Oh, Lola! Dealing with aggro...
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    Loconn55's Avatar
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    Default Oh, Lola! Dealing with aggro...

    I started to write a simple thanks for Nina's POV on the recent thread about puppy fever and giving up problem dogs, but it got too long as usual, so rather than hijack, I thought I'd start my own thread about my own dog's behavior problems.

    Nina, your eloquence and truth offered great insight to me, since I'm still having some struggles with Lola the porkie, who devolved to me (because I was the one who found and rescued her) after biting the dog rescue's director and the groomer. She's been fine with the grumble up to Pooka's death. Since then, she has started posturing and getting a bit aggro to the grieving Dr. Chumley (sensing he's weakened, maybe?). I've had foot problems so haven't gotten them out for walks often enough, so I know that's probably a major factor, and am hopeful that things will calm down some as soon as I get back on the move.

    But Lola does have an, er, let's call it "attitude problem." Since I've had her, she has, unprovoked, gone after Rufus (daughter's sweet Great Pyrenees, who was approaching her from a distance slowly with his tail wagging), as well as Arnie, my good-natured and animal-loving (and beloved by every other animal than Lola) friend, whom I suspect may resemble whoever abused her (tall, lean & bearded) — she barks aggressively at my next-door neighbor who's also a tall bearded fellow.

    Recently she took issue with Ellen, one of my oldest friends, an elderly, non-threatening (to me, anyway), dog-loving music teacher—but who has a loud voice and abrupt movements. Ellen talked high-voiced babytalk in greeting as she entered, but Lola was having none of it: just charged at her and growled menacingly, circling her ankles (her favorite target) while I instructed Ellen to assume the "tree pose" to defuse the "threat." She didn't strike, so I scooped her up, said, "No!" and off to the bathroom with her bed and toys she went for the duration of the visit (she never complains or barks, but seems content or at least calm in there.)

    I've tried holding and treating her at the moments when she stops growling or lunging, but that usually isn't too effective, so I generally resort the bathroom exile when the folks she doesn't like come to visit, because being growled and lunged at is rather unpleasant for them as well as for Lola.

    On our walks I do desensitization training of a sort by walking her past the neighbor's place when at a distance when he's in the yard and treating when she doesn't growl or lunge, but I don't know if such deep-seated, old trauma-based aggression can be cured, and I certainly wouldn't trust her alone—it was impressive how much an ground she covered (20 feet) in seconds, galloping across the lawn to launch herself at the innocent Rufus!

    I'm not able to afford a behaviorist right now, but so far the bathroom exile separation method works fine, and with Lola's less extreme reactions—only suspicious barking and posturing without actual aggro–to a few other friends, after multiple visits, distance and treats, she has gradually improved to toleration and even a wary friendliness.

    To me, this shows that she can be coaxed/trained to change her mind, at least with some people. But her overall behavior with strangers, other dogs at a distance (and, with Rufus, closer), and anyone else she doesn't like seems to reveal a deeper, more general temperament issue rather than just a few specific behaviors. I'm thinking this is undoubtedly in large part from her previous abuse and possibly a bit of genetics, as several folks have told me that Yorkies and Shih Tzus (she might be one or the other) have some unpugly attitude, so it might be a harder thing—really, a mindset or temperament—to uproot.

    After some initial suspicious barking, she has attached herself to my ex, who's staying here for the time being, and though I would never give her to anyone else (mainly for fear she'd be dumped and euthanized at a shelter due to her bitey ways), if he wanted to keep her when he or I move on to greener solo pastures, I might consider it, as she seems very happy and relaxed with him, and I suspect might very well enjoy being the only dog, which she was for her first four or so years of life, until I adopted her.

    Except for her recent aggro to Dr. Chumley, she's been friendly with the pugs and at first followed me around like a lamb, but now is much more independent, watching from her lone perch on the bed, but never participating in the pug cuddle pile-ups during the day. At night she's content to sleep on the bed with the grumble, curled up behind my knees, snapping/growling at the others only when they jostle or step on her — which fortunately never goes beyond that warning. She likes Sister best, and before Sister's surgery spent some time playing and getting into mischief in the yard together, but since her return last week, Sister has kept pretty exclusively to Chainy (always everybody but Lola's best friend) and Chum. I wonder if they feel that Lola is "other" because she's not pure pug, or if it's just because she's newer to the grumble, or if, in her postop state, Sister was wary of Lola's volatility... will see how it pans out as she recovers completely in the coming weeks.
    Because I worry about Lola's response to other dogs, I wouldn't trust her with Osito, my older daughter's Pom, and they haven't met, so I declined to babysit him for her month-long Christmas holiday, much to her disappointment.

    My younger daughter has a much thornier situation, with Bodhi and Rufus having had two knock-down drag-outs that caused a few bad bites and an abscessed cheek. She's got four big dogs in a tiny house, so had a friend build a tall gate between the kitchen and the living room to create separate spaces for each pair — the Pyrs downstairs, Gogo the lab-rott and Bodhi upstairs. Even though she's doing desensitization with proximity through the gate and treats, and had one recent incident (due to my carelessness leaving the door open for a second ) of outside contact that fortunately didn't provoke any aggression, last weekend at T-day when I was standing in front of the closed gate, Bodhi saw Rufus through the boards and growled menacingly—which had never happened before in the months they've been separated. I suspect "grandma" was a high-value resource to be guarded, to Bodhi's jealous mind.

    Several friends with similar situations have said that despite sessions with a behaviorist, they have ended up juggling a permanent separation, which is wearing on the human, but the dogs seem content. With her huge (Bodhi is 180 lb.; Rufus 130 now) dogs, Tess can't risk another fight, and was lucky she didn't get bitten both times she managed to separate them -- and the dogs were lucky to have escaped with a single cheek abscess—Bodhi somehow got the worst of it.

    That's enough of my rambling... except to ask if there are any online resources or tips anyone might recommend that I could try to calm Lola (other than resuming our walks, which she loves and help to desensitize her to strangers both canine and human).

    I love my li'l problem child, and am glad there are no children involved, which definitely ups the ante when it comes to biting issues. She seems content and happy here despite her demons, collecting her toys and enjoying her many belly rubs and fetch games, so as long as I can contain/deflect her "episodes," I guess we're all doing pretty well — any "blended" family has its issues, right?
    See Lisa's (6 Beautiful Pugs) 'wishlist' for her grumble at the Rusty Pug Retirement Ranch and help them out at:http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wi...ref=cm_sw_su_w

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    Nina_W's Avatar
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    Lola doesn't sound aggressive to me, she sounds scared. A lot scared, of everything, to the point of reactivity. It may have been the abuse that made it worse, but what you're seeing sounds like unsocialised terrier in all its glory, left to become worse for a long time.


    Let's start with resources:

    This blog, now barely added to, is an incredible resource of training tips, theory and generally a person's struggle with tricky dogs. I have selected three posts:
    Reactive Champion: What is Reactivity?
    Reactive Champion: Why You Can't Reinforce Fear
    Reactive Champion: Does comforting a scared dog actually reinforce their fear? (Answer: who cares?)

    A resource site:
    Fearfuldogs.com

    Patricia McConnel:
    Treatment Plans for Behavioral Regressions
    Here's a whole whack on reactivity:
    Barking & growling, signs that trouble is brewing | Trisha McConnell | McConnell Publishing Inc.
    But specifically this one:
    Dog-Dog Reactivity II — The Basics

    Whole dog journal:
    On thresholds
    Across a Threshold - Whole Dog Journal Article
    on trading
    Trading With Your Dog to Combat Resource Guarding - Whole Dog Journal Article
    on counter conditioning
    How to teach your dog to get along in a multi-species household - Whole Dog Journal Article
    (yes, for all species, but the principles outlined here are extremely useful for dog-dog issues too, and dog-human... we're a species :P)
    more on resource guarding and b-mod:
    How to React When Your Dog Begins Resource Guarding Against Other Dogs - Whole Dog Journal Article
    On exhaustion for the human
    Training a New Dog is a Huge Challenge - Even for the Experienced - Whole Dog Journal Blog Article

    And then, a story of someone who has it way worse than any of us, for the laughs and the comfort:
    http://teamunruly.com/?p=5115

    Let me know if at the end of this, you have specific questions - I have a good archive of resources, these are all fairly general, so there is likely something left out in the specifics of practice.

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _________________________

    I commend you on rewarding her for good behaviour. That, as a form of operant conditioning, is the basis of all training dogs to do stuff. But I don't think you're there yet. I think if I'm right and she's scared, and we need her to be less scared before she can think. We need her under threshold. So, anything that would trigger her needs to signal treats raining down - classical conditioning. I'll get to that. Before that, the very first thing, is preventing as much as possible any 'incidents'. This is the management part, and many times, this is as much as people ever do regarding b-mod. Crates and gates.

    Then, she needs a safe space. Have you tried one of those soft kennels with a little hole - like this:

    Or a crate all her own?

    yes, she is likely to guard this space, so it would help if there is never a threat to this space. And it would be perfect if she could retreat there whenever she's scared. I would suggest feed her in there, and do relaxation protocol in there (if you're doing it). Practice stays in there. Make it a great spot to be in general.

    I'd even go as far as to say name it and teach her to go to it on command. Maybe 'home' would work, or 'place'. Everytime she's in there, say 'place' and feed her a nice bit. Over time, the association between you saying 'place' and her being in that spot will click. I don't know how clever she is, or how much training she's had (both make this faster, at least to start with) but with a little consistency and several repetitions a day, most pick this up within a week or two.

    Have her use her place as a safe getaway from people. You can even put it in the bathroom and have her choose to go hide there herself, this is fine.

    Back to people. Have you tried having your guests make themselves small? I'm curious what would happen. Have them take a deep breath, and find calmness inside themselves. Then, turn their body partly away from Lola, shrink down into a ball, and very deliberately do not make eye contact. If they could also be holding yummy stuff in a hand, left laying casually open next to her, that would be perfect. Leave her space to retreat, but just wait and see what happens.

    If Lola goes and eats the treats, awesome. Job done for today. Have your very cooperative guest just stay like that, call Lola away to her place, reward her well, and then resume normal human greeting behaviour. If she simply runs away, also good, also reward that (leaving your guests alone is, after all, a perfectly acceptable choice). If she flattens herself and growls... or even goes in for the attack, well. Then you need more controlled set ups. A fence between you and the person, with Lola far away, having noticed the human, but nothing more. You feed her the good stuff, and call it a day. Next time, move a little closer to the fence (with Kira, these increments were literally centimeters over weeks when it came to children, who she was violently opposed to). Over time, change to a spot where there is no fence, and repeat. Eventually strangers will be able to be around and she either leaves willingly, or ignores them, and from there you can start teaching greeting behaviours that suit you - the point is, by then, she's not scared and sees no need to attack.

    She also needs coping mechanisms for the outside world. "look at me" - cued eye contact - and "look at that" - cued looking at whatever is a potential trigger - are VERY powerful tools for helping a dog remain calm and focussed outside. That, and getting to know how far from what you need to be (at first). So here's the point where I suggest you start a log book about what sets her off, and under what circumstances. Note distance from the object, location, and her reaction, plus anything else you can think of.

    Look at me is dead easy to teach. Get her attention while you're holding a piece of treat, bring the treat up to your eyes, when she makes eye contact, well, reward her. Repeat and add in your cue and repeat some more. I've never seen this take long, but fading the 'cue' - moving your hand to your eyes - and getting it completely on a verbal command takes a while. You can be on a verbal only faster if you simply capture eye contact with a clicker, but this starts more slowly (and sometimes the clicker noise scares the dog and makes it a useless tool for fear rehab).

    Look at that is also easy if you're at the right distance from whatever you want her to look at. If she's worried about it, she should be looking at it anyway. Reward it, then ask her to look at me, then reward. Repeat. Until she stops looking at the thing and only stares at you, the source of yum (or fun, if she's a ball fiend or a tugging dervish, use that!). Then ask her to look at the thing. Pointing works, most dogs have already understood pointing, but just moving a tiny bit closer should also reset her looking at it.

    Over time, she learns that she can always get away and to safety, and she learns what to do when things get scary - look at you. And you'll make it better (by turning horrible into yummy). This will decrease her fear, and her need to attack.

    Keep the sessions very short, a minute or two at most, and do them often.

    This works really well. But you can see the kind of time commitment, especially if you have more than one dog needing the work.

    At first, progress is often painfully slow. Then suddenly, the dog 'gets it' and you proceed wonderfully and ... inevitably ... push too hard. Setback, which means everything is pushed back, and made easier, and you basically begin again. But today, I'd trust Kira around children, and she and Talos eat next to each other, and Kira can be on a leash out in the world so full of confidence that she postures at other dogs. Good stuff (even if we're still working on guarding chewies, and have recently taken a step back in that regard, so it's ongoing) :)

    Doing things to help with doggie mental health in the background helps too, but indirectly. Feeding a good food, keeping them pain free, including a nice intense cardio session for them every day all helps with keeping the mood on the cheery side.

    I'm really a little worried about the Bhodi bear and friends situation. Um, those are big, protective dogs, and management always fails sooner or later. Does she have someone to help with training?
    Last edited by Nina_W; 12-03-2015 at 02:36 AM.

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    double post fu!

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    Thank you thank you thank you, Nina! I haven't even explored the links yet, but will do so tomorrow when my brain is fresh. I agree, the aggressiveness is defensive, because she's afraid that whatever bad stuff happened to her before will happen again, the poor thing. She likes fetching and collecting her toys, and loves treats. I train her separately in the bathroom as well as outside the x-pen, but she's such a kangaroo she can leap over it easily, so I need to get a higher one -- though she can even make it on top of the kitchen counter, so I may need a 5-footer to do separate training and to try to "miniaturize" the guests—a good idea!

    She's smart, smarter than the pugs for sure, and fortunately also very treat-driven, so I've taught her to sit and to look at me pretty easily. She is learning to drop the treat, or at least let me take it from her without running away, a big advance from her original possessiveness. She doesn't want to do "down," so I haven't pushed her on that; don't want to do anything that makes her more nervous. I did provide a little felt dome house like the picture, but it seemed to make her nervous too; she'd dart in to grab the treat, but then dart out. I'm going to set it up in the bathroom and see what ensues.

    Yes, my daughter's situation is iffy at best. She spoke to a behaviorist but didn't get enough specifics and it's so far out of town it's too expensive to get anyone up there, which would be the next step, seeing them in their environment. Hoping she can make some advances, and I will share some of your tips and links with her too. Again, my fervent thanks!

    I really appreciate your taking the time to compile these links and offer all this advice, especially while you're handling so many stressful things in your own life. Thanks again!
    Last edited by Loconn55; 12-03-2015 at 03:53 AM.
    See Lisa's (6 Beautiful Pugs) 'wishlist' for her grumble at the Rusty Pug Retirement Ranch and help them out at:http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wi...ref=cm_sw_su_w

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    If it makes her nervous, try just a cushion or maybe a towel - but either way, a safe space just for her is necessary for that initial feeling of security. Later you'll become the safe space, but for now, something inanimate is best :)
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    Do you mind if I ask a quick question? (sorry to hijack the thread a little bit!)

    Nina, I completely agree that once you take a dog on, that commitment is for life no matter what the challenges along the way are. I will always remember those 'before and after' (your intervention) photos of Kira! What I wondered was, say you had young children yourself at the time you came across Kira needing 'direction'. Would you have still scooped her up and started training with her? Knowing that she was resource guarding so ferociously?
    I ask because a) I am interested and b) my friend is interested in rescuing a dog with known aggression and she has a small child. I think I know what your answer might be! :)

    Now, to me Will is my son (yes, I know he is not human!) If I were to ever have a child, Will's welfare would not be put down to second best. He's just as much my family as any child. Sorry if that offends some!

    Anyway, don't feel obliged to reply. I'd just be interested, that's all :) Sorry again for the random interruption!
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    I would ask Ed to babysit her for a few hours a day to give the old folks a break. I am presuming that she can see well and hear well? I once saw a ShihTzu rip through a new twenty dollar baby gate to reach her target----the baby gate had been installed moments earlier. Wouldn't ask her to behave around visitors either just now. Can you find a Lola only comfy crate for her to rest her mind at intervals during the day? Gas and truck's health considered, can you take her into town from time to time and just let her watch traffic go by from behind the windshield's safety. I am personally fond of the little fuzz balls, but they are more comfortable with limits than free runs. Just now, what would she do sleeping in her crate beside your bed at night, as the princess of her own domain.
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    I had Scamp, a large Yorkie boy - taken by his owner of ten years to the vet for euthanasia to spite his ex-wife. The vet refused, passed him onto the RSPCA and that's how I came to own my own little bodyguard protector from muggers in subways!

    He also vigorously attacked my old Newfie girl who'd stand there totally ignoring him growling and biting like a mad thing on her chest fur with an expression of "what the heck is he doing?" before nonchalantly walking off and ignoring him. Maybe in his mind he'd now sorted her out, or realised the futility of it, but after a couple of goes he didn't do it again.

    He'd threaten anyone who tried to move him off the sofa apart from me, and also had an odd habit of trying to go for people's ankles - not coming in, but when they wanted to leave. A local charity kindly allowed me to train Scamp in their shop - they kind of liked the idea of helping a rescued dog, especially one who didn't want their customers to leave! It actually only took a couple of sessions in the shop for Scamp to get over this, aided by very helpful customers feeding him dog treats when they wanted to go out of the door!

    Oh he was such a character. I still miss him so much and it must have been a good ten years ago that he passed now. :(

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    Quote Originally Posted by AmyR View Post
    Do you mind if I ask a quick question? (sorry to hijack the thread a little bit!)

    Nina, I completely agree that once you take a dog on, that commitment is for life no matter what the challenges along the way are. I will always remember those 'before and after' (your intervention) photos of Kira! What I wondered was, say you had young children yourself at the time you came across Kira needing 'direction'. Would you have still scooped her up and started training with her? Knowing that she was resource guarding so ferociously?
    I ask because a) I am interested and b) my friend is interested in rescuing a dog with known aggression and she has a small child. I think I know what your answer might be! :)

    Now, to me Will is my son (yes, I know he is not human!) If I were to ever have a child, Will's welfare would not be put down to second best. He's just as much my family as any child. Sorry if that offends some!

    Anyway, don't feel obliged to reply. I'd just be interested, that's all :) Sorry again for the random interruption!
    If I felt I had a choice with Kira, and I knew the extent of the problem, and I had a small child, probably not. Especially not if I'm also the small child's primary caretaker. She was murderous, it wasn't funny. As it is now I'd likely only let her near kids under supervision, even though she's really trustworthy now - the risk isn't worth it. But Kira kinda fell in my lap, and having so fallen, a commitment was made. I didn't know at the time how bad she was with kids, she had simply never been around them, and the discovery was eye opening. If there was a kid in the picture, it would have been much harder, but kids can be gated as well as a dog, and that would simply have been how it went.

    I guess that's the rub - we don't know the dog's issues when we get it. We wanted a nice pet, and we got some version of a wild animal. Do you send it back? No one else wants those issues either, so it's highly unlikely the next family (if the dog is so lucky) will be told. Or even, that you'll be believed that this is why you're surrendering the dog (we have an incredible culture of shaming those who give up dogs, and sometimes, well, sometimes that's the only choice). Someone has to step up and do something. Why not you?

    ... thinking about this - Kira's resource guarding has another side. Remember that time a guy was frightening me outside our gate, and I let Kira chase him down the street? Or when I'm sick, and she puts herself in the doorway of whatever room I'm in, and no one may enter unless I'm awake and tell her it's ok. Now, right now, with Talos sore, Kira guards her as well - she's watching us from the doorway and watching the outside world, alert and on her post. Knowing Kira as I know her now, and having established a relationship, if I have a baby, I'm putting Kira in that room to sleep. My child will be quite safe with her and her flashing teeth by the door. Directed and with much of the intensity worn down, resource guarding is a useful thing to have.

    Kira is a fiercely loyal little dog, who loves very deeply, but you really have to work hard to earn her love and loyalty. It was hard to do, but it's so very worth it now. Talos completes me, she's outgoing where I'm not, impulsive and fearless to my more cautious approach. Kira reflects me. I see a lot of myself in her.

    ... this is also something I've come to realise. They are all worth getting to know, in their own right.
    Last edited by Nina_W; 12-03-2015 at 10:10 AM. Reason: added more

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    Miss Nilla is our "problem child." We promised her when she joined our family that she would be staying with us, no more moving on to new homes, this was her forever home. She had already been bounced from home to home and had significant fear-aggression issues. I will honestly admit that, especially during that first year, there were times that I regretted adopting Nilla. But despite the tears and the stress, I didn't want to break my promise to her and shuffle her off to someone else. A dog trainer told us once that she respected us for trying so hard because many people probably would have just had Nilla put to sleep. It breaks my heart to think about that, but I know it's true. When we adopted Nilla, we didn't know what we were getting into and felt very overwhelmed with all that Nilla needed. It wasn't just Nilla that needed to learn and be trained, but WE (humans) had to learn so much as well... about managing Nilla's environment, keeping her under-threshold, baby-steps for training, etc. But, over time, with tons of training, patience and love Nilla has blossomed into a spunky, generally happy dog.
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