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Training/taming an aggressive dog, PLEASE HELP!

Discussion in 'Dog Training and Behaviour' started by crystallinegreen, Mar 10, 2013.

  1. crystallinegreen

    crystallinegreen PetForums Newbie

    Mar 10, 2013
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    We purchased a male Labradoodle puppy (Alfie) last June aged 8 weeks as a family pet. We took him to puppy socialisation classes early on and attended a few starter training sessions which we all practised regularly with him at home, but Alfie proved very strong-willed and too boisterous for other family members, so I very much took him under my wing. He is 10 months old now and despite my very best efforts and a great deal of time and energy spent, he seems impossible for me to control. He is good in terms of not chewing items around the house and he learned basic commands such as 'sit', 'lie down' and returning to me very quickly, however, myself and other members of the family can't seem to 'boss him'; despite extensive practise in a range of contexts/settings, he will only obey commands when it pleases him (and there is a food reward visible). He jumps up uncontrollably at anybody coming into the home and bites family members and visitors often hard enough to really hurt or bruise the skin. He tugs at people's clothes meaning that they often wind up ripped since he just won't let go. Following advice I upped his exercise quota by adding regular runs at the beach alongside his morning and evening walk (an hour total) but even this is difficult since despite lots of lead training he pulls so hard on the lead my hand is often bruised just keeping hold of him. He has a lot of toys around the house and there is usually somebody about at home so he gets lots of interaction. We feed him Large Breed Puppy Eukanuba alongside tinned dog food. He was castrated 2 weeks ago as the vet suggested this would take the 'edge off' his aggressive tendencies, but so far we've noted no real improvement. Alfie tends to be very 'clingy' and will even refuse to run in the back garden if nobody steps out with him. He also gets very nervously excited by other dogs, despite completing socialisation classes and having regular interaction with other dogs whilst out walking in the area, so I do suspect that anxiety underlies a lot of his behaviour. I bought an adaptil plug in hoping this would help, but it has had no effect.

    These are the strategies I have tried to correct his behaviour thus far;

    -Ignoring bad behaviour. (I have actually found this to be the most successful strategy, and found that wearing old house clothes around the house for a few weeks so that I wasn't so prone to respond to tugging really helped - he does not tend to tug at my clothes so much any more. However, other family members didn't feel willing to do that and find Alfie's clothes-shredding tendencies intolerable. I have also had moderate success with leaving the room following bad behaviour, but again other family members found this too disruptive so the success wasn't generalised.)

    -Scolding bad behaviour. Tried this consistently for a few weeks and actually thought this made him worse and less responsive.

    -Displaying 'alpha' behaviours. I have tried to do this consistently all the time we've had Alfie, for example, pretending to eat his food before setting it down, not giving excessive praise and attention etc, but to no avail.

    It's very difficult to pull off any kind of structured approach since he can be so boisterous and aggressive most people's interactions with him just end in yelping and running away from him. Other family members are so exasperated with him they insist that he will have to go, I'm desperate to prevent this as I spend a lot of time with him, love him to bits and do have successes at times. I'm sure he could be a really lovely pet with the right guidance. I have done a lot of research into trainers/behaviourists in the area and intend to get some specialist help as soon as I can afford it. I am also hoping that the rest of the family might get more on-board with training if we have advice from a professional to refer to, as I'm certain more consistency would help. However, this is very expensive and I'm between jobs currently so it's not possible in the short term. If anybody could offer some advice as to how I might get Alfie under control I would be so grateful, I'm desperate to sort this out. Thank you for reading!
  2. Lurcherlad

    Lurcherlad PetForums VIP

    Jan 5, 2013
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    I don't have the experience to offer advice as such, but hope someone who is knowledgeable can steer you in the right direction.

    I do think some of the methods you have been using may have contributed to some of your problems. I think you will need to find an experienced/recommended trainer/behaviouralist who does not use dominance methods to help you with this dog.

    Hope someone responds soon.
  3. crystallinegreen

    crystallinegreen PetForums Newbie

    Mar 10, 2013
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    Thanks Lurcherlad, I appreciate your response. I think you're right in what you say and I'll get a trainer in as soon as I can afford it, just hope I can make some headway with him in the mean time.
  4. Sled dog hotel

    Sled dog hotel PetForums VIP

    Aug 11, 2010
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    In all honesty it sounds like he is more a teenage tearaway and a yob more then aggressive. Its a hard stage he is at now for most dog owners, even ones that a were good can get the teenage strops, stop listerning to commands and try to push the boundaries to see what they can get away with. A lot of the problem seems to be that apart from you other family members have let him get away with it and so he does as he likes but wont follow things that you have been doing and found out that can and does work. Between 6/14 months too they can go through a second fear period age differs according to age and breed but during this they can become uncertain about sights sounds and situations that they were OK with before so that may even be part of his anxiety especially as if its a new thing.

    As you have already worked out yourself he isnt untrainable, as he learned basic commands, things you have tried can and do work with him so he can get the message as to whats acceptable or not and he will stop, its just mainly as far as I can see lack of consistency, and if they wont make things clear to him as well, then he will do just as he likes to them, because he isnt being taught any different.

    His exercise is adequate by the sounds of it so its not totally excess energy if he is exercised every day. One thing I would say though his food might not be helping. I know my breeds dont do well on Eukanuba it sends them nuts and hyper, I was told that many years ago when I got my first one. Also puppy formula will likely be more high powered still. If he was mine personally I would be putting him on an all natural highly digestible food, like Natural dog food company or similar, and for his wet something like nature diet or natures menu and probably an adult formula now too.

    They need ongoing firm but fair training through this too. If food is his motivator then dont worry about it at the moment. Do daily training, using praise attention and food rewards when he focuses, listens and does as asked. If he is as intelligent as I think he is, then he will soon work out that calmer focused behaviour is what gets him stuff not jumping up mouthing and nipping. Also make him work for anything he wants or you give him be it food attention, sitting to get his lead on, before he gets out the door etc. Use food to stop him pulling by letting him know you have treats and using it to keep focus on you rather then every thing else, to make sure he is focused and where you want him next to you and not pulling on walks, rewarding every so often when he gets it right. If he is sitting and waiting and focused he cant be jumping up and mouthing either. Dont worry about using food at the moment, you can start to taper off the treats later as he gets better behaved and more controllable and listens to commands.

    You have already worked out what is the most successful at stopping the behaviour like jumping up and nipping and thats ignoring it and not rewarding the behaviour, Saying no, looking at him, making eye contact, and trying to drag back your clothes and ending in a tug game is all fun and rewards to him as is yelping and running away it just makes you or your family a target and he probably sees it as great fun.

    When you see him start to get hyper or over excited (which makes them do it more usually) or he goes to mouth, pop him in another room, leave him to calm down, then let him out and continue to ignore him to make sure he isnt going to start again. if he does, then out he goes and keep doing it, if he doesnt then call him, get him to sit and only when sitting calmly he gets praise a treat and attention. Dont leave it until he is really into the behviour and hyped as its harder to calm them down and get the message across.

    Visitors are to ignore him too, and if he starts the behaviour out he goes then. He only gets anything for calm behaviour and sitting nothing else.

    If you can I would also take him back to training classes, its only once a week and usually cheaper and you will also have the trainer for back up and to ask about problems, you can then practise what you have learned through the week at your daily training sessions too.
    Welcome to APDT - Association of Pet Dog Trainers UK is one organisation you should find a trainer and classes in your area. A lot of the problem is that it probably should have been carried on after puppy classes, they need training right through adolescence and into adult hood, especially high powered gung ho ones.

    I would also give him wind down and self ammusement periods too in the day, with something like a chew, stuffed kong or other treat type toy. wet you can put in a kong classic from his allowance, dry you can put in a kong wobbler or busy buddy twist and treat. Antler easy chews or stag bars are good. It should also help with his clingyness too and teach him to wind down as chewing is a destresser for dogs, plus it will give him something productive to do with his mouth rather then mouthing everyone.Kongs you can fill with allsorts too see recipes

    Your family all need to do it though, its wont be for ever.
    #4 Sled dog hotel, Mar 10, 2013
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2013
  5. lemmsy

    lemmsy PetForums VIP

    May 12, 2008
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    A few thoughts for you:
    #5 lemmsy, Mar 11, 2013
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  6. Riff Raff

    Riff Raff PetForums Senior

    Feb 12, 2013
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    You have had some good advice.

    One thing that stood out to me was that you have tried ignoring bad behaviour. This can be a very effective strategy, but generally only when combined with a conscious effort to reinforce heavily desirable behaviours. Without the second part, the dog only learns what not to do, not what you do want him to do, which can be very frustrating for some dogs who haven't yet learned acceptable ways to get attention and interact with their human family.

    As a gross generalisation, noticing desirable behaviour doesn't come very naturally to most of us, it is something we have to train ourselves to do. We are VERY quick to spot undesirable behaviour. One way to force yourself (and hopefully the rest of the family) to start noticing when the dog is doing something you like (even if it is the absence of doing something that is annoying) is to banish the food bowl entirely for a couple of weeks. Instead, measure out his daily allowance and ask everybody to hand feed it whenever they see the dog doing something 'good'. Bottom line is what you reinforce, you get more of, so the good stuff will increase in frequency whilst the 'bad' stuff decreases due to the ignoring. Any leftover food you haven't managed to use up during the day can be fed in a treat ball or kong.

    This is a very broad training principle, and I would certainly recommend seeking help when possible from a good trainer to help you with the specifics of how to apply it, and / or a group training class to help with the leash pulling and to increase the fluency of the behaviours your dog already understands but isn't always willing to perform. In addition, a class is great for ongoing socialisation, and mental stimulation.

    Sometimes dogs who will only work when they see food are created by a minor problem with the handler's training technique. Learning how to fade lures, introducing life rewards and variable schedules of reinforcement etc can all help to fix this common issue. However, I largely agree with Sled Dog that getting happy compliance first is a priority, addressing food reliance is secondary.
  7. crystallinegreen

    crystallinegreen PetForums Newbie

    Mar 10, 2013
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    Thanks so much for the comprehensive responses!

    Sled dog, I wasn't aware that dogs could have a second 'fear stage', that certainly goes a long way to putting his behaviour into context. I have suspected for a while that perhaps the Eukanuba wasn't the best, since he does seem to be quite hyperactive following meal times. I will look for good quality natural food and treats, hopefully that will calm him down a little. It's really helpful to have some step-by-steps on how to discourage bad behaviour by ignoring it, I'll put them into practice right away as I'm sure he's most responsive to this type of approach. I'll also try to sweet-talk the rest of the family into getting on board with it since I can see how good work could be easily undone if he knows he can go to someone else and get the reaction he wants for the same behaviour. I think you're right about returning to training classes, it would be a more affordable alternative. We didn't seem to have much success with this kind of training initially since he was often very disruptive to the class, but at the same time due to a large class size it was very difficult to approach the trainer for any additional guidance. Perhaps I could find a smaller class that we would benefit from.

    Lemmsy I'll answer your questions as best I can;

    It is basic commands such as recalling, getting down from the sofa, sitting/lying down etc. I've practised these with him for about half an hour a day in recent months (though more when he was a young puppy), in different rooms of the house, indoors/outdoors. He's spot on when he can see I'm holding food and senses it's "training time".. but when I give him the same commands in general scenarios he is hit-and-miss, if there's another person or distraction in the room, or he's hyperactive, I can't get him to follow commands for any amount of praise and treats. When I think about it in terms of what you say here about reward value though, I think the problem is that say for example he won't get off the sofa on command, some family members will quickly respond with shouting etc, so I suppose his disobedience is rewarded with ATTENTION! Thinking back I would say he's more likely to disobey commands when more reactive family members are around, and more compliant around those of a calmer disposition.

    In terms of jumping up at visitors, we do keep him in the kitchen behind a stairgate, and we wait until he is calm and visitors are settled before he comes through, but he winds up again right away. I think having him on a lead initially to maintain a little control is an excellent idea and might just work. At least people will feel safe to visit the house again!

    I do think it's generally more overzealous behaviour and rough play than genuine aggression, but at times he can really turn when not getting his own way. Generally when he is being badly behaved (usually play has become too rough/progressed to knawing/biting or he's pulling at people's clothes) we will take him by the collar and lead him to the kitchen. Sometimes when he senses this is about to happen he just seems to lose it.. he will growl and bark, show his teeth, dart across the room from side to side, taking biting lunges at whoever had made moves towards this. He does this I'd say 3-4 times per week - it can be quite scary since it seems he really means business. Aside from anything else he's not a small dog and he can come at you with enough force to just about knock you over. I have to say though that he never really does this to me - again it seems to be the more responsive family members, who perhaps approach him in such a way as to trigger a defensive reaction, I'm not sure. I have very much tried to discourage that for the same reason, but things being as they are everybody has their own opinion on what's right. Certainly I'll keep a diary to help better identify some specific triggers before I see a trainer, and encourage others to do the same. I'm not sure whether this is true or not, but he tends to lean and push right into your legs when standing by you, which a friend mentioned was a sign of dominance.

    It's really interesting what you say about walks because most of the advice I've had has been along the lines of 'he needs more walking and wearing out' - yet I've never felt that additional exercise has ever had the effect of wearing him out! Makes sense when you think of it in terms of stimulation, so I'll cut back the extra walks and introduce some more mentally stimulating activities. I do lead/collar walk him - I got him a halti-harness a few months ago since I've heard nothing but good things about them, however, I have not yet been able to get it on him since he struggles so hard and bites, no matter what I try! I will look for him a front-fastening harness.

    I can see how that might be the case with positive punishments and it explains why Alfie is better behaved with some family members than he is with others. I didn't realise that Alpha theory was so out-dated - I guess that's the problem I've had so far, I've been reading a lot of general information and a lot of it is conflicted - it's hard to know what to follow and what to disregard. That's why I'm so grateful for these responses!
  8. Daneandrottiemum

    Daneandrottiemum PetForums Member

    Aug 26, 2011
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    You have been given excellent advice by the others, just wanted to add - PLEASE do not underestimate the effect that food can have on behaviour.

    My Dane is now raw fed because of adverse food reactions, not from a health point of view but from a behavioural one. When he first came to us he was hyper and boisterous but we put it down to his age. One day i made the mistake of feeding him the same food as my sister dogs which I had left over from looking after them (tinned plus a dried kibble) and what a disaster that was!

    Within an hour of eating he was super hyper, jumping, snapping, snarling to the point that we had to shut him outside for the rest of the day. It was like he was high on PCP - i've never seen anything like it. He seemed deaf to any and all commands and his eyes were weird, it was terrifying! Since then lesson learned and he has a raw diet. The difference in him is unbelieveable. he doesn't even have processed dog treats because they'll set him off and turn him into the Hound of the Baskervilles.

    I think that looking at his diet would be good place to start along with the suggestions made by the others
  9. Siskin

    Siskin Look into my eyes....

    Nov 13, 2012
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    Very good advice from everyone. I would particularly agree with the point about types of food. I had my last two dogs on a high energy puppy food and I felt the high levels of protein in them was causing the dogs hyper ways. I changed to an adult and much lower protein diet and the effects were magical. Try it.
    The other thing is perhaps to introduce clicker training. Correctly applied the dog learns exactly what it is that it is being treated for. If this is something you are not familiar with, read about it, then find a trainer who uses this method of training. It is very important that you get the timing right with the clicker.
    Good luck and keep us posted.
  10. Owned By A Yellow Lab

    Owned By A Yellow Lab PetForums VIP

    May 16, 2012
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    I know several 'labradoodles' and they are all very big, strong, excitable dogs :)

    When I adopted my Lab I had some similar problems to you. For what it's worth, here is my advice:

    1 - immediately STOP all and any 'alpha' behaviours. These don't work and in fact can make things worse. Never, ever attempt to 'alpha roll' ANY dog. The concept is based on outdated research with wolves and the research has been utterly discredited.

    2 - my Lab ONLY EVER does things for food rewards :D

    That is what works, that is what motivates him. So do what works. If that is what helps you manage your dog - so be it. Nothing wrong in that at all.

    3 - don't 'scold'. Your dog is not misbehaving on purpose. He doesn't understand why you are telling him off.


    Get a headcollar. You need to regain control so that you can begin training. Get a Dogmatic, email them for sizing advice. Or a Gentle Leader. Once you are back in control, you will relax - and so will your dog :)

    Pair the headcollar with a double ended lead, attach one end to normal collar, one end to headcollar. Be sure NEVER to jerk the lead. NEVER EVER use with a Flexi or extending lead.


    From now on, your dog ONLY gets food or treats WHEN he follows a command. Even before you give him a meal, teach him to sit and 'wait'.

    Dogs do what work. Alfie will soon learn that listening to you = food rewards!

    He is still young, and the product of two intelligent, energetic breeds. You need to stimulate him mentally with as much training as possible.

    AVOID any trainer who so much as mentions 'dominance' or 'pack leader' or 'alpha roll'.
  11. Babbo

    Babbo PetForums Junior

    Feb 6, 2013
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    Cant you book in for just one consoltation with a behaviorist? Thats what i did with my dog, she really helped me by getting me to describe his routine and behaviours,, the price included phone calls and emails...and luckiley with hard work and persistance he is 100% better than what he was ;-)
  12. Kiwi

    Kiwi PetForums VIP

    Nov 18, 2010
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    I can't / wouldn't purport to be an expert and you have had some fantastic advice here. As the worst behaviour seems to be occurring in the home (?) I wonder if more mentally stimulating games might help to calm him down? I find playing a game of 'find' with treats or toys really helpful in draining energy. We also play 'ready, steady, go' with all her toys (ie. she has to wait until 'go' before getting her toy). Waiting for food until given an 'ok' command has perhaps been the most useful exercise of all our training in terms of getting her attention and used to waiting for the next command. Good luck x
  13. hutch6

    hutch6 PetForums VIP

    May 9, 2008
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    Do you play fetch with him? You have probably the two best breeds for retrieving right there so in a round about way he is built to retrieve.

    Not only does it drain his energy physically through running but it also does the same with mental stimulation and you may also find it takes away a vast amount of energy from his jaw meaning he is less likely to get the urge to mouth so much and pull on your clothing etc.
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