Fear Aggression increasing

Posted by crs175
Mar 23, 2008
I have a 4 year old rescued Basset-Black Lab mix. I've had her for 3 years. She has always been afraid of other people, especially men and kids. I attributed it to being abused and tried to make her feel cared about.

She seems to be getting worse and worse. I think it is more likely fear aggression now that I have read up about it and it's much worse when she's on her leash. She will bark and jump on people she doesn't know, primarily adults. This seems to be her attempt to protect me. This is a dog that never barks too.

It's worse with kids. If a child comes within 50 yards of her, her fur on her back will stick up and she will bark. She'll pull on her leash and try to get to the child. If a child runs up to her she barks and hides. She never shows her teeth, so I wrote it off as abuse by a child and/or wanting to play.

She is very demanding on being pet, will jump on you excessively when you come in to a room or let her out of her bed, and will get overstimulated at the sight of a leash. She doesn't show any other aggressive tendencies to my husband or I. She'll let you come right up and take food out of her mouth. In fact if my husband yells at her she rolls on her back and occasionally urinates. She shares her drinking bowl with a cat without an issue.

So the problem I have is...do I have a dog that is dominant? Do I need to take the steps to asserting the Alpha Dog authority? I want her to cease the protective barking and jumping immediately as well as barking at children. She jumped on a teenage friend of a neighbor today and he was very upset by it. I don't want to have to have the dog put down because of her behavior.

She is minimally trained. She understands "bed" and "sit." That's about it as she is a very very slow learner. I haven't tried the SitStayFetch method yet though. I have a feeling it will work with her and that a lot of the slow training problem was related to me.

I just don't want to ignore her completely for two days as recommended for dogs with a dominance problem if that isn't the right way to go. It will be very hard for me. I also don't want to have to give her up but if this behavior doesn't improve, I may be forced to.
Posted by Blue
Mar 25, 2008
Hi there,
Welcome to the forum

What's your girls name?
Is this your family's first dog? (excluding dogs you/your husband may have had growing up?)

Not meaning to sound harsh, but from first appearances it sounds like your training has not had a great deal of structure? Did you take her to obedience classes, train her 10 minutes/ day in obedience, give her at least 20 minutes of walking each day (not just backyard romps) etc. These are all fundamental needs when you first adopt/buy a dog/puppy. Without these, a dog will often become bored, insecure about her status in the pack and have bottled up energy/emotion that has no release. Have you comforted her when she has exhibited fearful behaviour (awww, it's okay, don't worry fido - while petting carressing)?

At this time, I wouldn't suggest alpha training in full force. She needs to have confidence in you and herself first - understanding commands and basic pack leadership from you will help her with this.

My initial advice to you is to start immediately with a routine - forgo the socialization until she is good at sit-stay, down-stay in particular (review obedience training in sitstayfetch books. Work it out accordingly into your schedules. A good routine should be something like this:

- [B]Long walk [/B](all walks should be practicing heel - no pulling! Review hints on how to get a dog to successfully heel in obedience training sitstayfetch books) in the morning 15-20 min at a good pace or 30min-45 min at a normal pace (with my high energy dog, I found that adding a doggie backpack to her walks increased her focus on the walk and also added to the workout - leaving a more tired dog!) Make sure that she does a sit/down prior to even putting the leash on. Don't release her from it until you are ready - she should not get up until you have the door open and have started out - humans (alpha) first, dogs second.

- Follow up with a 5-10 min [B]obedience session[/B] - end it with play! Always end on a positive note, so if you get frustrated, do one command she gets well, praise her (or treats) and end the session.

- If she gets breakfast, serve it after everybody else has had their breakfast.

[B][I]go to work[/I][/B]

- If anyone comes home from work for lunch - when you get home, give her a low key greeting when you come home (a pet on the head, "hello fido" will suffice) and go about your business at home.

- have them take her for a quick walk around the block/down the street and
back or do a quick 5 min. obedience session with her.

[B][I]back to work[/I][/B]
- when you get home, give her a low key greeting when you come home (a pet on the head, "hello fido" will suffice) and go about your business at home.

- when she has laid down somewhere call her to you and make her sit/down for going for a walk. Take her for another 15 min walk minimum (use a watch with a timer or walks may seem longer than they actually are!).

- home - another obedience session followed with a play session
- humans eat - then dog eats
- relax at home with the dog
- take the dog out for one last pee
- Bedtime!

After a month - you should start to see a marked improvement in her confidence at home and maybe even some outside.

The idea is to fulfill the dogs needs in accordance with pack behaviour, when you fulfill her needs, she will see you as pack leaders and will feel more confident and secure, without having to turn to alpha training in it's full extent. Fearful dogs don't do well with alpha training - especially any growling/physical contact.

In the wild 'nothing is for free' whereas we as humans treat dogs like babies (perhaps spoil them even worse! ) - provide everything for them without asking them to 'hunt', 'behave in accordance with the pack' or learn basic obedience to pack leaders. Without these fundamentals dogs start having behavioural issues - most dogs don't want to be alpha, they are happier to follow. So they get worried/torn between alpha/submissive status and act out in ways we see as bad/aggressive/silly but they are acting in a way that they think is best for protecting themselves and pack members.

Read through your basic obedience books - or better yet, sign up for an obedience class or a few private obedience lessons to jump start your new routine. In obedience classes, you can expose your dog to other dogs in a controlled environment - talk to an instructor first to explain the situation, see if you can find a small class with few dogs. An instructor will reduce the 'trial and error' factor between you and your dog, and help the situation progress faster.

In addition to the routine, any undesirable behaviour should be reprimanded then diverted to an appropriate behaviour that is rewarded. For example, when she jumps up on you, don't step back from her, step forward while giving a verbal reprimand ('off!' will work better then no if it is not already used - many dogs become immune to 'no' because they hear it a lot! ). When reprimanding a dog, never yell, just say it firmly in a deeper voice, yelling is confusing and not a reprimand to a dog as it is too high pitched. To explain the step forward - when you step back while a dog jumps up on you, you are submitting to their behaviour - allowing them to establish alpha, by stepping into the jumping up non aggressively, you are asserting your status by non-aggressive/hysterical means. Firmness in your voice will get more responsiveness to your commands then any yelling or angry tones ever.

Should you have to meet any dogs/children/adults while out walking, take control of the situation - predict her the behaviour, reprimand and redirect. If you see something approaching that triggers unwanted behaviour, reprimand any attention she starts showing towards the object of her 'fear'/'aggression'. by observing her 'happy walking behaviour' vs. 'pre-conflict behaviour' you should be able to predict quite accurately when she is going to act out - signs can include her ears pop forward to full attention or lay flat against her head, her tail goes straight over her back or between her legs, her body stiffens etc.

When you think she is about to be bad, give her a quick and firm jerk sideways - perpendicular to where she is facing (so it pulls her slightly off balance) with a reprimand and redirect with a heel in the opposite direction (praise her if she complies) or if she has become well practiced at sit-stay or down-stay, direct her with one of these and praise her for remaining down/sitting (reprimand if she releases to early and put her back in a sit/down position).

If she is showing a more fearful reaction then aggressive, don't reprimand just ignore her and start walking the opposite direction from the object of her fear.

[B]NEVER[/B] reinforce fearful behaviour with any attention - or aggression. Just ignore her behaviour and act like everything is normal. Once you start reinforcing the behaviour you teach her that it's okay to be fearful and that you support her fear - thereby saying that the object should be feared. If she pees in fear, don't reprimand her, just clean it up - be sure to use a deodorizer to eliminate the smell or she may be tempted to start eliminating there regularly.

Try not to EVER yell at her, as this obviously makes her fearful. If your husband ever reprimands her physically - he needs to stop, as she will not improve if she is fearful within her own pack. She needs confidence, and confidence in her pack will give her confidence in life!

Okay...that's a good start, it's a lot of work, but after a month or two of consistent obedience training, reprimands for bad behaviour, rewards for good behaviour and ignoring for fearful behaviour, you should see improvement.

She sounds like a good dog at heart, she's just had a rough start to her routine and pack stability, with a little hard work and family teamwork, she can come through this! It is important that all of the family members are involved in walking/obedience training (have them all read this post as well as how to perform obedience training - as the more solid her pack is, the more confident she will be.

Eventually, once her pack confidence is high, you can start introducing her to her fears outside (dogs/adults/kids) but until your pack is solid and she shows marked improvement in her behaviour and obedience, you should avoid these conflicts.

If you think that your family is not 100% behind you, it may be worth looking for a new home for your girl. As it will be very difficult for you to train her without their support.

I [B]Do Not[/B] think euthanasia should be an option, she will be a good pet for anyone able to put the work into her training and obedience. It would be a shame to take the opportunity for her to have a quality of life, away from her - not to mention the waste of a dog who is confused on the outside but good at heart.

I'm sure she loves you as her pack members and would prefer to stay with you and work the relationship out!

Good luck and let me know of any thoughts/troubles you have along the way!