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Susan MRCVS
Susan MRCVS,
Category: Dog Training
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Unpredictable aggression to other dogs, First noticed about

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Unpredictable aggression to other dogs
JA: I'll do all I can to help. When did you first notice this aggression? Does it happen all the time or only sometimes?
Customer: First noticed about seven months ago. My husband was walking her and I wasn't present. He hasn't walked her since. I have been walking her and taking additional precautions. Yesterday she did it again.
JA: Have you tried anything so far that helps the dog with her aggression?
Customer: Yes. After the incident with my husband, I started rewarding her for calm, relaxed behaviour around other dogs. If we saw another dog while out walking, i always recalled her and put her lead on. Her recall is very good and this always worked well. Yesterday she was relaxed and tolerant while on lead for several minutes while another dog owner chatted with me. She showed no interest in the other dog at all,barely looked at him. When I tried to redjust the lead because it had become loose, she took off suddenly and attacked the other dog. I will be using a clip lead, rather than a slip lead in future, but I would also like to address the behaviour if possible.
JA: And what's the dog's name and age?
Customer: She is 5yrs old
JA: Is there anything else the Vet should know?
Customer: She is a Staffordshire bull terrier cross. She is neutered. We have had her since a puppy from a good rescue who socialised her well. This behaviour appeared well into adulthood.

Hello, my name is ***** ***** I’m a veterinary surgeon in the UK. I will try and help you as best I can today.

What is your dogs name?

I sympathise with your situation greatly. It’s very stressful when you have a dog that’s unpredictable but often there are clues that the dog is about to lunge, it’s just we humans miss them. I know for myself that stopping for a chat with someone on a walk was a no no. We can’t concentrate on our conversation while watching for clues our dogs might have an outburst.

Usually these aggressive outbursts come from a place of nervousness and stress so your husband has definitely been doing the right thing to reward calm behaviour. I would encourage more of this but also training at home or in the garden that will increase your dogs confidence in herself.

I recommend you get her checked by a vet for any pain or discomfort and any underlying disease like hypothyroidism.

Sometimes changing the diet to a hypoallergenic diet can be helpful for some dogs as gut health is linked to brain health especially if acidity is concerned.

Getting a good behaviourist to help build you a plan will be very helpful. Follow this link to qualified behaviourists.

https://www.apbc.org.uk/find-an-apbc-member/

Customer: replied 17 days ago.
My husband will not walk her at all since the incident last year. I have been walking her and working with her by myself. Initially I did notice that she was tense around other dogs, but this issue was resolved relatively quickly.This time, she was lying by my feet, panting (she had been running about and it was hot). She got up as the other owner came nearer and seemed to want to say hi to him. She didn't even look at the other dog and appeared completely relaxed. Her eyes, the set of her ears, her tail, everything. This was why I judged (wrongly, as it turned out) that it would be safe to re-adjust her lead. Any signs she was going to lunge must have been extremely subtle. I did wonder if I have inadvertantly trained her to mask /suppress her normal body language by rewarding for calm behaviour, essentially teaching her not to show me those signals. Do you think this is possible? (1)The second she got loose her focus and demeanour changed so dramatically, any signs she was giving at that stage would have happened in a split second, without time to act on them.My husband thinks that this warrants euthanasia. I don't believe she is a danger to people, and 99% of the time, not a danger to other dogs either. So I don't agree with him. But the due to the unpredictable nature of the behaviour, how suddenly it occurs, and how violent it is - it does worry me. What is your professional opinion? (2)I don't believe she is nervous, and I know she hasn't suffered mistreatment. She did get attacked once as a puppy, but this behaviour has not emerged until adulthood. I have wondered if this is a form of resource guarding (where I am the resource). I wonder if she interpreted something we did as a signal. My husband used to call her over and make her sit beside him, and then release her to go and play. That was when she attacked the dog last time. This time, I did tell her "ok" because she was looking to say "hello" to other owner (I don't generally let her approach people without permission, because some people are scared of dogs, especially given her breed). The only other thing I can think of is that, on both occasions, the other dog was a similar build and colouring (medium/large, white with black patches).We will explore underlying physical conditions, but I will be honest, I am a bit skeptical because she looks so healthy and is fine in all other respects - appetite, coat, stools, energy levels. I am beginning to wonder if she does it just because she enjoys it. Is that possible? Can I realistically hope to change this behaviour long term (especially if she does just like doing it), or is it more likely that the most we can do is manage it? (3)I am looking into behaviourists, I am just worried that for all the resources I throw at this issue, she just likes doing it and won't change. In the meantime, I'll be taking extra precautions. I am considering training her to a basket muzzle. I've never had to do that before, but she's been bitten a few times by other dogs, once badly enough to warrant vet attention, and that was bad enough. I know her bite can be worse. She is very strong.

Hello
I believe using positive reinforcement won’t suppress signals of your dog being in early discomfort. Signs of early discomfort in most dogs are licking lips, stiff body, hair standing on end, looking sideways or staring at the object of concern and ears being pricked. This will often progress to growl, lip curling, body being rigid. If the dog gets more uncomfortable in her situation she may well progress to a lunge or bite or snap.

Negative based training like tugging the lead, saying ‘NO’ and methods that are based on pack theory and alpha dogs can have the potential in some dogs to suppress the early warning signs I’ve listed above. Those dogs will appear temporarily ‘better’ but at some point in the future the aggressive outbursts return only they now appear unpredictable. The early warning signs are suppressed so the dog goes from looking normal to suddenly aggressive.

Training your dog to wear a muzzle is a really good idea. It’s important to keep others safe if our dogs appear unpredictable. A very good behaviourist friend of mine used to say you need to be on your guard 100% of the time in order to make sure the odd aggressive outburst doesn’t slip through your defences and cause harm otherwise you will be forced into a situation where you might need to consider euthanasia.

I believe if you a conflict in the family where your husband thinks euthanasia is a good idea but you don’t understandibly then you really could do with a behaviourist who can look at your situation in detail, look at your dog’s behaviour in detail including viewing her behaviour when out and about and then working with you and your dog on a one to one to improve your situation.

I’m not going to lie it requires a great investment both in terms of time and money to care for a dog with unpredictable outbursts. Your behaviourist will be able to give you more info about whether you can expect to be able to manage the situation better. Ultimately your dog may not change. We won’t know until we try.

Take care.

Susan MRCVS and other Dog Training Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 14 days ago.
Thank you for your response. We have not used aversive training with her. After her first outburst with my husband, I noted that she did show a lot of those signs (stiffening, lip curling, hard stare) if other dogs rushed up to her while she was on her lead. I belived this to be a proportionate reaponse, though (she never did it when other dogs left her alone, or approached calmly). On those times, I stayed neutral and moved her away. We saw a great improvement initially, and she's continued to improve over the past several months. We've walked out of the garden gate and another dog has practically walked right into us and she has stayed totally calm. I do think her progress has been encouraging.

Have you ever tried clicker training? It can be a very useful tool for some dogs and their owners.