Fear based behaviors and corrections

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Postby mnp13 » October 16th, 2011, 9:22 pm

Now, everyone knows that I am not against using corrections in training. However, I have tried to also convey that there are times when corrections should never be used. Fear is one of those times. If you don't know the root of a behavior, either get some help or find a way to deal with the behavior that doesn't involve a punishment.

Here's today's scenario...

Dog who has previously been described as "fearful" is on leash lunging and barking. Past information has been that this dog will ignore people she doesn't know, unless they try to put her, and then she will snarl and attempt to nip them. However, if you ignore her, she will ignore you. Having dealt with evaluating a number of fearful dogs in the past, I tell the owner to let the dog off leash. In the past, even very fearful dogs who charge will either bump or nip and then go away if I don't react or will stand just out of reach and make a big threatening show. I've been "muzzle punched" by a couple of dogs, but again, without a reaction from me they retreat to mom/dad because mom/dad is safe.

So, dog is let off leash and charges. I don't move, don't make eye contact, keep neutral body posture. Dog nips three or four times - hand, arm, upper arm. I don't react in any way. Dog proceeds to jump up and bite my hair, then the back of my arm, then my back (couple inch long bruise left through down vest) and back of right leg (hand sized bruise, broken skin, blood, through brand new jeans.) Owner collects dog. I tell her to put the dog away, where the dog continues to bark, lunge and claw at crate.

I tell the owner that in my opinion, this is extremely dangerous behavior, as the "forward fear" is far past just a threat display - the dog escalated the behavior when I didn't react, instead of retreating or even remaining the same. I am not the "think of the children" type, but there are four kids in this home as well, with a constant parade of kids in and out of the home.

Later on, I speak to her on the phone and ask when the "only snaps if you try to pet her" escalated to what I experienced. Of course, the answer is "this is the first time that ever happened." Well, my first thought is bullllll shiiiiiiiit, but I continue the conversation to look for more information.

She explains that the dog has never been off leash around anyone she didn't know. And that she can completely control the dog when it is on leash. In fact, the very first time that she met the dog, the dog muzzle punched her and then stared her down. And she took the leash, tweaked it (her words), and told her to knock it off. Bingo. Two months of corrections to shut down fear based behaviors when meeting a new person... and when the dog was finally off leash and allowed to do what she wanted to do - well, what she wanted to do very much was hurt me.

I was also told how the foster home from the rescue used to give her treats when she acted like that around new people. (Which, of course, is what you should do in this case) But the current owner just pops her collar and "makes her behave." Well, that gives me the answer of why the dog didn't go back to mom for safety when the big scarey stranger wasn't afraid of her - because mom isn't safe either!

*sigh*

I went into a looooong explanation of exactly why you counter-condition for fear based behaviors, and why correcting the dog only shuts the behaviors down. But, of course, when the dog can finally act out what it wants to do, that lucky person gets all the benefit of all of those fears. Tonight, that lucky person was me (frankly, I thank God it was me, and not some random person who could have been very badly hurt.)

It's important to note that I specifically told the owner two months ago to take the prong collar off the dog and learn about clicker training. There is a time and place for corrections, a six month old, resource guarding, fear aggressive dog is not that time or place.

Honestly, my gut reaction after the "nips" turned to "bites" was to grab her and make her stop. However, there were two children in the room, I hadn't asked permission to train the dog (and infact had told the owner to unclip the leash), and I have to go back to work tomorrow and though I would have ended up "winning" that battle, I also would have ended up injured quite likely badly.

The ugliest part of this whole thing, and what I really, really hope she heard was that the dog escalated her behavior with no reaction at all from me. Normally, when someone is bit repeatedly (and she had intent, just didn't have good aim, but was quickly getting better at it, and the last one to my hamstring hurt) they don't stand there and not move. They yell, run, hit, kick... something. I didn't move or make a sound, and she got worse. The likely hood of that happening with another person or with a kid is about nil - and though it's possible that screaming would have scared her, it's much more likely in my opinion that it would have brought out even more.

So, what's the moral of the story here?

If you don't know the root of a behavior, don't use force to try to "make it go away," because it won't. Yes, I believe that some behaviors can be "fixed" with corrections (or without, it's up to the owner) but when rooted in fear? No. Because above all else, you should be the "safe zone" for your dog - and when the dog is already afraid and you add to that fear, it's not going to look to you for help. And that spells disaster.

(Just as an FYI, dog in question is a 8 month old GSD.)
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Postby plebayo » October 16th, 2011, 10:21 pm

Question. How is the dog doing this out of fear why is she charging you? If she's fearful and you weren't talking to her/making her feel insecure I don't understand how she is fearful?? ( totally not arguing just curious on the dog's behavior)

I was just curious, obviously this shows the corrections aren't working and show their relationship off leash is not the same as when the dog is on leash either.
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Postby Malli » October 16th, 2011, 10:58 pm

yep. Much easier to tell the dog what to do then what not to do-Then scary happens and then ouchy happens and scary becomes scarier.

I sympathize with you on this client!

I enjoy working with dogs but I'm not sure I'd ever want to make my living from solving problem behaviors, and a large part of that is the people equation.
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Postby Tubular Toby » October 17th, 2011, 1:24 am

This breaks my heart, especially after my own struggles with Toby. Unfortunately, I hear people all the time say that their dog growled at someone or something, but after a correction, it was okay and stopped. I try not to be preachy, but sometimes it's incredibly hard. :(
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » October 17th, 2011, 8:43 am

plebayo wrote:Question. How is the dog doing this out of fear why is she charging you? If she's fearful and you weren't talking to her/making her feel insecure I don't understand how she is fearful??


Honestly? The dog isn't wired right. A lot of dogs show forward fear - their threat displays, charges, nips, etc are desperate attempts to make you go away. But usually after a display, if the threat (the person) doesn't escalate, like Michelle said the dog should retreat to its safe spot. But because the dog's "safe spot" corrects it for being fearful, it has NO safe spot.

What Michelle (kindly) neglected to mention is that this dog is kept in a prong collar 24/7. Literally. And has been since they got it 2 months ago. When it's out of the crate (which isn't often) it's kept on leash. And the crate is kept in a busy part of the house so the dog is constantly being bombarded with frightening (to it) stimuli.

Michelle called me last night after this whole fiasco and we talked for quite a while. She truly is a firm believer in correcting bad behavior, so it blew me away when we both agreed that this dog doesn't need corrections. I think it needs euthed, ideally. It's a true danger to the people in the household as well as anybody else who may come in (kids' friends/parents). It's possible that with some intensive rehabilitation and counter-conditioning, mixed with pharmaceutical assistance, this dog MAY improve. But with a dog that escalates that quickly with absolutely no provocation, I don't think there would ever be a way to trust it.

I was also told how the foster home from the rescue used to give her treats when she acted like that around new people. (Which, of course, is what you should do in this case)

Just to nitpick ( :wink: ), the treats should have started flowing freely when people were far in the distance, before the dog went over threshold. This is a great time to play "open bar/closed bar." When the dog sees people in the distance, treats come flying. As soon as the people are gone, treats disappear. Rinse, repeat. The dog learns to eagerly anticipate seeing people because it means Very Good Things will happen.
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Postby plebayo » October 17th, 2011, 11:04 am

Thanks for the extra details :) it definitely sounds like an unfortunate situation.
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Postby TheRedQueen » October 17th, 2011, 5:37 pm

Why were there two children in the room for an aggressive dog evaluation, and why was the dog let off-leash, especially if there were kids around? I'm confused.

What exactly makes you think this is fear-based? I don't necessarily see a lot of fear...full on eye contact with a bite...that doesn't say fear to me.
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Postby mnp13 » October 17th, 2011, 6:51 pm

It wasn't an "evaluation" I was at someone's house meeting their dog for the first time. It was not intended to be an evaluation, and didn't actually turn into one - except I was asked "what I thought"

Why do I think it's fearful? Because I've worked with many confident dogs, even aggressive confident dogs don't run around your back and bite or nip repeatedly, especially a passive non-reactive person who was invited into the house. According to her owner she also "usually hides behind her when she people approach them outside the house."

As for why the kids were there in the first place - they all live in the house with the dog and interact with her during the course of their daily lives.
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Postby furever_pit » October 17th, 2011, 7:20 pm

Will you be working with this dog and its owner now? Or were they looking for an opinion and not actual training?

Honestly, I feel kind of bad for the dog. Sounds to me like this dog was allowed to "slip through the cracks" in a way. Obviously the foster had an idea that this dog was having some fear issues with people and the owner probably should have thought twice about bringing home a dog where that was their first interaction unless she had some idea of how to deal with it and had the time to deal with it.
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Postby TheRedQueen » October 17th, 2011, 7:22 pm

mnp13 wrote:It wasn't an "evaluation" I was at someone's house meeting their dog for the first time. It was not intended to be an evaluation, and didn't actually turn into one - except I was asked "what I thought"

Why do I think it's fearful? Because I've worked with many confident dogs, even aggressive confident dogs don't run around your back and bite or nip repeatedly, especially a passive non-reactive person who was invited into the house. According to her owner she also "usually hides behind her when she people approach them outside the house."

As for why the kids were there in the first place - they all live in the house with the dog and interact with her during the course of their daily lives.


That clears a lot up...thanks. 8)
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Postby mnp13 » October 17th, 2011, 9:18 pm

Nope, not working with the dog. I can't take the liability of getting involved with it, and that's not liability in a money sense. If I had any feeling that my reccomendations would be followed, I might, but considering I specifically stated "take the prong collar off the dog and go to completely reward based training" six weeks ago and yesterday found out that not only does the dog live in a prong collar, but ALL of her handling is corrections, well I just can't do it.

And I am appalled that any rescue would adopt a fearful, resource guarding dog to a family with four kids. Well, with any kids at all, but with a five year old boy in the house??? What five year old does what they are told all the time? Even if he never touches her, he could let her out or some other mistake.
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Postby TheRedQueen » October 17th, 2011, 9:34 pm

What's the story on the rescue?

My sister had a bad experience with a white GSD from a shelter...the owner had turned it in with the excuse "moving"...the dog was barely in the shelter before my sister adopted her. She was the WORST resource guarder that I've ever met...EVER. She ended up putting her to sleep at the vet, so as not to pass on the problem.
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Postby mnp13 » October 17th, 2011, 9:51 pm

I don't have a story on the rescue. All I know is what I was told... that the dog was only in a kennel/yard at the breeders before the rescue "took her" and that the breeder used to throw rocks and sticks at her if she barked or made noise. (yeah, I know, makes no sense.)

Then the rescue took her, and the foster home "gave her treats for barking and flipping out at people" so she "was rewarded for barking and got worse."

Then, said rescue decided it was a great idea to adopt the dog to a family with another dog, a bunch of rabbits, and four kids. Evidently, the current owner "making her behave" infront of the foster family impressed them or something. (please read the intended sarcasm)

None of it makes any logical sense... from start to finish.
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Postby TheRedQueen » October 17th, 2011, 10:00 pm

weird, just weird.
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Postby DemoDick » October 20th, 2011, 11:07 am

Regardless of what lead to the problem and what should be done to fix it, this household is in over its head and in all likelihood there is a nasty bite coming. I would make it crystal clear that it's going to happen so that you can't be accused of not being honest about it when it goes down. But I get the feeling that's already been communicated.

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Postby DemoDick » October 20th, 2011, 11:10 am

TheRedQueen wrote:weird, just weird.


Not surprising though, unfortunately.

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Postby mnp13 » October 20th, 2011, 2:27 pm

DemoDick wrote: But I get the feeling that's already been communicated.

It has been. After the kids were elsewhere, I said to the owner "Your dog is going to bite someone, and you now know that she will continue to bite them, even if they don't react. And which of your kids, your friends, your kids friends or their parents is not going to react to being bitten?" That's pretty much verbatim.

I spoke to the owner the other day, and was told that they "aren't willing to give up on her because of her age."

Um... you have an eight month old dog that bites and in the two months of owning her, her behavior has improved around family members but no one else, and she is still not allowed off leash even in the house. She's only going to get bigger and harder to control... but, ok.
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Postby Malli » October 20th, 2011, 2:44 pm

there are so many balanced, lovely, easy, dogs in the world, sometimes I don't understand :neutral:

Its one thing to have the knowledge to know what you're getting into, or have a dog for years and have an issue come up, but stuff like this...

Thank DOG it isn't a pit bull, is all I have to say.
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Postby mnp13 » October 20th, 2011, 3:30 pm

Malli wrote:there are so many balanced, lovely, easy, dogs in the world, sometimes I don't understand


Bingo.
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Postby TheRedQueen » October 20th, 2011, 9:28 pm

mnp13 wrote:
Malli wrote:there are so many balanced, lovely, easy, dogs in the world, sometimes I don't understand


Bingo.


Right. I took on Inara as a project, as I'm guessing many trainers have done. But since her, I've chosen relatively easy dogs...without big issues. I wanted a project at the time of her adoption, but not anymore. Even so, I don't have kids, and I knew what I was getting into with her.

But this is why I'm always so fast to push euthanasia with iffy rescues. I don't want the adoption to end up like this.

:nono:
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