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Aggression or Spatially Sensitive, Does it Really Matter?

Posted on 04/28/09 34 Comments

Sorry all, that I have been away from the blog. I have had lots to say, but life has gotten in the way. I wanted to comment on the issue of dog:dog aggression. I think the run of spatially sensitive dogs we have had at our camps recently warrants the mention of solutions on this blog. First of all please don’t wait until you have a full-blow “issue” before you seek out help with your dog. I was approached recently by someone  with a reactive dog and when I asked “how many times has your dog put a salvia trail on a dog” her answer was “four times that were quite bad.”  I probed further, as I hadn’t asked about “bad” incidents and found out that her dog had jumped other dogs 6 or 7 times at a minimum.  The last one, which was the night before the dog was to work in camp, opened another dog’s throat up for what looked like 10-15 stitches.  It is unfair to both your dog and the poor unsuspecting dog he jumps, for you to allow more than one rehearsal of such an unacceptable behaviour.

To on-lookers the easy answer is to call the dog an ass—- and suggest euthanasia. Even though I have suggested this for more than one dog, that really is the easy way out, to blame the dog. I am in no way an expert in aggression. But I do know true “organic aggression” stemming from an imbalance is rare. Most aggression is learn, based in fear that is not properly addressed. I have helped people with dogs with issues, but more often then not I refer them on to one of many CERTIFIED  behavourist that I know and respect (there are many).

The thing that irratates me about aggressive dogs is that their issues do not crop up over night.  Your dog will show you signs very, very early on. Your dog will shy behind your legs, pin his ears, errect the hair of his bursa and of course possibly growl. A dog showing any of these signs alone or in combination is communicating to both the other dog and to you that “I am uncomfortable in this environment and I need your help to cope.  Sadly, the owners reaction to their dog’s plea for help is to collar correct him, calling him an ‘evil dog.’   How sad for the dog. What this teaches the dog is to stop growling at other dogs, but it does not alter the fact that he lacks confidence in those situations.

What may happen next time is that rather than growling your dog may just lunge and bite the dog! When your dog gives you his feedback, you need to evaluate it and act on it.  Pack yourself  loads of great treats in order to dole out the cookies when other dogs are near by.  Please don’t think this is the extend of my suggestions.  The truth is that a dog that has a history of reactivity around other dogs should never be put in a position to hurt a dog or even be allowed to lunge at his crate door or fence run with the neighbour dog.

The dog at our place that had torn up the throat of that Sheltie was a dog that constantly fence fought with the dog next door. Any guess what breed that was?? Yes, it was a Sheltie. Years of pent up aggression that was never fulfilled with the neighbour’s dog was taken out on an unsuspecting other. You need to stop reherasals of undesirable behaviour in your dog. Practice makes perfect, so the more rehearsals of aggression your dog is allowed, the better he gets at being aggressive. Intimidation and blame is not the answer. Such a dog must always be on a head halter.

There are some games that I have outlined in Shaping Success that I used with Buzzy to help him with is dog:dog issues.  When Buzz was a three year old, we were at an agility trial in the crowded walkway between the two rings.  I had bend over to tie my shoe and Buzz went over my head at an intact male German Shepherd. Luckily for me, in that vulnerable position, it was a very stable GSD that did not retaliate!  Not long after that Buzz made it clear he would hurt my, at that time ‘new puppy,’ DeCaff. That is when I listened to what he had been trying to tell me all along and I and started counter conditioning his fear of other dogs. Today Buzzy actually seeks out other dogs, he loves everyone.

Even if your dog is a happy go lucky dog that loves all other dogs, don’t allow the opportunity to give him treats around other dogs pass you by. Check out the video clip in my last blog when the 6 month old puppy starts sniffing Buzz’s man parts. Buzz instantly seeks out my face to be told what a good boy he is. Once again the power of the “R” word. Reinforcement really does build behaviour!

Today I am grateful to be home for a staggering 4 1/2 weeks in a row!


  1. Lisa Yarn says:
    Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 10:58am

    I hope someone sees this in 2012! In response to the posting about sensitive dogs, I have a question about the dogs who are the subjects of the behavior. My papillon loved meeting other dogs, and was happy around them, and in our obedience class, he got to know the other dogs in a controlled (on lead) situation. One day, after 6 weeks of the dogs being together, we let Finn and 2 other dogs off lead in the large fenced area after class. The other dogs were larger than Finn. They were all friendly and playing together, but then the two (much larger) dogs started to chase Finn. I don’t know if they were aggressive or fearful dogs, maybe just playing – or could they have seen him as a “prey animal” because he is small? He panicked. He outran them – he’s little and fast! He has not been the same around other dogs from that day on. When other dogs approach, on lead (I never let him be around off-lead dogs since then), he hides behind my legs. He is not aggressive towards them, at least not so far. I have started taking him around individual dogs (like with my trainer’s) and trying to desensitize him, but I’m so worried that he will never have that same confidence around other dogs. Does anyone have any recommendations? Do you know of a blog post about this?


  2. Patricia says:
    Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 10:28pm

    I see the times of the comments are scattered, and so I guess it doesn’t matter that I write at the end of 2010, even though no one may see it.

    I will be the odd-man out here, and say that I think it is a dangerous trend we are seeing that friendly dogs are seen as sharing responsibility for incidents when aggressive – er – reactive – er, “spatially sensitive” dogs – bite or attack. It’s gotten so bad that in CPE agility, these aggressive/reactive/spatial types are given special bows to wear on their lead as a warning.

    Consequently, it is now up to the owners of friendly dogs – or even just “minding your business” dogs – to give the potential attackers berth. That has led to everyone being at fault but the owner of the aggressive dog.

    I now own the world’s sweetest dog and once owned a very dog-aggressive dog. I loved them both. But … sorry! If you have a dog that can harm others, it should not be at a trial, unless you can handle the problem. A friendly dog who comes calmly sniffing up is not the problem when another dog reacts by biting!

    Owners of friendly dogs should be able to go to trials without being afraid some dog with a known history of aggression is going to lunge out and bite their pet. Frankly, I believe that part of my entry fee entitles me to being reasonably sure that if you have such a dog, you will have the good sense not to bring him.

    Yes, get help – perhaps even go to places with other dogs IF the owners are forewarned and agree to cooperate with you in some training. But it really is not the problem of other owners to endanger their own dog so you can train your dog-aggressive dog, and blaming a friendly dog for the bite he gets isn’t right!


    • mary m says:
      Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 11:55pm

      I happened to read your post, so it is not going completely unnoticed. I don’t know you and hope not to offend by what I am writing, but to instead bring another perspective to your position, as I feel it is a fair debate. (I in fact was not sure if I should reply as I hope not to stir up bad feelings but my goal is to instead bring a different perspective to the situation…FYI if my dog were to harm another dog I would not have her at a trial).

      I have trialed two dogs and am working with my third agility dog, I have never had a dog with dog : dog aggression issues previous to my youngest girl.

      She does have dog issues, she is quickly moving past these issues well. I have not yet entered her in a trial, as the foundation of her aggressive/reactive behaviors with others dogs was built from fear, and until I see 110% confidence in her agility work with me in multiple environments, I will not ask her to run courses in a trial environment; however she accompanied me to trials since the age of 6 months (FYI anyone I talk to about her having dog issues while at trials, say they “would never know she has this issues”)meaning I have not had a problem with her at a trial, however I keep the reinforcement very high in these situations as I am fully aware I am asking a lot of her and she is trying very hard for me……

      However; my biggest difficulty at a trial is not her, it is having to watch out for other dogs getting into her space, I know that a dog running up to her face, sniffing her body or boding checking her as they run up will cause her to be uncomfortable (these behaviors to our dogs are seen as rude in canine language and while some dogs will tolerate such advances, they are not friendly to the dog).

      I feel it is up to ALL of us, to know our dogs, be working with our dogs while we are at a trial and I also believe there is no need for our dogs to be asked to interact, in such an environment with other dogs. It is not natural for a dog to be introduced to multiple others dogs in this environment, which is usually very loud, cramped and loaded with hundreds of dogs and people.

      I keep my dog at heel or side when she is with me, I expect the same from others at a trial, while I know I can manage a situation by tossing cookies at any fast approaching dog, and firing cookies off to my pup as we head briskly to her crate together, I do not appreciate the feeling that I must be on the lookout for another dog who might be dragging their owner around, being ignored by their owner and deciding to go sniff another dog, or simply not under control (for lack of a better way to say this I will use “under control”) otherwise by their person.

      So while I personally don’t agree completely with your stance, I would say that we do agree on the point about dogs coming to a trial that need to be able to be managed by their owners.

      I would take this further and say ALL dogs at a trial should be working and engaged with their person while in the public space (i.e. working with their equally attentive owner while out and about around other people and dogs), if a dog is not able to work with his/her person and remain under “control” (for lack of a better word!) of this person, they should not be at a trial.

      Friendly or not, a person should not bring a dog to a trial who cannot work solidly in that situation, unfair to the dog, the other people, and dogs at the trial.

      We are asking a lot of our dogs to handle such environments and if we are not giving them the attention and our committed working relationship they deserve at all times, when they are not crated then we are not being fair to our faithful friends – I have to be this attentive and proactive with my little girl, however I chose to be this attentive with all my other dogs because I think is it respectful to them and all they are offering me in life and in the sport of agility.

      I would like to know if you can see my side of this topic. I hope to bring a different glance at the issue, which I propose is actually an issue of dogs at a trial not being engaged with their owners when out and about the grounds.


    • LINDA BLACK says:
      Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 4:40pm

      Hi Patricia:

      I will say that your entry fees does not entitle you or your dog the right to come and “calmly sniff” me or my dog without asking. I have put myself between such “friendly” sniffing dogs and my dogs in the past. As that is rude behavior and one I do not allow my dogs to particate in. Nor do I allow my dogs to make a choice how to handle that situation, I handle it for them.

      I have great temperamented dogs, ones who have been neutral under attacks by other dogs, however I expect other people to keep their dogs from encroaching on my dogs personal space. That is just a common courtesy.

      I agree with Mary M, if a dog cannot handle the trial environment or be managed in that environment they should not be there. I’ve had dogs leave their ring to attack my dog in our ring. I hear where you are coming from, but on the same note it is YOUR responsibility to manage your own friendly dog and not allow it to approach another dog, regardless of what you think your dogs intentions are. Road runs both ways here.



  3. Jinger Guinn says:
    Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 9:45am

    I loved this post Susan! I have a reactive dog and have been working with her for 3 years now and we’ve made great progress. The progress did not start until I changed my attitude toward learning in general. I did a complete 180 in my training and it’s made all the difference. She’s not reactive with other dogs much but mostly people and grooming (she’s a poodle).

    I’d like to ask you to provide some information on super people shy dogs. Not reactive but almost completely avoiding people other than those she knows well. What I do want to avoid in my training is forcing her like I did my Boo and creating a reactive dog. Yes I said I created my reactive dog! It was out of igornace and I don’t want it to happen again. I want to do it right!

    Any help in that area would be super great!

    I have your Shaping Success book should I go back and read thru that for this situation?


  4. Nancy Walker says:
    Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 10:02am

    I have worked and handled a very reactive Border Collie for 5 years. I sought professional help right from the beginning becuase she was a rescue and it was very clear she was not dealing with life all that well. She has never been allowed to act out her fears toward people or other dogs. Under the guidance of a professional Animal Behavoirist have managed it for a long time but I have to say it is not easy nor can you ever just think it is over. My dog had a dog come over the top of her at the last trial we were at and she did nothing but curl up in a ball and look at me as if to say “see I was a good girl”. I was so proud of her and it was at that time that I realized just how far she has come. I am possitive if I had not sought out the advise of professionals she would not have handled it like that. She is a fantastic dog and I fell for her the day I saw her but I also new she needed help that I could not provide on my own. The only thing I want to say is that please realize that just because people are good at training dogs to do agility it does not make them experts at handling dog behaviour. Good trainers will tell you to seek out professional help but there are a lot of people out there that think they know more then they do. Please find someone that understands more about dogs then just how to teach them to do agility it could save your dogs life in the end.


  5. Dale Coenen says:
    Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 8:33pm

    I have a border collie that is very aggressive with other dogs at agility. Any other time he plays very nice with no snapping or any other issues. At agility it is like he owns all the equipment and the other dog should stay our of his way. The other border collie in the class won’t tolerate his behavior so they get along fine. But my dog seems to be a total bully with the more submissive dogs. The trainer seems to think that just a quick snap of the collar should be enough to correct this behavior but I do not think this doing the trick. He is really good at agility but I can not risk him hurting another dog. He is almost 15 months old and has been in agility since he was 8 months old. This is not fear aggression. It is more like a possessive behavior. Any ideas how to stop this?


  6. Trish says:
    Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 7:24pm

    Thank you for making a difference – today is the first day in the rest of my, my husband’s and my dog’s life. After reading this blog I consulted a Certieifed behaviourist and today was our assessment. Much like an addiction, the first step is the most difficult – admitting that yes, there is an problem.


  7. mittelspitz says:
    Friday, May 8, 2009 at 2:23pm

    Hi Susan! (First time commenter here, and total agility noob, so… yeah, take this with a grain of salt.)

    I teach a class based on Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed curriculum, and have owned a really reactive dog myself (a Cardigan), who passed away in February. Counterconditioning and behavioral work is definitely important, and the owner of a reactive dog has their work cut out for them in desensitizing their dog- and I am NOT excusing them from working on that.

    But at the same time, I’m seeing a HUGE common thread in that 95% of the dogs in my class who are reactive are ones who have repeatedly been exposed to other dogs running up and pouncing or playing roughly on leash and been unable to escape from stressful situations. Most of those interactions have occured in the context of classes! While it’s important for reactive dog owners to work on their dog’s issue, it’s EQUALLY important for instructors to stress how unacceptable allowing your ‘friendly’ dog to accost others! If he can’t remain focused on the handler and ignore the temptation to go play, he’s not ready for an agility class any more than a dog who snarks when dogs are NOT in his space is! Even if he’s friendly, the handler has a responsibility to keep their dog from distracting or bothering others!

    We had an instructor in the past who blamed my (very small, 4 pounds- she was 12 weeks old at the time) dog for being afraid of a “friendly” giant breed – she would get between my feet and bark at the top of her lungs as this dog tried to paw at her and playbounced off me. (No tail tucked and it was definitely defensive barking- she’s FINE with giant breeds if they approach her slwoly but I also don’t think her reaction is unreasonable given the dog weighed over 25x her bodyweight!) *I* was corrected for allowing her to react; not a word was said to the owner of the large dog for letting her dog have time to run away from her and scare my dog!


  8. Sandra says:
    Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 5:56pm

    Hi Susan,
    I have a next-door neighbor with a dog exactly as you described, and his take on his Lab’s aggression through my fence at my Bedlingtons was “He just wants to play”. -argh- I told him I didn’t think that looked like a dog that wanted to play with hackles raised and lunging through the fence. This fellow is exactly the type of dog owner that fosters aggression in a dog. The dog is shy and fearful of people and other dogs, yet he does nothing to train him except tell him he’s bad and he keeps on trying to introduce him to my dogs through the fence thinking they’ll ‘get used’ to each other (I told him it wasn’t likely). His previous dog was the same way, only I didn’t have a fence before and he’d let his Lab come over and bully my 2 Bedlingtons, hackles raised and threatening.
    I wish I could talk some sense into him but he thinks he’s a great trainer. It’s so sad, he has kids too and they can’t do much with this dog, they pet mine when they can through the fence…. His other neighbor has a well-adjusted Wheaten and they’re of the same opinion as I of that Lab…

    Thanks for a great post!
    Sandy (keeping a sharp watch on that dog)


  9. Hélène says:
    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 8:00pm

    Hi Susan – another excellent post, followed by an interesting discussion. I wanted to add a dimension that was not mentioned above: health. While many of the reactive behaviours we see in dogs may be caused and certainly enhanced by inappropriate handler responses and other environmental factors, a dog who develops dog-dog or dog-human aggression issues often has underlying health imbalances. These health imbalances are much, much more common than many believe. This can range from easily diagnosed problems such as low thyroid to more challenging to pin-point issues such as dietary reactions, chronic pain or vaccinosis. While training can work through many of these issues, training + working on health can often make faster (and sometimes further) progress towards stability.

    I have worked with many rescues and currently have four border collies I train in agility and herding. Of my crew, I have one with dog-dog aggression, and one who used to be reactive to all other living creatures, and a lot of inanimate objects as well!

    The first dog, a rescue, definitely had a horrible start to life that no doubt created many of his problems, but when training didn’t make the progress I had expected, I started to look into alternative causes. Bloodwork revealed that he was hypothyroid, which frequently causes aggression in dogs. And contrary to popular belief, can be found in quite young dogs (he was 10 months when his thyroid went off-line). Hypothyroidism is the #1 medical problem in dogs today and should always be considered a possibility in an aggressive dog. Jean Dodds (www.hemopet.com) does very sensitive testing that picks up imbalances often missed by most labs.

    With my boy, thyroid supplements, chiropractics and homeopathy made a universe of difference over a few months, at which point his training started to sink in much more effectively as well. I am his fourth (and final!) known home, the previous three having relinquished him for his aggression issues. Today – age 6.5 – he lives with three other dogs, can be off-leash in public areas and politely meet other dogs. Oh, and he’s no longer on the thyroid meds either!

    My girl suffers from what my holistic vet has diagnosed to be ‘vaccinosis’ and it was also discovered that her spine was out of alignment, likely due to her exceptionally wild puppy antics. I got her to be my next trial dog and had done considerable training with her, with limited progress. It was only when I had her treated with chiropractics and homeopathy that we really made headway. Today she still has some quirks, but is calm and focused around adults and other dogs (she still doesn’t like children but is much less reactive around them) and she no longer freaks out at strange objects we encounter when out and about.

    Other factors can also lead to aggression, including certain preservatives in food or reactions to other chemicals in the dog’s environment.

    All this to say, while training is extremely important, health factors should always be considered, and well beyond just having some bloodwork done. Taking a holistic look at your dog’s overall health picture and exploring alternative health options such as raw feeding, homeopathy and chiropractics (to mention but a few) can really help make inroads with a reactive dog. In my experience, combining the two approaches – health + training – is the fastest way to a socially stable dog!

    Thanks for a great blog – I am enjoying it immensely!


  10. Pat says:
    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 10:04am

    Hi Susan:
    Thank you for sharing our troublesome aggression story on your blog. I hope by sharing our experiences, your readers, especially the inexperienced ones like me will take heed and make better choices for their dog than I did. Although my mistakes were borne of uninformed ignorance, the result for my dog is a difficult one. I had no idea at the time that things started to happen, what disastrous results would ultimately occur. The worst was yet to come, as during the evening after the end of Skills Camp, while walking along a quiet country road, my already extremely reactive dog got a little of her own medicine, when she was attacked and bitten by a large loose dog. Probably hasn’t helped our situation, but there’s only one direction to go – forward! What’s done is done.

    A heartfelt thanks to Susan, Tracy, Linda, and Penny for your support and encouragement at Skills Camp. I heeded every word you all said and we are now living that advice. Crate games are the joy of our existance right now and we play every single day, sometimes several times. We are 100% dedicated to the Ruff Love program and have refocussed all efforts to helping Addie and Tag learn to “look to mama” in every situation, no matter what, and to feel safe and unthreatened in all environments. Unfortunately, Addie has had repeated rehearsals, so we have a long road ahead of us, but I am extremely hopeful that somewhere along our new path we will reach a better place. Whether Addie will ever overcome enough of what has happened to return to agility and compete remains to be seen, but she is first and foremost my pet and if performing agility is not in her best interests, so be it.

    A word of advice to any readers who have noticed even the smallest tendencies that may at some point translate into aggression. ACT NOW! Learn the signs, understand their huge importance and the horrible impact that ignoring them may have, and get the proper assistance to help your dog feel comfortable and understand that they don’t need to protect themselves with aggression. It is the best gift you can give a potential reactive dog! AND PLAY CRATE GAMES…. it’s fun and it works!

    Susan has a wealth of information and resource material that has already helped us enormously, even if only by providing the confidence to put together a plan and stick to it religiously to it’s conclusion.

    Thanks again to all the extra help we received while at Say Yes!!!


  11. Kay says:
    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 8:11am

    Hi Susan, your post struck a chord with me too…..I’ve been working with my nervous/reactive BC to help her cope around other dogs and people, it’s been hard work; finding a local trainer who understood fearful dog behaviour was almost impossible (we got reactions from “you’re too soft on her” to “you need to work her through it” to “Cesar Millan would sort her out” to “she’ll grow out of it” – the last from her breeder!) so we’ve had to work alone a lot, but we’re finally beginning to show results. So much so that at her first agility show a couple of weeks ago she achieved a clear round (a Q?) at a UKA show…..I’m over the moon, there have been times when I thought I’d never be able to compete with her. She’s still a work in progress, and she tends to veer between over-reacting and shutting down, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel!


  12. Laurel and Maggie says:
    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 10:50pm

    Hi Susan – your blog is so true. My Finnegan, now an 8 year old (wheaten terrier) was reactive from the day he started puppy class. We have worked with a great trainer and we have all made great progress. No Finn can not interact with other dogs but we can and do keep him and other dogs safe. He has done agility classes but, as my trainer says, if he ever went to a trial his head would explode. It took 6 weeks before he and our pup Maggie (now 4 years old) could be off leash together when she came to us at 9 weeks of age. Finn is on Prozac and it has helped. He is a challenging dog and as a result life is not as easy as we would always like. But he is our dog and we love him and would not trade him for anything. My first two wheatens I lost at age 9 from kidney disease. I’m pretty sure that Finn will live a much longer life and despite the challenges we are grateful for that.


  13. Becca says:
    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 9:13pm

    Thank you so much Susan, for this post, and all your others. I purchased your Crate Games DVD in December, with the great hope of developing self-control and confidence in my reactive 2 year old rescue mix. But much to my disappointment I have been unable to shape her into the crate at all, even as soon as I try just the tray as you suggest at the end of the DVD, she totally shuts down, no matter what I am offering. I am so utterly convinced of the power of these foundation exercises, and hoping you might be able to provide some other tips for getting a dog interested in Crate Games.


  14. Trudie says:
    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 3:25pm

    Reading this post and everyone’s comments is so informative. A special thanks to Ann J,
    sounds so much like my story! I’m grateful for Crate games and CU, both have been such a help for me. Seeing my dog master these little things bit by bit has given me immense confidence.
    Best wishes for flu recovery…


  15. Mary says:
    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 6:13am

    Good points here!

    I took on a rescue BC about two years ago; he had what seemed to be no dog socialization and minimum person socialization…needles to say he was very reactive…

    Your book shaping for success rang in my mind; Buzz’s reactions were playing out before me in my pup! How helpful your book was and how helpful my trainer was as well….always using positive training and shaping for the behavior we wanted (“check in with the mama if you get startled”)

    ….2 years later we have begun competing (would not be possible without him settling in and being okay with the commotion at trials – in fact I often receive comments about how quite he is in his crate, how calm around other dogs…makes me smile inside!), 2 years later he actual is my social dog full body wages are in order if someone gives him attention, or another dog comes by,. He now comes to me when another dog gets pushy in play as if to say “didn’t you tell him that’s rude”, then off again he will go to playing…it’s great to see him relaxed in our world.

    Anyway, your book was the catalyst, I recommend it to all!

    Thank you for sharing your lessons, providing guidance and continuing to remind us of the work we owe to our canine partners 🙂


  16. Theresa Litourneau says:
    Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 12:26am

    Susan comes to Washington !!!!!!!!!!
    For this I am grateful !!


  17. Misa says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:49pm

    Thanks for this great article. I’m just dumbfounded, though, that in the year 2009 that we are still having to convince people that collar corrections don’t work. How quickly people will pop their dogs – are they not making the connection between training (the good dog stewardship kind) and training (the superstar Agility dog kind) ? Apparently not.


  18. Ann J says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:15pm

    Thank you for acknowledging a problem in the agility world. I also have a fearful little guy, age 6. Not knowing better, I followed the local trainer’s (only one around)advice using jerk/pull/submit/etc, when he began showing signs around 2,resulting increased dog reactivity. I have practiced CU for the past year with really visble results but can never relax with him and his agility career is in jeopardy.


  19. Kathy Price says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:03pm

    Hi Susan,
    I found it interesting that you commented that the dog feels uncomfortable in that situation and needs help coping. I have a “reactive” border collie and she will only react if mommy is not taking care of the situation…ie moving a dog, moving her, getting her attention, etc. Basically, not all people are cognizant to the fact that there are spatially sensitive dogs out there and I all too often hear ” but my dog is just being friendly”. Recently at a rehab vet visit for chiropractic, accupuncture, ultrasound, and laser – she is injured right now – A very large black lab came bounding out of the rehab clinic door right towards my little girl. The owner of course commented “Oh, she’s just friendly” and countered, well, Meg is not. I felt horrible but actually had to put myself between my Meg and the dog to keep some distance there. Meg was fine…because mommy took care of the situation at hand.
    Thanks for bringing that up, we have to be our dogs protector and advocate!
    Kathy Price


  20. Mary-Anne says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 8:47pm

    Your blog this week is timely (as usual). I had written off Magnum’s reactivity as normal for the breed. I had info from a different source that suggested that off leash interaction would take care of the problem. At camp, I discovered (to my great chagrin) that he wasn’t ‘normal’ and other members of his breed do NOT always react (thanks Linda). He was put on a halti the second day. He still doesn’t like it but I’ve gained a mile more control and I’ve learned to anticipate and be pro-active rather than reactive. I’ve always been told that I’m too slow with my corrections but I find that I don’t need to correct if I can change his frame of view. We’re still backing up 12 – 18 feet but I think the point is slowly being made – both to him and to me. Thank you.


  21. Christine McPhee says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 6:52pm

    I completely agree with Kim that crate games is a great tool for reactive dogs. I believe dogs internalize the self-control they learn from crate games and can then draw on it in stressful situations.

    Crate games worked so well for my young dog that I actually have trouble convincing other people to try it. They just don’t believe that calm dog waiting patiently in a down stay ever had impulse control or reactivity problems!

    I’d love to see you write a little more about the value of crate games for behaviour modification/ prevention and relationship building. I think it’s a tool with value that extends well beyond agility training. I learned as much from it as my dog did, and I always return to the training principles I learned in crate games as I develop training plans for other skills.



  22. jenn & zep says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 1:06pm

    thanks so much for posting this susan and opening the door for people to talk about it on your blog.

    i am the owner of a highly reactive “owner created” border collie. i say owner created because i take full responsibilty for his dog:dog behavior/agression. when i got him he was not only my first BC but he was a super confident and pushy puppy. when he started going after other dogs i didn’t have anyone to go to about what i might do about it. my only solution seemed to be the dreaded pinch collar, so that when he would lung at least he would think twice. i was even told that he shouldn’t be allowed to live…..thats what made me wake up and look for help.

    it took me a year before i found help with him. christine has been his blessing. i learned that its not about what is around and not to look for trouble, but to make sure that i focus on him and set him up to succeed. too many people/trainers out there think physical punishment is always the answer. with a dog like this it did nothing but amplify his reactivness. i am glad to say that i can now have him in a full crowd of dogs and as long as i am engaged with him and asking him to be the gentlman i know he can be, i am all that matters.luckly i have always made sure that i don’t give him the chance to hurt an unsuspecting dog. i am aware of his issues and make sure that i manage him at all times in social situations.

    hard work pays off, but you need to put the time in. its a long road back if you start off in the wrong direction.



  23. Kirsten Kristin says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:30am

    Thank you for posting this. My Border Collie Faith is a confident dog but not all confident in new places recently when you were in Florida I was showing at a show we both we at and I couldnt believe Faith barked at a friend of mine not aware that she wasnt confortable at the show grounds so you gave me advise to put my gentle leader back on so I did and kept it on for all shows I was at and everywhere and now I am happy to say she is happy with her tail up and high saying hi to everyone and no more barking thanks Susan for thinking of us when we needed it.


  24. Anita says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:12am

    I own one of those happy go lucky dogs that loves all other dogs (lucky me!) THANK YOU for the reminder not to take this blessing for granted…and to keep rewarding this good behaviour.

    Anita and Zoot


  25. Kim Collins says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:12am

    I too have a border collie pup that started out very nervous and didn”t understand how to “deal” with strange and mostly dogs who appeared to me to be frantic and maybe seemed “out of control” to her. The biggest help to her was CRATE GAMES. I figured her instinct to lunge was simply an impulse control issue and what better place to start working on her impusle to grab at the tail feathers of other dogs but in crate games.

    So we started with basic crate games and worked up to having the door open and all the dogs she found “stressful” playing, running at and around her crate. Now if she worries or barks in the crate I simply open the door so she can “choose” how she would like to deal with it.

    Once she could handle all that stuff in the crate we just moved her outside the crate on her gentle leader and she understood “how” to choose to be right and the dogs that stressed her out could run right over her tail chasing a toy and she was fine.

    I also had great help with her being worried about people during our 10 days with Susan at the seminar in Vancouver. In the motorhome, Susan just put cookies on top of the crate and everytime someone came in and out they fed her.

    I am happy to say she is basically a bug now and is pretty willing to jump on anyone new! She also spent 2 weeks socializing with 20 dogs at friends place in California and has developed some really nice skills that she didn’t have before. She has learned to move away if she is uncomfortable and if the dog does not ‘get the message’ she has learned to air snap to get the point across, she used to just grab their cheek with no warning ( she never left a mark but I still didn’t like it and could see it turning into something nasty later if we didn’t help her quickly, she was 10 weeks when she first grabbed one of my adult dogs!).

    She tolerates a LOT now before she has to make her point and I prefer the air snap and have never corrected her for that since she always gives the other dog plenty of time to get out of her face. The air snap only happens if she can’t get away.She always chooses to leave if she can now.

    Will I always be careful with her, yes, but I always watch for opportunity to reward her when she makes a good choice in a stressful situation.



  26. Angela and Baylor says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 8:59am

    Thank you for this post. As a person who shares her life with a reactive dog I appreciate your blog and hope others will take your suggestions to heart.

    When my boy was a puppy I felt like I did everything “right”. We socialized, exposed, and rewarded confidence. Then when he was just over a year old, he was attacked from behind twice and our world has changed.

    I brought Baylor into our lives to be my agility dog but with his reactivity I felt forced to go on a different journey. I did not want anyone to go through what Baylor and I were going through. I no longer see our journey as being forced but one in which I was able to grow and mature in my training.

    The blessing from our journey is I have learned how to build a relationship, found new ways to train, never take our time together for granted, and appreciate the dog Baylor is at this minute.

    I would never trade the expereinces or the bond Baylor and I have, nor the teacher he continues to be to me.

    Blessings~ Angela and Baylor


  27. Andrea says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 7:06am

    This is such a perfect post for us. I love it when that happens!

    We rescued a 11 month old aussie 2 weeks ago and he’s sweet as pie. AND he lunges and barks at strangers and dogs. He doesn’t bite at all when he gets to them, but he’s tentative with people and his bursa spikes up – he’s clearly uncomfortable.

    I’ve been working with him this week having him sit and not bark when strangers come while I dole out cookies and working on recalls when the neighbor dogs start fence running. “Normal” treats haven’t been as effective as super tasty, smelly chicken hot dogs. 🙂

    We recognize that he is a potentially future aggressive dog if we don’t nip this in the bud now and reinforce the behaviors we want around strangers and other dogs. Thanks Susan for posting about this – I’m SO happy to have a new post to read this morning!


  28. Catherine says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 6:47am

    Thank you so much for posting this. I have worked very hard and very carefully with my genetically “shy” dog.

    Luckily for both of us, when she joined my household four years ago as a nine week old nervous pup, I had the knowledge behind me not to set her up to fail. Our crowning achievement last year was going to the Nationals and having no problem working in such a busy environment – we may not have been in the ribbons but we won big time in my mind.

    Nell has never rehearsed lunging, barking or any other idiotic behaviour and is secure in the knowledge that she will not be expected to “cope” with interactions she can’t handle.

    It is very hard for me to watch people at trials and seminars repeatedly put their fearful dogs into situations that they can not cope with. In my own tiny classes, I stress giving dogs lots of space, reinforcing great behaviour and keeping arousal rates down.

    I think that many of the situations people get themselves into with “agressive dogs” can be addressed by following a couple of the mantras I have learned from you – foundation, foundation, foundation, by paying constant unrelenting attention to a transfer of value and by keeping the dog safe.
    Really enjoying the blog,


  29. Sarah says:
    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:58pm

    Thank you thank you thank you! Dog-dog reactivity and aggression issues are all-too-commonly ignored, put on the back burner, or made worse through “corrections” in the agility world (not to mention the rest of the world), and it’s great to hear someone as successful as yourself speak on the issue.


  30. Trish says:
    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 9:29pm

    Can you indicate how you handle instances in a class/workshop where you know/see the dog is reactive? Do you allow these dogs to continue or wait to show you something that you can ask them to leave? I’m thinking of how best to handle my own students (mostly pet owners) that come to me with dogs they know are reactive on leash. (many times, they are already working with a behaviorist on the issue) I’d welcome any suggestions on how to handle as an instructor. Thanks!


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