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Dog Gone Problems,
Our dog, Nala, will be 2 in March. Ever since she was a puppy, she's been very aggressive/mean at anything that moves – kids, bikes, people at the door, knocking or ringing the door bell, etc. She won’t stop barking and has her fur up. She is very sweet if the person is a dog lover and loves her right up or if she knows you, but for the most part, she goes after them jumps on them and nips at them.
If she sees anything outside – joggers or kids running and playing – she does not stop barking and whines to go outside. She pulls hard, breaks our white vinyl fence and I keep having to buy and screw the slats back on when she chases after something or wants out.
Initial training went well at Waggin' Tailz Ranch in Omaha. The owner said everything is fear-based for her. My daughter brought her home at about 6 weeks old from a friend who had puppies. We already had a dog and they did fine. She has played at dog parks but usually has issues. She's fine with some, but if they sniff her too long, she attacks them. She goes to daycare when we go out of town and does fine. She started there with my older dog, Max, but is alone now since Max passed away.
You didn’t mention if you took her to puppy socialization classes or not, but based on the issues you listed, I'm guessing you didn’t. Just like kids, puppies are fearless. Later on in life, they become more cautious. That is why you want to get a pup exposed to as many different people, places, animals and things as you can when they are in that fearless period.
I can't fully address how to rehabilitate an aggressive dog here in this column, so I'm going to focus on a few factors that likely contribute and escalate your dog’s aggression – excitement and the misconception that your dog is in an authority position.
You mention your dog is fine when people “love her right up.” Keep in mind that any time you pet your dog, you are reinforcing what they are doing at the time. So if your dog is in an aggressive state and someone pets and “loves her up,” they are rewarding the exact behavior you want to stop.
I practice something I call "petting with a purpose." That means before I pet my dog, I ask it to do something for me first, such as sitting or laying down. Once the dog does what I ask, I pet it immediately and repeat the command word for that action (and no other words) a few times while I pet the dog. This helps the dog get used to the concept that rewards follow obedience.
The other major factor is the excitement you mentioned. Many people mistake excitement for happiness when it comes to dogs. But a dog can be calm and happy or excited and not happy. I wrote a previous column on how to act when your dog gets overly excited that you can check out here.
Good luck and remember: Everything you do trains your dog, only sometimes you mean it.
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