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How to take control of your mischievous dog
Dr. Spiegel, I adopted a wonderful dog a couple of months ago from a shelter. He's a Doberman/Shepherd mix, who's approximately 4 years old. He's very mellow, gentle, laid back, inactive, and quite a coach potato. He's not much of a watch dog. There's only one problem. When we go for our 2 long walks everyday, if he sees a dog (M or F) (leashed or unleashed) his hackles go up, he barks a lot (this is the only time he ever barks), and he pulls like crazy (he doesn't show his teeth). I have to grab him by the collar to physically restrain him. I have no control over his behavior. I've tried the "Leave it" command... he doesn't listen. I don't like the idea of spraying bitter apple in his mouth when he doesn't listen to the leave it command. He's such a good boy other than this. When I'm home, he's at my side 99% of the time. His behavior is the worst at the vet. It is no fun taking him there. He sounds like a macho man and thinks that he's king of the hill. I doubt that he would bite anyone. I don't let anyone get close to him when he's like this, though, for safety reasons. He does sound quite vicious and I know that he scares people. What are your suggestions on how to handle him? I love my dog and I want to be able to take him everywhere that dogs are allowed to go. But I can't take him places with other dogs if he acts this way. So now he stays home alone until I can get some control on his behavior. Everyday when we go out for our walks, I hope that there aren't any dogs around. Sincerely, J.M. & my dog Finley, Wilmington
Dear J.M., You, and many others, would like to "be able to take (your pet)... everywhere that (pets) are allowed to go." This is why several months ago, I put out a call to area businesses to let readers know where their pets are welcome. Here's who replied: Browseabout Books @ 133 Rehoboth Ave. in Rehoboth, DE (302) 226-BOOK Atlantic Oceanside Motel @ 1700 Highway One in Dewey Beach, DE 1-800-422-0481 or (302) 227-8811 (accepts pets in the off season) Best Western Delaware Inn @ 260 Chapman Road in Newark, DE 1-800-633-3203 or (302) 738-3400 (additional fee) Would you like a pet loving market to reach out to your pet friendly business? Contact me and let them know. As for you J.M., you know that you are not yet equipped to handle Finley in this sort of situation. As with most, but not all, behavior problems, while the animal and owner are undergoing behavior modification methodology, it is best to avoid situations (or sets of stimuli) which elicit the animals undesirable response/reaction. In your case, take your walks in less-frequented areas and at off hours (very early morning, late morning/early afternoon, and late night). Properly introduce a head collar restraint system (e.g. "Promise Lead", "Gentle Leader"... "Halti" is similar style, but somewhat less effective). Head collars move your control from the dog's neck and shoulders (which are very strong) to the top surface of the dog's muzzle and the back of its neck. These are anatomical regions that are evolutionarily connected with control (the areas a bitch grabs in her mouth to stop unwanted behaviors in her offspring). Head collars are generally very effective at controlling dogs that pull on the lead. By controlling his pulling, you will be stopping a good deal of the strength and energy that he is bringing to this response. This may help as well with the barking. It will be particularly important to know with great certainty the order of his reactions. Do his hackles go up 1st routinely? How long are they up before he starts barking? When does the pulling start relative to the barking? There are a significant number of factors that can be operating in this type of situation. We don't know his early history/experiences with other dogs. Since you got him from a shelter, he has almost undoubtedly been in close proximity to lots of dogs who aim to intimidate others through barking. There are plenty of dogs that have this need to assert their toughness in the presence of other dogs. Most often it is because somewhere down below the surface of their aggressive front they are scared. This is why his hackles go up first. This is his very 1st response as you've described it. And in these situations, to successfully treat the problem, you must address it at its root source. Anti- anxiety medication may be indicated here. Once that is addressed, then it is a matter of systematic counter-conditioning and/or desensitization (which requires much more time to cover in depth), initiating routines where he becomes used to listening to you consistently, and establishing a word command that he seriously respects.