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. 😉