Aggression and initiating fights. How to deal with it?
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  • After Gizmo was attacked by that German Shepard a while back, his behavior has changed dramatically when in the dog-park.

    90% of the time things are fine. He plays, runs and has a great time. But whenever a dark dog that is similar to the size of a German Shepard shows up, he will growl and stand his ground, very dominantly.

    Now I did some searching, and found out that after such an incident he has experienced, this growling is due to extreme fear. Apparently showing weakness is "death", so he has to show that he is not to be messed with. Sometimes when he is REALLY scarred foam will start around his mouth.
    Sadly the articles I have read had little to no methods as to how to deal with it, except when on walks with a leash (in a nutshell they just said avoid other dogs).

    So I have been using the "distraction technique", calling him away from the situation and trying to sooth him by rubbing his chest and talking calmly to him once I have him next to me. He will still growl, and lick his lips (nervous). And if it's very bad I will leave the park.

    Gizmo being attacked is very well known incident in the park, and all the other owners have sympathy for Gizmo and understand his fear and reaction. And in most cases he will eventually calm down and accept the other dog. This pattern has been going on for several months, and I was hoping he would eventually get over it and realize there is nothing to fear.

    At least that's what I thought, and that's what many other owners also said.

    But the last 3 times Gizmo has become more brave, and has started to full out snap at them, and then attack the dogs instead of just standing his ground growling.
    Yesterday a dog did not put up with his behavior, and fought back. A bit of blood was shed, nothing serious just a little scratch.

    My distraction technique is no longer working, he will ignore me and focus 100% on the other dog. He will now deliberately follow after the dog, walk up close to him and growl. Eventually snapping at them, which will lead to a fight.

    This is getting very annoying, embarrassing, and worrisome. My sweet Gizmo is becoming a problem dog. It's as if his fear is escalating into some serious domination and aggression.

    Does anyone have any ideas?

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  • Going through somthing simmilar with our new addition.
    Our B has started to initiate the fights:mad:
    Be interesting to see what solutions people have, I'll be watching this tread:)

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  • Unfortunately, at this stage, I believe it's time for a behaviour analyst to come onto the scene. I had a boxer who was attacked by a JR and hated them with a passion. Completely obedience trained, he would only, ONLY, break a command for a JR. It took a lot of time and patience with someone who had an excellent tempered JR for him to calm down to the point where he would tolerate them being within 50 yards of him. After an attack like you had, I have found that the dog that was attacked would have an aversion to that breed or even the colour sometimes. They would paint everydog which was similar to the one that attacked them with the same brush.

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  • If Gizmo attacks other dogs, my first suggestion would be to avoid that situation. I wouldn't like to walk in an off leash dog park and meet you with Tillo ;)*

    I think you have to put a lot of energy in obedience training. If you want him to be able to walk off leash he has to come when called and he has to learn to ignore other dogs when you want him to. I think you will have to start at locations without too many distractions and put Gizmo on a long leash. Learn him to come when called and to follow you with his eyes on you and not on anything else. Then start going to locations with a bit more distraction. Find something he really likes and try to keep his attention, especially when you meet other dogs. No sniffing, growling etc. Just following the boss and when the other dog is gone, reward.

    I don't know if this behaviour is only triggered by the attack. How old is Gizmo and is he still intact? When Tillo became 18 months he wasn't the easiest any more with other intact male dogs.. Just comes with the breed I guess.. I put a lot of effort in him ignoring other dogs. I don't tolerate growling. I'll tell him no, call him to me and make sure his eyes + attention aren't on that dog anymore. If I notice he doesn't want to listen.. Then that's totally ok.. But he has to go on leash.

    I would suggest an obedience training where they use positive reinforcement. I think obedience classes are a nice place to learn your dog to focus on you when there are a lot of other dogs around.

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  • Gizmo does come to me when I call. He will only ignore if there is a dog he does not like.

    As for saying "No!" when he growls, I don't think that's a good idea. The growl is a warning sign, and training your dog not to do that is removing that behavior, and you risk having a dog that will go straight to an attack instead. That was one of the first things they taught us at the puppy class.

    Hehe, and I am pretty sure Tillo and Gizmo would get along fine. It's not like he is a monster or anything. It's just how to handle this behavior is what I am looking for. ;)

    He is still intact, and he is now about 1 year and 2-3 months.

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  • @NerdyDogOwner:

    But the last 3 times Gizmo has become more brave, and has started to full out snap at them, and then attack the dogs instead of just standing his ground growling.
    Yesterday a dog did not put up with his behavior, and fought back. A bit of blood was shed, nothing serious just a little scratch.

    This isn't being "brave", it is escalation. The dog park is not the place to try to help him through his fear of large, dark dogs. If one shows up then it is time to leave.

    If you want to help him with this fear then you need to find a trainer or behaviorist that can help you work through this starting in a more controlled environment. Also, be prepared that it could take a very long time and that he may never be truly over it.

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  • The fact that he doesn't come to you when he sees a dog that he doesn't like, makes him not really suitable for an off leash dog park. I would be quite pissed if I met someone like that with Tillo.. You don't want him to scare off other dogs..

    I tell Tillo 'no' because I want him to stop interact with a dog he doesn't like. It won't get any better if I keep him in that situation. You do the opposite:

    So I have been using the "distraction technique", calling him away from the situation and trying to sooth him by rubbing his chest and talking calmly to him once I have him next to me. He will still growl, and lick his lips (nervous).

    This feels to me like you are telling him it is ok to growl and fixate (agression, not fear) on other dogs. I think that when he's with you it's better to get him to focus on you. Make him follow you, play a game etc to get him out of his fear or agression mode. If he again fixates, ask him to look at you etc and reward.

    Of course he's not a monster.. ;) He's a dog.. Acting like a dog… And I would handle his behaviour like I wrote above :) Outside the dog park..

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  • The growl is a warning sign, and training your dog not to do that is removing that behavior, and you risk having a dog that will go straight to an attack instead.

    Out of the clear blue, my Shaye (1 yr, 9 mo.) who has always been very happy to be running with the pack, has decided there are certain Basenjis she has problems with, and has started fights with them three times. I wish she would growl, because it would alert me to the fact that it's coming up - she goes straight into attack mode, and it has me very concerned. Normally, she plays well and runs like crazy at al the dog parks with no problems. I am wondering if as she comes to maturity she is maybe trying to gain position? When I see the basenjis coming that she seems to dislike, I try to get her within my reach and hold on to her until I know what her reaction will be, but sometimes she is way out of my reach. Obviously, if she continues, she won't be going to the park where the other Basenjis play, and this is not a good thing. When she is in the fight, she hears nothing and I have to pull both dogs apart by their collars, which because of their size, does work, then I either hold her until she calms down or put her leash on and we're gone. Thank God she doesn't do it with bigger dog breeds, and still seems to be just fine with all of them - I'd be afraid to separate them.

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  • Btw.. Tillo was also scared of the Shar pei that wounded him during agility class. He didn't want to go on the training field when that dog was there.. Because he had to, he would keep looking around where that 'nasty' dog was from behind my legs. If that dog was too close, he would growl. I don't feel ok with him doing that, although I can understand why he does it and I was kind of scared myself too :rolleyes:

    I made sure that from the minute we stepped on the field, Tillo focussed on me. Happy voice + some treats worked ok. I parked him behind a closed fence if I couldn't pay attention, so he could not fixate on the Shar pei. Now if he sees that dog he will look, maybe growl and he will look up to me if I say his name. It makes things a lot easier, especially during agility when they work off leash, although I know he still doesn't like that dog and I will have to keep paying some extra attention because of this.

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  • S

    Sounds like your getting your dog settled again. Good job!

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  • S

    i would highly recommend finding a qualified behaviourist in you area to work with you.
    Here are a few books that may help also

    “Fight!” by Jean Donaldson, CDBC
    “Control Unleashed” by Leslie McDevitt, CDBC
    “The Cautious Canine” by Patricia McConnell, CAAB
    “Help For Your Fearful Dog” by Nicole Wilde, CPDT

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  • Today things went very well. I had with me some nice fresh chicken, and called him to me continually throughout the time in the park. And awarding him.

    A HUGE German Shepard came to the park, and Gizmo was instantly nervous. And started growling etc. Both of them stood staring each other down.

    I didn't yell "No!", but used my "Ah-Aah" voice in a strict manner. Gizmo reacted to me, and slowly backed away, and eventually came over. He was still nervous, and was watching the Shepard. So I made him work for his treats, going trough them with sit, shake etc.
    And before I knew it, he was fully focused and paying attention to me. The Shepard was walking around us the whole time. When we stopped, he didn't react to the Shepard as strongly.
    There was a short little growl, but they both moved on.

    Gave me hope. :)

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  • I wouldn't take Gizmo at this point to the dog park as it will put him in danger. I had a r/w Basenji that did not like bigger dogs no matter what color or breed and would get right in their face. A fenced in dog park was out for him.

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  • P

    In my opinion you are taking a chance on taking Gizmo to the dog park where I assume he is off leash? Deal with the behaviour first as suggested in the other posts and only put him in that position when he is totally reliable again. Be patient! I'd hate for Gizmo to get hurt nor any other dog.

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  • S

    I would highly recommend NOT taking him to the dog park, and definately NOT using treats while there. Food is the #1 aggressor in dog fights, so you are setting you and gizmo up for failure.
    Do you know anyone with large dogs you can use to desensitize him too?
    Please consult a behaviourist, you are risking your dog's health and mental well being.

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  • First Basenji's

    As I was reading this, I was also concerned about the high value treats that are being brought to the park. Even if Gizmo is good, other dogs may not be. For example, my own Shiba has, in the past, initiated fights over human lunches that were being eaten at the dog park (in particular, at one of our smaller parks with picnic tables all over the place). He sat down nice and pretty and appeared, on all accounts, to be mooching "politely." Then the lunch eater's dog came up – as dogs are wont to do when delicious food is in the area! -- and Bowdu snapped and lunged and a fight broke out.

    We don't go to that park very much anymore, and never when food (for humans or dogs) is around.

    In my opinion, small, discreet snacks are best at off-leash dog parks, if any.

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  • I don't know about dog parks anywhere else, but human food and drink, and dog treats, are not supposed to be brought to any of the dog parks in Florida. It's asking for trouble to have any kind of food around with a bunch of dogs off leash. Picnic tables are for dog water and for people to sit at and converse while their dogs are doing their thing. The few times we have seen people bring food in, someone will let them know real quick that isn't a smart thing to do. If you are training your dog with food, it's better to do it someplace else, with dogs your dog already knows around, if possible.

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  • When he was about 2 and intact, Topper was attacked by a big boxer. For quite a few years he went ballistic at the sight of any boxer, female, male, didn't matter. At the dog parks I would watch the gate and if a boxer was entering, I made Topper get up on the table and stay there. Eventually I got him neutered (he was 5) and didn't expect a dramatic change, but hoped for some mellowing out. He would still growl and act up but would not fixate for so long. He eventually found a boxer he liked and now he is fine unless we encounter the "BBB" (Big boxer with balls), but he will say a little grumble and then 'leave it'.
    Gizmo can get past it with a lot of help and distraction training from you. If he won't behave, leave the park. They figure out pretty fast that "X" behavior = leaving the fun immediately. I know it's hard to give up dog park, especially if you just go there, but leaving the scene is a must if Gizmo won't come to you.

    As for treats, in general it's a bad idea. If my guys were there, Nicky would have been glued to you till you gave her all your food! Even low-value treats can provoke fights. It depends on your park and the rules, of course, just something to think about. A friend used to keep special food in the car, so the dog (rescue) learned pretty quickly that following Dad to the gate to leave was a very good thing.

    I wish you luck, been there, done that! Took surgery and a lot of behavior modification but I wound up with a nice dog who had more fun than angst at the dog parks.

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  • Neutering is not an option for me, at least not yet. Here in Norway people usually don't neuter. Neutered dogs get humped by everything (females and males) when they enter the park, and the dog gets VERY stressed. I don't want to put him through that.

    The treats is not a problem. I have never encountered a dog that bugged me for them, and like you (MacPack) mentioned, I too get Gizmo to jump up on the table in the park to distract and give treats.
    I keep the treats in an airtight container, which might be why the dogs are not reacting to them. Actually, it's Gizmo that bugs others for treats..lol

    I give Gizmo one chance to listen to me. If he still stands his ground we will always leave the park.

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  • Another thing to consider is that Gizmo is nearing full physical AND mental maturity. Even without the negative experience of being attacked, a mature dog typically begins to "assert" himself more frequently with other dogs in social situations.

    My Jibini was 100% playful at the dog park from puppyhood until just shy of 2 yrs old….we visited the park 3-4 times a week and until he hit 2 yrs he never engaged in assertive behavior or fighting even when another dog tried to start a fight.

    Gradually after age 2 he became more & more assertive, several times I had no choice but to take him home. After a while we became very selective about WHEN we went to the park and WHO we went with. I was fortunate to live in Tampa at the time, where Jibini could enjoy playing with a group of familiar Basenjis who met every Sunday at a particular park. The Basenjis always stuck together in an almost exclusive group, ignoring most of the other dogs & staying in one area of the park away from the main crowd. If we attempted to go to the park without the Basenjis present, Jibini would inevitably start a fight with a bigger dog- without fail.

    It was during this time that a couple of knowledgeable folks pointed out the fact that Jibini had reached maturity, and that could very well account for his newly developed "attitude". Since then I've had a lot more dog-related experience & have seen "maturity" trigger assertive behavior between 1-3 years of age in a lot of other dogs.

    Just a thought. Keep working with him if you're seeing an improvement, of course...you probably CAN make an improvement with his obedience & possibly modify his fear reaction. Just keep in mind that this behavior probably won't entirely DISAPPEAR, and may not be isolated to just German Shepherds & similar dogs. You may have to be vigilant with him forever, he may react when you're not expecting it, you may find yourself leaving the dog park more often to avoid trouble, etc.

    My male is 10 years old and I still can't always predict which dogs will trigger aggression & which dogs he'll want to play with. Rarely he'll have such a severely aggressive reaction to another dog that nothing I do can re-direct or distract him, and the only option is to remove Jibini from the situation altogether.

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  • C

    My advice is to leave the park the moment you see a dog you believe may trigger him. And make sure you see it first!

    To change your dog's reaction, you need to begin a desensitization and counter-conditioning program. Which means that you cannot expose him to his "scary thing" to the intensity such that he begins to growl. Once he's tipped into an emotional behavior, you've missed the boat on your opportunity to change his internal reaction.

    If he's growling at say, 20 feet, you can probably start to notice other warning signals before hand, such as a freeze or hard eye. Even that's too late. You have to get to him before he starts to tip - while he's still comfortable. Which means working in a controlled environment. That is with dogs on leashes.

    A good trainer can create a training program for you and work with you on this, but repeatedly exposing him to large, dark dogs and waiting until he's already growling to get outta dodge is reinforcing his fear. And the recent scuffle really reinforced it. I'd say you really need to up your situational awareness or start skipping the dog park. Every time he has an unpleasant experience with a large, dark dog just tells him he was right to be uncomfortable, even if the other dog does nothing but appear.

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