Helping Mojo get his dog-mojo back

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 8, 2013

Walter and Mojo

Mojo is one-and-a-half-year-old Shih Tzu Bulldog mix, pictured here on the right with his roommate Walter a eight-month-old bulldog.

Mojo’s owner had contacted me concerned about the increasing levels of aggression he was exhibiting to other dogs including Walter.

When I arrived for the appointment, both dogs were enjoying the afternoon in their fenced in backyard. I sat down with their owner to discuss the situation and how I can help. Because of Mojo’s ever-increasing hostility, his owner had started to take him out less and less for fear of him lurching at or attacking another dog.

While this is a preventative measure that ensures everyone stays safe, it doesn’t really help Mojo learn how to interact with or be friendly with other dogs. Additionally not draining all that pent up energy in a constructive walk was allowing it to be channeled into unwanted behaviors such as aggression towards Walter.

Because Mojo has a tendency to pull on the leash, I fitted him up with a Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash. Mojo’s demeanor and energy level changed as soon as we left his yard. He became more alert to his surroundings, his energy level increased and he immediately started pulling us in the direction he wanted to go.

While walking can be a great leadership exercise, that’s only the case when it is done in a constructive way. When a dog is walking in front of its owner it is setting the pace and attempting to determine the destination as well. This is a clear leadership position and combined with a dog that shows aggression to other dogs, this can lead to an unpleasant incident very easily.

One of the first things I suggest my clients do for a constructive walk is to assign the dog a position in the walking formation. It doesn’t matter if the dog is positioned on the person’s rights or their left, what is important is the dog understands that this is the place that they are expected to remain there.

Once the dog understands its place in the formation, the next thing to do is to make sure the dog is able to pay attention to us on the walk. Dogs are not multi-taskers, they can only focus on one thing at a time. A dog’s nose controls 60% of their brain, therefore when a dog is walking with us and has its nose to the ground, it cannot pay attention to us. So one of the rules that I include on a structured walk is that the dog is not allowed to sniff the ground.

Keeping the dogs nose of the pavement enables it to pay attention to us and follow our lead on the walk which leads to a better leader / follower relationship. Every time Mojo’s head dipped down so he could sniff the ground I gave a slight jerk to the leash to correct him. Within half a block Mojo was walking with his head held high – no longer attempting to sniff the ground. This is called a migration walk.

The other rule I use for a structured walk is no marking. I let the dog urinate before and after the walk, but not during. When a dog is urinating on every fire hydrant tree or vertical surface encounters, its not walking with its owner, its marking his territory. When a dog is marking it’s territory it’s in a leadership mode. Because the whole point of a structured walking is to reinforce the human / dog leader / follower relationship, allowing the dog to mark territory sends a confusing message to the dog. By eliminating the dog’s ability to mark territory while on a walk, we are able to exhibit leadership to the dog and help the dog pay attention to us rather than looking for something to mark.

Once it was clear that Mojo understood the rules I expected on a walk I turned the leash over to his owner. I followed them a few paces away and from the street so that I could observe them. At first Mojo reverted back to his old ways, pulling on the leash and attempting to take control of the walk. But this time his owner provided timely corrections and stayed with it until he fell into a nice heel beside her.

It will take time and practice before Mojo’s behaviors on the walk become permanent. However when it does it will help immensely both with his aggression towards other dogs as well as him deferring to his owner’s commands and leadership.

By the time with that we returned to Mojo’s backyard you could see a noticeable change in his frame of mind and energy level. But since Mojo’s primary issue is aggression towards other dogs, we couldnt do much more in his backyard so I suggested we take a trip to the local dog park.

His owners eyes instantly went wide and she asked if I thought it that was a good idea. She said there was a dog park that she used to go to that was relatively near, but that she stopped going to it once Mojo started to become aggressive towards other dogs.

Note: taking a dog aggressive dog to a dog park is not a good idea unless you are an experienced dog handler or accompanied by a dog behaviorist or trainer.

One of the first things you should do before going to a dog park is take your dog out for a nice long walk and burn up any excess energy that it may have. Many people mistakenly take their dog to a dog park as its primary means or method of exercise. It’s always best to take your dog to dog park only after you’ve taken it for a long walk or done some other activity to drain it’s excess energy. If you run into a dog thats not well socialized or has aggression issues, a bounding high display of energy can trigger a reaction.

When we arrived at the dog park there was only one dog there, a puppy, which was ideal for our situation. When we entered the park I left Mojo on the leash so that I could control him and prevent any accidents or fights from happening. The other dog that was at the park was a puppy and he noticed us immediately.

The puppy trotted over to greet us but Mojo instantly became stiff, lowered his head, raised his hackles and barked a few times to warn this other dog. The other dog immediately stopped and at that point kept a distance from Mojo.

I could tell that Mojo’s owner was nervous and concerned that Mojo may bite or attack this little puppy. It’s important that we remain calm and confidence whenever we are out with our dogs as we can often trigger aggression when we are worried, insecure or appear less than confident.

To help eliminate his owners fears, I tethered Mojo to a young sampling. This gave Mojo 6 feet of free space all around the tree while also keeping the other dog safe as it can simply keeping distance from Mojo. The setup seemed to have a calming effect on Mojo’s owner which consequently had a calming effect on him. The puppy got closer and closer to us and Mojo reacted less and less to it.

After a while a few other dogs arrived to the park, one at a time. Mojo’s energy level increased each time a new dog arrived, but I showed his owner how to correct this behavior and disagree with his aggression. After a short period of time Mojo started to really relax and stop reacting whenever new dogs arrived or walked nearby.

Once it was clear that he was in a balanced and calm frame of mind, un the leash. When I did so, Mojo immediately walked over to one of the other dogs and circled around so that he could sniff the dog’s butt. This is the best possible greeting for dogs.

I kept constant supervision over Mojo but needed no corrections as his demeanor remained calm. While he wasn’t running around frolicking with the other dogs, he was interacting with them.

I explained to Mojo’s owner how this was the first step in his rehabilitation of his aggression towards other dogs.

Clearly Mojo can interact with other dogs when he is in a calm frame of mind. Therefore it is important that his owner take him to drain as much energy as possible before bringing them to the dog park and repeating the process that we did on this visit often. The more experience Mojo gets with other dogs that isnt a fight, the more tolerant he will be of dogs he doesnt know.

Tethering mojo to a tree when he first arrives at the dog park and keeping constant supervision on him will allow Mojo to calm down at his own pace on these visits. Additionally, this will allow his owner to remain in a calm frame of mind as well. This will build up confidence in both the dog and owner to the point where the incidents of aggression decrease exponentially. And when they do happen, it will give Mojo’s owner the confidence and authority to correct or disagree with his behavior in a way that he understands.

“I can’t believe it,” His owner told me right before we left the dog park. “I was thinking that this is the last place I should take him because of his aggression. Now I see that I need to take him here as often as I can but keep control of him so that he can learn to play and interact with other dogs.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. I anticipate Mojo’s dog aggression will quickly become a thing of the past.

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