rescue dogs with issues

Posted by debbie-hathway
Jun 12, 2008
Dear fellow dog-lovers

I'm trying to make a long story short but I'm looking for help with two dogs I've rescued in the last few years.

I am Honey's third owner - she is a golden spaniel (not cocker), about five
years old; I've had her for four years. Badger is two, a terrier-cross and I've had him for a year.

Honey, who I like to think of as my angel, who "rescued" me a year after my
divorce, quickly became the alpha in my house. She is very clever; does well
at training - agility and obedience - but is easily distracted. She stayed
with my ex-husband and his golden spaniel and springer spaniel for eight
months when I moved to another city and struggled to find the right
accommodation for us. I visited the dogs monthly until I found a home here for Honey and I. I adopted Badger when I was looking for company for her about two months after we were reunited. They get on well but Honey is very bossy, possessive of me (other dogs can't come near me when we're out) and has always produced a lot of growling and aggressive behaviour towards other animlals when she's had a bone or a chewy treat - she tries to keep everything for herself. Badger seldom chews a bone unless she's had it first.

Badger has not been successfully homed before. His entire litter was rescued
when they were two days old. He moved between shelters and was possibly
mishandled by a youngster somewhere along the line. He was very snappy at
about 7/8 months old and no-one could handle him. I saw him at the shelter I
was volunteering at and didn't go near him because of the bite warning. When he first joined us about six months later he was very aggressive towards anybody who came to my door and often to visitors once they were inside. That has improved but we still have to be very careful. He's mostly a very gentle, loving dog - and the neighbours concede a brilliant watch dog.

I have stopped letting the dogs sleep on my bed (although I let them in for
an early morning snooze); they are inside dogs so have access to the couches (especially when we're not there) and have their own soft cushions too. This has got Badger's attempts at dominant behaviour under control.
We also do the eating out of their bowl thing which really helps. They eat a
fresh/raw diet of beef, chicken, oats, eggs, veg and bones.
I also don't pander to Honey's requests to play anymore and keep their toy box out of reach.

Problem areas:

We do the 5-minute rule thing - Badger has learned quickly. It takes Honey a
long time to settle unless I sit still or pretend to nap. I keep putting her
in a room and closing the door as long as she barks (anticipating a walk or
demanding attention from me). We have a very difficult neighbour who can
only take so much - but of course there are lots of other barking dogs in
the neighbourhood too! If we don't walk them, they are impossible on day two so we haven't been strict about preventing walks until behaviour changes!

Lately, we've noticed Honey seems to be stopping Badger from entering the
house through the dog flap once he's outside. I've made a den for him
outside to compensate against the very cold, wet winter, which he seems to
seek out now until I or my boyfriend get home. Even when we're home he'll
bark to be escorted inside or past her if she's blocking his way.

Honey's barking (when she starts she can't stop) has upset the neighbours as
well as Badger so we've worked hard at getting that under control. She was
fine when it was just the two of us and she had my undivided attention.
Unfortunately, when out walking Honey's barking is a trigger for Badger to
bite and we've had some close calls and one big hospital bill. They are only
off lead if there's nobody else around or we're on the mountain when they
don't bother about other people and not so much about the other dogs.

Growling at the dogs doesn't have much effect on them. They take notice but
don't always change behaviour. Shaking pebbles in a jar at Honey stops her
barking but turns Badger into a nervous wreck just at the sound of it.

Both dogs ignore treats when out walking. They can be well behaved at home
and will work for treats but not out on a walk. They both pull for scents
and other animals and if they're going in a direction they really want eg.
up the mountain. They know what heel means and have learned to change
direction on command; the pulling has improved but it's not right yet.
Badger simply sits and doesn't move or lies down if he doesn't like my
choice of direction. It takes some persuading to get him moving again.

I can't train in the morning as Honey barks in excitement. Daylight is only
an hour when I get home so I don't have enough time to wait for barking to
stop, train and walk! She barks if I'm working with Badger too and I have to
keep her inside while I'm out with him.

You'll probably say I'm not being strict or consistent enough. I'm really
looking for a better idea of a routine I think. Or any other methods I
haven't come across yet.

For those of you who manage to read to the end of this, I look forward to your input.

Posted by KOPsRobyn
Feb 4, 2010
Hi Debbie

Aggression in dogs most commonly is due to inadequate socialization with other dogs when they were younger. As you don't know the history of your dog, it is highly likely that they have not had much contact with other dogs in the past, and so don't know how to behave with them. It is very hard to try to socialize them once they have past that window of opportunity that was there when there were puppies, but there are ways to prevent them from getting into any dog fights.

Firstly, it is vital that you re-establish yourself as the alpha dog in the pack. As you have recognized, Honey clearly sees herself as the dominant dog, and therefore feels the need to act as protector of the pack, as well as the right to her ‘own’ possessions. It is a good idea for you to stop them sleeping on your bed, as the alpha dog always has the prime sleeping spot, which the other subordinate dogs never venture into. Both eating out of their bowl first and feeding them after you have eaten will send a clear message to them that you are above them in the hierarchy of the pack. Well done also on the ignoring them when they come up for attention, as they have to learn that attention from you is earned and not just given out whenever they want it. Before you pat them or play with them, give them a command, such as 'sit-stay' so that they will see that your attention is a reward for good behavior. This will also act as an incentive for the future. Keeping their toy box out of reach is also a very good idea as this clearly shows them that you control all their things and playtime. Make sure it is you that chooses when playtime starts and ends and what toy you are going to play with. There are a few additional things that you incorporate into your daily activities to indicate to them that you are the alpha dog. These include insisting that you walk ahead of her through doorways and when walking on the leash, as well as controlling their movement around the house, so that they are lying where you want them to be, and not simply where they want. When you first come home, you should greet the rest of the household first before saying hello to her. All these things can be incorporated relatively easily into your normal daily routine, although it will require some patience and perseverance from you. Honey especially will struggle initially as she sees herself as the alpha dog and therefore being in the submissive position to you, who she sees as a subordinate, is distressing. Soon she will settle into her new place in the hierarchy and should become a more relaxed dog, as she has been relieved of the role of protector.

It is good that you are putting them into ‘time-out’ when they misbehave. This should be an area that is separate from where you spend most of your time with them, as well as being quiet and free of distractions, away from other people and dogs so that she can be left completely alone. You may find that you will need to apologize to your neighbor initially as she probably will bark for a long time, expecting you to come and let her out. If you stick rigidly to the rules though, you will find that she quickly realizes that barking will get her nowhere and will stop. Don’t forget that when taking her to ‘time-out’ after she has been naughty, it is important not to speak to her or make eye contact with her at all. You should leave her in ‘time-out’ until she calms down and then make her obey a command, such as 'sit-stay', before releasing her from there. Put her straight back in if she continues to misbehave. She will soon learn that that is not the way to get attention, in fact it will lead to complete isolation instead, which is the opposite of what she wants.

A walk everyday, if possible, is important as it provides mental as well as physical stimulation for the dogs. This will mean that they will be much less likely to be full of pent up energy inside the house and looking for some way to release it. Dogs also tend to get frustrated if they are not taken out, and may turn to barking or destructive behavior to relieve their boredom. Although it is unimportant for you to be strict on them about not rewarding bad behavior, if you just give them a command before you put their leashes on, they will see the walk as a reward for their obedience.

Honey may be stopping Badger from using the dog flap simply because she sees herself as superior to him in the pack standings and therefore controls his movements. Unless you completely reverse the hierarchy present, it will be very hard for you to get Honey to allow Badger free access inside. It may be much simpler to just install another dog flap, if that is a feasible option.

You may want to try a squirt bottle for Honey’s barking when out on a walk, otherwise a last resort would be to use a citronella collar, which emits a powerful smell when the dog barks, which they find extremely unpleasant. Teaching her the ‘quiet’ and ‘speak’ command will also be helpful, because then you will be able to control when she barks and when she is silent. The most important thing to remember when dealing with problem barking is not to never to reward barking. This involves completely ignoring her when she is barking incessantly, because she will take any response from you as a reward and encourage her to bark more. Instead, make sure you treat and praise her when she is silent after you have told her to be quiet.

To avoid the possibility of any fights, it may be wise to muzzle Badger when out in places with other dogs. There are many muzzles that are won't restrict his panting or interfere with his breathing pattern, although it may take some time for him to get used to it.

You may find it helpful to walk both dogs on ‘gentle leaders’, as this gives you a lot more control over their direction of movement, as well as stopping them pulling you without having to fight them.

It is a good idea to set aside some time each day for a bit of obedience training, which will not only improve their obedience levels but also the relationship between you. You may well have to train them in that hour of daylight that you have. This may involve taking them out straight after you have returned home from work and training them in the park. It will make the training more effective if you are able to take them out one at a time, if this is possible, as they wail be less distracted and more focused on you and the task at hand.

I hope this helps and all the best with your training!