Territorial agressive Lab
My husband and I adopted a 2 1/2 year old chocolate lab rescue dog in November. As he has totally adjusted to his new home, he has become territorial and tries to attack any man who comes into the yard or knocks at the door. He seems Ok with women. We now keep him confined to the side and back yard where he cannot get at anyone, but when we have friends over, I am afraid he will attack them. What to do?
Hi there and thank you for your question.
Adopted dogs can be a lot of work but don't give up as they make brilliant pets. He will take time and effort to control these problems but please don't give up as it is well worth the pet you will have at the end of it.
I would recommend as a first step getting your dog fully checked out by a vet for any physical problems. This is especially so if the behavior has come on suddenly and not been triggered by any one event.
De-sensitization is usually helpful in situations like these. You need to gradually introduce your dog to whatever it is that is causing your dog to react in this way. The whole de-sensitization process will take time, but you can certainly help by exposing your dog gently to all sorts of people and things.
It is a good idea to start this process within the home, where your dog feels comfortable and less threatened. Once you have got your dog used to the thing that is causing it fear, move out into the backyard and then further afield to, say, the dog park.
Consider using a muzzle if you are concerned that your dog may become overly aggressive towards other people or dogs, as it will also take away any risk of the situation getting out of hand. Allow your dog to get used the feel of the muzzle before you embark on any encounters with unfamiliar dogs or people. I often find that they initially hate the feel of the muzzle, but if you give them a distraction, such as going for a run or allowing them to play with a familiar friend, they will get used to it quickly.
I also think it would be worthwhile having your dog on a check/choke collar. When your dog even looks like being aggressive to other dogs or people,
give the check chain a sharp tug
make your dog sit at your side,
praise and reward your dog if it does.
In doing this you will be communicating to your dog that it is not running the show when you are out walking, and that aggression towards other dogs and people is not appropriate. (Because you have a large breed dog, the muscles around his neck are strong enough to tolerate the check chain, however I would not usually recommend them for smaller dogs. )
Take your dog to plenty of public places and socialize your dog with other dogs as much as possible. Remember it is not unusual for dogs to be territorial and show aggression towards other dogs. Don't be afraid to growl at your dog, eventually it will learn no real harm will occur.
Arrange for people to come around (children too) to help with human socialization. Remember dogs are never too old to train, it just takes longer with an older dog.
When you do take your dog to a dog park, walk it around on the leash first and have your dog meet everyone there with the safety of the muzzle. If you are confident that there will be no trouble, then let your dog off the leash. This way you are avoiding anything that could go wrong before it happens, rather then just leaving your dog to do its thing and then regretting it.
Conduct one on one stress management sessions by spending 20 minutes twice a day with just you and your dog in a quiet room with no distractions. Talk soothingly to your dog and if it doesn't get aggressive then caress and pet it, keeping your voice low and relaxed.
Doggie Prozac may be an option (last resort!) but you would need to get a vet's advice on this.
Another alternative is to use Rescue Remedy, which you should be able to find in a pet store. It is a very safe, very gentle and natural sedative, which can have a good anti-anxiety effect. You simply apply a few sprays in the mouth or on the nose. I use it sometimes with stressed out puppies in the weaning process, and I use it sometimes to help calm my horse down at shows!
With fear aggression you have to be careful that you do not over-assert yourself and your family as the "alpha dog ", as it may only exaggerate your dogs lack of confidence. Your dog should know that it is bottom of the pack, but if you can make your dog feel a little more like a member of the family than what you already do, it will help build confidence.
It is important that you communicate to your dog that it is at the bottom of the pack, but at the same time your dog requires a confidence booster. I suggest you not have your dog on the furniture, on your lap, or on your bed. Your dog needs to know that it is not in charge.
However, if your dog does seem to be acting submissively, I suggest you just ignore it. For example if you growl at your dog and it acts afraid or submissive (e.g. rolling on its back, licking you, looking away, or growling) then just ignore it until it has calmed down. Do not look your dog in the eye, but between its feet (this is part of predator-prey psychology), get down closer to your dogs level and talk gently until it seems confident.
Otherwise try turning around and going home again, deprive your dog of what it wants. It would be best to practice this if you can with a friend and their dog, not too far from home. This is another way of communicating who is in the control of the situation.
I suggest you think about getting your dog neutered. The reason I say this is because aggression due to fluctuating hormonal levels is quite common. However, in saying that hormonal changes are only one factor with aggression and your dogs behavior may have nothing to do with hormone levels.
At approximately six months of age a male dog has a surge of testosterone which is thought to contribute largely to such aggression with other dogs. When the hormones are known for certain to be the contributing factor to the aggression, one can expect that in normal circumstances the aggression will subside at about four years of age. This sometimes applies to unspayed females as well.
I would also recommend that you keep your dog well away from any other dogs while you are walking it, so as to avoid as many potentially bad situations as possible. If this type of aggression is deeply imbedded then it may simply be your dogs nature and no amount of exposure will help, because he is well socialized already.
Last but not least, do not be afraid to reprimand your dog. Try squirting your dog with a water pistol full of chilled water when it misbehaves. The colder the better! You will be safer to practice this when your dog has the muzzle on. I also thoroughly recommend you read “Secrets to Becoming the Alpha Dog” and apply these techniques at home with your daily living if you do not already.
The below programme is great to deal with people that will be coming onto the property.
Get an adult friend to come and visit (make sure that you tell them what is happening!).
As your friend knocks on the gate, make your dog sit and give it a treat.
Sit your friend down in a room that is not often use by your dog or outside in the yard. Give you friend some treats so that they can give them to your dog.
Go to your dog and make it sit. Put a halti or muzzle as well as the choke collar on. Get your dog to heel then take it to the area of the yard to meet the 'stranger'. Make sure that your friend does not give any eye contact. Act as happy as you can while petting your dog.
If your dog growls or disobeys your commands at ANY TIME then squirt it with water or shake a pebble filled can to startle it. Have the water pistol or can in your dogs view at all times.
Make your dog sit quite a long way from your guest, perhaps in 10 minutes away. When your dog is calm get it to heel and move it closer, then get your dog to sit again. Praise your dog when it sits and heels properly.
When your dog is calm and you have moved it and made it sit within 5 feet of the guest then get the guest to give your dog a treat. Make sure that the guest does not look your dog in the eyes.
The same method can be used with different strangers and other pets.
Good luck with him and please let me know how things go.
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