If you’ve been tuning in with us this week, you’ll know that Gilligan has recently been turning up his “niceness” in anticipation of Santa’s upcoming visit for Christmas.
Unfortunately, this Tasty Tuesday we reveal a backslide into “naughty” behavior for Weens: when a dear friend stopped by the house, he decided that it would be an appropriate greeting to try a “taste” of said friend’s hand. 😦
With so many presents under the tree, it is baffling that Gilligan could slip into such bad behavior at this time. Gilly’s Mama and Papa were quite disappointed with this episode, and while the bite was not severe, it did require some attention and certainly put a damper in the social occasion to say the least.
Here, we reflect on this failure and share some lessons and tips to keep in mind for those of you who struggle with aggressive dog behavior:
1. Know Your Dog’s Triggers
When does the aggression occur? Make note of any patterns, as we have above, to make sure that you understand the types of situations that put your dog at higher risk of aggressive behavior.
Gilligan’s overall behavior has improved dramatically since his arrival in his forever home, however he still struggles with aggressive behavior:
- when newcomers arrive to the house/at the door, more so if the person is a stranger to him (if he is acquainted then barking and growling usually stop upon entry);
- when a person becomes physically close to Mama or Papa, more so with strangers but still present even with those he knows;
- when encountering a dog during a walk, or at introductions (dog aggression in either case); he will calm down with another dog only after spending some time with that dog within the “pack” social environment (e.g., on a walk with the humans, relaxing in the house, etc.)
- when strangers offer a direct and immediate greeting as soon as they see him (i.e. – crouching, baby talk, offering hand)
2. Discuss w/Guests in Advance
Make sure to inform your arriving guests of your dog’s triggers, and offer them recommended behaviors, in advance of their arrival, so they are prepared in case such behaviors occur.
If your dog has tendencies to be aggressive towards other dogs or people while out for a walk, be cautious and always on the lookout to spot dogs or people approaching. Ensure that you provide enough space between the dog and the triggering individual, and warn other dog owners from a safe distance to bay their dog, especially if you notice a dog who is off leash.
Do not assume that your dog will continue to behave well even if there have been behavioral improvements overall, as a regression can happen unexpectedly.
3. Separate or Restrain Your Dog
Many dogs’ aggression can be set off by similar triggers as Gilligan’s. If you are concerned and feel there may be any risk of your dog becoming aggressive when company arrives, you may prepare for this by confining him or her to a separate room, ideally with a view of you and your guests. Observe your dog’s behavior and offer feedback (both negative when your dog is displaying unwanted aggressive behavior, as well as positive when he or she is acting calmly and appropriately).
Once your dog has calmed down and displays comfort with the social environment, offer positive feedback (a treat is an excellent way to develop positive association with the event of having company over), and proceed with the introduction. If he or she remains agitated, maintain the separation.
The use of a muzzle may also be appropriate in certain cases, however this should be done with care; just as a treat can offer a positive association with the event of company arriving, a muzzle can reinforce a negative association, if your dog is anxious or otherwise uncomfortable wearing it. You might consider using treats or other training to build comfort with wearing the muzzle, before launching into using it.
4. Exercise Before Encounters
As we have explored previously, a little exercise can go a long way to improving your dog’s temperament. If you are expecting company and are in any way unsure about how your dog will behave, try getting a walk in before company arrives (this may improve things, however the rest of our tips here should not be neglected).
5. Understand Context of Progress
It can be very satisfying to watch your dog show improvements with certain types of behaviors. However, a slight change of routine, environment, or people, can be critical and can easily cause previous behaviors to resurface. Make sure that you are alert and that you exercise care when introducing your dog to any new potential trigger situation, even if the triggers resemble previous situations that your dog has recently overcome.
6. React Appropriately and Immediately
Gilligan was met with immediate negative verbal feedback (“no!” and “bad!” in firm yet non-aggressive tone), and brought into his crate to be quarantined following the incident. Negative feedback was offered immediately as barking, growling, or whining continued from the crate, and Gilligan was allowed back into the social environment only after he had completely calmed down, and initially with a leash indoors just to be safe.
Be clear and immediate with both your positive and your negative feedback. Dogs are not as quick to understand feedback if it does not coincide with the event, so if you “hold a grudge” or otherwise try to communicate displeasure or pleasure at your dog’s behavior later, even a minute or two after the event, your dog is likely to associate the feedback with whatever is happening in that moment, and not the prior one.
Even if your little fur baby is an angel most of the time, nobody is perfect. As in all things, patience and caring will give you the best results, both in the immediate and over time.
Here’s to a wonderful and safe holiday season for you and your loved ones!
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