layla showed the same "aggression" attitude you described, a very dominant body posture, sometimes staring, etc. She would walk in a dog park with such confidence it immediately attracted the attention of any other dogs who may have thought they were more dominant. Just walking around anywhere would set some dogs off. Her confident display put all on notice. She wanted to have fun and would easily play, but also responded quickly to provocation, and was capable of taking care of herself. We were flat out lucky nothing serious happened. However the display was indeed generated by fear and stress. And perhaps lack of trust we were safe and I was not going to let something happen. She didn't want to hurt something, just wanted not to be hassled. My point is being "reactive" doesn't mean the dog is naturally or permanately "aggressive", yet that label gets used too frequently.

And be prepared for some ignorant owners to quickly use a aggressive label. It can be real irritating when a little Westi on a extendable leash runs underneath a chair unexpectedly bites your dog and you get the blame when your dog reacts. Ok, don't get me started about out of control little dogs....

Another thought, don't let you dog have too much leash to prevent it from getting momentum when it does lunge. We learned to double ours up and make it shorter. Also be sure to keep tension off the leash, keep it loose.

BTW, don't throw away your thoughts about agility or obediance. You have work to do, however there are many others who have dealt with reactivity and are in agility. :)
 
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