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Old 13.10.2011, 14:28
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Dog Behavior Problem

As some of you might already know, we own a camel sized dog (Great Dane). Apart from him being a real cutie and a very devoted dog (loves my daughter to pieces) we do have some problems with him.

We got him second hand, so to speak, from a family when he was 9 months old. They had already been his second owners and when I contacted the breeder, she was totally surprised that he wasn't still with the people she sold him to as a puppy.

During the first time we had him he was attacked by a fully grown male Rhodesian Ridgeback twice (who was running lose) and a fully grown Yorkshire Terrier (!) that came running out of a house while we were just passing by. Since then, he has been very difficult to handle when we meet other dogs.

He's now fully growm (3 years).He has also become very aggressive around the house, when somebody rings the doorbell or we let somebody in, which is very annoying.

Apart from that, he steals food. Any ideas what we could do about it? He's our fourth big dog and the ones we had before a) ignored other dogs and b) never stole food c) knew that people we let in were friends.
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Old 13.10.2011, 14:33
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

train him. Show him who is boss, have a controlled short leash on him in those circumstances and repeat the situations. vocal reassurance is essential.

it sounds like he's nervous.

does he still have his hangy bits?
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Old 13.10.2011, 14:35
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

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does he still have his hangy bits?
Yes, we once had an appointment with a professional who said he might have too much testosterone, so we had him chipped (chemically catrated) that was effective for six months to see if it makes a difference. we are a bit hesistant about the surgery since he has a heart problem.
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Old 13.10.2011, 14:44
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

How is he on-leash outside without these influences?
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Old 13.10.2011, 14:46
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

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How is he on-leash outside without these influences?
very good and well-behaved. But as soon as he sees a dog (even far away) he starts staring and locking his eyes on them and it takes a great deal to distract him.
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Old 13.10.2011, 14:58
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

I recommend perhaps one of those collars where your tug controls where his head points. You will then break his gaze as you turn around or modify direction.

Distract him back to you being pack leader. Step 1.

Also do this at home as step 2 too
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Old 13.10.2011, 15:03
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

have you done your SKN with this dog yet?
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Old 13.10.2011, 15:25
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

Your poor dog sounds like he is totally traumatised and stressed out.
You need to begin to reinforce good behaviour staright away before he gets worse which for his size will have dire consequences for everyone.
I would suggest that when he is walking, as soon as he sees another dog, turn straight around and go back the direction that you came till he calms, then turn again towards the dog coming towards him and if he is anxious do the same again.
I used this method with one of my dogs and it did work - you have to be patient as it will take some time.

Around the house, when the door bell rings, associate a negative, so he is distracted each time. The same with food - have a loud sounding object to make him jump- bang a saucepan so he associates that with when he takes the object.
I know it will take time but bad behaviour if kept up will eventually mean that your poor dog might end up in the dogs home looking for another home - the last thing you want - he is very stressed and needs your help to reaassure him
Good luck and let us know how you get on.
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Old 13.10.2011, 15:50
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

I am sorry to hear for your problem.

You need an expert as the Dog Whisperer - Cesar Millan. You can also watch his show, a lot can be learned from it.
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Old 13.10.2011, 15:59
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

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I am sorry to hear for your problem.

You need an expert as the Dog Whisperer - Cesar Millan. You can also watch his show, a lot can be learned from it.
His books are also good. Be the Pack Leader!
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Old 13.10.2011, 16:00
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

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I am sorry to hear for your problem.

You need an expert as the Dog Whisperer - Cesar Millan. You can also watch his show, a lot can be learned from it.

There was(is?) a show on Animal Planet in the U.S. called "Its Me or the Dog." Hosted by Victoria Stillwell, who did a similar show in the U.K., I'm told. I've learned a lot of useful training tips from the show, and I think I remember a show where a dog had exactly your first problem. As to the second problem, I believe the show has encountered several dogs with that behavior. Might be able to google an episode or two...

The dog is probably stressed, especially considering that he was attacked twice when younger by other dogs. That would explain the fixation on watching other dogs, and might partially explain the territorial behavior towards visitors.
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Old 13.10.2011, 16:10
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

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As some of you might already know, we own a camel sized dog (Great Dane). Apart from him being a real cutie and a very devoted dog (loves my daughter to pieces) we do have some problems with him.

We got him second hand, so to speak, from a family when he was 9 months old. They had already been his second owners and when I contacted the breeder, she was totally surprised that he wasn't still with the people she sold him to as a puppy.

During the first time we had him he was attacked by a fully grown male Rhodesian Ridgeback twice (who was running lose) and a fully grown Yorkshire Terrier (!) that came running out of a house while we were just passing by. Since then, he has been very difficult to handle when we meet other dogs.

He's now fully growm (3 years).He has also become very aggressive around the house, when somebody rings the doorbell or we let somebody in, which is very annoying.

Apart from that, he steals food. Any ideas what we could do about it? He's our fourth big dog and the ones we had before a) ignored other dogs and b) never stole food c) knew that people we let in were friends.
Paging Melloncollie !!!!!


Until then, I can offer some help with the 'door' situation.

It's not likely that the dog is 'aggressive' towards people at the door, but rather 'defensive and protective'.
In this case, hold the dog back before you open the door
Make him sit.
Calmly tell him how good he is.
Then open the door.
..... ensure you are between the dog and the door.
(the dog soon gives up after a few weeks and trusts your judgement).

As for the fear from previous attacks - I'm sorry to say that I hate hearing about these sorts of things.

My advice isn't perfect here, but all I can say is to 'reassure, reassure, reassure' your dog.
when other dogs are passing reward the good behaviour. (pats, and tell him in a soft voice).
If there is an obvious fear, just get the dog to calmly sit, make sure there is NO TENSION ON THE LEASH* and again, just calmly talk to your dog and pat him.

Don't adopt your dogs fear of other dogs or you will loose the battle.



*tension on the leash will highlight YOUR** fear to the dog. A slack leash will indicate to you that the dog is comfortable.

**you are now compounding the problem
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Old 13.10.2011, 17:02
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

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Paging Melloncollie !!!!!


Now for one of my long winding missives. I suggest a cuppa...

MG'sD,

In the majority of cases, the behavior you describe (reactivity to other dogs, fear aggression, etc.) is rooted in fear, in lack of confidence, in uncertainty. The behavior is only the symptom. True, one must manage the behavior, but in order to change that behavior, one must ultimately address the root cause.

I am not a trainer, but I have a bit of experience with this behavior. I had a severely fear aggressive dog, and now have a (98% reformed) reactive one, and one who is still learning to handle his emotions - and a few other assorted nutcases. Since I do not know you or your dog, since I cannot see exactly what is happening, - and since I am not a pro - it would be wrong - and possibly dangerous - to try to diagnose your dog's issues via t'internet. The following is what I have done in similar situations - please take from my experience what might seem appropriate and useful when working with your dog.

And - please enlist the help of a qualified trainer or behaviorist. Having a skilled professional on hand, someone who can see the big picture, has helped me immensely. That my Hooligan is now my Angel (well, 98% angel) is due to the help and support of my trainer.

Now - as above, FA and reactivity are rarely linked to 'dominance'. A dominant/alpha dog is one who is completely comfortable in his own skin - and needs no external validation from you or any other animal. Rather, FA and reactivity are the opposite of dominant behavior - a dog who is afraid, has no self-confidence, has not learned the skills he needs to get along in this world. Lacking all that, he reverts to inappropriate behavior because he does not know what else to do.

Using popular 'dominance' methods on a FA or reactive dog can be harmful. Both to your dog and to you. Please do not go this route.

As many of you know, I strongly disapprove of the methods popularized by certain television entertainers. (Victoria Stillwell is an exception - I've come to like her, and most of what she does.) Please consult true behavior experts, such as Turid Rugaas, Patricia McConnell, Ian Dunbar, Sophia Yin, et. all.

I'll follow up with a reading list...

----
From my experience:

My Hooligan did not receive any socialization or training whatsoever as a pup. Basically, she was left to run wild on a farm for her first year, never seeing any other dogs other than her mother and siblings. Her first time off the farm she was attacked by a German Shepherd and badly injured. And a few days later she came into her first estrus, and was sequestered away from the world for the duration of her cycle.

So we had: lack of early socialization, traumatic experience, hormones in over-drive, no opportunity for good experiences immediately after the trauma. Oh, and a this crazy lady with a bunch of equally crazy collies scooped her up and brought her to live in a strange place to boot. Then during her first outing after her injuries healed and she was out of season, a dog she didn't know came barging towards her (one of the 'He just wants to play!' brigade ). She panicked.

What we had was a perfect storm of events - suddenly my mildly under-socialized dog became full-blown reactive to unknown dogs.

The following is a very much condensed version of the rehab programs I've used.

First - any behavioral change takes time. And changing the root cause takes even longer. So I follow a two pronged program: management of the dog's environment in the short term , and long term work towards rehabilitation. The short term management is necessary to keep my dog, and everyone around us, safe, and to give me the time necessary to work on rehab.

So... management:

First is ensuring that my dog does not get the chance to 'practice' her reactivity. Every time a dog goes into reactive or FA mode, the adrenaline kicks in - adrenaline is itself a reward. The dog sees that whatever 'threat' triggered the reactive behavior has gone away, and he files that information away in his brain. So the next time that threat appears, the dog remembers: "Last time I barked and lunged and the scary strange dog went away - it worked, I must do that again." And so the dog learns from experience, ingraining the behavior.

So I tried to not give my dog opportunities to practice the behavior . Toward that end I needed to:

- identify situations that might trigger reactivity, and
- avoid them in the short run

Identifying triggers:

I watch my dog carefully, paying attention to body language. Do you have Turid Rugaas' 'Calming Signals'? If not, this is an excellent primer on reading canine body language. Watch for the first signs of tension, heightened alertness - this is an indicator that the dog is starting to feel uncomfortable. Make note of everything that is happening when your dog shows these initial signs - when you see a pattern, you have likely found a trigger.

For instance, I initially thought that my dog was afraid of all unknown dogs. But further observation narrowed it down: eventually I realized that she was afraid of dogs using a hard-eyed stare, and all German Shepherds. In situations where she had enough room between her and the threat, she did not react. When the threat came within a certain distance, she panicked.

So now on walks at the sight of a dog on the horizon I watched my girl, and I watched the other dog. At the first sign of discomfort we arc'ed wide around, keeping well away. If I could not arc around, we turned and went the other way. She was never given an opportunity to 'practice' reactive behavior.

Secondly, I gave her opportunities for safe socialization. I only had her meet other dogs in our Hundeschule, steady dogs chosen by our trainer. We went quite slow - first merely observing other dogs play from a distance, then coming a bit closer, then polite controlled greetings, then when she was finally ready, play. When a new dog came into the group, back to square one. Over time, she learned how to cope with meeting new dogs.

I could not have done this outside the Hundeschule simply because I cannot control that environment - mostly the 'He just wants to play!' owners. With my girl, I felt it best that all socialization took place in a safe context - at that point walks out and about were on lead, with no direct contact with unknown dogs. We went out at times and to places where 'threats' were unlikely to be encountered. The idea was to set Hooligan up for success - she needed good experiences to build on. Five years on we continue to take classes, largely for the social aspect, and will do so for years to come.

(My girl lived then with three other dogs, quite happily - so she already had plenty of canine contact day to day.)

So - managing the environment means identifying what causes your dog's reactive behavior, not giving the dog opportunities to practice the bad behavior, and setting her up for success in other encounters.

I also manage the home environment with an eye to safety. All my doors have baby gates at the hallway. The dogs cannot get beyone the gate, so when the doorbell rings there is no chance of a dog charging a visitor, even the friendly ones in play. And when necessary during the rehab of some of my dogs, I have instituted a no visitors policy. At one point, I had disconnected the bell and put a sign on the door telling people to call me first. This gave me time to get everyone organized and safe in the event of an unexpected visit. If someone had to come in the house, I would put the dogs in another room first, behind another babygate, give them each a filled kong or other treat to settle them. Absolutely no chances are taken with visitors to the house.

(Okay, I've lived like a hermit at times... )


And... Rehab:

As mentioned, the behavior is only the symptom, I needed to address why my dog reacted as she did. After much discussion with my trainer, we agreed that fear lay at the root of her outburts. I needed to

Show her that she had no reason to be afraid, because I was in charge, I would handle whatever came up - she had no need to. And,

Show her that the things that she found threatening were not so scary.


The first was largely a matter of combining my management strategies above with watching my own body language. I needed to project a calm, confident air. Head up, shoulders back, non-reactive myself (even in the face of a charging GSD ). If I saw that her body language was starting to look uncomfortable, I stepped in front of her, blocking view of the 'threat'. I kept her focus on me, kept her engaged with me, rather than fixating on the threat. Once she learned that she could trust me to keep her safe, she started to relax a bit.

More important - I worked on distracting and changing the association. At the start, the sight of a trigger meant 'Danger!" - I needed her to start to see the trigger as meaning something else. So I paired the sight of a trigger with an extremely high value treat, one that only came out in these situations. I used ostrich sticks, as my girl is highly food oriented, but other people use a reward like a special ball, or toy. The idea is the distractor has to be just about the best thing ever - so good that the dog takes her mind off the 'threat'. A few thousand iterations of this, and eventually my girl started to see a trigger as meaning treat time rather than 'Danger!'.

Timing is key here. I needed to distract my dog long before her adrenaline kicked in. Once the stress took over and adrenaline was pumping it was too late - she would have been in no state to focus on me, or to learn anything. So I had to learn to read her body language like a book. At the first minute sign I needed to distract her. This took a bit of practice - and here is where my trainer was a huge help. A third set of eyes helped me get my timing right.

Now, all of this was done while still keeping her at a safe distance. Slowly, ever so slowly I started reducing the distance from the threat. If my girl reacted I had gone too far, too fast, and I knew I had to go back a step. We go at Hooligan's pace. This is extremely important. Going too fast can result in flooding, causing a dog to shut down.

I also added in additional non-food rewards. My girl loves doing tricks; eventually when I arc'd around away from a trigger I would ask her to perform a trick routine as the threat walked by - this keeps her focused on me and off the threat - and is something she sees as rewarding. This has the added benefit of strengthening our bond.

---

I'll admit, it hasn't always been easy, I've made many mistakes along the way, shed more than a few tears and on occasion contemplated drinking my wine cellar dry. But then I look at how far we have come and I feel so proud of her. We are five years on now, and my girl can calmly walk by most dogs. She even initiates play moves once in a while. GSDs are still iffy - but we continue to work at that.

Key things: I need eyes in the back of my head - I cannot engage in wool-gathering on walks, I need to be aware of what is going on around me at all times. After all, my girl is counting on me to be in charge. Safety is always on my mind. The specific techniques you use are best discussed with a professional after observation of you and your dog - the course of actions should always be tailored to the individual.

I set my expectations appropropriately. My girl will likely never be able to play happily with all and sundry, it would be wrong to expect that of her. No, my goal for her is to be able to calmly walk by other dogs, ignoring them. Play is reserved for the dogs she knows and feels comfortable with. So long as she has sufficient social opportunities with other dogs, her own housemates and selected friends, that is enough.

If despite my efforts my girl has a bit of a relapse I don't dwell on it, other than to add to my check list of things to watch. I don't show her that I am disappointed (with either myself or with her), I keep calm and carry on. Tomorrow is another day, we start afresh.

---

Anyway, despite the length of this missive, this is the very much shortened version of our lives in the past five years. If you think any of this rings a bell or might help, feel free to PM me anytime. Been there, done that - I understand what you are going through.

Wishing you and your lovely dog all the very best.

Last edited by meloncollie; 13.10.2011 at 17:34.
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Old 13.10.2011, 17:56
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

Once again - great advice melon collie.
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Old 13.10.2011, 17:58
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

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Paging Melloncollie !!!!!

when other dogs are passing reward the good behaviour. (pats, and tell him in a soft voice).
If there is an obvious fear, just get the dog to calmly sit, make sure there is NO TENSION ON THE LEASH* and again, just calmly talk to your dog and pat him.

Don't adopt your dogs fear of other dogs or you will loose the battle.
I don't think it's fear he's showing with other dogs; if he were afraid he wouldn't try to stare them down. If he was lose he would run to them immediately and probably attack, the way he was attacked when he was young, I guess.
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Old 13.10.2011, 18:02
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

May I just say how very lucky we are to have MellonCollie on this forum? She is incredibly kind, generous and knowledgeable. Thank you!

MacGregor's Daughter, I really sympathize with what you're going through here. I was previously owned by a Great Dane myself (of the laid back and/or shy and at times fearful variety) and loved her with all my heart. I now have a very (make that *VERY*) spirited young Mastiff and although she's also quickly becoming a bit of a giant (at 60 kg), her temperament is completely different. I would trust MellonCollie's opinions over my own any day but I'm not 100% convinced that your pooch is showing fear-aggression here. The reason I say this (and again, just a hunch, and not enough to go on here) is that submissive/insecure/fearful dogs will not usually indulge in confrontational behaviour that challenges the pack leader (like taking food owned by the pack leader), and the way you describe the staring/eye locking/fixation on other dogs sounds like it could be indicative of your dog trying to control the situation (which could be him not recognizing your authority or trying to be dominant). However, it's really hard to tell what's going on without reading the body language involved (which is really hard to do when you're trying to control a camel-sized dog, I know), and it very well could be coming from a submissive/fearful place, as previously suggested.

I think the best advice offered is to seek professional help (and pronto) because, as I'm sure you know, the big dog always gets blamed and, more importantly, it's essential that you get things sorted out so that you, your family and your dog can have a peaceful and happy life. A trainer will help you to determine what the root cause of these issues is and you can start working on it immediately. As MellonCollie mentioned, using dominance-based methods won't work if these behaviours are rooted in fear (and, conversely, treating your dog as if he's fearful won't help if he's actually trying to dominate or control the situation). I wish you the best of luck. Please do let us know how everything turns out and if there's anything we can do to help!

[P.S. I'd love to introduce our canine giants someday...I'm sure they would be good for each other. If you're ever in the Basel area, please shoot me a PM. Otherwise, I'll look you up if I'm ever near you.]
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Old 13.10.2011, 18:20
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

Thank you CHanuck.

I think what you say is true - he's trying to control us, what we do and if we are supposed to let people in the house or not.

Of course i know that we humans are supposed to be the alphas in the pack, and my two dobermen and my bullmastiff knew where their place was. However, handling a great dane seems to be different and I'm happy to hear from somebody with experience.
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Old 13.10.2011, 19:25
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

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I don't think it's fear he's showing with other dogs; if he were afraid he wouldn't try to stare them down. If he was lose he would run to them immediately and probably attack, the way he was attacked when he was young, I guess.
This is why it is so important to get professional help.

Fear-based reactivity often looks like the dog is challenging. The fear sends adrenaline pumping through the system, and the dog goes into 'see off the threat before it gets me' mode. The dog doesn't know what else to do. Often the dog has tried offering calming signals in the past, escalating up the ladder.

The stages of conflict decisions are often described as 'Freeze, flight, fiddle about, fight'. If a dog has learned that lower level options have not been successful in the past, the dog - fearful but full of adrenaline -might go for the trump card first: barking and lunging.

Take my Hooligan for example. At her worst, way back when, it might have looked like she was the instigator. After all, the other dog was just walking by, not barking or lunging at her.

But reading canine body language - hers and the other dogs' - you could see that the other dog had used extremely challenging body posture towards her, including that hard-eyed stare: the canine equivalent of 'Yo momma...' Hooligan was actually reacting to the challenge the other dog issued. But she lacked canine social skills. A steadier dog would have employed a lower level calming signal, say a turn of the head, the canine equivalent of 'Talk to the hand' and continued on, unphased. But Hooligan, terrified of the dog who was challenging her, opted for the only behavior she knew, the canine equivalent of 'Ya wanna piece a me?"

Or it could well be that your dog is 'just' being a bully.

The symptoms - agressive/reactive behavior - can be the same, but the root cause, the reason the dog behaves as he does, can be vastly different. It is the root cause that needs to be addressed in order to truly change the behavior, and the technique needs to be appropriate to that root cause.

But either way, as you are addressing the root cause the behavior needs to be managed.

Again, this is why on-line discussions should be a starting point to talk about possibilities, to bat ideas back and forth - but you should get help from a qualified behaviorist/trainer to come up with a diagnosis and implement a rehab program.

Hopefully the ZG contingent can offer suggestions for trainers near you. If you were willing to come to SZ, and are comfortable with Swiss-German, I can give you my trainer's details.

Last edited by meloncollie; 13.10.2011 at 19:39.
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

Thanks a lot for your ideas melancollie. There is a woman not too far away who has a great dane girl and I talked to her and we thought it might be a good idea to have the two meet somewhere in a neutral area so that hopefully they can play with each other. Since he's so huge and heavy it's really a problem to find a playfellow for him - what do you think?
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Re: Dog Behavior Problem

How comfortable are you with the other owner and dog? If you were to be concerned that things were getting out of hand, would you be able to intervene? Do you think the other owner generally have the same ideas/philospohy about dog training?

The important thing is to have the interaction be successful. Riotous play that both dogs enjoy is the most wonderful thing. Riotous play where one dog gets bullied can be problematic. Rioutous play that turns into a fight can be disastrous. It really depends on how steady the other dog is, and your level of comfort.

As with everthing canine - listen to your instincts. You know your dog best.

If you decide to do this, I'd probably start out by first doing a bit of parallel walking with the other dog and owner.

This is where you start out separated by whatever distance your's dog's 'no fly zone' is, and walk in parallel, keeping that distance constant.

Watch how the dogs react to one another. Are both dogs relaxed? Look at the set of the ears, the tightness/looseness of the mouth, the posture of the tail, the hard/softness of the eyes, etc. What kind of signals are the dogs offering each other?

If all looks relaxed and friendly, slowly reduce the distance between you and the other dog/owner. Continue walking in parallel, continue reducing the distance as long as everybody seems happy - until you are waking together side by side.

If anyone looks uncomfortable, stop and increase the distance back to the previous point. Never go beyond what your dogs define as their comfort zones.

Assuming you two are in a safe place where other dogs are unlikely to intrude, once you are successfully, happily walking side by side, assuming all is going well - then casually release the dogs from the lead. Say nothing. You and the other owner should keep in motion, walking around the area, not directing the interaction but keeping an eye out. The dogs may just sniff around, perhaps ignore each other - that's OK. Let them decide how they want to play.

Presenting a neutral facade, watch the body language of the two dogs. If one starts to look uncomfortable, or goes into defensive mode - keeping your voice neutral recall your dogs to you, resume parallel walking.

It's best to end on a successful note.

You may want to do this several times, don't rush the interaction, go at your dog's comfort pace. One eye on safety at all times.

Enjoyable fun interaction with other dogs is fantastic, dogs can learn so much from each other. BUT - in serious behavior cases, this really isn't a subsitute for working with a pro. Adding the caveat that I don't know your dog, can't see what is going on - do search for a trainer who can observe and give you professional advice.

All the best.

Oh, and I think we need a picture of the big lad.
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