Calming an aggressive dobe on leash.

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dsh210's picture
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Fellow Doberman Owners,

Our pup is just turning 18 months old and he is calming down a lot, but he still has a huge play drive. When we are walking on leash he is very bad about getting worked up when another dog is approaching. He will respond very well to my commands to sit and wait while the dog approaches, but once the dog is very near, Admiral will often lunge out towards the dog in a burst of Doberman energy and let out a bark or two, tail wiggling furiously.

It is very clear to me that this is aggressive but not at all vicious. He wants to greet and play with the other dog, but it often frightens the other dog owner (and usually sending their dog into a play frenzy even if the other dog was very calm before).

I respond by apologizing to the other owner controlling him with a hand on his muzzle, putting him back in a sit while speaking very firmly, then putting him in a down and making him wait. He is very good about all that.

I have considered keeping a lemon-water spray bottle on hand to spritz him when he is in the act of lunging, but I was wondeing if anyone else had any advice for how to combat this behavior. 

He can pass every other element of the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, but this one is quite a challenge.

 

Thank you!

A Frequently Embarrased Dober-Dad.

Lori's picture
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not sure I have many tips on curbing it other than to try to desensitize him to other dogs maybe with a class where he has to work with you while being onleash with other dogs around. 

 

As for the water bottle - why would you put lemon in it?  have you ever got lemon in your eye?  because it burns and frankly that's a bit cruel to do to punish a dog with when you haven't taught him what you want.  Skip the lemon and stick to plain water.......and don't ever shoot them in the face.  I squirt Rocky in the butt on occasion, there's nothing wrong with a water bottle. 

dsh210's picture
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Thanks for the tips, we are trying to find someone else who owns a dog Admiral does now know, willing to work with us.

We have been through three training courses, all of which included other dogs on leash. The problem was that he got used to them very quickly, then ceased the behavior. I only call that a problem because we then could not work further on it for when he encounters unknown dogs.

I am under the impression that he does know what we want since he is very good with the "wait" command under any other curcumstance. We usually train with positive reinforcement, but I have found that in very specific cases (where he has already been trained on a command and understands the command very well), a negative action such as a sharp command or a spray on the chest works very well to refocus him and remind him that his attention belongs on the command, not on whatever else he was distracted with. I have mixed feelings about using a punishment, but it has corrected a few bad behaviors for him. I am always open to hear other opinions on it.

As for the lemon-water I think it may actually be apple or something, it is a store-bought bitter spray. I tried it out and although it tastes awful (I cannot really place what the "flavor" is supposed to be), I did not find it painful at all. He hates being sprayed in the chest with it and that always grabs his attention. I do not want to give the impression that I am some Cruella De Vil character spraying my pup in the eyes with a burning liquid as punishment.

Thanks again for the help,

Admiral's Dad

kittykatb's picture
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Hi,

Bella started doing that a couple of months ago, she was about 6 months old.  The trainer we go to gave me a couple of tips that seemed to have worked.

Firstly he said, when I saw the dog approaching I tensed up and that translated down the lead, which put Bella on alert.  He told me to keep the lead loose and keep walking as if they weren't there.

Secondly, he said if Bella noticed the dog distract her by talking to her in an excited voice didn't matter what I said as long as it sounded exciting.

And lastly, if the above didn't work, correct her with one sharp tug on the collar and say LEAVE very firmly - the key was, I had to do this literally just before she started to kick off so she was slightly pulled off balance.  It took a couple of times before she figured it out, but if she still kicked off I kept walking and saying LEAVE.

Everytime she walked past without incident I always praised her until it became the norm.

It's not a magic cure and consistency is the key.

Hope that helps

Kat x

KevinK's picture
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You never physically correct a dog for being aggressive, ever, in any situation like this, unless you need to physically restrain your dog to prevent some kind of damage.  If your dog lunges, and you spray him, he's going to associate the spray with the lunge.  If he is truly acting in an aggressive manor, this means he will think the other dog is causing the correction, and will only make things worse.  Putting a dog in a sit, stay, down, etc. if basically forcing your dog to be put in a submissive position, so this kind of dog will feel like he needs to defend himself more than others, even if there's no reason to.

I would instead start working below your dogs threshold, meaning there is a point he will react, and a point he won't react.  When he doesn't react, he gets rewarded, and you slowly decrease the distance to the other dog while rewarding.  Do it at the dogs pace, and try to make him succeed every time.  If he reacts at 5 feet, as an example, you should be rewarding him BEFORE he hits that 5 feet and reacts.

dsh210's picture
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Thanks for the help Kat, I will give this a try as we are out on our walks.

Kevin, I think I may have misrepresented his behavior by using the word aggressive. I meant aggressive as in vigorous (wanting to play very badly), not aggressive as in reacting to a threat. I think this changes my approach a bit because I never want to punish him for responding to a threat. Once I find someone willing to help us, we will try your suggestion of rewarding him at incremental distances.

Thanks!

KevinK's picture
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Yep, also, you can avoid it BECOMING aggressive, if he starts to associate the spray with the other dogs.  After a few times, he anticipates the spray.  Some behaviors for a dog are worth the punishment...  If you have a high drive dog, and you have an electric fence in the yard, and a squirrel runs, your dog will probably run through the fence even though he knows and understands he will get shocked.  The reward, to the dog, is worth the risk.  But in this situation, if he interracts with a dog, and he now has a negative association with that interraction, it's a good way to escalate it into something more serious.

Think of it this way.  If I raise my hand, then I slap you....  then I raise my hand, then I slap you.  At some point, after a # of times of this happening, when I raise my hand, you are expecting the slap, and you will cower, run, jump out of the way, etc., even if I DON'T attempt to slap you next time.  Now, eventually, you may get brave, and when I raise my hand, you slug me in the mouth before I have the chance to hit you.  Now, anytime ANYONE else raises their hands, you will get defensive and/or reactive because this is what you have become used to.  This is what you want to avoid, your dog incorrectly associating a negative stimulus from another dog.

dsh210's picture
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Thanks, I don't want a curmudgen for a dog.

DJ's Dad's picture
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@dsh210:  sounds to me like you're describing Admiral as being more 'reactive' than 'aggressive'.  You can work a lot (if not ALL) of that reactive behavior out of most dogs, but it takes time, patience, and most of all repetition.

Like Kevin suggested, watch Admiral closely and try to catch him just BEFORE he lunges and barks.  If you are walking him past another dog, watch him a time or two without attempting to correct him...just watch his 'body language' so you'll be able to read it later.  Does he stop in his tracks, pause for a second?  Stare? Arch his neck? Ears move in a different position? Walk slightly slower? Keep in mind, these subtle signs are sometimes almost split-second happenings before the actual barking/lunging reaction. 

If you notice something that he does right before he begins barking, then THAT's what you'll be watching for when you begin your training to stop barking.  The second you see the physical signs, distract him.  Either do a quick turn around, or give him a sit command, or show him a treat or a toy that you just pulled out of your pocket---anything to get him focused on YOU and not so much on the other dog. Find a command word (Quiet/Leave it/ssshhhhh) that you are comfortable with and say it to him while you're distracting him.  If he is quiet, calm, and doesnt react negatively towards the other dog....even for a few seconds....reward him.  Each time you try this, try for a longer duration of quiet and calm with him. 

You'll get frustrated, believe me, but Admiral is feeling a little frustration also.  He's wanting OFF that leash, out of that sit command, wanting to run over to the other dog and PLAY....and he's not being allowed to.   Keep his training sessions on this short and positive.  Each time you train for his calm/quiet, lengthen the stay by a few seconds.  In time, you'll be able to keep on walking and he should do no more than look at the other dog with minimal interest while he keeps on walking alongside you.  It CAN happen.....but be prepared to put some time and effort into it before it does.  This type of training with a reactive dog is a slow process, but the end result is SO worth it.

Kaisesr's picture
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I recommend an obedience class where you can be around other dogs and work with a trainor.  My dog is very reactive to the rottie next door. (for no reason except territorial prehaps)..  When I leave my house and we are going by next door Kaiser puts his hackles up and immediately on the defense.  The problem is my neighbors don't leash their rottie, so K-man is reactive to that I believe to.  Basically the same thing DJ's dad said.  I tslk quiet to Kaiser, getting him to focus on me not the house/dog as we go by I treat and click.. and he prances happily by without a thought to him.  I don't sit him when I see another dog and I don't greet, I tell Kaiser your with me let's go, let's move.. This is what works for us.  You must be consistent.

dsh210's picture
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Thanks again, this has all been very helpful. We started last night with my fiancee walking him and me running by very closely, which elicits a similar reaction to another dog: "I want to play!" After a few times with some continuous " Walk along!" commands and treats to keep his attention, he was doing much better. We will continue training in that manner since we do not have access to a strange dog.

He snaps into this stalking, head down walk when he us preparing to jump, so that gives us a very easy signal to work with. 

It has been raining a lot too which I think has allowed him to store up an unusual amount of energy. After two mornings of the usual 45 minutes of full-speed dober play he seems to be a little more calm.

I will keep in mind that patience is always necessary with him. Luckily our neighbors are almost all dog people, so they are not phased by him.

DJ's Dad's picture
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You are definitely on the right track!  Good luck.  Dobermans are very smart, and he will catch on pretty quickly as to what 'walk along' means. That's great that you have already noticed his body language before he acts out.....that's the key to MANY things.  After I figured out some of the body language my dogs (and other dogs, btw) exhibit, it's so much easier to understand what emotions they are having.