Aggressive biting of her own lead when she wants to chase cats...

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Joined: 2013-06-06

Laika loves the thought of killing things, so we're lucky to have access to lots of isolated rural hikes where there is nothing killable for miles. But still, we have a bit of a problem when walking to the back-of beyond via routes rich with the temptation of cats and wild rabbits.

In the nine months since we rehomed her as a rescue, Laika, our 5 year old Dobi-Dog, has demonstrated a pulling ability that would make a steam engine proud, and an obsession with chasing living creatures (but never balls or frisbees) that borders on psychotic. She is naturally very highly strung, and has a nervous disposition - it doesn't look like she had the best start in life, so I'm determined to give her what every dog deserves: fair, clear boundaries, loads of exercise and a secure, loving home.

As I am only slightly built (weighing in at just 100lbs), she simply shrugs off my regular lead corrections. So after reading the very helpful entries on the Gentle Doberman forum, we invested in a plastic pinch collar (non pronged) to try to make lead walks a little more manageable.

When she is in a calm state of mind, the collar is very effective. However, when she spots or even smells a cat or rabbit, and the collar correction is applied to remind her that cats aren't just for chasing, her reaction is to viscously, loudly and recklessly savage the lead - coming close to biting my hands in the process.

I'm guessing this reaction is a form of redirection, because by this point she has already entered some kind of "red mist" zone, any further correction results in even greater aggression, which is very troubling to me, and understandably frightening to any passers-by.

I've had large dogs all my life, including German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Doberman Crosses, all of whom have been very well mannered; around the house Laika is an absolute dream too. It's just this lead-attack behaviour that's justifiably concerning.

Has anyone else had a similar experience, or any ideas on how best to handle this behaviour?

Michael's picture
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Joined: 2012-12-12

Thunder has a similar problem.  He gets over excited when he sees dogs.  I like your “red mist zone” description.  That’s definitely where he goes.  He doesn’t respond to food, corrections, soothing, anything.  He lunges, howls, cries, and barks ferociously. 

He’s not at all aggressive.  He’s just frustrated that he can’t run over to the dog and play so he’s throwing a tantrum.  Unfortunately, the people walking their dogs by our house simply see a ferocious Doberman and are terrified. 

When he’s in this zone, he pulls grass and eats it.  At the beach, he eats sand (to come out later as vomit and diarrhea).  Often he bites at the leash and my arm (without any pressure.  He’s just saying ‘let me go’). 

We’re working with a trainer who employs ‘positive’ techniques.  No corrections.  No shock collar.  As you say, correction results in greater aggression.  We take him places where he can see dogs at a safe distance (pet stores, dog park).  When he watches calmly, we reward.  When he flips out, we add more distance.  This is based on BAT training (http://functionalrewards.com/).

Are you sure what you're seeing is aggression and not play?

Michael
Pennsylvania, USA

Joined: 2013-06-06

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Hi Michael

Thanks so much for your reply!

Laika's lead biting certainly feels more aggressive than playful, because it's so raw and urgent and fierce, but I can definitely relate to your "tantrum" description - it's as though she knows what she wants and nothing is going to stand in her way, or hold her back!

Your suggestion of controlled exposure, with reward or removal, sounds very appealing, and I will most certainly donning the big gloves and following this technique, as I am very keen to help her overcome her overzealous liking for the neighbourhood wildlife! Thanks so much for including the link, and for suggesting the BAT approach - and more than anything for taking the time to reply with your suggestions and support.

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Wishing you all the best with Thunder - wonderful name btw! :) 

HarleyBear's picture
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Joined: 2011-08-17

Pet Profiles

Exactly what Michael says.  Stay at a distance she can handle and reward for looking and staying calm.  Doing corrections for this type of behavior will back-fire on you and can be potentially dangerous.  The biting at your hand is redirected aggression, it was not meant for you.  But she will hurt you by accident.

I know this is hard when you can't predict a raccoon or cat on your walk, but can you maybe employ a friend with a cat on a leash?  The trick is stay far away, and don't push it.  Start at like 50 feet away, or 100.  Have her calmly look and then look at you.  Reward.  Don't take a step closer until she is ready.  And it probably won't be day 1.

Until she can handle it, try to find a walk that is away from raccoons and cats.  Every time she gets reactive like that, it is one step backwards in your training.  So set her up for success and keep your distance.

Also, you need to find a really high value reward.  It may not be treats.  She seems to have a high prey drive.  So maybe a bite wedge, tug toy, whatever.  You need to find something that is worth more than chasing a cat.

Joined: 2012-10-28

Pet Profiles

Hi,

Bella is very focussed on the squirrels and bunnies near our house. I have to see them way before she does and make her sit. When I think we are going to see one, she is in tight heel posotion and expects to be asked to sit often. So she sits and they run across the road in front of us. She now knows that sitting and watching them are acceptable. If they are very close and she lunges a very stern stop and no and and sit command while they run away. We use a chain collar ( no prong )for training/ potential excitement, and when she is relaxed just a regular nylon buckle collar. When we are on trail unleashed she gets to try to get a bunny, but they go to ground 1st and its all in fun.

Bella is dog crazy and has the same "I wanna play" now!/ lunging reaction. She gets very excited when a dog is nearby. There is a grassy park nearby where dogs are on leash, and I am in the process of figuring out when most of the big dogs are there. Even going and being there w/o them the smells are so ecxiting to her.

If she is to meet another dog she sits on command and lays down on the grass to wriggle towards the other dog. The key is relaxation and patience on her part. If she thinks her patience will be rewarded with a dog/ meet/ greet/ little play, she is willing to listen and wait. Some other owners are clueless that maybe the dogs could get some of what they want. Yesterday it was funny the little dog owners were picking up their pooches when Bella was seen. And she was being very good, just lying streched out like a big frog and sniffing with her tail up.

Also yesterday on trail (Bella was leashed) and a dog unexpectedly came around the corner unleashed. But they got to meet and were ok friendly. I think the other owner expected bad behaviour and her dog 'heard' that , then it escalated a little, and we went our separate ways. Bella WILL return any perceived or real aggression with same, its a very touchy and intense moment. Another key, I think, is to 'Mind Wave' them that you are relaxed and they can be too.

Bella used to do the lunging, howling and carrying on alot more than she does now. She will be 2 in January.

 Smooches to the pooches,

 From PB an' me