Using Sadie’s Desire to Fetch to Distract Her From Territorial Canine Aggression

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 26, 2014

SadieSadie is a seven-year-old Yellow Lab / Retriever Mix. Her owners called me for help with her aggression towards other dogs, especially when she saw them while she was inside her fenced in yard.

When I arrived for the session, Sadie was barking and showed light aggression towards me until she was able to give me a good sniff. Its not unusual for a dog to bark out of frustration when they are not able to give the person or dog a good sniff as scent is their dominant sense.

Usually when I inquire about a dog’s day to day life and structure, my clients struggle to come up with any rules the dog is expected to respect. In Sadie’s case, she did have some rules in place which is a great foundation. I suggested that her owners continue to reinforce those rules and offered a few others to help reinforce the leader follower relationship.

Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise to gauge how well she comprehended boundaries and authority. It took a little doing as Sadie was much more interested in fetching a dog than the high value meat treats I favor, but we were able to complete the exercise. I coached her owners through it as well and even swapped out the treat for a ball as the object the dog needed to learn to restrain herself from taking. By practicing this exercise daily and increasing the level of difficulty, Sadie will see her owners as in control which will help her stop attempting to take control of a situation when she sees another dog.

Next we went out for a short walk. Sadie did ok for me but when I handed the leash to one of her owner’s she was all over the place. We tried a number of different techniques to get her to stay in a heel position with marginal success. Only after walking a half block away from her home did Sadie calm down and fall into position.

I suggested her owner reinforce the heel command when she walked in position and also practice stopping suddenly and asking her to sit in the heel position. Dogs learn by repetition so as soon as her owner gets away from her home, practicing this stop / sit exercise will help Sadie learn to execute the action on command. This is particularly helpful for a dog who gets excited or aggressive when it sees other dogs.

Because Sadie had such a strong ball attraction, I suggested her owners practicing playing fetch in her front yard when other dogs are out or walking by. This helps drain excess energy which makes the dog easier to manage while it also affords the dog practice at focusing on something more desirable (the ball) when the stimulation that she normally reacts to (other dogs) are near by.

The more exposure Sadie has of being around other dogs without reacting or barking at them, the easier it will be for her to tolerate their presence when not distracted. It will take time and practice, but Sadie’s intense interest in the ball should help this rehabilitation process work.

By the end of the session, Sadie was laying on the floor relaxing as I offered a few parting suggestions and tips to her owners. Her path to a happy, healthy reaction to other dogs may take a few weeks or months to become the default reaction, but based on the progress we made in the session, Im confident this is a challenge Sadie can accomplish.

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