I recently received this e-mail from my friend Lisa:
Hi Dr. V,
We went and got a Golden retriever, named Eddie, from a rescue shelter six or so months ago. He’s 2-3 years old, and quite bright, as all Goldens are…he came to us knowing sit, shake, and lay down. We also have a cat, and after quite some time of the cat staying away from him, they are finally able to tolerate being around each other. At the rescue, they said they found him out and about, he had been microchipped and obviously the previous owners didn’t want him or couldn’t care for him.
Eddie’s problem is that he cannot tolerate other dogs, no matter what size they are. He lunges for them, goes berserk when they are around, and tries to attack them. We recently were on the receiving end of an expensive vet bill because he got to another dog too quickly and tore the dogs ear up. When I walk him around the neighborhood at night, I have to deliberately walk him out of the line of fire of other dogs, because at 75 lbs, he can really walk me, if you know what I mean. He is a sweet, social and loving Golden, there’s hardly a doubt in my mind that he might have been the victim of some attacks from other dogs while he was out on his own.
What can I do to socialize him with other dogs? I don’t want him to be unfriendly, because as you know, he’s probably the most friendly of the breeds out there. Any advice?
Oh dear. The unfortunate aggressive Golden, an uncommon but not unheard of phenomenon.
Out of curiosity, let me start with two questions which immediately came to mind:
1. What sort of training have you already done, if any?
2. What are you using to walk Eddie? (regular collar, Gentle Leader, Halti, choke chain?)
Normally, when clients ask me behavior questions like this I mumble something about “desensitization and counterconditioning,” ask if they have been to a trainer, and give them a card for our local veterinary behaviorist. Sorting out behavior issues can be hard for vets- one, because many do not have any formal sort of training in behavior, and two- even if you do, the history taking process is often too time consuming to fit very well into the average full day.
I will tell you this- to really deal with this issue, you will need the hands on assistance of someone who has experience with canine behavior, either a seasoned trainer or a veterinary behaviorist.
Obviously this advice still stands, but I know there are some readers who have more extensive experience than myself in training and may be able to outline a little more clearly how a trainer would assess and handle this situation- dominance versus fear, techniques for desensitization, etc.
And if not, maybe some of you at least have some links to good pet behavior websites? Those are lacking in my repertoire. And you guys better not link to that Cesar guy. 😉
During the handful of afternoons I spent with our behaviorist, we had a couple of dog aggression cases. I seem to recall she went home and got one of her own dogs, who is very blase about other animals to act as a “trigger” or “bait” to help figure out what sort of aggression it was, and maybe to help start some counterconditioning? Needless to say, not an appropriate at-home help. (eeek!) They were pretty small dogs, too, so no 75-lb Goldens hauling the handler around.
On a side note, maybe it’s just phrased wrong, but “At the rescue, they said they found him out and about, he had been microchipped and obviously the previous owners didn’t want him or couldn’t care for him” makes it sound like the rescue found the chip but didn’t try to contact the owners because the dog’s condition made it look like he was neglected or something. This raises a red flag for me, because while I’ve heard the “obviously they didn’t want him, why try to contact them?” line before, the microchip is in place so the owner can be contacted. There is no excuse in my mind for not contacting the owner on a microchipped animal.
…and I hit the submit button when I went to hit the scroll button. Anyway, I’d check with your friend to see if she knows whether the original owners were contacted at all. It’s hard to give up a sweet new family member, but I know if that was my dog that had gotten loose, I’d be very upset if someone found the dog and didn’t try to get in touch with me. There are a million reasons for a stray to look neglected or even abused when it gets picked up that could have nothing to do with its owner.
Dr. V says
I’ll ask her- I guess I assumed that any reputable rescue would have followed up on that, but you never know. I can’t imagine them wanting to take on the liability of adopting a dog to someone without doing that due diligence! I’d say we are about 50/50 in reuniting microchipped dogs and cats with owners. Half the time the number is no longer in service, or the owner says, “eh, you can have them.” :/
There was a rescue case that came through my school that I heard of along those lines with the microchip. I think it’s less of a problem with high-volume shelters, but some of the breed rescues or other low-volume places can be kind of… judgmental. It doesn’t happen often, I imagine, but having heard some rescue people say things like “the poor thing, those people don’t deserve to get him back!” or “what kind of person would let her get in such bad shape?” I can believe it. The wording from the email “obviously didn’t want him” sounded a bit too much like some of those justifications to me. I could be reading into it too much, though. 😉
I like the Denver Dumb Friends League for behavior tips. Maybe not for problems of this magnitude, but they’re good for more run-of-the-mill stuff.
Gentle leader, gentle leader, gentle leader. At the very least, he won’t be walking you any more! 🙂
Dr. V says
I do so love the Gentle Leaders!
I recently read an article the attitude now is that all aggression is really coming from a place of fear.
First, is training the dog to be responsive to being on the leash.
(and the questions would be, what is being done for the dog if exercising on leash is not a good outlet. Excessive energy can make nervous dogs even less tolerate of difficult situations.
Second, would be getting the dog more tolerant of other dogs (dogs going by, watching dogs at a park, walking by dogs). Most importantly, leaving or interrupting whenever the dog begins to aggress and lots and lots of yummy treats when calm behavior is present.
Here’s the article.
IF you’re looking for TV trainers, Victoria Stillwell’s “It’s Me or the Dog” has excellent ideas for training dogs who are dog aggressive. Her show also doesn’t come with the disclaimer: “Training shown here is by a professional trainer and should not be tried at home.”
I’m a huge fan of this lady. I drove for 6h to hear her speak on a topic I wasn’t interested in and she was fantastic!
She runs a clicktrain training list – if you search the archives, you’ll find a wealth of information on exactly the situation you’re talking about. (I strongly suggest searching before posting – asking a common question w/o searching first can be rude and you’re likely to get lower quality responses because of it).