Occasional Growling and Aggressive Barking at the Dog Park

I'm wondering if you can help me with a problem my husband is having with our dog at the dog park.

She is a 2 year old Husky/Sheltie named Bailey. She's very friendly and social with both humans and other dogs. My husband takes her to an off-leash park every day, and has since she was a puppy.

Until about eight months ago, there was never any problems at the park - if anything, my husband was concerned that she was too submissive, in that if another dog jumped up at her, she would come back to him and hide behind his legs. Then gradually (maybe starting about a year ago), when another hound would bother her, Bailey would give them a sharp warning bark and they would back off. My husband ignored the behaviour, as he saw it as her defending herself.

It then progressed to when small dogs would come up and bark at her, she would return with a yippy bark, and bare her teeth. This then progressed to exhibiting this behavior with other larger dogs, and would occur with no provocation on the part of the other dog.

Lately, she has been running and playing with other dogs, then for random reasons (like another dog joining in the play, or just at random), she will "go after" the other dog. There has never been any biting, just yipping, growling, and showing her teeth.

My husband is very upset by this behavior, and every time it happens he goes and gets her, separates her from the other dog, tells her "No", and puts the leash back on her. They will continue their walk, and she'll be fine. He'll let her off the leash, and she'll be fine.

The problem is this is happening more and more, and he doesn't know what to do about it.

I'm terrified this will progress to biting. I would appreciate any suggestions you may have as to why this may be happening, and the appropriate way of dealing with this.

Thanks so much!


Answer

I'm glad you are asking for help, since it seems that things have been escalating slowly and you want to stop it before something truly bad happens.

First, Bailey seems to have been a fearful dog since she was young. Being submissive at the dog park is never something to worry about. This means your dog knows how to tell other hounds that she is feeling threatened and to please go away for a little bit. If doing this wasn't giving the results she wanted, which I am guessing is what happened, then she had to escalate to barking.

As the owner, your husband needs to act like a leader. This means that if he ever sees his dog in any danger (even if Bailey is just a little uncomfortable) he should step in between the scary thing/person/animal and immediately take Bailey away from the situation. This reaction from your husband will tell Bailey that he is there to protect her, and might lessen her need to protect herself by her own means (barking and growling).

Second, NEVER punish your furry friend for barking or growling. This only teaches your pet that these behaviors result in bad things happening to her. Unfortunately, since she still feels the need to defend herself, she will escalate to worse behaviors like snapping and even biting.

Third, now it is time to do something about what is currently going on. Here are a few ideas to start with:

  • Learn about Dog Body Language: This will help your husband see when Bailey is afraid or uncomfortable before she starts barking or growling. If can see this, then he can react by taking her away from that situation. He should always do this in a calm and positive manner to help Bailey feel confident and not more scared.

  • Reward any good behaviors from Bailey. If she is playing nicely tell her Good Dog! and give her a treat or play with her.

  • If there is anything your husband knows will trigger Bailey, then use Counter Conditioning to help Bailey be less afraid.


Finally, I always recommend Clicker Training for fear and aggression. This technique forces the owner to use positive methods (because sometimes we are too quick to punish and to slow to reward, it happens to all of us). It is also a technique the builds confidence in your dog, which most fearful hounds benefit from. Here are two excellent books that can help you start:



Hope this helps, if you think you need more hands on help, search for a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Website!

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