Winston the Shar-Pei Pup Learns to Stop Being Aggressive to Other Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 20, 2013

WinstonWinston is a nine-month-old Shar-Pei puppy.

His owners had contacted me concerned about his increasing aggression and territoriality around their home and car as well as his excessive pulling on the leash.

When I arrived, I asked his owners to place him on a leash for me so that I could take him out on a walk without them. Frequently dog owners can be triggers of unwanted canine behavior. If the dog feels his owner is trepidatious, nervous or lacks confidence – that can sometimes trigger the unwanted behavior. By walking Winston alone I was able to gauge his level of intensity, his behavior on the leash and his default personality.

While he pulled very intensely, he didn’t have any reaction to the people that we passed or the little kids playing nearby. These were all good signs.

When I returned to Winston’s home, I sat down with his owner’s to discuss his behavioral issues and what they wanted to accomplish. As I often do, I asked what rules were in place for Winston to follow. It turns out that Winstons owners had incorporated a few basic rules into his life which puts them in the top 10 percentile of clients that I’ve worked with. Frequently dogs that have the most behavioral issues have the fewest number of rules, if any.

I started out with a leadership exercise that I frequently use with my clients. The exercise tests how well the dog follows commands and respects leadership. Winston did pretty well and only needed a few minor corrections before he laid down to signify that he was respecting my authority.

After repeating the exercise a few times, I coached his owners through the exercise as well. It took a couple of practice rounds before Winston got it, but eventually he did lay down for them too. I explained how important it will be for them to repeat the exercise on a daily basis while increasing the amount of time they ask Winston to wait before completing the exercise. By gradually increasing the amount of time Winston is required to wait, he will be able to build up his ability to self-restraint, a quality that Winston lacks but needs desperately.

Next we discussed adding some structure to mealtime. Since dogs correlate the order in which they eat to their status in the pack, having control over mealtime can elevate the dog’s owners into a leadership position in the dog eyes.

I advised them to place food in Winston’s bowl and then to guard it and not allow him to eat until they give him permission to do so. But prior to giving him permission, it’s important that they eat in front of the dog first. Even if it’s not a complete meal, the act of eating some food while the dog waits while food is in its bowl can help the dog tremendously. Sex and food are the two most primal activities that dogs participate in. Since sex is usually not something that dogs engage in due to being fixed, mealtime carries a lot of weight and power in terms of the dog’s perception of its owners status and leadership.

I coached them through the process of guarding his food as well as releasing him to eat his food when they were finished snacking and Winston complied pretty well. By repeating this process at every meal, it will become habit for Winston to sit and patiently wait for his owners to give him permission to eat.

Next we went out for a short walk. Since Winston pulled on the leash I fitted him up with a Martingdale collar and added my special twist of the leash. As it always does, it had a dramatic impact on Winston and curbed his polling substantially. However when we encountered people or other dogs that were in close proximity to his home, Whiston became very animated.

I showed his owners a few corrective techniques to use whenever Winston started to get overstimulated, excited or aggressive towards any person or any dog we encountered.

As each of his owners practiced walking him using the Martingale, they both commented on how nice it was to have him walking beside them instead of pulling. I gave them a few additional pointers and tips on ways to get Winston to pay more attention to them when out for a walk. However, I was still concerned at how intense his reaction was to any other dog or person that approached him while he was in his front yard.

Luckily one of Winston’s neighbors is a former client of mine so I went and knocked on their door to ask if I could borrow their dog Ernie, a young, happy-go-lucky golden retriever.

I had instructed Winston’s owners to have him inside the house since they had an all glass front door. I wanted to gauge Winston’s reaction in a controlled way. When I walked up onto the steps with Ernie, Winston went bananas inside – pounding on the glass door. His owners attempted to correct him but he was so intensely focused on Ernie that I switched positions with them so that I could correct and control Winston myself.

It took a few moments, but eventually Winston did calm down enough for me to take him out onto the front porch to be closer to Ernie. Of course as soon as we remove the barrier of the glass door, Winston started acting very aggressively again. I corrected him and incorporated a few modification techniques to help him relax.

Typically when a dog is overstimulated towards an animal or place I like to bring the dog as close to the stimulation as possible, but far enough away so that the dog can learn to stop reacting and learn that it is not a threat or anything to be feared. This is an advanced step as dogs that have an intense fear or reaction to something sometimes can’t be very close to it without getting overstimulated. When that’s the case, it’s always best to gradually increase the amount of space between the dog and whatever it is fixated on until you find a distance that the dog is able to start to relax. Or better yet contact an experienced dog behaviorist or trainer.

It took about seven or eight minutes, but eventually Winston calmed down to the extent where I was no longer using the leash to restrain him, he was controlling himself. Now whenever Ernie looked in his direction, got up or moved around – Winston did react to it, but his reaction was far less intense than it was before.

After Winston settled down to the point where he was sitting or lying down fairly comfortably, we all got up and walked back to Ernie’s house up the street. During the walk, I was shoulder to shoulder with Winston’s owner with Winston walking at a heel next to me and Ernie walking at a heel next to my client. Often times, walking dogs together can be a bonding experience for them – if done in a controlled way.

During the walk, Winston was reactive whenever Ernie was in within 6 feet of him, so we gradually increased the distance until Winston was able to walk without getting overstimulated by Ernie’s presence.

When we returned to Winston’s home, he promptly lay down on the floor as he was clearly exhausted. We covered quite a bit of ground, but Winston had made substantial strides in that short period of time.

By repeating the leadership exercise daily, Winston will be able to build up his self-restraint and learn to defer to his humans whenever he is confronted with a situation that he normally would react to by getting aggressive or hostile.

It’s going to take a little bit of time and practice, but the strides that we made in the short session encouraged Winston’s owners to want more. Once his foundation of respect for his owners is in place, Winston’s owners will be able to start getting him exposure to people and animals in a controlled way. This will help him learn to relax once he understands that they are not a threat.

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