Dear Deborah: Our two-year-old shepherd-husky is fine at home but growls and lunges at people when we’re on walks and at animals on TV. We tell her to be quiet and correct her on leash with minimal results. What should we do? -Scary She-Dog
Dear Scary She-Dog:
You are right to consider this a serious problem even though she has not bitten anyone yet. You must show your dog that aggression is never tolerated and is always redirected. Each and every time she acts out, you have an opportunity to show her how she should behave.
Use the leash at home and on walks to take control. Scold her briefly for her bad behavior, “no bark” and then instruct her with new commands like “be nice” and “Quiet.” Once you say the command, you must enforce it every time. Hold the leash close to her face so you can use it to insist she obey your command. As soon as she responds, praise her. Make sure the quiet and praise lasts longer than the scolding.
Try to give her something to do so she can focus on something other than the animal or person she wants to intimidate. At home, teach her to lie or sit. It’s important to work on heel commands until she heels perfectly on command. Then heel walk her near some people or animals. Insist she focus on the heel. Keep walking and circle the people at a distance. Get closer gradually as she proves she can focus on you and heel well. When she gets distracted and reacts to the people, remind her to focus on the heel and continue walking. Always end on a positive note at a distance she can handle calmly.
Dear Deborah: My dog “Tika”, is very jealous of my fiancé. She is very devoted to me and extremely lovable, but she growls and barks whenever he comes over.
I know Tika is afraid of many things – airplanes, cars, people – but she’s little, only 14 pounds, and the rest of the world is so big. I manage to protect her from everything she’s afraid of without too much trouble.
My fiancé is 220 pounds and six-feet two. He refuses to talk baby talk to her. It is no wonder she is scared of him. How can I get her to like my fiancé? Tiny Tika
Your letter is full of details about the vet’s opinion, the good grades your dog got at obedience school and the trainer’s assessment, and that helps me a great deal to focus on the problem and understand the history.
Your letter was also full of excuses. If you make excuses for Tika’s bad behavior, you are signalling her that being naughty is okay with you.
Tika may be small, but she can learn that she is safe when in your company. Instead, overprotecting her has made her rely on protection.
Start with her on a leash to heel properly like she did in obedience class, beside and behind your left leg. Praise her for good behavior, correct her and redirect her when she’s pulling. She should heel no matter how many cars or dogs pass.
Approach situations she fears, at first at a distance, and later, when she’s more confident, close up. Practise and reward a good heel. Eventually, you’ll ready to let her meet and greet another dog.
Now that we have addressed Tika’s fear habits, let’s deal with her attitude toward your fiancé. Tika is not afraid of him: she’s trying to be in charge of him, controlling you and everyone else in HER home.
She should be scolded and redirected or kennelled for such awful manners. You are the ruler of the home and that means your guests are welcome. She must behave in order to earn the right to visit with you and your company.
Once you have shown Tika she must be nice to your guests, she will learn to accept them.
Your fiancé does not have to use baby talk to win Tika over. Instead, see if he’ll agree to a ritual evening walk, just the two of them, or a late night snack after you’ve gone to bed.
Dear Deborah: Our two year old male Doberman is very uptight and has lunged and growled at visiting friends. He’s even snapped at us when he wants to be left alone.
We have never used force or raised a hand to this dog – we tell our visitors to let him approach them and not the other way around. He’s passed obedience classes with flying colours but his biting problem is getting worse, not better. What can we do to nip this in the bid?
Willing To Try Anything
Anything? Try neutering your male Doberman to remove some of the stresses on his already overloaded system.
Next, purchase a training collar that gives you full control of your dobie. I suggest a face harness since you can use it for all walks until he likes it and then leave it on him at all times until his aggression has disappeared. Attach a three-foot leash to the face harness and use this to control your dog to behave around guests.
Reward him with praise and a loose leash when he’s good, redirect him with sharp tugs, and commands like sit and down when he’s exhibiting aggression. When he’s listening and earning praise for each trick, command him to “Be nice” and praise him if he remains calm. If he reverts to aggression, repeat the earlier steps.
Focus on the positive. Start slow with people he knows well in small groups. There must be no struggle and no chance of anyone getting bitten, so keep the leash and collar on for all training. Stay relaxed and in control throughout the session. You must not allow your dobie to get his way when he snaps, instead redirect him and control him with “Be nice” and praise. Do not expect the impossible.
Dobermans are not social butterfly golden retrievers, they are intensely loyal protection dogs. When you have a house party, kennel him in a quiet off-limits room and avoid confusion. Pick up a copy of my book Good Dog! for more details on handling biting, fear and aggression.