Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

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Wittgenstein
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Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Wittgenstein » Wed Oct 21, 2015 1:53 pm

For last couple month Ramsey has been showing aggression toward some dogs. This is a COMPLETELY new behavior - just three months ago he was known to be the dog park sweetheart. I was also told that this could well be an ago thing (he's 20 month old now). From our observation, this is usually how it happens:

1. It's always with a new dog. He plays perfectly fine with dogs he knows.
2. When he sees this new dog, he would try to stand over that dog. He's tall, so he would loom over this dog. (That's my cue to pull him away.)
3. Then this is followed by him being aggressive toward that dog. Usually, by this point I would be pulling him away. There was one time I wasn't fast enough and he got into a scuffle.
4. Sometimes he would show similar aggression, when we are sitting outdoor somewhere, and a dog gets a little to close.

This is all relatively new and sort of just showed up suddenly in the past few months. Before that we never saw him showing any kind of aggression to other dogs.

So what we have been doing:

a. We stopped going to dog park altogether.
b. Every Wednesday he would go to this family for daycare. He's been going to this family ever since he was a puppy, so he's very familiar to them and their dogs. I told them about the incidents, so they have been watching him more closely. So far he has been totally fine (which is consistent with our experience when he sees the dogs he knows from our neighborhood). That family saw none of those aggressive behavior.
c. When we see dogs coming our way when walking Ramsey, we pull him aside, have him sit, and treat him for staying. What's puzzling is that, he is NOT reactive toward dogs on leash - no lunging or barking. He definitely shows interest and may stare a little, but could easily be steered.


So, it's a little worrisome, and we want to make sure we address it the right way. Any recommendation you have would be greatly appreciated. (Thankfully he's actually doing very well in other areas - he even loves the crate now!)

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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by arianwenarie » Wed Oct 21, 2015 6:31 pm

My theory is based on pack mentality and this is best seen in a dog park. You will see various groups of dogs rough-housing with each other. Most of the time, its just chase, which is a great game amongst dogs. However, you will see some dogs will get miuthy, jump on other dogs in the group or put their head over the shoulder of another dog and push down. These are displays and the dog putting pressure on the other is trying to intimidate the other dog. They arent sure of their position in this pseudo-pack and instinct dictates there must be a leader. A dog who is unsure will do this to establish rank. In any dog pack, there is a ranking system, a ladder to climb, so to speak. This is true at dog parks and you also see this at dog daycares where theybhave playgroups. Sometimes, you will see dogs who are off on their own doing their own thing. These dogs arent anti-social. They dont want to be part of that power-scuffle. These dogs are the ones who are calm, confident and comfortable with themselves regardless of environment.

Ramsey may see the familiar dogs in the dog park as his pack members when he is in this specific environment and he may even see himself as the enforcer of the pack. His behavior towards new dogs that come in is him saying, "I am the enforcer of this pack and you are not welcome." That, or he is intimidating the new dogs to see if he/she will submit and do whatever he wants. Most dogs will not tolerate tthis and will fight back...this is when a scuffle starts. When a scuffle starts, it becomes a chain reaction and other dogs will likely join in.

This is the #1 reason why I do not like dog parks and would rather find friends or neighbors with dogs to setup playdates to have the dogs play and socialize with each other. The humans can pick the place and can intervene more easily if any dogs get out of line. its the controlled environment that play dates offer that I like.

Would playdates be an option for Ramsey?

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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Wittgenstein » Wed Oct 21, 2015 7:00 pm

Thanks! That definitely makes a lot of sense, and yes playdates would definitely be an option. There are several dogs in the neighborhood that Ramsey plays ever since he was a puppy, and he's always very friendly toward those dogs. So, if I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that this is just normal/natural behavior, and the best thing to do is to avoid putting him in a situation in which he feels like he has be an enforcer?

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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by arianwenarie » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:37 pm

Wittgenstein wrote:Thanks! That definitely makes a lot of sense, and yes playdates would definitely be an option. There are several dogs in the neighborhood that Ramsey plays ever since he was a puppy, and he's always very friendly toward those dogs. So, if I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that this is just normal/natural behavior, and the best thing to do is to avoid putting him in a situation in which he feels like he has be an enforcer?
That is correct. Power gets to a dog's head and with each successful attempt, he will gain more confidence. Since he still isnt to the point where he is dog-dog reactive (on or off leash), you want to keep it that way. Prevention is worth a pound of cure, so they say. Anothee possible explanation for his new behavior is he is a teenager (in dog years). Between 15-26 months old, a dog will test you the most. The age range is generally speaking, it may be dofferent for Tams since they normally mature around 3-4 yrs old (?). Having positive and good experiences, especially with training through the teenage phase will help with any bad habits he picks up or escalates during this phase. So you want to try extra hard to help him succeed by taking him out of situations where he can develop unwanted behavior.

If the dogs in the playdates start rough-housing (body checks, bite and grabbing skin/legs, jumping on/at each other, posturing or dogs putting head on another's back/shoulder), break it up to make it known that kind of behavior is not allowed. There is also a certain threshold where dogs in an excited state of mind cannot "turn off". That threshold is usually about 1-1.5 minutes. You can train your dog to stop playing at that mark and go do something else for 10-30 seconds and they will resume play for about same amount of time and repeat. :)

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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Katlin » Wed Oct 21, 2015 11:22 pm

Same thing happened to Wylie, it was out of the blue and I was convinced that if I let it go to far he'd actually hurt a dog. He did exactly what you describe, looming over them and pinning them. My solution was to take him to the daycare at my work, but only for 30 minutes at a time. He was awful at first, but soon he "got over himself". We'd let all the dogs come in, Wylie would pin the dog, we'd bring all the dogs back out and leave Wylie alone, then let the pinned dog back in. Eventually Wylie got the point "if I can't play nice everyone plays in the other room without me". I let dogs correct each other, but I do not allow more than three nips for a correction. I've never had a fight :)

We're still working on the onleash aggression, it's so difficult to solve when your dog isn't motivated by treats or toys :oops:
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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Sylvaen » Thu Oct 22, 2015 11:32 am

Jasper was the same, until he was castrated. Now he gets along with almost all dogs of all ages: males / females / intact / sterilized...
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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Wittgenstein » Thu Oct 22, 2015 9:39 pm

Katlin wrote:Same thing happened to Wylie, it was out of the blue and I was convinced that if I let it go to far he'd actually hurt a dog. He did exactly what you describe, looming over them and pinning them. My solution was to take him to the daycare at my work, but only for 30 minutes at a time. He was awful at first, but soon he "got over himself". We'd let all the dogs come in, Wylie would pin the dog, we'd bring all the dogs back out and leave Wylie alone, then let the pinned dog back in. Eventually Wylie got the point "if I can't play nice everyone plays in the other room without me". I let dogs correct each other, but I do not allow more than three nips for a correction. I've never had a fight :)

We're still working on the onleash aggression, it's so difficult to solve when your dog isn't motivated by treats or toys :oops:
Thanks. It's a little relieving to hear that it has happened to some other tamaskans and it can be dealt with. I will see if it is possible to get a set up like yours.
Sylvaen wrote:Jasper was the same, until he was castrated. Now he gets along with almost all dogs of all ages: males / females / intact / sterilized...
Ah, I see. Ramsey is already fixed though!

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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Katlin » Thu Oct 22, 2015 11:07 pm

It's so discouraging to see eh? A lovely, beautiful dog, your best friend, is suddenly a complete monster to other dogs. I shed a few tears over it and was getting pretty desperate. Best thing you can do is try and make as many good experiences as possible.We had a few dogs were Wylie just wouldn't get along with at first, and now I'd trust him with 90% of the bigguns and 100% of the little guys.
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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Wittgenstein » Fri Oct 23, 2015 6:48 am

Katlin wrote:It's so discouraging to see eh? A lovely, beautiful dog, your best friend, is suddenly a complete monster to other dogs. I shed a few tears over it and was getting pretty desperate. Best thing you can do is try and make as many good experiences as possible.We had a few dogs were Wylie just wouldn't get along with at first, and now I'd trust him with 90% of the bigguns and 100% of the little guys.
Yeah it truly is.... I also keep asking myself if he's just doing something he's wired to do, or I failed him somehow. Sounds like there's a lot of the former, but it seems that there are things I can do. So this is getting more encouraging.

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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by firleymj » Sun Oct 25, 2015 8:25 pm

This is a very quick reprise of a technique I've found useful:
Canine Engage Disengage Game.jpg
The point is that almost any dog can become sensitized to other animals, some more than others.

Kona's problem playmates are few and far between, and while he's not an aggressor, he is big enough to be a formidable opponent, and to me the best self-defense is to avoid issues to begin with.

Hope this helps,
Mark
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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Sylvaen » Mon Oct 26, 2015 12:22 pm

That's a great info-graphic. Thanks for sharing! :)
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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Wittgenstein » Mon Oct 26, 2015 1:59 pm

firleymj wrote:This is a very quick reprise of a technique I've found useful:
Canine Engage Disengage Game.jpg
The point is that almost any dog can become sensitized to other animals, some more than others.

Kona's problem playmates are few and far between, and while he's not an aggressor, he is big enough to be a formidable opponent, and to me the best self-defense is to avoid issues to begin with.

Hope this helps,
Mark
That's great! Thanks. We have done a similar exercise like this before but not nearly as systematic. I will definitely work on this with Ramsey.

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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by firleymj » Mon Oct 26, 2015 2:49 pm

Thanks for the kind words. Rereading your first note and some of what followed leads me to make a few other observations, based on our history.

1. For some reason, somewhere between 16 and 24 months, many dogs will go through a period where they re-test a lot of their social behaviors. It's often more overt in males, but even females will do this to a degree. Most of them outgrow it, but there's often one or two really stressful experiences (though more for the owner than the dog) embedded in the process.

2. With intact males, you have to be a bit more careful. (WARNING: what follows is current case ONLY and is offered as commentary, not "science" - a science of single instances is no science at all). Kona's not an aggressor dog. He's not exactly "king of the dog park" but is very content to play or sit it out with almost any other dog. He's big and fast and gets given a lot of deference, but he's not the "ruler" by nature. He's naturally very social, sometimes to the point of being a pest (unlike his owner, who can easily get the curmudgeon award (ha)). He has been challenged a few times, usually by other intact males (and two females over the years - both of them are known to be very dog reactive.) He made peace with one of the girls and they can now play happily together. The other, well, sometimes avoidance of a problem is enough - "Discretion is the better part of valor" as the saying goes.

He will posture more with the males, and will send a few mixed messages - growl greeting while play bowing and giving "happy wag" from his tail. He won't shy away from a wrestle, but tends to back down if it gets "serious." He usually backs down quickly and will recall grudgingly on command. That's our cue to exit the "stage" and cool down elsewhere. A long walk on a new path gets him so intent on nose-work that he will change the focus of his attention.

3. Dog packs are fluid social orders, and there's a great deal of uncertainty if the "park pack" has lots of rotating players. This can cause your boy a good deal of stress. Look for clues like "whale eye" and counter-handed tail wag = his right to his left in a right-pawed dog. You know his stress signals - look closely and respond accordingly.

4. You haven't failed in any way - you're helping your canine friend adjust to a difficult and complex time and situation. There are some people who train their dogs to police or military standards - that's praiseworthy, but I'm more a "companion/family dog" type - so my view is a little more permissive. My point is that you, as the pack alpha, need to get square in your own head what you expect and then work to encourage that behavior consistently. The hard part for me was and is allowing him to encounter dogs that I'm not sure of - for he will sense my fear or misgivings faster than I can push them down and he does respond to that. Some days, it helps to cultivate a very meditative approach - a kind of "beginner's mind" in the Zen tradition, or "preaching without words" in the Franciscan one. Some days, if I know I'm not right about a new animal, I'll withdraw both of us until I can see the new dog interact with the rest of his pack. Then I have the option of re-introducing him to the group or not.

5. Perhaps this sounds too militaristic, but I think it's sound advice: "He who knows when to fight and when not to fight shall triumph." Sun-Tzu, Ping Fa (The Art of War). Or in this case "The pack leader who knows when it's right to engage and when it's right to disengage will have a happier and healthier dog."

I struggle with this, mostly with getting my own head in the appropriate place to do HIM the most good. Please know you're not alone in that.
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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by arianwenarie » Mon Oct 26, 2015 4:54 pm

Mark, great post!! :) In regards to #5, it really rings true. Dogs will not fight a losing fight - they're smarter than that.

I have gotten comments in the past saying all the rules and boundaries I have for my dog are too strict. However, my dog has a personality where if I give her too much slack, she will walk all over me. I often tell people I love my dog to death, she is my child, but she is first and foremost my dog and I will treat her as such.

Allowing your dog to engage other unknown dogs is nerve-wracking at best, but I keep reminding myself that my dog knows best and its just like pre-school...gotta let them mingle. My dog will walk away from a stressful situation and disengage - I never taught her this, she likely learned this from her mom while growing up and it has stuck with her.

P.S. for the record, I dont have a Tam (yet). Just a helluva awesome 8 yr old yellow lab who rescued me 7 yra ago at a shelter. :)

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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by Katlin » Mon Oct 26, 2015 7:07 pm

Agreed with a lot of what Mark said. Also I will say that Wylie is awful for sending mixed messages. I took him for his first full 5 hours at work today and at first he was very very wary of a posturing Border Collie Mix. After they watched each other for a bit they both decided they were ready to meet. I removed the leash and Wylie had his tail wagging, but his ears stiff and forward and began to posture. The BC submitted and Wylie backed off. After a few repeats they began to actually play, after that they played for about 4 hours lol! A good thing to do is reward when they shake their bodies and look at you, it's a calming signal and that really helped with both of these dogs today.
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Re: Aggression toward dogs - what to do?

Post by arianwenarie » Mon Oct 26, 2015 7:18 pm

Katlin wrote:Agreed with a lot of what Mark said. Also I will say that Wylie is awful for sending mixed messages. I took him for his first full 5 hours at work today and at first he was very very wary of a posturing Border Collie Mix. After they watched each other for a bit they both decided they were ready to meet. I removed the leash and Wylie had his tail wagging, but his ears stiff and forward and began to posture. The BC submitted and Wylie backed off. After a few repeats they began to actually play, after that they played for about 4 hours lol! A good thing to do is reward when they shake their bodies and look at you, it's a calming signal and that really helped with both of these dogs today.
*like!* I beleive yawning is a calming signal too. I yawn at Abby sometimes when she gets riled up.

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