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Dawn asks...

This question is about: Aggression to a dog or other animal or where the dog is aggressive to the owner or a stranger

Can I change my four-year-old male Rottie [Rottweiler], Bosco, from being aggressive at this age? When I do something he doesn't like, he will bite or snap. I have been bitten by him aggressively twice. Dawn K., New Jersey

G’day Dawn,

I chose your letter this week because it was one of many about canine aggression, and it represented a good case to share.

First, I want to reassure you that much can be done to prevent being bitten in the future. Secondly, I want to let you know it is never too late to retrain a dog.

One of the keys to understanding aggression is that aggression is not a personality type; it is a behavioral strategy. Typically, dogs are not born aggressive, but they learn that aggressive behavior can get them what they want.

Before we launch into a rehabilitation plan for you and your dog, we need to identify the type of relationship that exists between the two of you and if there are specific triggers for his aggressive behaviors.

One of the most important aspects of your relationship with Bocso is mutual respect. Some dogs are quick to recognize that humans are the authority figures in their lives and those dogs require very little feedback or direction from their humans to respond appropriately. Other dogs, however, seem to have a “you’re not the boss of me” attitude and will challenge or act aggressively when they feel challenged by a human.

Whenever we at Bark Busters are called to help with a case of canine aggression, we ask many questions to help understand why the dog has chosen to behave in an aggressive manner. One of your statements was, “When I do something he doesn’t like, he will bite or snap. I have been bitten by him aggressively twice.” More information around this statement is needed before any type of training program can begin. Has Bosco been neutered? When did you first notice an aggressive response or reaction from him? Has he ever bitten anyone other than yourself? What were you “doing” that he didn’t like? Would you describe his behavior as getting better, getting worse, or about the same? Do you think he responds the way he does out of a lack of respect or out of fear or panic?

While it would be wonderful to think that an instant “cure” or fix was available, that is unlikely in most cases. One of our first concerns is safety. Consider getting a quality muzzle if your dog has ever acted aggressively to others. While I would not expect him to need it forever, it provides a measure of safety at least in the early stages of re-training.

Other precautions should be in place to minimize opportunities for an accident involving a bite or injury to other dogs or people. Avoiding known triggers will not re-train the dog, but it should be a starting point when undertaking rehabilitation or retaining for biting. Putting a dog into a situation that prompts an aggressive response before he is ready to be taught an alternative behavior is not productive and could set you even further back in your training efforts.

I would also encourage you to get professional help since your dog has chosen to snap and bite you. Mistakes in how to re-train your dog appropriately without causing pain or fear is critical to maintaining a happy, healthy relationship between you and your dog.

Derek asks...

This question is about: Recall or not coming when called Other

I am inquiring about my parent's dog whose issues have gotten a lot worse. Their dog, Lucy, a non-spayed English Springer spaniel, age 1, would try to get out of the house when the front door was open. Once she would succeed, she would run around in their cul-de-sac and would not come at all, for at times up to two hours. They eventually got a fellow dog in the area so she would come to it and then they would be able to pick her up and put her in the house. Now, at times she shows signs of being very afraid of something in the house and would go up to the second level and not come down. Also once outside in the backyard, she would do the same as when she was in the front. They have tried treats, ignoring her, calling her, just about everything we can think of. It gets us all nervous because at times, like last night, she wouldn't come in and the temperature was below freezing outside. Is there anything you suggest maybe that we haven't tried? Anything would be an amazing help. Thank you so much.

G’day Derek,

This sounds like an interesting challenge. We need to put our “detective” caps on to see what clues we can uncover.

Because dogs learn by association, we can assume there is a trigger or stimulus that concerns Lucy. Bark Busters has dealt with thousands of these situations. In one instance, a dog was stung by a bee when walking past a field and would resist all his owner’s efforts to persuade him to go anywhere near the field again.

Ultimately, in these situations, it comes down to trust. Lucy needs to trust that your parents will not put her in harm’s way and will protect her. She also needs to feel safe and not threatened by anything in the home. Have your parents look around for something that could be triggering her anxiety and, if possible, remove it. Also, ask them to think back to when the behavior began to see if they can remember a bad experience that may have occurred for Lucy.

As a matter of safety and practicality in the interim, make sure the front door is secure and that Lucy is on a leash when the door is answered so she can’t escape. Also, to ensure that she will come back in after toileting in the backyard, they may need to use a leash as well. Lots of encouragement and praise when she comes will help.

Please also contact your local Bark Busters trainer, who will be able to visit the house to learn what other triggers there may be to help better understand her behavior.

Scott asks...

This question is about: Other

I have several friends who have sent their puppies to what they call "doggie boot camp." I am getting my dog December 12th, and I'm looking for one of these types of services. From what they told me, they send the puppy away for a month or so of training . . . not sure if you guys do that sort of training, but I would like to find out. Thanks! --Scott T.

G’day Scott,

I applaud your forward planning in looking at the training options for your pup to provide him with the best possible start to his life.

Bark Busters focuses on in-home training, and there are a variety of reasons we believe in this:

By being in your home, we are able to assess the dynamic of the household: the number of people, other pets, where you plan to allow your pup to venture in the house, where the pup will sleep, play, toilet, eat, etc.

We are then able to customize the training to best suit your puppy’s temperament and your family’s wishes.

By conducting the training in your home, we also help the pup to become acclimated to his new environment and make the experience as calm and positive as possible.

While it may seem like a good idea to send your pup away for training, it will be conducted in an environment unfamiliar to him and more importantly, you -- his pack leader -- will not be there to provide the guidance and reassurance that is essential at this stage of his development. It is also important to factor in vaccinations and potential exposure to other dogs that may be sick or diseased, as well as the cost to kennel and train him that could exceed your budgetary expectations.

We charge a one-time fee that covers service and support for the life of your pup, which provides peace of mind knowing we will be there for his future should he need some remedial training.

Please contact your local Bark Buster trainer for more information about our services.

Patricia asks...

This question is about: Aggression to a dog or other animal or where the dog is aggressive to the owner or a stranger Barking at people, dogs, animals, birds or where the dog barks for attention or at the slightest noise

We have two wheaten terriers: Bogey (2) and Sweetie (3). We got Bogey as a baby. When he was 6 months old, the breeder asked if we would take his older sister, Sweetie, because they didn't like the way she was being taken care of (maybe abused?) by her present owners. She barks at everyone who comes near the house. She barks and backs up looking scared at people who come in the house. At the dog park, she stares at people and paces back and forth. If someone new comes into the park she barks at them worried she may get aggressive.

G’day Patricia,

I commend you for taking on Sweetie and giving her a better home. As you suggested, Sweetie may have had a bad experience, and she obviously is afraid of new people and environments judging by her reaction of barking, pacing and backing away. While we cannot undo what has already happened in her life, we can do some things to help Sweetie become more comfortable around new people and environments.

If Sweetie is food motivated, you can use treats to help her to see people coming into the home as a good thing and not something to be frightened of. Place a jar of her favorite treats near the front door. Put Sweetie on a leash and have the visitor drop a treat on the floor and then move away from it. You can walk Sweetie over and let her investigate what is on the floor. During this time, the visitor must pretend he does not know Sweetie is there, and he should remain still and quiet.

Repeat this process a few times, and then allow Sweetie to go to her safe area. Her safe area could be her crate or bed in another room. This allows her to remain calm and know that she does not need to be with the people during their entire visit. In addition, you are giving her the option to go lie down and be comfortable with people in your home.

Avoid taking Sweetie to the dog park for a while. First work on getting her to accept new people in an environment you can control. The park is full of noise, people and circumstances that can change quickly, and offers no safe place where Sweetie can retreat. This impacts the way she feels about people coming into your home.

The key is to take it slowly and have recurring good experiences; move on to the next stage only when the first one is a complete success. Sweetie may never be a party girl, but she will come to accept that people are not so bad after all.

I would also encourage you to contact your local Bark Busters trainer should you have further questions or would like some help to modify this behavior.

Grandma asks...

This question is about: Aggression to a dog or other animal or where the dog is aggressive to the owner or a stranger

My daughter had to leave her dog with someone for a month. He was a wonderful loving dog, but these people abused Bear and used him in dog fighting; she got him back with holes in his head. Now he's not the same dog and wants to bite everybody. My daughter wants to see if she can work with him, but she is about to have a baby on Christmas Day. She's had him back for only a week. Is it possible to rehabilitate this dog? What do we do? Signed, One scared grandma.

G’day Grandma,

Thank you for this week’s question.

From your description, Bear has experienced significant trauma from the dog fighting and abuse by humans. While we cannot change history, we can change the present and the future.

One factor to address is if Bear remembers his family and if there have been any incidents now that he is back with the family. You stated he wants to bite everybody. Does that include your daughter? You also stated she is expecting a baby around Christmas. Does she live alone or are there other members of the family?

First, make sure Bear has received proper medical treatment for his injuries and is healing properly.

Next, remember that recovery from trauma can be a long process or can happen fairly quickly -- depending on a number of factors. He is a fairly young dog, which works in his favor. Also, if you haven’t done so already, please consider neutering Bear as this often helps to reduce aggression.

At Bark Busters, we believe that every dog can be saved. It is important to recognize that any behavior can be prevented by controlling any one of three components: (1) means, (2) motive, or (3) opportunity. Training focuses on the motive or reason for the dog to engage in a particular behavior. If the dog can be taught that the trauma he experienced will not be repeated, we can move closer to re-establish the trust in his relationship with humans.

During the rehabilitation process, extra precautions should be taken to manage the opportunities for Bear to make bad choices. A crate or muzzle may be necessary to prevent injury to people or other pets while evaluating how well Bear is responding to training.

In any case, this does not sound like a case for the faint of heart. I would recommend getting help from a professional dog trainer who specializes in behavior modification, especially since there is a baby on the way.

For personalized professional assistance, feel free to contact your local Bark Busters trainer.

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