Training a Pit Mix in Redondo to Stop Acting Aggressively to Other Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 29, 2016

Sam and Bohdi

Sam (left) is a four-year-old German Shepherd Pit mix who lives in Redondo Beach with Bohdi, a three-year-old Schnauzer Beagle mix. Their guardians called me in to address Sam’s aggressive behavior to people and dogs he doesn’t know when outside of the house, and Bohdi’s tendency to over bark, jump up and get over excited.

Knowing Sam had responded aggressively to people he did not know in the past, I grabbed a handful of high-value treats and had them in my hand when I knocked on the door. But Sam showed no signs of aggression when I arrived for the session; however he did try to jump up and hump me a few times.

When I sat down with the dog’s guardians to discuss the situation, Sam’s energy level started to escalate. It’s likely that his reaction was stronger than usual due to the fact that I had a pocket full of high-value treats. He invaded my space, stuck his nose deep in my bag and hugged my shins while trying o hump them.

Normally his guardians give him a command to go lay down when he is being a nuisance to guests, but I asked them to refrain from doing so so I could see the full intensity of his reaction.

Let me say that I most certainly got a clear view of the behavior, LOL. Sam had a one track mind in terms of trying to dominate the treats out of me; repeatedly latching himself onto my leg to do a little humping.

While asking a dog to remove itself from the situation is not a bad way to go, it doesn’t fundamentally address the root behavior. I pulled out a leash and showed Sam’s guardians how they can use that to give him a temporary time out anytime he failed to listen.

Whenever possible, I want the dog to remain in the area and learn to curb his behavior on his own. Obviously in this case the leash was an important tool for this technique. But if Sam’s guardians effectively demote him in terms of authority amongst humans, at least in his mind, his desire and inclination to attempt to hump and dominate humans will subside and eventually stop altogether.

To help the dogs start to identify as followers, I suggested a few simple rules like asking the dogs to stay off the furniture, respect the human’s personal space and wait for permission to eat their food.

Another great way to help a dog start to adopt a follower’s mindset is to train them to take use subordinate body position. For dogs, sitting and laying down are less authoritative postures so rewarding a dog for using them goes a long way.

To help Sam and Bohdi learn to adopt this follower identity, I went over a technique that I like to call Petting with a purpose.

It will take both dog’s guardians a couple of days to a week of consistently refraining from petting the dogs for any other reason other then compliance. But once they make this transition, every single time that they pet their dog, they will be reinforcing the leader follower dynamic that will stop at many of their dog’s unwanted behaviors.

Although he is not going to run any marathons, Sam clearly is a higher energy dog. While his guardians were making efforts to burn his energy, his reaction to other dogs on walks created quite a conundrum. A higher energy dog needs a minimum of 45 minutes of constructive exercise (or more) every single day.

I strongly recommended that the guardians look for alternative ways of depleting the dog’s excess energy. My favorite option is what I like to call dog-skiing.

The human either uses a skateboard or rollerblades and places the dog in a harness. This allows the dog to run as much and as hard as they want until they have depleted all of their excess energy. Its a lot of fin and it takes a quarter of the time that a run or walk.

People often look at me sideways when I make the suggestion to dog ski, but you’d be surprised at how much control you have over your dog. I’ve only fallen once when dog skiing, and that was a result of hitting a pothole I didn’t see ahead of me.

Even though I am currently rehabilitating a dog aggressive dog, when we are dog skiing and encounter a dog that is barking ferociously at him from their front yard, the dog I’m rehabilitating is able to ignore it and focus his energy on pulling me along. That experience is also very beneficial in a dog’s rehabilitation.

If Sam’s guardians can introduce a suitable energy burning exercise early in the day, they should notice a dramatic improvement in his overall behavior as well his his reactivity to other dogs.

Sam’s guardians had been utilizing a prong collar which is a pretty extreme tool. Because it was not getting the desired effect from him and he was already starting to develop some aggression, I suggested that they utilize a Martingale collar instead.

Because we took our time before we left the house, Sam’s energy level was much lower than usual. While it seems like a minor thing, pausing and waiting for your dog to return to a completely calm and balance state before heading out on a walk can pay big dividends once outside.

When we were out on the walk we were fortunate enough to run across a very patient dog guardian who helped us by hanging out for a few minutes so that I could show the dog’s guardians how to apply a counterconditioning technique.

Counterconditioning is one of the best ways you can rehabilitate a dog who is reacting aggressively towards another dog. At first you need to find out what distance your dog can sit and take a treat at while another dog is in the area. The key is to practice and stop BEFORE your dog has an outburst. Once that happens, you went too far and need to stop completely.

Once you identify this distance, then you place your dog into a sit and hold a treat out in front of the dog’s nose so that you can keep his eyes on the other dog. By allowing your dog to nibble on the treats while it sees another dog at such a great distance (in a sitting position) it does not perceive it as a threat, the dog will eventually adopt a positive association with the presence and sight of unknown dogs.

Earlier in the session, I had gone over a technique called the Watch that will train Sam to look away when he spots an approaching dog. It will be very important for Sam’s guardians to practice that technique in gradually increasing levels of intensity in order for Sam to master a new skill, sitting and looking away when an unknown dog approaches.

The combination of counterconditioning and the Watch exercise will be too crucial tools that Sam’s guardians will need to use to help him get over his reactivity to other dogs.

By the end of the session Sam was much more relaxed, had given up his attempts to try to hump the treats from me and instead was sitting in front of me politely as his way of asking for a treat or affection. While we didnt work with him anywhere near as much as with Sam, little Bohdi was also starting to follow suit and sit for treats or praise.

If the dog’s guardians are able to consistently enforce the new rules and boundaries that we introduced during the session, get into a habit of petting them with a purpose and master both the watch and counterconditioning techniques, they should be able to help the dogs learn to stop acting inappropriately towards unknown people and dogs.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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