- Don’t take a fear-aggressive dog to places where there is a high concentration of dogs, like dog clubs or play areas, if you’re trying to socialize it. This will increase your dog’s anxiety, not lessen it.
- Don’t use physical punishment with fearful dogs. It often frightens them more, rather than teaches them. Distraction devices, like water pistols or training discs, are useful in some cases to put a stop to the aggressive behavior.
- Don’t put your arms around your dog to reassure it if it becomes aggressive or shivers and shakes. These actions simply magnify your dog’s fear. Taking a nonsense, detached attitude is better.
- Do find situations that don’t frighten your dog and do make use of dogs that your dog knows and doesn’t fear. When you begin your retraining program, use confident, passive, indifferent dogs. As your dog becomes more confident, other environments and dogs can be gradually introduced over many weeks or months.
- Do leave the park immediately if over boisterous dogs pounce on your dog and the owners either can’t or won’t control them. One over boisterous or aggressive dog could put your training back months.
Getting To Know Other Dogs
What we’re trying to do here is, to alter the dog’s view of other dogs. This won’t be easy; in following the program you will need to be methodical and very patient.
Firstly, find some submissive, possibly small dogs, preferably of the opposite sex. Start with one companion dog and arrange to meet the handler and dog on loose leashes or flexible leashes in a park or open space. Observe the distance your dog will accept the other dog to approach without showing aggression. Then walk across the park, keeping this distance between you. Repeat this back and forth.
If your dog doesn’t bark or growl, lessen the distance between the dogs on each walk across the park. Never be tempted to let the dogs off the leash because your dog appears relaxed at this stage. This exercise should be repeated daily until your dog accepts walking on a leash alongside the other dog without displaying any aggression.
Next you should arrange to meet in different parks and places, or in your friend’s yard, provided there is enough space to prevent your dog from feeling threatened. Eventually – it may take several weeks or longer – the dogs should be able to walk side-by-side on leashes without any fuss or displays of aggression.
The next stage is to let the dogs off the leash. If you’re unsure of how your dog will react, buy a muzzle and fit that to your dog. This will allow you to be more relaxed, which in turn will help relax your dog. Start by walking the dogs on the leash for around 200 yards, then release them and allow them to say hello to each other. If there’s no trouble, you can build on this until they become good friends.
Your dog can now learn to play, or at least say hello, and interpret canine body language, and this will build its confidence. You will now have completed the first step. You should aim to progress to meeting as many other helpers and their dogs as possible. Eventually your dog may be able to play freely and comfortably with other dogs, or at least begin to experience the fun of being with other dogs as opposed to fearing any threat they pose.
If at any stage your dog displays aggression, that simply means it’s not ready to move on. Your dog will only improve at its own rate, not at your insistence. The occasional snap is not the end of the world. Such reactions can still happen during the program.
Dogs Visiting You
Fearful dogs can also be very territorial, so bringing strange dogs to your home can be a difficult situation to deal with. We suggest you leave this until you have first corrected or improved your dog’s attitude in open spaces. When you have accomplished this, you can use a combination of obedience exercise and food rewards to gently introduce other submissive, non-threatening dogs to your home.
Using favorite treats is a useful way of rewarding your dog for good, non-aggressive behavior. It is best to link the treat to a sit or a stay. This method only works with dogs that love food; alternatively, you could leave out one day’s meal and on the following day take a bag full of chicken or ham chunks to the park to reinforce good behavior.
This method does not teach your dog not to fear other dogs nor make it like them – it simply teaches him to associate a place where he may otherwise feel threatened with a reward, and that can be helpful.
You can also use food rewards when teaching your dog to walk in company. Again we need to use a loose or flexible leash. However, this time use the food rewards on each occasion that you meet another dog and your dog stays calm. Only give a food reward when your dog is not growling or barking. And remember, repetition over a long period is required, not an occasional effort only when it’s convenient.