Our girl, Shana, was a very young Doberman puppy when she was bitten in the face. As we made progress after that, there were also some off leash dogs that made scary advances towards her just as we were making earlier progress.
Clearly, Shana carried the trauma from the earlier incident, and my not stepping up to make sure she felt more protected. After all she was a confident Doberman female puppy, I wrongly expected her to shrug it off. When things happen to a very young puppy, they can leave an unfortunate and negative imprint on their perception. Combine that with a puppy with strong drives and an iron will, there will be much work to be done, as I have found with Shana. Good news is it can be done, but I have had to become far more creative in my approach with Shana specifically.
All dog trainers read dogs as they train them, if they are going to be successful. I was no different in that regard. However, it has also become the general belief and result that if you train with a plan, some things go away just by training. With Shana, I had to rearrange my plans a bit and be much more creative. I couldn't just do formal obedience, and I couldn't just do games. I have found that I have had to do a balanced combination of both with much attention to impulse control.
Here are some things to know about my dog. Shana is an incredibly smart dog with a lot of drive. She knows how to open up all of the doors in the house, except those (thankfully) with the round door nobs. On occasion, I find her testing those with her paws and teeth. She loves to work and keep busy. At the end of the day, she also wants to please me (her partner in crime) and be loved up on. Loyalty, is strong in Shana, although she is also the most independent Doberman (or dog) that I have every owned. This dog is a very healthy and strong dog. She broke a Herm Sprenger collar and a cotton long line, and she is the only dog that has done that with me. She does not give anything away for free, you must earn it. Especially her trust in situations she perceives to be fraught with danger.
Two things I have done with Shana to lesson her anxiety about strange or not well know dogs, are tricks and obedience in these ways. The first video shows me putting Shana through her paces in front of a newer dog and two dogs she knows but not well. At the beginning, you will notice that I will reward her for NOT reacting at a dog when she would have before. She also gets rewarded for making a friendly social attempt towards another dog that she does not know well.
Exercise, training, and high impulse control. Shana has exercise all day long, but the bike ride with heeling is exercise that combines many things. First she has to ignore the daycare dogs running next to the bike (who she may or may not know well), then she has to keep in position with me, and finally she can not join in play with the other dogs while she is under the heel command. It's a lot to go on, but I have found it important to build Shana's impulse control. Next is a video of the normal bike ride we take to work on this.
Shana has her muzzle on in this video not only so she does not grab a dog, but also she has grabbed me in the past in her excitement. I have started to ride with Shana without the muzzle on the bike when her well known buddies are around. Another thing about Shana is, if something is making her anxious, she has deflected (not too hard but ouch!) on her friends and me. This has just started to become non existent. She used to bash her muzzle against my leg when she wanted to do this, but I was not letting her. So I don't have a before video, but trust me this is leaps and bounds better. I could have probably had the muzzle off in this video, but I have learned not to push it with Shana. She comes around, and if you are patient and smart with her, you will have fewer steps taken backwards.
I am not perfect when I work Shana, but I am as picky and try my best to be as exacting as possible. This is why my clients get nagged when they forget a handling instruction. When working with a reactive or aggressive dog (or any dog that you just want super well trained), the picky you are in the beginning, the more holes you fill in and don't leave open and gaping later on. Here I talk a little bit about why I nag. We all have a learning curve by the way, which is why practice is so important. Not just practicing to nail it in, but practicing to reach that goal. Here I talk a little bit about this, before getting distracted and talking about another two things I have done or am still doing with Shana around strange or not well known dogs.
- We also go on walks into public areas. Not always to formally obedience train per say, but to make sure she feels more and more comfortable out there.
- If we are in public and we have enough space (and known the dogs are leashed around us), we can play those games without her muzzle on and get her used to ignoring strange dogs in the distance as she does her work or play.
- If we are in crunchy areas in public, we use her muzzle with the treat hole to help get her in a calmer state (if necessary), and a long line so we can call her back if an off leash dog approaches. This way we know she won't grab hold of them if they come right into us. Also though, we make sure to drive the other dog and the owners off, so Shana knows we have her back.
- Definitely do trick training in crunchy public areas, but be sure that she does the tricks she is most comfortable with in public. She is just getting used to doing these tricks at home in front of not well known or strange dogs (the roll overs and down, which is not a trick per say). Often times places become "safe places" to do things, while other environments are not as safe yet (like the beach in Shana's case).
- When she is playing with a new friend (this is usually after she has given a play bow), we make sure those first play sessions are short, so she can get used to that dog's play style and not misinterpret the intentions of her new friend.
- The send command (I use the word go) has been really instrumental not only to send Shana away from a dog she might react at, but also to teach her the other option open to her. I have seen her walk away, when she would have reacted before.
Perhaps, one day I might be able to short hand this training process as I learn more. Working with Shana, has already given me many ideas for changing things up. I am very proud of my girl, she has done an enormous amount of work with me. She has been able to work as a demo dog with other dogs for awhile now. Now she is just much calmer, self assured, and confident that she is safe. It is a beautiful thing to see. This process and realization that I was making life more difficult for Shana before, has also benefited my current pack of dogs as well.