Teaching Liberty to Relax With Other Dogs
This is Liberty, a one-and-a-half year old Boxer who was rescued a month ago. Liberty’s new owners called me for help with her aggression to other dogs and habit of getting over-excited when the members of the family came home.
I started things off with an leadership exercise that teaches the dog to restrain itself while also reinforcing the authority of her pack leader. It took a few repetitions before Liberty got it and laid down to communicate she was not longer challenging me for the treat. As soon as she did, I gave her permission to take it.
I practiced the exercise a few times then walked each member of the family through it as well. I suggested that they repeat the exercise a few times a day for the next week or two until Liberty masters it.
Because Liberty’s primary issue was aggression towards other dogs, I fitted her up with a Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash to stop her from pulling. As we left, I offered a few additional suggestions on ways to help Liberty see her humans as pack leaders. Small things like waiting for a dog to get completely calm before starting a walk can have a big impact on the walk itself.
Once we got outside I went over my rules for a structured walk; the dog stays in the heel position, no sniffing, no peeing and no pulling. I took the dog for a short walk by myself to see if I could get her to ignore other dogs without her family there. Sometimes a dog can act territorial around their owners and I needed to determine if that was the cause of Liberty’s aggression.
As luck would have it the neighbor across the street just returned home and their dog was off leash in the front yard. As soon as Liberty spotted the other dog, she became somewhat stiff lowered her head and started a stare down contest with the other dog. I disagreed and once she relaxed, we moved across the street.
I was able to facilitate a brief introduction, but Liberty was having difficulty being so close to the other dog. I suspect that she did not have many healthy interactions with other dogs as she seemed more uncertain than aggressive. I went for a short walk with the neighbors dog. While I was able to get Liberty to ignore the other dog for portions of the walk, it was quite challenging and inconsistent.
After the neighbor dog went inside, I worked with the members of the family on walking Liberty. Once the other dogs were gone, her behavior on the leash improved, but clearly needs work. I suggested that they practice walking her when the neighbor dogs are not out and practice the heel, as well as sitting on command. Its a basic skill, but training a dog to sit and stay sitting is a very useful command to master.
Once Liberty is able to master the heel and sit without other dogs around, her family will need to practice the same exercises when dogs are nearby. At first the other dogs need to be at a large distance and her owners need to place Liberty into a sit-stay the instant she starts to tense up or react to the other dog. By taking things very slowly and building up practice at not reacting to a nearby dog, Liberty will learn to relax or not react when she sees another dog.