Unpredictable behavior

Posted by Dianeyp
Aug 19, 2009
Hi everyone:

I have 2 dogs, that are from the same pack (I think that was our first mistake!) they are shepard/husky/peranese cross,. One is 80 pounds the other is 60 pounds, they ar 5 years old.
In the house with me and the family they are fine, loveable and I exercise them all the time (we walk and run 2 miles each day), and they listen to me. I have gone to obedience training, and aggression training, and they pass with flying colours, they are good on a leash, I can walk both of them, and they sit/stay/lay down fine, but the minute a visitor comes to the house, there can be trouble with barking, showing teeth, and literally jumping and snapping, and have been known to push the visitor out the door!. I think if there were only one, things would be easier, as they get each other going, but I have two. They will listen to me,and stay back, and let me open the door, but after that they move. I have found if we are having visitors, the best thing is to put them in their crates (they love their crates, and go willingly to them) then sit the visitors down at the table, wait a few minutes then bring them out on a leash for a few smells, then everyone is fine, and they sit nicely on their beds and look calm. But sometimes they can meet the person day after day, be fine then suddenly one day they don't like them anymore and growl and circle and sometimes snap, which totally upsets me and of course the visitor!, who calls them "Jeckly and Hyde". So, as much as I love them, I find this behavior unacceptable and unpredictable, and put them in their crates now when visitors arrive for the whole visit. Not sure what to do, because you just don't know when they will decide they don't like someone.
My 25 year old daughter has brought home friends before, and the dogs behave, and we think they are fine, but I could have friends over, everything is fine, they behave, then suddenly they don't like this person anymore... wierd! I had collies before, and not used to this.. I did get muzzles and that does work, but is that the only way?..
Posted by KOPsarah
Aug 24, 2009
Hi dianeyp, and thanks for your post,
I have been trying to puzzle this one out but I think I may need more information. Does there seem to be any thing in particular that causes the dogs to suddenly becomes aggressive for example is it when someone is patting them or approaches them or when they have food or a toy? Also do both of the dogs do this, if so do they do it at almost the exact same time or does one initiate it and the other joins in? Finally are they only aggressive to people on your property or are they unpredictable around people while out as well?

Sorry for all of the questions but this is a tricky one and we want to get it right.

All the best,
Posted by Dianeyp
Aug 25, 2009
HI there:

Most of the time sudden movements will cause it, or if the person looks at them.. we had visitors (relatives) around for a few days, and I introduced the dogs to them, once they were in and settled, and they seemed fine with them, loved to be pet, their tails were wagging, but the one girl that they had got to know for 3 days solid, came around the corner into the room fast, and they were within inches of her barking and showing teeth.. I instantly screamed at them and they went downstairs to their crate. Luckily the girl was OK.. but they knew this girl.. yet my brother comes over with his 2 kids, I introduced them, and they were good with them, but I also noticed there were never any fast movements.. no one has touched them, patted them, or taken any toys when this happens. One does seem to start if off by about 5 seconds before the other one joins in. It is almost like they are "ON" all the time.. and yet they are very lovable with us. On walks they behave, at the vet they behave, it seems to be only in the house.. I have started muzzling them, which triggers sulking in a corner, and my husband thinks that makes it worse.. but then I don't have to worry. The absolute worse thing, is if someone were to knock and walk in unannounced. So I keep the doors locked.

Because we live in the country, they have not had much chance to meet with other dogs, so not sure how they would react. Perhaps if I socialize them under supervision somewhere? They will be 6 years old in November. Both my kids have a boyfriend and girlfriend, and it took a good few weeks before one was accepted, but the other one was accepted right away with abosolutely no problems.. My one friend thinks she made eye contact and that set them off.. So, I am very leary of letting them out of their crates when anyone visits, which to me is sad, as I work from home and they are with me all the time.. The vet suggested tranquilizers, but I really didn't like this idea.. at he trainers, they don't do any of this, so she can't understand what I am talking about... thanks for any help you can give me!
Posted by KOPsarah
Aug 26, 2009
Hi again,
It sounds to me like the problem may be part fear aggresssion, part dominance and part lack of social skills. Because of this it is probably best if we try a three pronged approach to tackle all of these. I agree with you that tranquilizers are not the answer as they may help reduce the symptoms but will not actually fix the underlying problems.

[B]Tools for training[/B]
The muzzles you have purchased can be excellent tools during training because they can greatly increase the safety of all of those involved. A second tool you should consider purchasing is a head collar. Head collars such as halti's or gentle leaders give you excellent control over the dogs movements and can also be used to swiftly shut the jaw to reduce the chances of biting. The head collars are very useful while using the desensitization method because you can safely ignore your dogs inappropriate behavior and let it calm down. Because of the control they give you can also use them to let other people work with your dogs later on.

[B]Working on fear and poor social skills[/B]

Start with the basics
To start with work with one dog at a time with the other dog in its crate out of view. Organize someone to pretend to visit. Have them outiside the front door. Just prior to asking them to knock or ring the bell put the head collar and lead (and muzzle if necessary) on the dog you are going to train. Also have a pocket full of tasty treats. When the 'visitor' knocks on the door if the dog reacts you and everyone else should ignore it completely, as soon as it is calm praise warmly and drop a treat on the ground for it. While it is still calm run through a few basic commands with it praising and dropping treats when it is focused and responding. After a little while have the person knock/ring again. Repeat the steps several times. Later on repeat the whole session with your other dog. Do this session at least once daily with each of your dogs if possible until they are both reliably ignoring the knock/ring.

Stage two
This involves asking a friend, ideally one that is not well known to the dogs, to visit and participate. Set up with one dog as for the basic session and run through this session right up to doing running through the basic commands with the dog. When you have done this the visitor should come in the door and again if the dog reacts everyone should ignore it completely (remember this is possible because you have the dog on the head collar and you can keep it at a safe distance from the visitor because it cannot lunge or pull with it on. Once the dog is calm again praise and treat. If it starts reacting in any way to the visitor again, ignore the dog again and wait for it to be calm then praise and treat again. Once the dog is consistently calm run through some commands and treat, this part of each session teaches the dog to refer to you in these situations because you are more interesting than the visitor as you have treats. Again repeat this stage over several days with each dog. Because you need an actual visitor for this stage rather than a household member you may not be able to do this daily but do it as often as possible.

Stage three
Once your dogs are reliable with stage two you can start having the visitors coming in for full visits. Keep the dog on the head collar and head by your side, praise and treat regularly while it is calm. Once your dog is remaining calm have the visitor make a short quick movement at a distance from the dog. As usual ignore it till it is calm and then praise and treat. During the course of the visit get the visitor to continue to be a little unpredictable in regards to swift movements and noises but not to the point where the dog is scared for example not screaming. As often as you can have a variety of other visitors over and practice the above steps. Also as your dogs progress try to have children come over with their parents (you can use both muzzle and head collar for extra safety) so you can desensitize your dogs to them too. As your dog becomes more used to strangers doing strange things and used to being out right ignored when it reacts but rewarded when it is calm it will soon see that worrying about these things is of no point or benefit to it. Once your dogs are very reliably calm you can start having them both out on their head collar and leads together. The head collars will allow you to have good control even with both strong dogs.

At this point you should also try to get in as much socialization with people and dogs outside of the house for example try taking your dogs when you visit others or try walking them to busier areas or to visit friends. Start this with one dog at a time also so you can maxamise the effectiveness of the training. Use the head collar and the ignore until calm - then treat and praise method.

[B]Working on dominance[/B]
You didn't say specifically whether you practice alpha-dog training with your dogs however if you do not this is an excellent place to start. In your case your dogs sound quite respectful of you and realize you are above them in the dominance order however they seem uncertain as to where other people come in. This is the likely cause of your dogs sudden outbreaks after eye contact. To a dog direct eye contact or touching on certain areas can be considered a challenge of dominance and if your dogs consider themselves higher in the pack than the person doing it they are likely to respond aggressively. A dog that knows that all humans are above it in the pack will not snap or growl at people except perhaps in extreme circumstances where it is in intense pain.

You can find information on alpha-dog training in your secrets to dog training guide or consider purchasing the full book of alpha training from the premium members download area. The basics however are outlined below:

In a wild dog pack the dominant pack member controls :
-access to food
-access to favoured sleeping areas
-any interactions with lower pack members
-access to favoured items such as toys

In order to show your dogs their positions as bottom of the pack you and your whole family can take advantage of these keys points. For example

1) Both dogs must be the last to eat at every meal and should never get treats from the table.

2) They should never walk through doors before you. A good way to practice this is to walk around the house and make them sit at each doorway and wait.

3) If either of your dogs is lying in the hallway or anywhere you have to get past make them move. If you think they will snap leave a lead on them so you can move them whilst maintaining a bit of distance.

4) When you arrive home completely ignore the dogs for 15 minutes. Don't look at them, talk to them or pat them. After this go to them and give them some quiet attention only as long as they are relaxed and calm.

5)You can assert your dominance by not allowing access to beds and couches or by only bringing out favourite toys when you want to play and removing them when you are finished.

Only interact with the dog on your terms. If your or someone else is petting the dog or playing with it and it becomes aggressive or badly behaved immediately remove your attention from the dog by either removing yourself from the area or moving the dog to another area. You should do this without displaying any emotion such as anger just be a calm but decisive pack leader and the dog will appreciate knowing where it stands.

I hope all of this helps and that I haven't forgotten to cover anything. This training is a long term process but you should start noticing a change in your dogs quite early on and eventually get to the point where you can rely on them to take no interest in visitors. If you have any further questions just let me know.
Posted by kjd
Aug 26, 2009
Hi, Dianeyp,

People normally use eye-contact to convey affection; dogs use it as a dominance tool. In socializing dogs, we teach them to accept eye-contact as a sign of affection. Your dogs probably don't realize this yet and that is why they get upset with people who give them eye contact.. When cuddling with your dogs, I'd use lots of eye contact. Also, teach your dogs to "watch me" to get them used to non-aggressive eye contact.

In the beginning of KOPSarah's stages, you might want to request the visitors not give eye contact. Then practice it exactly in the same way as practicing sudden movements.