Posted by Slinky
Jan 22, 2008

I have a 2 1/2 year old female desexed Rotti X Ridgeback. She is well trained but an anxious dog who is nervous in new areas. She growls at people when she is in the car, or when she is out the front and people are passing, she even growls at people who come over and talk to me while out walking. She doesn't growl all the time, but it seems to be getting worse. Her growl is low and continuous. What can I do?
Posted by Todd
Jan 24, 2008
Hi there and thank you for your question.

From the sounds of your post your dog is aggressive when it is nervous. Is this right? Does she back away? cower? hide when people approach her? These are the classic signs of a fear aggressive dog.

Aggression is an important behavioral problem and it is great that you are concerned and willing to fix it. Dogs can be aggressive for a number of reasons, fear, dominance, territorial and possessive.

As a general rule forceful correction techniques have a very negative effect with fear based aggression or with a very nervous temperamented dog.

The first step is to ensure your dog knows its position in the household hierarchy, at the bottom. A number of problems can be fixed by ensuring the dog knows its position at the bottom of the hierarchy and that you are the alpha dog.

First of all, I would encourage you, and any other family members, to read the bonus book "Secrets to becoming the Alpha Dog". This book will give you a good understanding of the hierarchical nature and behavior of your dog. Follow the tips in this book as much as possible and you should help you get good results within a couple of weeks.

Your dog should never be treated as an equal but always at the bottom of the hierarchy. If your dog isn't sure of it's position it may try to challenge others to see where it stands.

Some tips-
- Never move out of the way for your dog whether this be in the hallway or in the lounge, move the dog
- You must always be the first person through the doorway and the dog last. You can walk around the house practicing this.
- Always feed the dog last, after the family and never feed it from the table.

Aggression is serious and you may wish to see a vet for an opinion and to check if there is any cause for the aggression.

The first step is to build up your dogs confidence. Never reward fearful behavior like cowering under a table and not coming out. Ignore her, don't talk to her and wait for her to come out. As soon as she comes out praise her by patting her, talking to her and giving her attention. This step requires patience and alot of time.

The next step is to desensitize your dog, it is very important that the dog is muzzled as you never know when and how she will react.

Invite friends over to help you with her. They will need to be patient. Again follow the process of ignoring the unwanted behavior and rewarding the behaviors you want. Make sure your friends are calm, patient and make no sudden movements or sounds as this can put back the whole process.
Get your friend to sit at a distance, make no eye contact or talk in loud voice.
Give your friend a few treats to build her confidence.

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. )

As your dog begins to respond you can try other situations like the dog park, the sidewalk and at friends places. Always follow the ignore and reward steps, and keep the muzzle on.
She should slowly become less fearful and let people pat her. Ensure you slowly introduce her to these situations, not all of a sudden.
Pet Parties are great places once you have started making progress to build up her confidence and help her.

Remember to never reinforce the fearful behaviours. That means no talking to her unless it is to reprimand her. No eye contact or petting.

There are some products that are natural eg DAP and Rescue Remedy that are available that help calm your pet so she is more relaxed and associates being petted and played with as good. These are not always expensive and are no replacement for patience.

As for around the gate i would recommend restricting her access to the gate by fencing her in the back section or covering any see through areas. This will help stop her from being aggressive in these situations. If you ever catch her being aggressive in these situations you must reprimand her with a GRRRRRRR or AHHHHHHH.

With patience and consistency I'm sure you will have success with your dog, please let us know of any success you have.

Kindest Regards

Todd Field

SitStayFetch Team