Who's a good little hairless tailless ape? You are!!
October 18, 2015 5:20 PM   Subscribe

We are probably going to be getting a dog in the next short while. I have seen this question. In terms of an update, or the most current thinking on how to keep a dog happy, manage behaviours brought on / out by being stressed in a shelter, and tips and tricks on bonding, where should we be looking / what should we be reading?

A bit of a two-parter.

1. Mr MMDP grew up with dogs and I once ate a dog biscuit when I was three years old (my earliest memory and I've had better). We have thought this through and have a handle on the basics, but I think we need to know more about things like best and most up to date thinking in the sorts of issues in the question. There's so much info out there - who should we be taking notice of? Are there people (trainers, bloggers, writers) you rate and would recommend? What should we be doing, apart from positive reinforcement, dog walkers when we're at work, consistent behaviours (us), a safe space (dog), lots of exercise (all of us)?

2. We will be off to training and citizenship classes once this chap (potentially) has settled down. We went to see him today. He's four years old. He's lived in a family with children and a cat in the past and was well behaved and loved. He's strong on the lead and is showing a lot of what looked to my inexperienced eyes as dog aggression but what the staff described as frustration brought on by being in kennels for a month. He redirected that dog frustration into a light nip to the leg of one of the staff a week or so ago when he was ranting at a dog in the next pen - no bruising, but still. He is people-friendly according to the staff and can be redirected away from other dogs with treats. Again, according to staff all these behaviours are extremely trainable and the situation he's in is obviously highly stressful. He was neutered on the 7th October so again I imagine ebbing testosterone might see him a bit calmer in ... well, a few weeks?

So dogpeople of MeFi, please can you share your ideas on how best we should be preparing for this and who we should be paying attention to in terms of on going socialization (and if you have a view on what I've described of the fellow in the link, please do share it).
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, dogs over 1 year old can be managed, but can't be socialized. I don't mean that he's a hopeless case or anything like that -- far from it!!! -- but that you really can't expect to cure him of any aggression. You can manage his behavior with support from a good, positive trainer. But you won't be able to change it. I adopted my dog at 1.5 years old, and he is reactive to bikes, skateboards, runners and teenagers wearing hoodies. I have learned how to manage this, for example, by walking him up into people's lawns to keep at least 8 feet between him and any of the above. He is sometimes more reactive and sometimes less, but I don't expect this to go away completely and am always on guard for it.

In terms of bonding, make yourself into a treat dispenser. Make sure he gets 50% of his calories from you and your husband directly -- like directly from your hand -- for the first month, then taper off. I walked around the house tossing treats (actually, it was just his kibble -- he loves it) everywhere I went for the first month we had our dog, and he is devoted to me. WAY more than to my husband. Since you'll be using treats for training, this will reinforce his perception of you as the source of good things AND as the boss. I don't buy into the whole "alpha" way of thinking, but I think it is true that dogs are hierarchical and are more comfortable when they understand their position within the household.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:50 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The monks of New Skete have some good books out... I recommend them....
posted by HuronBob at 7:03 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a dog that was highly reactive fear biter. He has come a long way, he gives no sign of that behaviour now a days & many people can't believe his past. It has taken a lot of steady work on our part, every day, every time he was walked. He no longer lunges at passers by but walks by calmly, or tries to kill every other dog he sees, but will carry on by with me, occasionally muttering under his breath as he goes. While I will never trust him 100% & he will always be leashed it is possible to improve these situations, often a surprising amount.

Take training classes with your dog. Avoid Petsmart ones & look for a professional dog trainer, one that's dealt with reactive dogs, with positive reinforcement. Do some basic obedience classes & get your new guy used to listening to you, & trusting that you know what you are doing, dog training classes are a great way to bond. A lot of the training they do will be on you teaching you what to do, and building your confidence. I took agility classes as well and they really helped build my dogs confidence, not only in me but in himself & helped immeasurably. He knew we could handle the scary new situations together, be they a tunnel obstacle, or a stranger in a hat, so he reacted a lot less when new situations arose.
posted by wwax at 7:04 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recommend Love Has No Age Limit when adopting an adult dog from a shelter environment. It covers pretty much all of your questions.

The other piece of advice I'd give is that raising a dog is the same as raising a child - you can have the best-laid plans and read up on everything, and get overwhelmed by all of the different experts and advice, and your dog will still probably throw you for a loop. So, patience and a sense of humor are the two key things you'll need, along with lots of exercise.
posted by umwhat at 7:10 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I also recommend Drake to folks... It's a moving book, written by someone who really loves and understands dogs. Drake was a rescue of sorts, and evidently abused when Craig took him in and transformed him into a wonderful friend and companion.

It's a great read and, if nothing else, instills a fantastic way of thinking about and interacting with dogs...

(disclaimer: I know Craig, and knew Drake...)
posted by HuronBob at 7:16 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

1) I very highly recommend Sophia Yin's "How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves." She was a pioneer in many ways, using positive behavior modification techniques to help animals of all varieties become less fearful/aggressive and learn to enjoy a trip to her office (she was a veterinarian). I also strongly recommend "The Dog Whisperer" by Paul Owens.

Finally, I highly, highly recommend positively.com for general online reading and dogforum.com for advice when you feel that your reading doesn't directly inform your particular situation. I also personally watch the following people/channels on YouTube:
Donna Hill
Kristin Crestejo
Pam's Dog Academy
Training Positive

2) You definitely can change your dog's reaction to things that he may currently be aggressive toward (and thus likely fearful of). Some dogs learn faster than others, and it is like any training where it must be reinforced consistently throughout the dog's life, but you absolutely can convince him to chill out around other dogs. Exactly how long that takes will be easier to determine once you get him out of the shelter and settled down. Redirecting nips to other people/dogs is, in the absence of obvious fear signals, usually a sign of frustration, and if he's easy to redirect with treats (especially relatively low- or mid-value treats) then his behavior may in fact be excitement, in addition to the likely frustration. A video of the dog would clear things up. You may want to take one to send to a prospective behaviorist that you would like to work with.

On a related note: please please please do not pick a behaviorist (not the same thing as a trainer!) who wants to use punishment to stop whatever his behavior currently is. This can and often does two things: first, it creates a stronger negative association with whatever the dog is reacting toward (see strange dog, respond, receive punishment = strange dogs make bad things happen). Second, it causes many dogs to hide any aggression they may want to display, which sometimes results in "unprovoked" bites because the dog has been trained not to display warning signs. Positive trainers will work to make your dog learn that strange dogs and anything else it may be fearful of are actually great because they mean treats/a toy/whatever.

Okay, I'll stop this here. Feel free to send a MeMail if I can maybe clarify anything or answer follow-up questions. :) That is one handsome dog; I wish you the very best!
posted by Urban Winter at 7:31 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hi. I am a dog fosterer for an organisation that also has a shelter. I believe passionately in dog rescue and rehoming. All of our own dogs have been rescues! I have fostered more than one dog that has come to me from the shelter due to shelter stress or to learn to live in a home in preparation for adoption.

One of our recent shelter dogs was a Lucher and Jesus what a loving dote he was. While he exhibited kennel stress, he exhibited it by withdrawing. He did not exhibit it through aggression because he does not have that in him. While shelters are super-stressful and a dog's behaviour can change radically once out of a shelter, I would be hesitant to place a dog exhibiting aggression, especially a bull-cross, with inexperienced handlers.

Is there some reason why that dog and not a better-rounded dog who on paper at least sounds more suitable to first-time owners, like Patch? Or a particular reason why The Dog's Trust and not a rescue with dogs in foster, where you'll know much more about a dog from people who have lived with it in a normal home environment? US rescues have a reputation for being impossible but that's much more rare in the UK (and unheard of here in Ireland!)
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the responses, much appreciated.

DarlingBri, the simple answer to why this dog is that he has lived with a cat before, of which we have three. That is another concern I have, but a more general one as I know / have been told that it's all bets off when you introduce a new cat to a dog, even one that might have been ok with them in the past. And we would be very open to non-shelter alternatives to the Dog's Trust if you have any suggestions?
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 12:15 AM on October 19, 2015

I am just now asking my rescue for specific rescue recommendations for you -- we do place a lot of dogs with rescues in the UK so if any of them are in your area, I'll gladly offer details!

However, Birmingham Greyhounds does cat test. Nevermind what they have listed because they may have new dogs coming in or an outdated website. It is totally worth talking to them because greyhounds are great dogs and many of them are indifferent to cats. Also here is a list of cat-tested dogs from some rescues in the UK, listed by region. (Be careful because you just might fall in love!)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:18 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

As DarlingBri said, many shelters will "cat test" by putting your prospective dog in a room with a cat and seeing what happens. That said, my dog completely ignored the cat in her cat test and now regularly harasses my two cats at home. She never wants to hurt them, but she does want to play (she's a nine-month old puppy).

I agree with DarlingBri that you may want to consider a dog that is better suited for first-time adopters. This is my first dog, and though the fact that she is a puppy and a very high-energy breed are factors, training her and keeping her happy is way more challenging than I thought it would be. I'm very lucky that she is not aggressive at all and loves other dogs and people, but even with her happy-go-lucky personality, she's a lot of work.
posted by anotheraccount at 5:09 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm a first-time dog owner who rescued a very reactive high-energy dog as a companion for my small, skittish cat in January, and she's great. Here's what I've learned:

- A two week shutdown will make her feel calm and comfortable in her new environment, so that when you do take her out into the world, she will look to you for guidance. I didn't do this with my dog and I think it made her reactivity much much worse - she felt like she needed to be on the defensive about everything.

- My dog was cat tested, but still wanted to chase my very frightened cat. I used gates to block off a safe area for the cat (which included my bedroom), and kept the dog crated when I was gone. When the dog was outside or at daycare, I would encourage the cat to spend time in the dog's crate, and vice-versa.
To get them to spend time together, I would crate the dog and bring the cat into the room and close the door, and then give my dog a really awesome treat that would take a while to eat (usually a frozen peanut butter kong). The dog got used to the cat being around but not chasing her, and the cat got used to being around the dog when the dog couldn't get her. The cat started out hiding under the couch or behind the tv, but after a few days of this would curl up in my lap. After the dog was good with this in the crate, I moved on to crate door open, then leashed but outside crate, and then free.
Now they get along pretty well (dog is terrified of cat), and they hang out in the house together when I'm gone. They have occasionally cuddled, and sometimes try to get each other to play.

- The reactivity can be hard to figure out. My dog was reactive to people (especially black people, bearded people, people with hats, umbrellas, hoods, walking canes, wheelchairs, etc.), cars, bikes, skateboards, flags, and especially other dogs. Now she's down to just dogs. The method I used for the other things (just general desensitization and counter conditioning) didn't work with dogs, so I tried a few different things before settling on BAT training. This let me focus on rewarding the dog's choice to disengage, instead of feeling like I was frantically competing for her attention by asking her to sit or follow me or luring her with treats.

It really depends on your dog, but here are a few resources I recommend:
Sophia Yin
Ahimsa Dog Training
Kikopup (youtube channel)
The Cautious Canine
Feisty Fido
Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out
Click to Calm

BTW, leash reactivity is very different from dog aggression, and you should get her tested if you're worried she's actually dog aggressive. My dog sounds like she would like to murder other dogs on leash, but she's great at her daycare and plays well with everyone. It's a combination of leash frustration (I REALLY want to see that dog!) and fear (oh no! dog getting too close, can't escape so better freak out!).

- The solution for everything was to have treats on me all the time. My dog was super anxious when I got her, and had a ton of bad habits (whining, barking, jumping on people, chewing blankets, etc.), and I just rewarded every single good choice she made. I used this treat pouch, and stashed baggies of treats all over the house so I could surprise her.

I can't write more now, but memail me if you want to talk. When I first got my dog, I was constantly overwhelmed and worried I made the wrong decision, and the first few months were really rough. I devoured all the dog-training material I could find, and now I'm sort of obsessed with it.
posted by autolykos at 7:48 AM on October 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

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