02 Aug Duke – Part 2
I’ve had Duke now for two weeks and I’ve gotten an excellent opportunity to get to know him and work with him. Still no sign of serious leash aggression. We walk hands-free on a loose leash and pass by dogs. He does get mildly aroused but by teaching him an Autowatch- to look at me automatically when he sees a dog or cat, has been super easy to train and very effective. Watch the video with the cat which I would consider a very high distraction and Duke is still turning and looking at me for his reward. So before I delve more into Duke’s training for the last two weeks, here’s my explanation for why I think Duke was reacting with his owners and not with me. In the excellent book, Feisty Fido – help for the leash aggressive dog, the author’s writes, “one explanation for dogs who bark and lunge at others is a learned association between seeing another dog and the aversive feeling of getting choked by the collar”. Unlike Tyson, Duke actually likes dogs and really wants to go over and say hi. So in his case, he gets excited, gets a series of leash corrections which is what his owners were taught to do, which only perpetuates the intensity of his reaction, working Duke into a frenzy. These feelings of frustration get taken out on Jasmin, his sister.
While his leash aggression has been easily manageable (Duke has been nothing compared to how reactive Tyson was), I have seen Duke get over-aroused in other scenarios. Him and Delilah got into a scrap and Duke would not back down, he turned into a tasmanian devil. Even after we tore them apart, he kept wanting to continue fighting and was directing his aggression at my husband who was holding him back – it was very scary. So this over-arousal stuff – is not just happening on leash which his owners, it’s happening in a bunch of situations. So here’s Duke’s preliminary training to deal with the on-leash aggression:
1. Loose Leash Walking – Duke needed to learn to walk with a loose leash and be aware of the person at the other end of the leash. I worked on the following exercises:
• Using a hands-free leash and teaching him to keep it loose.
I taught Duke how to keep the leash loose by rewarding him every time he naturally moved into heel position. I then started challenging him by changing directions, doing left turns right turns, automatic sits. Anytime he followed into position, he was rewarded with a treat. He tends to forge ahead, so left turns are particularly effective. Anytime, he lost attention, I either stopped and waited, changed directions, or stepped backwards away from the distraction. This worked really well and he even figured out that when I stopped, and he was ahead of me, to turn and come into heel to get me to move forward.
• I desensitized him to the gentle leader so I could walk him with it. I wanted to avoid activating that learned response of seeing a dog and feeling his collar tighten. Also, because we haven’t worked yet with Duke’s sister Jasmin, who he is directing his frustration at, I figured it would be a great tool to get him used to especially while his owners are learning the techniques.
• I also bought him on the EasyWalk harness which also works beautifully. Once his owners get their techniques down pat, I think he will be fine walking with the harness.
2. Eye Contact and Focus.
• I captured and rewarded Duke for any eye contact. Two weeks ago he hardly ever gave me eye contact. Now every time I stop, he turns and looks at me.
• Eye contact and control exercises – I always enjoy playing this game with dogs. Put a treat in your hand or on the floor. The only way the dog gets his reward is when he turns his focus away from the treat and looks at you. This is a good way to start teaching a dog, an appropriate behaviour for when he really really wants something. Instead of grabbing or pulling towards it they learn to look away from it and wait for permission to ‘take it’, ‘get it’, ‘go see it’, etc.
• Eye contact when he sees other dogs. These are the exercises in the book Feisty Fido, previously mentioned, and highly recommended if you dog has leash aggression.
3. Basic Commands- Sit, Down, Stay
All of Dukes basic commands were slow. He really wasn’t into training. Which makes sense. Why would anyone do anything with enthusiasm unless it’s fun and Duke’s owners weren’t taught to train with rewards.
• I re-taught him his commands using tug as a reward.
Overall, I think one of the hardest parts of training Duke was trying to change his mind about ‘work’. He kept looking at me, like lady are you serious…am I really gonna get a piece of chicken for doing that? And to that I answer, yes, Dukee, because you really are such a good puggle.
In Part 3, I will talk about long term goals for Duke and strategies for the other scenarios where he exhibits aggressive behaviour.