Q: I have 14-month old Aussie Shepherd. I have taken him through obedience training and he does the normal sit, stay, down and heel. But when I walk with him in at the park he has a really mean bark, and he pulls me to go over to other dogs. People we encounter on our walks are often afraid because of his bark. And sometimes I am afraid that he will hurt other dogs. Can you help me to stop his barking? I try and put him around as many other dogs as I can, but the other people really don’t trust him. He also jumps up and my grandkids are a bit afraid of him too. But, he really is very lovable puppy.
A: The age where many dogs begin to escalate aggressive tendencies is between 1 and 3 years, although with some it is much earlier. There are many factors that can influence aggression, such as genetic tendencies (what the parents were like), early socialization (the first 14 to 16 weeks of life), and how the dog is raised. And there are many different forms of aggression. In your case it might be fear-induced aggression, where your dog thinks, “I better get them before they get me.” Or it could be resource aggression, where your dog thinks he has to protect you. Aggression can be unintentionally reinforced if dog basically thinks you want him to be aggressive. Health can also be an issue.
Three things are necessary:
- Changing the way your dog feels about other dogs (Classical Conditioning), and
- Increasing behavioral reliability and your role as leader (Operant Conditioning).
For pulling, you can gain more control with an anti-pulling collar or harness. Two I recommend are the Easy-Walker by Premier Pet Products (a body harness) and the Halti or Gentle Leader (nose harnesses).
A positive, professional trainer is needed. Because many dog trainers still teach methods that include physical force, I suggest interviewing a trainer before hiring him or her. You can find a trainer in your area that uses only positive training methods through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.APDT.com) or The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (www.NADOI.org). Also, check with friends, neighbors and your veterinarian for possible referrals. Interview each one until you find someone you like and who uses only positive methods.
Basically, your dog does not know what you want him to do in these situations so he’s on his own to listen to his own instincts. Your job is to teach him to check with you before doing anything. One example is to teach him to lie down whenever another dog approaches and to look at you. This is done step-by-step, starting in a non-distracting environment and gradually taking him through successive stages of success. Meeting dogs and children at a park would be comparable to a college level reliability and he sounds like he’s still in first grade.
Please do everything you can to keep you, your dog and other dogs and people safe. Keep your dog away from other dogs and the children until the situation improves and you know everyone’s safe.
The Dog Whisperer DVD, Vol. 2 for Puppies and Dogs focuses on solving many problem dog behaviors.