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Post by KeiraPops on Wed Oct 24 2018, 16:37

Hi everyone,

I’m new to the site and looking for some advice.  I rehomed Keira from the local pound just over 2 years ago when she was approx. 2-3 years old.  I’m a first time Staff owner.  They didn’t have any background on her as she was picked up as a stray (but they said she seemed to be ‘fine’ with other dogs and people).  In most ways she is the perfect dog (in the house!) – great with people and kids, cuddly, loves to play and train and is always smiling.  She has always been over excitable but has come on great with training.  However, her behaviour around other dogs is pretty out of control.

The behaviour she exhibits around other dogs is very strange and I’ve never seen it before.  I was wondering if any other Staffy owner had experience of this.  When she sees another dog on a walk she gets completely over aroused.  She will whine and lunge to try and get near them (when I first got her I assumed she was just excited by the other dogs and wanted to see them).  However when I  get within about 8 metres she goes into this absolute red zone and screams at them.  And I mean SCREAMS. This is often mingled with barking and howling.  It sounds like she’s being murdered.  I have never let her approach another dog and always keep her on lead (she gets a daily long lead run on a quiet field where there are no dogs).  A few times when we’ve been on a long lead, off lead dogs have come running at her.  On all three occasions she yelped at them and it looked like she grabbed and ‘pushed’ them around the neck area – I couldn’t work out if it was aggressive or just extreme excitement, but it was very scary and I was terrified she had injured the dogs (but they were thankfully fine).  

Since I’ve got her I’ve been working with a positive approach trainer and working with the clicker to reward her ‘watch me’s’ etc when another dog is around, but this can be extremely difficult when out on walks – I live in a city and you can turn a corner and be faced with another dog.  She attends a weekly, outdoor class for dog reactive dogs and she can behave well at the class, and then be a different dog on walks.  I’m always terrified that today’s walk will be the one where she bites a dog, and although I try to main calm, positive and assertive on walks, it can be really difficult having to constantly scan for dogs and worry that she is stressed.  

I’ve tried slowly introducing her to friends dogs on walks (parallel walking on lead and not within that 8m red zone) but it seems to get her more worked up than anything... She will pull on her harness until she makes herself sick. 
I’m at a loss how to progress.  Does she hate other dogs?  Love other dogs?  Some people have suggested to me putting her muzzle on and letting her approach another dog, but I just don’t feel right doing this as her stress / excitement is so high to get to another dog that I don’t want her to think I’m rewarding this behaviour.  

It has got so bad on walks that if she can’t see the lower half of a person (because a car is in the way for example) she will wait to see if that person has a dog and then go ballistic if they do.  She’ll also actively scan people’s house windows to look for a dog when she’s worked up.  I feel like I’m losing the battle.

If anyone has any experience with this specific type of issue I would love to hear from you (I’ve scanned through this group but haven’t seen anything yet).
I will never give up on Keira, but if I can find some way to help her with this that would be amazing.

Thanks!
Rachael
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Post by gillybrent on Wed Oct 24 2018, 18:32

Hi Rachel & welcome.

Have you spoken to the rescue centre about it? Have you asked what her reaction to other dogs was like when they had her?

To be honest, it sounds more like over excitement than aggression - once you've heard a Stafford 'having a go' you'd never mistake it!

What does the trainer say about the behaviour?

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Post by Nifty staffy on Wed Oct 24 2018, 19:01

Hello and welcome.
Well done on your rescue !

Aside the whining and noise, what’s Keira’s body language saying ?
It could well be over excitement, maybe not helped by a lack of socialisation during her younger days.

It could also be fueled by your body language - you getting tense anticipating the worst and her reacting to it. You are more reassured when in company (your trainer and training classes) but lack confidence in yourself when alone ?

Maybe try walking out in town but playing the “game” of Let’s change direction, watch and follow me ! Clicker is good but maybe have backup like high end treat and favourite toy.


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Post by KeiraPops on Thu Oct 25 2018, 08:58

Thanks for the warm welcome and replies. Smile

Her body language is usually a bow with her tail going like crazy followed by lunging. If we are moving she will keep trying to circle me so she can lunge from the other side (she thinks she's a crafty wee thing but i'm onto her! LOL) If she can't get to the dog and I am standing still she will sit, shake and whine (sometimes with one of her front paws off the ground) while focused on the other dog. Once the dog is out of sight she will circle a few more time and have a couple of big shakes.

My trainer thinks she's excitable but it could quickly become aggression as she has no experience with other dogs and is completely in their faces. He wants me to work on her 'lets go's' etc too. I use high value treats and her fav ball but it is a hit or a miss if she will take either when she's in that state.

The cat and dog home here in Aberdeen had no background on her at all and she was only there for 10 days before I rehomed her so they couldn't tell me much about her at all. They just said she was finding kennel life very stressful (not eating) but that she was very friendly with staff and visitors. When I asked about how she was with dogs they said she 'seemed fine'. Sadly in hindsight (and from talking with others who have rehomed from there) I've found out they aren't the best. They are essentially the city pound and try to get dogs out of there as soon as possible and don't seem to mind who takes them! I had no home visit or even a follow up phone call / visit to see how she was settling. Quite shocking really. They definitely don't assess them with other dogs while they are there.

I try not to be tense / anxious when i'm walking her and we see a dog, but it's difficult as I know how she is going to act. As i'm sure you're all aware she's an absolute powerhouse so I've got to pull her back when she's making a beeline for dogs.

Is walking with another dog something I should persevere with? We meet another rescue every Saturday morning for a short 20 min walk at a local field. She will spend the first 10 minutes desperately lunging at him (we are parallel walking about 5 metres apart) but she does settle down. The other dog is very good and doesn't even glance at Keira. (Dogs that stare at her make her the most reactive).

Thanks again for your replies.
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Post by LizP on Thu Oct 25 2018, 10:05

Hi and welcome from me and mine Smile

Can I just get a bit more info on what you are doing with your trainer and what actually happens on the ground. It's really hard to work at a distance on things like this but I've quite a bit of training and rescue dog experience, so I'll try my best!

You've given us a fair idea of body language when you get within her zone, but I'd like to look a what you see when she's a bit further away. You've got a rough idea of her reactivity distance, that 8m, but what happens when you are just a little further away, say 10-12m? Is she then alert or relaxed? At the point that she goes from chilled to attentive - what I call the 'uh oh' point, do you do anything or do you wait till you're closer?

When you are walking, so not in the field (which sounds brilliant), what if anything do you ask of her? Is she allowed some length of line/lead to snuffle if there is no one else near or do you keep her fairly close?

Can you describe exactly what you do, and if it's different what the trainer has advised, when you do see another dog? You said it's all positive and you use clicker (great) but sometimes it's not what you use but how you use it that makes a difference. What are you rewarding/clicking? What do you ask Keira to do to get her reward? Do you ask her to stay still or move?

Is Keira toy motivated at all? If so, what sort of toys does she like and how do you play with her?

How would you describe your reactions? Are you able to stay relaxed or do you tense? Do you tend to tense the lead? Do you talk to her and, if so, how?

That should do for now! Anything else that adds to the picture is welcome too! I have an idea of something to try but want to understand better first. I'm tied up on and off throughout the day but will check and try and find time to answer once you've got back to me.



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Post by KeiraPops on Thu Oct 25 2018, 10:50

LizP wrote:Hi and welcome from me and mine Smile

Thanks Liz. Smile

LizP wrote:Can I just get a bit more info on what you are doing with your trainer and what actually happens on the ground. It's really hard to work at a distance on things like this but I've quite a bit of training and rescue dog experience, so I'll try my best!

Within a few weeks of getting Keira and realising there might be a bit of a problem, I contacted a local trainer who was recommended to me.  We went out on an initial consultation walk (about 90 minutes around my local area which included a beach at the time).  He said she was probably not socialised and said I had to work on making her calmer.  I did this with a good mix of walks, play and obedience training daily (teaching he rtricks, to leave, walk to heel, etc).  The trainer runs a weekly class for reactive dogs.  The class is outdoors in a empty car park (with a lot of hedges / green space).  At class we start in large 'boxes' for each dog which are areas of the car park separated by each other by hedges so that the dogs can't see each other.  (usually between 5 and 8 other dogs at class).  We walk them out of the box and are instructed to let our dogs look at the other dogs and reward them when they look back at us.  We then get them to do commands they know (sit paw etc) and reward.  After several repetitions of this we start moving a box to the left, swapping boxes (out of each individual dogs red zones) etc.  She will often lunge but there isn't the intense screaming.  She has been going almost every Sunday for 2 years so she seems to know the score there and does seem to enjoy the class.  We finish with a 15 minute 'loose lead' walk around the field.  If Keira is in front she's more relaxed, she will circle me and look at the other dogs every 20 seconds or so but otherwise she is ok as long as another dog doesn't get too close.

LizP wrote:You've given us a fair idea of body language when you get within her zone, but I'd like to look a what you see when she's a bit further away. You've got a rough idea of her reactivity distance, that 8m, but what happens when you are just a little further away, say 10-12m? Is she then alert or relaxed? At the point that she goes from chilled to attentive - what I call the 'uh oh' point, do you do anything or do you wait till you're closer?

10-12 metres she would be interested and maybe some quiet whining.  Definitely interested but will still listen to me.  She will 'watch me' or follow my 'lets go' command to turn in the other direction.  

LizP wrote:When you are walking, so not in the field (which sounds brilliant), what if anything do you ask of her? Is she allowed some length of line/lead to snuffle if there is no one else near or do you keep her fairly close?

I walk her on a relatively long lead (5/6ft maybe?) and she is generally good and not too pully.  She will try to rush around corners though so I use 'nicely' (basically 'heel') to get her to stop rushing around corners - but she will still sometimes do it.  She will walk quite happily ahead of me, ears back, mouth open.  

LizP wrote:Can you describe exactly what you do, and if it's different what the trainer has advised, when you do see another dog? You said it's all positive and you use clicker (great) but sometimes it's not what you use but how you use it that makes a difference. What are you rewarding/clicking? What do you ask Keira to do to get her reward? Do you ask her to stay still or move?

I try to do what my trainer had advised - stay calm, don't pull her / put pressure on the lead and tell her 'lets go' to get to move away or 'watch me' when we are stationary.  I will use the clicker when Keira looks away for the dog to look at me and give her a treat and also when she turns and moves away from the dog.   She will do this as long as she's not within that 8m red zone when she first notices the dog, or when the dog is coming right at her.  When that's the case it's trying to drag her away really (if the dog is oncoming) as she won't listen.  

LizP wrote:Is Keira toy motivated at all? If so, what sort of toys does she like and how do you play with her?

Keira loves balls (but not chasing them or fetching them!), soft toys, tug rope toys.  We play a lot of tug at home.  I've tried to encourage her to take toys with her on walks / reward her with toys on walks but she's not interested.   The only exception is the jolly balls with the rope through which she adores and will happily carry around on a walk.  The issue is that they are £20 each and she wrecks them in 2 days so I only buy one a month!  She also loves puzzle toys and feeding toys so she gets one of those a day.

Her normal routine Mon - Thurs is 0645 - 0730 long line walk at the field. 0745 I leave for work and she gets 1/2 her raw food (nutriment) and a kong or similar with liver paste, squeezy cheese etc that I freeze.  Dog walker takes her out on a solo walk round the local area between 1230 - 115.  (Jen is fab and has been walking Keira since we got her).  5pm I get home and we go for a 45 minutes walk in the local area - I would say this is usually the 'problem walk' as so many other people are walking their dogs!  I then get home, make my tea etc.  Keira has her tea and then we usually have a good play either at home or in the garden for 1/2 an hour.  She will then happily snooze away on the sofa before our pre bed toilet garden visit at 10pm.  She will sleep on my bed right through the night.  Weekends we often visit friends and family, take different walk (in the middle of nowhere where there are no dogs!) etc.  Saturday we meet Rocky the rescue for a walk and Sunday she goes to class.  She gets a couple of marrow bones a week which she loves and will spend hours with.  

LizP wrote:How would you describe your reactions? Are you able to stay relaxed or do you tense? Do you tend to tense the lead? Do you talk to her and, if so, how?

I try to stay relaxed and speak to her in a calm voice telling her that's it's ok when she gets worked up.  I'll be saying to her 'it's ok darling come on lets go' etc.

LizP wrote:That should do for now! Anything else that adds to the picture is welcome too! I have an idea of something to try but want to understand better first. I'm tied up on and off throughout the day but will check and try and find time to answer once you've got back to me.

I will try and get a video of her on walks to share.

Really appreciate you taking an interest and trying to help us. Smile
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Post by LizP on Thu Oct 25 2018, 17:16

Thanks! That's very helpful.

Bearing in mind that some of this is guesswork (I'd like to think educated guesswork!), here are some thoughts and ideas for you.

There are places we can learn to deal with danger and places we can't. We can't learn when there is nothing there at all (so no dogs) and we also can't learn when we are under so much stress that we are taking action, as then adrenalin has kicked in to the point of fight/flight. The learning area is in between, that 'uh oh' zone when you are aware of the danger but are not yet to the point of needing to act. It sounds like the 12m+ zone is where Keira should be at the moment. At 8m+ all she is learning is confirmation that this is not good and she doesn't know how to deal with it any other way.

While she keeps experiencing that horrible feeling with other dogs near her, she will find it hard to learn anything else. If you keep the pathway to a behaviour well trodden, it will be the easiest one to go down next time. I appreciate that, in your situation of city walking, it might not be as easy but if you can try and keep her to 12m+ as much as possible while you are working on this, it will help you.

It sounds like she's getting enough exercise so one thing that might help you is to put the idea of an 'A to B via C' walk to the back of your mind, especially in the evening when it's busy. When I got that into my head, it made such a difference to my reactive dog. We could find easier places to mosey and snuffle. We could play, we could cuddle, we could have a nice time without actually going for a walk.

What you can then work on - the objective for me - is relaxation. One of the problems with 'watch me', getting a dog to sit, getting a dog to look away from another, is that it doesn't ask the dog to relax. I'm sure you know all too well that a dog can do all of these things while being super tense. Because what we want to achieve is that Keira can be relaxed near other dogs, we need to get that relaxation first, then get her closer to others.

For the time being, I'd also have a holiday from the training classes. They do sound quite intense, if she has a problem with one other dog asking her to cope with 5 or 6 others is a lot! As her behaviour - lunging, etc. - shows, she's only learning not to react so much, not that it's in fact ok.

I feel I'm not explaining this well, going from one idea to another, so I hope it makes sense!

To summarise so far, a) relax while outside and b) learn gradually to be able to do that near others.

Like anything, start teaching something in as easy a way as possible. Find a place outside, either morning or evening or both, when there are no other dogs around and when she'll not be too distracted by other things. Just sit/stand still for a while (take a warm coat!), with Keira on her long line, giving her as much freedom as you like to explore. I like a 5m line, it gives you a good length without getting too awkward to handle. She may well find this strange to start off with, it's not something she'll be used to, so throw some little treats for her to find, encouraging her to get her head down and use her nose. Generally speaking, low head = relaxed, high head = alert/tense. You can't be looking out for danger with your head down and your nose in the grass, and it's hard to relax with your head high - try it yourself (but you don't have to snuffle in the grass).

You might need to work on this for a while and it will feel odd to you both, but it is actually really nice after a while. Be aimless, it doesn't matter where you go or for how long, just relax.

When you can do that, find somewhere that you can see other dogs but that they are well before her whining zone. She needs to see them but not want to react even by an unhappy sound. As before, scatter some treats and let her snuffle for a few minutes, then leave. 'See, how easy was that' should be the message. Repeat and repeat, until it's easy pease.

Then it's time to start nudging at that zone. Get a little closer and do the same. If you get to the point that she can't eat her treats, you're too close so give her a bit more space. Continue with this, always at her pace, and you should be able to get closer and closer.

That's part 1. Part two is something you're already doing - 'let's go' - but I'd add a bit to it and use it more. I'm assuming your jolly ball is quite big, is there a smaller version you could get her hooked on? It helps if you can have a toy you can carry with you that she loves to play with, tugging is great. Again, with no one else around to start off with, teach 'let's go' in a really excited voice and then play tug with her. Or, if you prefer to keep let's go quieter, pick other words. We use 'this way!!!'.

You want to nail that, so that she learns to expect something really positive. Then, starting if possible in the easy zone, teach her that she can do 'this way' when other dogs are in sight. This should end up giving you a fun reverse gear when you feel a dog is possibly getting too close. Again, if you have something she loves playing with but she can't because of another dog, then you're too close.

You can mix and match the relaxing and the playing. In fact, that can be good because you can start to ask her to relax from excitement.

I know it's not going to be easy, especially finding times and places with no one else around especially in the evenings, and you may need to think outside the box. As the saying goes, though, do what you always do and you'll get what you always get.

That's probably enough to think about to start off with. See how that goes, ask away if you've got any questions, and we'll take it from there.

Sound like a plan worth trying?


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Post by KeiraPops on Fri Oct 26 2018, 08:43

Thank you so much for this advice Liz - Makes perfect sense and it's something we can definitely work on. I'll keep you posted Smile x
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Post by Jhayes99 on Sun Nov 25 2018, 09:09

Hi Keira one of my dogs has the same reaction to other dogs , it’s embarrassing to say the least , but I walk mine very early morning & don’t come into contact with other dogs , but you should muzzle her and ask someone who she is not familiar with take her for a walk & you stay out of sight & earshot , make sure this person is experienced with staffords & keeps her on a tight leash throughout the walk & on this walk she should be walked passed other dogs without stopping , if this works then repeate as often as possible keeping her muzzle on at all times & let her have slightly longer encounters each time but you must stay out of the equation until her reaction with other is starting to change & then slowly start to get back involved , good luck

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Post by LizP on Sun Nov 25 2018, 10:55

Hi Jhayes99 and welcome to the forum! Maybe pop over to the introductions section when you have a minute and introduce yourself Smile

I'm afraid I have to disagree with your advice, though. Tight leads are one of the big contributing factors to dog reactivity, as tension through the lead creates tension in the dog. I also can't see how a stranger can help support a dog in the same way as an owner can, unless of course the owner's nerves and tension are part of the problem. In that case, though, although an experienced stranger may themselves make some progress in the short term, you will still come back to the impact of the owner on the situation when they take over again. The best results, in my opinion, come from creating relaxation with both owner and dog together, by working gradually on a loose lead at a distance where both can just cope and learn together, then getting closer while maintaining relaxation, as described above.

Just 'forcing' a dog into a situation they can't cope with, i.e. another dog, with a muzzle than many find unpleasant, on a tight lead that is uncomfortable and stressful, is to my mind unfair and unnecessary. It's actually also unfair on other dog walkers who in all probability won't be too impressed with having an unhappy dog walked nearby, even if it is muzzled.


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Post by gillybrent on Sun Nov 25 2018, 18:11

I'm afraid I totally agree, Liz. Forcing a situation that the dog isn't comfortable with is a recipe for disaster!

Rach, how are you getting on?

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