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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi, I have a two-year-old neutered male Doberman x Rottweiler. He's obedient and thoroughly trained, and was well-socialised with people, dogs and other animals from a young age. Until a year ago, he'd never been aggressive towards another dog, whether on or off-leash, and would be keen to say hello to anyone we met on a walk (but also quite happy to walk on by - he would never try to drag us over to someone who didn't want to say hi!). We were incredibly lucky, and sadly it hasn't lasted.

A little over a year ago, I was walking in the dark with my dog on-leash and wearing a Halti head-collar, which he wasn't at all distressed or bothered by. Out of nowhere, a lurcher-type dog which was never walked on-leash and had frequently had to be held back by the collar by its owner as it lunged for dogs, children and vehicles, belted out of the darkness and went straight for my dog's throat. He was restricted in his ability to fight back because of the leash and the Halti, and came off a lot worse than the other dog. He had a lot of nasty bite-wounds all round his neck, which resulted in an abscess and emergency vet treatment. Thankfully no lasting physical damage was done, but it's understandably affected him a lot psychologically.

He's fine walking past other dogs, and doesn't react to dogs barking and snarling at gates, or even those pulling on their own leashes to get at him (we have a lot of terrier-type dogs in our village that just LOVE to have a good snarl). He's absolutely fine off his lead with dogs that he knows, but his behaviour has changed significantly when other dogs try to greet him on-leash. (Please note, as soon as we realised there were problems, we've tried to just walk past other dogs rather than let them interact, but other dog owners' behaviour doesn't always allow that.) Sometimes (but not always), he'll let another dog sniff him, and sniff back, and even wag with no signs of nervousness or distress, and then suddenly "snap", and snarl at the other dog and lunge towards it. It's difficult and embarrassing because he looks so friendly and keen to say hello, but then something else seems to take over and he feels the need to be aggressive. He's never bitten another dog, so I believe it's a "back off" type snarling, but it's very difficult to know how to deal with it.

I'd be perfectly happy to try to avoid other dogs, but the difficulty is that he wants to greet them, and doesn't act or appear shy or nervous to other dog owners. It's very unpredictable as to when he'll do this, as he's occasionally absolutely fine. I've read a lot about desensitization with leash reactive aggression, but I'm not sure how to apply that in these circumstances, as it seems to be the greeting that triggers the aggression rather than the proximity to another dogs.

Does anyone have any suggestions for what I can do? I used to have a dream dog, and his sociable nature has been totally thrown off by somebody else's irresponsible behaviour. I hoped things might improve as time went by, but nothing's changed, and I'd love to help him get back to his happy, friendly self again.

Thanks!
Becca
 

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Just a question - does he act this way with all dogs or possibly just males? If so, then male dog aggression is pretty common and you probably would not be able to change that. Warning other owners that your dog is not friendly to other dogs is not something to be ashamed of - it is what I do when walking my dogs all the time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Hi, and thank you for responding.

No, the response isn't limited to males (he reacted the same way with a female boxer a few days ago - initial enthusiasm followed by ears back, and lunging and snarling), and it doesn't seem to be affected by age either. He's been this way with a quite young labrador puppy, but also with much, much older dogs. Some dogs he seems fine with, though, which is absolutely mystifying.

The only pattern I can detect (although I'm by no means an expert) is that it's face-to-face greeting that is a problem, rather than butt-sniffing, and that it seems more likely to cause problem if the other dog has approached him initially. It genuinely looks to me like a fear and insecurity reaction; once he's had a second or two of snarling, he is quite happy to stand there and for me to pet the other dog (which I've sometimes done just to prove that aggression doesn't result in us getting to walk away immediately). He's not usually dominant in a "pack" situation, either - there are several dogs we walk with quite regularly who will put him in his place and lead the way, with no negative reaction at all.

And you're right - I do warn other dog owners if I possibly can. It's just so odd to be standing there saying "he sometimes reacts badly to other dogs when he's on his lead" when all he's doing is wagging and wanting to say hello! If only they could talk...
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Yes, I've heard that too, and so whenever we intend to meet up with others, that's what we do - either walk side-by-side, or allow the dogs to greet each other once they're off-leash. It's those unintentional encounters that are a problem, really, where you don't have a lot of control over how another dog approaches yours. As I think I said, Hamish never used to react negatively to being approached face-first, it's since that other dog went for his throat, and I'm wondering whether there's any way I can re-build his positive associations with a strange dog being near his head!
 

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Leash aggression isn't that uncommon, especially after the type of incident you describe. It sounds like he feels really insecure and uneasy now about other dogs while on leash, most likely the lasting effects of the attack.

I would recommend first, not letting him greet other dogs on leash AT ALL right now, because the more he "practices" the behavior, the more ingrained it will become and the harder to stop. I would recommend picking up a copy of Leslie McDevitt's book, "Control Unleashed," and using the "Look at That" exercise, working at a distance on lead, gradually growing closer to the other dog, until he is not tense at all. This could take quite some time - you don't want to rush it.

Parallel walking, like you have been doing, is also good. Lots of rewards for him while he is not reacting to the other dog in that situation, and slowly getting closer together.

I would just continue doing both of those until he can walk side by side with another dog without reacting to them. I would NOT allow him to greet other dogs on leash until you successfully work up to that. Leash greeting are really unnatural a lot of the time to begin with, and he doesn't NEED to greet other dogs on leash. Be proactive and do not let other dogs get into his space. It's your job as the owner right now to prevent that.

It's possible once you've worked on this for a while that he'll get comfortable again. He might not. Some dogs are just uncomfortable meeting other dogs while on leash, and are fine off leash. Leashes really inhibit a dog's natural body language with other dogs.

I would also recommend a professional trainer, who can help you implement a similar training plan.
 

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I don't allow dogs I don't know to interact with my dog, period. I block with my body, vocally warn the owner (if there is one) or whatever is needed to prevent them from getting access to my boy. He is only allowed to play with and greet dogs that belong to people I know (so I can ensure they are properly trained and socialized). Your boy may never feel safe with face to face contact, so it is up to you to do whatever you have to do to protect him from it.

Personally I see no need to ever allow greeting on leash with strangers. I certainly don't go up to strange humans on the street and expect to interact, why should I expect my dog to do so? Instead he politely sits next to me while I make sure the stranger passes by without hassling him.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks for the great advice, both of you. A good trainer or behaviourist would be the ideal, but right now we're struggling to find one, as over here in the UK (or in our bit of it at least) we've found that there are very few trainers who know anything at all about "big dogs" and are very quick to label everything as aggression or dominance, and very reluctant to acknowledge that just because you're big, it doesn't mean you can't be scared! I'm continuing the search, anyway.

Dobermama, I wondered whether asking him to sit while the other dog passes would be a good way to deal with this, but had read somewhere that even acknowledging that something "different" is going on might make the problem worse. Have you got any thoughts on that? I'm happy to use treats to build up the positivity associated with the whole experience, but didn't want to inadvertently reinforce his idea of there being a "threat" situation.
 

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Dobermama, I wondered whether asking him to sit while the other dog passes would be a good way to deal with this, but had read somewhere that even acknowledging that something "different" is going on might make the problem worse. Have you got any thoughts on that? I'm happy to use treats to build up the positivity associated with the whole experience, but didn't want to inadvertently reinforce his idea of there being a "threat" situation.
My current guy was trained from day one that he was to sit while I dealt with the stranger- but one of my prior dogs (a Rottie) was attacked on leash as a pup by an unleashed intact male Doberman- I was bitten as I intervened and rescued my puppy. I NEVER allowed a strange dog near him again- I would body block (so he didn't see the dog) and quite frankly was willing to HURT any loose dogs that came anywhere near him. Dogs on leash I just politely asked the owners to move on by. He was fine with it- we traveled all over the east coast, in and out of hotels and he never had issues with passing strange dogs. He never reacted in the slightest- I never acted like there was a threat (unless there WAS, like a loose dog) and if there was a threat I dealt with it.
 

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Yes an finding an experienced good trainer that has dealt with this type of aggressinon to deal with this.
Our one boy has had this same Leash Frustration, Re-Directed Aggression. Find a good trainer to help!
Good luck
 

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A. The Dog Whisperer show warns continually not to do what he is doing. It's about the only good advice he gives. Not going to argue this point; there are numerous threads here on the topic.

B. In most of those shows he is using "flooding" which is a horrible technique. He also uses aggressive handling; major scientific studies prove that will only result in rebound aggression.

C. The vast majority of us need a lot more help than you can get from books when aggression is involved, particularly with a powerful dog who could do much harm if things stay on the current track. The OP has gotten great advice to find a certified behaviorist ASAP before the dog moves to more dangerous communication such as biting. Hope the OP gives us an update soon!
 

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I agree with most of the advice given here. MCs recommendation of the control unleashed book is great, one that she also gave me a few years ago and I am very thankful for.

Please do not feel like there is anything wrong with simply avoiding on leash introductions. You want to set your dog up to succeed and telling other people to back of so your dog can feel safe is 100% ok.
 
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