Training Fearful, Reactive, Aggressive Dogs

Training (or more likely re-training) a dog who is fearful, reactive, or “aggressive” often begins when people try to fix leash walking problems or barking problems or recall problems. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Keep reading. Details on this week’s prizes below.)

iceberg photoThe truth is that these dog behavior troubles take root in deeper feelings, actions, and motivations. Look only at the behavior, and you’re looking at symptom, not cause.

If you learn just one thing from us during Never Shock a Puppy, we hope it’s this: You cannot change how a dog behaves, until you change how he feels.

Dog Training: Why Force or Pain Doesn’t Work
Intimidating a dog or causing it pain is NOT the way to make him feel better about you or whatever scares him. And, the vast majority of seemingly “aggressive” dogs are actually scared. They are NOT trying to dominate you or the world. They pretty much want everyone and everything to go away.

Think of it like this: Dogs behave this way because they have learned that a good offense is the best defense from what scares them. Next time you see a dog flipping out or “being bad,” imagine him crying, “Go away! Leave me alone!”

Whether a dog’s fears manifest as…

  • Barking/lunging/growling/ignoring you
  • Hiding/fleeing/refusing

Punishing these behaviors is a bit like punishing a crying baby.

Dog Training: Teaching Dogs New Options
Positive reinforcement dog trainers and skilled animal behaviorists use methods backed by all kinds of science to help dogs calm down. These include:

  • Proper training tools, like head collars, harnesses, clickers
  • Relaxation Protocols, which systematically teach dogs to be calm in the face of various stimuli (noise, movement, people, other dogs, etc.)
  • Counter conditioning, which pairs something that makes the dog nervous with food or toys (something positive) so that the dog develops different associations with it.
  • Anti-anxiety medications (prescribed by a veterinarian)

Often, clicker training is used. This allows us to “mark” the behaviors we want with a neutral sound. Those behaviors might include — being calm, sitting, not pulling on leash, etc. The click says, “Yes, that!” and then is followed up with a reward.

  • Sometimes that’s food.
  • Sometimes that’s a toy.
  • Sometimes (as in Behavior Adjustment Training … called “BAT”) the reward is more “functional,” like getting to move away from the “scary” thing after offering a better, calmer behavior.

Dog Training Resources for Fearful, Reactive, Aggressive Dogs
We won’t sugar-coat this. Training or re-training a dog with these issues isn’t a quick fix thing. And, honestly, anyone who tells you it is … well, let’s just leave it at this. We disagree.

Never Shock a Puppy can only point you in the right direction, including:

A Guide to Living With and Training a Fearful Dog by our own coalition member Debbie Jacobs, whose site is a tremendous resource.

How to Find a Dog Trainer by one of our BlogPaws friends Eric Goebelbecker

All the great trainers from the No Shock Collar Coalition and Truly Dog Friendly

Several of us in the Never Shock a Puppy coalition blog about our ongoing work with our fearful/reactive dogs. It’s a great way to learn and see real-world applications of these techniques and tools:

If you have other resources to suggest, please post a comment.

Prize Drawing #4
This week, we’ll be collecting entries for the fourth of FIVE prizes we’ll be giving away during the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. All you have to do is post a comment to this blog entry before midnight (MDT), Sunday, Oct 10, 2010, to be entered into the random prize drawing.

Because we hope to reach out to first-time dog owners and new dog adopters, people who self identify as such in their comment below will get a couple of bonus entries. (We’re working on the honor system here, folks.)

You can read all the official rules to learn more, but for logistical reasons, we must limit entries to those in the U.S. and Canada. We’ll notify the winner next week via email, so be sure you enter your email address correctly. Once we know via private email conversations, where the winner lives and what size is needed, we can arrange for prize delivery and for the dog training contact.

This week’s prize package includes:

Since in our chosen WordPress Theme, it’s hard to find the comment link … we’ve made a big one here.


How Your Donations Help!
Do you want to help spread the word about pain-free dog training? Then, we need your donations today!

As our service project, we’re raising money for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge. (More details on how our efforts dovetail on our About Page and on the No-Choke Challenge page.)

Just click the donation button on this handy-dandy donation widget to get started!

If for some reason you cannot see or use the donation widget below, please visit the Never Shock a Puppy Donation Site instead.

We’ve added donation incentives this week for donations over $50 and over $75. Check it out!

Read More!
Never Shock a Puppy coalition members (and others, we hope) are blogging from their own sites on this and related topics. Each of us explain our opposition to shock collars (and other punitive methods in our own ways), so we hope you find at least one blogger who “speaks your language” so that you can follow our campaign in a way that feels most comfortable to you. Check out this blog hop to learn more.

This entry was posted in Dog Training, Humane Dog Training, Pain-Free Dog Training, Positive Reinforcement Dog Training, Prize Giveaway and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Training Fearful, Reactive, Aggressive Dogs

  1. Cindy Schmidt says:

    Good article, as a dog trainer in training myself, I am always looking for good articles to increase my knowledge on dog behavior. I have dog that is my “little spooky cat” and is fearful at time and found this article very helpful. Thanks so much

  2. Ruth says:

    We adopted two Great Pyrenees, Kyna & Fallon, a year ago (WOW! a year already?!) and have struggled with Kyna and barking a bit. Recently I’ve been trying some of the tips I’ve read on your blog (make Kyna do something like sit, down, etc.) and have praised her mightily when she didn’t bark at the usual triggers.

    For example, the UPS truck, Schwann’s truck, and the neighbors HUGE pickup with a diesel engine ALWAYS set her off. She hurtles toward the fence and jumps up and barks and barks and barks! While out in the yard a couple of days ago, the UPS truck drove by. Kyna heard it before I did and started towards the fence, but I managed to get her to stop by saying “stay” and then stood between her and the fence. I gave her the command “sit” and she did. As the truck drove on by I praised her for being such a good girl and being quiet and not barking, “Good girl! You’re doing so well not barking!” and so on. After the truck was gone, I sent her back to playing with Fallon. Yesterday I didn’t have as much luck, and in fact Fallon joined in the fracas, but I’m hoping by being consistent and making a positive (lots of pets and lots of praise and a few treats) out of a negative (dog barreling at the fence in full bark mode) she will eventually ignore the big trucks driving by.

    • I have a similar issue with my dogs, Ruth. I’ve found that training one at a time helps. Also, if I can get one of them not to race to the fence to bark, then I can usually keep the other one from doing it. There can be a real group dynamic in this particular situations. Thanks for the update.

      • Ruth says:

        Fallon tends to be the less anxious of the two. She doesn’t always get in on the bark-a-longs but sometimes I think she thinks it’s a game she and Kyna are playing. When I say, “quiet!” she usually does stop barking and gets the “Oops! Shouldn’t have been doing that” look on her face. Kyna gets so wrapped up in at times it’s almost impossible to get her under control. She’s very defiant and will run away from me, barking the whole time of course. Usually at that point, I’ll put her leash on then lead her into the house. No more play time for her. I know she’ll finally get it together and that it’s not going to be an overnight process; I just hope the neighbors can deal with it a bit longer.

        As an aside when we first brought the two of them home, Kyna was very shy and nervous; just in the past few months has she come out of her shell and started “expressing” herself so vocally. I tend to think of her as a three year old trying to test the limits. Setting the boundaries and being consistent seems to be the trick, as well as a good dose of patience! 🙂

  3. Courtenay says:

    Great resource list. I’m working with a fearful BCx pup right now, and will be fostering a fearful BC starting Friday, so it’s very timely info!

  4. Ellen says:

    Very helpful information for owners seeking to lessen their dog’s fears and very supportive for the trainers who are successfully changing the world of dog training by being positive in their methods and avoiding the tactics of aggression and domination against dogs. Thanks!

  5. Tail wags and puppy kisses to you!

    Thank you so much for this awesome resource for pet parents! It is so wonderful to know that we are one of many who support humane and positive training for all dogs! Training is about a positive relationship and bond with your pet, not about your pet behaving a certain way out of fear.

    We will be promoting your blog to help more pet parents understand why they should not use prong, pinch, choke or shock collars on their dog-kids and the positive alternatives available! Thank you for providing an informative and compassionate resource for us to share!

    Homestretch Hounds Rescue and Shelter

  6. Becky says:

    I have been working on the relaxation protocols with my dog, Gracie, and think they are starting to have some good effects. Between the neighbors taking out their trash, a stray cat wandering up to the porch and neighborhood kids cutting through the yard, it was a bark fest last night. The difference was that instead of making me another object to bark at during these episodes, she seemed to be looking to me more for direction. As a result, getting her to calm down felt more predictable and occurred faster. Thanks for all your information. I am finding it very useful.

    • That’s good news, Becky. Thanks for the update. I highly recommend doing some baseline work with the Relaxation Protocol inside the house or outside with no distractions so that you can solidify the process, before trying it in more “trying” environments. We did it at home for MONTHS before we ever took our show on the road.

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  8. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the great post! I have two reactive lab/poodle crosses. The male is the more reactive of the two, he even trembles at the sight of dogs or other animals on tv. I’ve been training look and alternate behaviors when I see other dogs and strange people but I’m going to try your method! I haven’t been using a clicker but I think it’s a bout time that I started!

    Thanks again!

  9. Lara Skaggs says:

    Hi, I am at my wits end, and your article helped. I have 2 pekinese dogs. One is 5, and the other we just got, and she’s 9 months old…..they fight constantly!!! I don’t know what to do. But, now I have your site as a resource.

  10. Dana Pierson says:

    Roxanne, so glad to hear that you were able to call Lilly off of that snake recently! I fully agree that shock collars are barbaric and should be banned. Fear and pain are not legitimate motivators, kids.

    We’re very excited about our new puppy, who will be the eighth dog we’ve brought into our family via National Borzoi Rescue. Every part of that prize package will help us to help him grow into a safe, happy, and healthy hound.

    Thanks for all that you do to inspire and educate those of us lucky enough to have been brought into the lives of some really wonderful dogs (especially if that “really wonderful” is a work-in-progress!)

    • Thanks. Lilly did exactly as she’s been trained. Even though I’m sure my voice and actions reflected less-than-calm, she did what I asked, and that’s all a girl can ask.

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