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The need for sociability

This e-mail case shows the importance of socialising our dogs, particularly when they appear aggressive towards others.
Dear Alan,
              I came across your site today for the first time, purely by chance. I wonder if you can help us. We are the owners of a golden retriever dog. We have had him from when he was 9-weeks and now he will be 3yrs old. We have never had a dog before and we feel we have done quite well with his training etc. He has fitted in well to our lifestyle and home life without any real problems, until quite recently. When he is out, either on or off the lead, either in town or in the countryside, sometimes when he meets other entire male dogs, he will go for them.

He is the friendliest, gentlest dog at home. He plays very well with other dogs he knows, even un-neutered ones, but sometimes he can be quite aggressive. We have spoken to the vet and he says he is just being a dog, but we would rather stop this display of aggression, if we could. He is very popular with humans and most other dogs, but we certainly do not like this attitude. I would be most grateful if you could give me any advice on what we have perhaps done wrong and if there is any thing, we can do to correct it.

I wrote back asking for some more information and received the following answers.
Thank you for your reply to my email regarding our dog. I hope that my answers to your questions will help you.
1)  I would not say he was dominant but he is confident.
2)  He is Entire and we are not keen to neuter him, if we do not need to.
3) We live in the suburbs of a small town in Scotland.
4)  His bed is downstairs in the hall, whilst we are all upstairs. He never bothers us during the night.
5)  He does come asking for attention, but if we do not respond, then he goes and lies down. Sometimes I think we give him too much because we are around most of the time. Although sometimes we do leave him on his own, it is not that often and he seems to be fine when left. The neighbours do not hear him barking and there is no mess of any kind when we come back. He always appears to have been sleeping when we come in.
6)  He does not actually charge at other dogs. It is when they are close together and sniffing one another, it can happen. Even when on the lead and passing another dog, his hackles can go up and the growling starts. On the lead, of course we can hold him back.
7)  In very open spaces he will wander off perhaps up to 100yds.He will always come back to us of his own accord. If we want him to come, he will when we call.
8)  He does sometimes follow someone about the house like a shadow, but it is difficult to explain how and when he does this.

People often compliment him on his looks and behaviour. He is super with babies, children, elderly people and everyone in between! However, I think we have failed in some part of his training and we would love to correct it, if we could.
I hope this gives you a clearer picture of him.

I then replied.
He does need socialising with other dogs and that you show him you will not tolerate his aggression. He does need to know how to meet dogs properly, sniff them and then play. As he can do this, it would then seem more likely he is a male that takes an aggressive stance towards other entire males who stand up to him. (Male to male aggression is often associated with dominancy and testosterone.)
One other thing is, whilst on the lead, your anxiety that he will become aggressive, you tighten the lead so he cannot flee, only freeze or fight. He possibly thinks he is protecting you because you are anxious. He will not think your anxiety is towards him, but the other dog and so he appears aggressive. If you attach a long rope to the lead, hold this in your right hand with the lead in your left. When you see another dog where he starts with his aggression with his heckles up, drop the lead and walk away but holding onto the rope. No message can go down the lead nor can he protect you as you walked away, so he may stop immediately and follow you. If this happens then you know it is your own anxiety that is the problem. (Remaining to fight would probably indicate dominancy)
I would suggest you purchase from your local pet shop The Pet Corrector. This is harmless compressed air and costs about 10 pounds. Any signs of aggression just say NO and when he does not finish, fire it across his muzzle. When he stops, give him loads of praise.
You can also train him to a clicker for food treats. When he is showing aggression, you press the clicker continuously until he stops. When he does, then offer him food treat with loads of praise. You must practice all the time to make this method work and it will give you a great recall.

Hello again,
I thought I would let you know what has been happening here with our dog. Thank you for replying to my emails because as it got the ball rolling and led me, I hope, in the right direction. Yesterday we spent three hours with a pet behaviourist named Elaine Henley. Maybe you have heard of her. We are now on a retraining programme and advised to have him neutered. We know it will be hard but as we have caused the problem, then we have to correct it. Elaine's advice was very similar to what you were saying.
I will let you know how it goes.
That is good. I am certain Elaine will turn him round. Testosterone does make dogs aggressive but yes, if you had made yourself the Alphas, then this would have naturally reduced his level to that of a dog lower in the hierarchy. Do not think of it as your fault. Learning to communicate with our dogs is not always easy and with gradual changes, you can fail to recognise the problems until they become so noticeable. At least you did see something was wrong and wanted to change it. Many people do not and restrict their dog’s socialisation, making them worse. The more aggressive a dog becomes, the more sociability training it needs.
Finally, I received the following e-mail.
You may remember I contacted you about our Golden Retriever's increasing aggression towards other male dogs and you asked in one of your replies that I update you. We visited Elaine Henley, a behaviourist in our area, and had a long consultation with her.
Her first recommendation was that we have him castrated, which we did. We then continued with changing the rules in the house. Although he was great in the house, we appreciated what Elaine was saying and did what she suggested. Making him more aware of who was in charge. A lot more "sits"  "waits" "downs" etc. very basic but it certainly made a difference. He now looks to us more for guidance. We also started attending Elaine’s obedience and socialising classes. Although this seemed to stress him, he is now becoming more relaxed. Sometimes he is the most obedient dog there.
We also go on a "walk" every Sunday with sometimes fifteen dogs with many off their leads and we wander about the hills. Our dog is still on a very long lead but off it when they go in the water.
We have seen a huge difference in his attitude towards other dogs. When he is with those dogs he has known since puppy hood, he plays off lead with them very well. With strange dogs, he is still on the lead and occasionally we hear a low growl but he has not started anything for a long time. In class, he will bark if another dog starts anything, but he never starts it now. Elaine is very pleased with his progress. We know we still have a long way to go and we need to keep working at it. We are looking forward to going on holiday and not worrying if we may meet a dog when we turn a corner. He is a very handsome and it is nice to have his behaviour matching his temperament.

We were at our wits end at the beginning of the year when I was scouring the internet and came across your site which then started the ball rolling, so it all started with you giving us the advice in the beginning. It is not rocket science, it is basic common sense, but if you are not used to dogs, then that sense does not come naturally to first time dog owners, like us.
All my life I have worked with troubled children, so I found it ludicrous that I should have an aggressive dog. However, we have learned that it is really quite simple. We wish you well in your work helping others to get the best out of their dogs and thank you for your time to put us in the right direction.

Though we will never know if castration was of some help, I still feel sure that their dog improved because of attending socialisation classes. Like all children, they need good education.


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