Using BAT to Stop a Santa Monica Dog From Acting Aggressive to Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 6, 2018

For this Santa Monica dog training session, we did some Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) with 9 year-old Shepherd mix Rocky to stop him from acting aggressive towards dogs he sees on walks.

I worked with a few days ago to address his pulling on the leash and tips to help him see and respect his guardians as authority figures.

After giving his guardians a few days to get used to all the dog behavior secrets I shared with them for their in home dog training session, we were ready to help Rocky relax around other dogs using BAT.

Usually when you have a dog who is dog aggressive or dog reactive, it displays a lot of excited movement, posturing and animation. But in Rocky’s case, he got very slow and still; his tail stopped moving and he would lock in on the dog with a stare.

One thing I noticed at my previous session is that Rocky seemed to be on high alert as soon as we stepped outside. I was not able to get him to pay any attention to my treats, even without any dogs in sight. This tells me that the work we did in the previous session on flipping the leader follower dynamic will be a significant part of his rehabilitation.

Because of how he acted outside his apartment on our previous dog behavior session, I asked the guardian to take him to the park a few times before today’s meeting so that he would be familiar with the surroundings. In order to do any BAT to help dogs with dog aggression issues, the dog has to be calm and relaxed. Fortunately, the advance work had the desired effect as Rocky was alert, but relaxed enough to take treats.

I arrange for a friend to bring her dog Ruby to the park so that Rocky could practice being calm and non reactive around another dog, the core component of behavior adjustment training.

I pulled out a long, 20 foot lead and showed the guardians how to handle the leash before we got started. Its important to develop good leash handling skills as the long lead can trip a dog up otherwise.

I took the lead to start off so I could show the guardians how to use BAT to help Rocky practice not acting aggressive towards nearby dogs. You can watch me do a little BAT training with Rocky in the free dog behavior training video below.

I would like to see Rocky’s guardians arranging for him to have a BAT practice session at least once a week (more practice will accelerate his progress) with a friend’s dog. This will give Rocky the ability to practice being around another dog without targeting it or acting aggressively. Sessions should be no longer than an hour total, but done in multiple short 5 – 10 min sessions with breaks away from the other dogs. Guardians should make a point to sit down on the ground during breaks to influence Rocky to do the same.

The key will be to go slow and pay close attention so that the guardians can call Rocky away (return command) anytime he starts to lock in or stare at a dog in the area.

During these BAT sessions, Id like to see the guardians doing two things. The first is to practice letting Rocky wander around the park on a 20 to 30 foot lead before the helped dog arrives or is present. This will help the guardians develop better leash handling skills while simultaneously getting Rocky comfortable in that environment and with this sort of outing.

They should practice calling Rocky to them when he gets towards the halfway point of the lead or longer but never when he is sniffing the ground. The idea is to help Rocky practice returning to them during this type of activity (apart from another dog being nearby). When he does return to them, they need to give him a super high value reinforcer like some warm chicken from chipotle and then saying the command word of “return” the instant after the treat goes into his mouth.

I’d like to see them practice a 10 minute walk in the park with at least 10 recalls or returns, for each walk. This will be very important as it will help Rocky practice redirecting his attention towards his guardians and returning to them. You always want to practice any sort of dog behavior in the easiest capacity possible before the real thing, especially if its difficult or involves aggression. Practicing a return without a dog present is the name of the game here.

After each walk around the park, the guardians need to pop a squat and spend 5-10 minutes lounging. This is another form of practice and this is specific to Rocky’s reluctance to sit or lie down while outside. If the guardians make a point of visiting a park once or twice a week and chilling out (outside of BAT practice), Rocky will get more more comfortable and practiced at sitting and even laying down in public places.

The guardian should keep these bats sessions to 45 to one hour in length, using a dog that is non-reactive with two or three breaks sprinkled in between practices. As Rocky gets more familiar and comfortable with this activity, his guardians should notice that he stares less and they are able to get closer to the other dog without him staring or reacting. However, they need to remember that Rocky needs to lead the way. You really want to just put the dog in an area around another dog and then let it make the decisions on its own, interceding only when he starts to get into trouble (calling him to return). Remember the end goal is for the dog to want to approach other dogs, but to do so calmly and without any tension or hint of aggression.

This will allow Rocky to practice staying calm and relaxed around other dogs and in different locations. It takes practice but it’s pretty easy practice. As long as the guardians keep him below threshold, practice hanging out and maintain momentum by practicing at least once or twice a week, they should start to see Rocky get more relaxed and comfortable around other dogs.

I asked the guardians to follow up with me after each BAT session or once a week for the next few weeks. This will give us an ability to refine the technique, make adjustments and stay on track.

Rocky is a really great dog and I am very optimistic that his guardians will be able to help him learn a new more relaxed demeanor around other dogs through progressive BAT training.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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