May issue

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Monday, 31 October 2011

Help me get my friendly dog back

I have enjoyed reading the magazine for a while and always find something in there to help me. Now I wonder if I can ask for your help please?

I have a two-year-old Staffie and I desperately need help with him. For the first two years he was wonderful when we were out, quiet and well-behaved. He loved to play with every dog he met, although some were not interested and I would have to restrain him.

At 12 months he was attacked and bitten three times in three weeks, each time by dog off the lead whose owners said “He wouldn’t hurt a fly” immediately before the attack. Then for the next 12 months 80 per cent of new dogs we met would bounce up wanting to play then at about 10ft distance they changed and tried to attack him. Every chocolate Labrador and spaniel went for him (amongst other breeds) and owners would stand there unable to understand why their dog would attack Max when they were fine with all other dogs. Max remained stationary and silent during these incidents then began to lie down when he saw a dog approaching and would just lie there until they had passed. As a result we both became scared of meeting new dogs because we did not know how responsible the owner were. I had two major altercations with owners who refused to put their dog on a lead even when they were standing over the neck of my dog growling at him.

He is now two years old and the worm has turned!! Now he behaves ferociously with all dogs he meets who he did not know in his first 12 months and I find it difficult to hang on to him. To me this behaviour is quite understandable, but it has to stop and I don't know how to do it. Can anyone help?

I did belong to a Kennel Club training group, but he became so scared that I would have to carry him in and just sit with him (there was no way he would work with other dogs there). I am still talking to them to see if we can try anything else. I have tried chastising him then because I realised that his behaviour is based on fear I have tried comforting him to calm him down whilst dogs pass. He wears a DAP collar. All this is having a little beneficial effect but nothing near enough to resolve the situation.

I really would be most grateful for any assistance you can give me.

Many thanks in advance

Lyndon Buck, Desborough, Northants


  1. You need to stop chastising him! Poor little lad, he is already scared silly by the actions of other dogs, and then he has to deal with you shouting at him! I certainly hope it's been nothing more than shouting!

    He needs to know he is supported by you,at the moment he likely feels that you shout at him when there are other dogs around, so if he can fend them off, you wont shout at him.

    Try looking for an Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) registered trainer, and sit in on a few of their classes before you decide to go with them. They may want to offer you one-to-one assistance, before placing you in a class situation, especially if your dog is not comfortable around other dogs.

    Another thing to try is Leslie McDevitt's "Control Unleashed" - I got it recently for my anxious rescue dog, she uses lots of different "games" to teach dogs that things that currently worry them are nothing to fret about. I use her "look at that!" game with Inka, as well as the "there's a dog in your face!" game, both of these have really helped him feel comfortable around other dogs, as well as going to a kind & supportive training class, and learning that I, as his owner, "have his back", and will take him away from, other otherwise help him with, or hide him from situations which he cannot yet cope with.

  2. Thank you for your advice. In fact I never shout at Max, just use a VERY firm tone and insist on him sitting until he calms down - and I would certainly never hit him. I know that part of the problem is my nervousness after all the past incidents and I am trying to be more positive too.

  3. I'm sorry you're having this trouble, I had a very similar issue with one of my dogs a few years back when he was attacked three times in very quick succession by two pairs and one trio of staffies. He became firstly frightened and would hide or be visibly scared of groups of dogs and staffies, particularly on the canal tow path where one of the attacks occurred. This fear led to him starting to aggress first to ward off the attacks that he assumed were coming. I have a BSc in Dog Training and Behaviour and run my own classes, so could see what was happening and resolved the situation using intensive clicker training and food. It actually didn't take him long to change back into the lovely socialised dog he'd been before.

    It sounds as though your dog is going through exactly the same thing. I would surmise that during the period when all dogs seemed to attack him that as they came towards him he was staring at them and giving direct eye contact? This would be seen as a threat by the other dogs and could lead to their 'normal' behaviour leading to aggression. Is the lying down that Max is now exhibiting helping? This is a calming signal to other dogs and should help the situation somewhat.

    I don't think you should be taking him to training classes, he clearly can't cope with the close proximity of many other dogs, particularly in an enclosed space, and needs to be helped on a one-to-one basis. You do need a qualified behaviourist who can read your dog and help you.

    In the meantime, you could try some natural supplements to try and calm your dog. Dorwest Herbs Scullcap and Valerian may help, as may some of the Bach Flower Remedies, including Rescue Remedy in his drinking water. I have had great success over the firework period with a new product called PhytoForce Relax, a herbal mixture that you squirt onto their food. Bear in mind that DAP can on rare occasions actually increase aggression because it breaks down a dog's inhibitions.

    Also, look at the way you are walking your dog. I am assuming you have him on a lead, you are probably tightening up substantially on the lead as soon as you see other dogs approaching. This signals to your dog that there is 'trouble coming' and instantly puts him on the offensive. Try to keep your lead loose. Are you walking in fields where you can keep your distance from other dogs or down tracks or roads where there is no escape for him? He will be more reactive in close proximity to other dogs. Reactive dogs usually have a 'critical distance', the distance at which they will start reacting or aggressing and you need to keep outside that distance so your dog reacts as little as possible.

    Your dog is rewarded, in his mind, by the removal of other dogs from his proximity when he behaves in an aggressive manner, so currently is being rewarded every time he aggresses and the longer this goes on, the more the behaviour will become 'learned' and more ingrained.

    While looking for a behaviourist you could try taking food out on walks with you and rewarding your dog for sitting and looking at other dogs as they pass, but the dogs must be outside the critical distance and your dog should not be reacting. If your dog refuses to eat, he is too stressed and you are too close.

    I must stress again though, you DO need a behaviourist, someone who will use kind techniques on your dog, no pinning or pack leader nonsense.

    Hope this helps, good luck.

  4. Thank you so much for your help. I took your advice and kept Max at a distance from other dogs and made a serious effort to remain calm myself. We had to pass a lively labrador yesterday but Max remained calm and would probably had gone to play had he had the chance.

    Regarding the training classes- I took him last week and stood outside talking to one of the trainers whilst all the other dogs came and went, each of them stopping to say hello to him. The first week I had to carry him inside where he calmed down and wanted to join in. The second week he happily followed one of the puppies inside, head up and tail wagging, and took part in the class, even walking round the other dogs whilst off the lead (that was probably more to do with the piece of liver in my hand than anything else).

    As a result his whole attitude has changed and the only time he became aggressive in the past week or so was after a Shii Tzu who barks at him incessantly was finally caught about 3ft from where Max was lying and was safely on its lead. I have found that a firm hand on the scruff of his neck helps to calm him down more quickly.

    I am very grateful for the detailed help you gave me, the results are already noticeable.

  5. Bless him, I'm glad I could help. Keep up the good work!

  6. With behavioural problems we should consider the dog's mental health as well as training needs. There is always the potential that allergy/intolerance to something in the diet can cause mental health issues as well as problems with physical health. Although you are seeing improvements already, it may be useful to feed him on a hypoallergenic-type diet with low protein and fat and free from chemicals.
    Best wishes
    John Burns BVMS MRCVS
    Burns Pet Nutrition

  7. Hi Lyndon.

    I have just spotted this problem in the magazine. I am an APDT UK Trainer based in Corby. It seems that you are managing the situation at the moment but if you need any further help please call me.

    Olwen Turns MAPDT 1093