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Icy as my Service Dog and Training

About Training "Aggressive" Rescue Dogs

April 28th 2012 2:32 am
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With a lot of "aggressive" dogs you just have to show them who's in charge. I learned this cleaning kennels at the a rescue. I would go into the kennels of dogs that had been hauled in and left leashes still on. They would come out quiet as lambs and wait for me to finish with their kennels. It wasn't till I was told not to clean those kennels by the boss that I stopped. All those dogs were down for termination. Partially because the guy who assessed them was afraid and they could sense it. And partially because the rescue couldn't tarnish its reputation by homing a dog that was "aggressive" even if the future owners knew about it.

Anyway, I started to learn with Kavik. Kavik was an extreme case as he had been seriously neglected and couldn't hear. I taught him signs and got him that vibrating collar so he would know when to look at me for a sign when we were out. His aggression was fear based. I worked with Icy in a similar way. We would walk and if we saw a dog and they were acting the fool then we stopped and they had to sit or lie down. In some cases I would roll them over and stand over them.

Teaching your dog to roll over is handy in many ways. It shows control and at the vet it can be instrumental in getting a big dog to either submit to examination or in Kavik's snake bite case, to show his swollen and painful testicular pouch. I had vets amazed when they didn't need a few hands to wrestle a dog.

I also don't allow any of my dogs to bark out the windows. I know this was a big thing at Icy's last home. I have totally broken him of the behaviour and Star will try to get him started and then gives up. If the dog stops barking I would give them a treat. It works if you have patience, this all works.

Anyways, Kavik was getting better but I think his problem was the hearing. He would get startled by another dog approaching. So I would generally walk Ookie and him away or elsewhere than any other dog.

A lot of it is repation. They need to know what response they will get every time they do something. Like I always have my dogs sit to get their leads on. Then sit at the door. Then sit as I'm locking the door from the outside. Then sit if they have a reaction to something. They sit at the cross walk. They sit at the median if there are cars coming. They sit at the entrance to the park. Then sit after one of them poos so that I can pick it up. Then sit at the poo container. They have to walk at heal till I say "ok" and then they can go to the end of their leads to smell things. Never pulling. Etc.

Yes yes, I'm a bit of a control freak. Not knowing a dog's history can do that to you.

When I picked Icy up from his previous home, he was around a small child and a small dog without any problems. When I got him home he would have killed my German Shepherd X Ookie. No doubt in my mind. If you have seen the Dog Whisperer, he was a Red Zone. By that point I had introduced a few rescues and I had the two meet in a parking lot away from the house. My Mother-In-Law handled Ookie and I handed Icy. It was a complete surprise when he would have killed her. I have never been near an animal with that much rage. I didn't even have a choker on him that night. Which id my usual way of controlling this breed (thick neck muscles). When I had got him his previous owners had a harness of sorts on him and it was way to tight. On top of the fact that it is the WRONG way to stop a sled dog from pulling! I had taken it off. After it was off he healed me quite well. I had walked him around by that point a few times and talked to him through the 2 hour ride home.

What I did was I stood in front of his line of sight. Speaking firmly to him and holding his collar. In dog terms I was sorting my superiority. When he was calmer I would ask my Mother-In-Law to keep advancing with Ookie. Thankfully Ookie wasn't really my dog (she was my young son's to the bone) but she wasn't happy about a strange dog talking roubish around her master. I would command her to stop barking if she started. She took my commands. I think Icy managed to calm down enough to realize that Ookie was part of our pack and not a threat. Beacause this was not fear but he was feeling off balance and threatened. I had my Mother-In-Law take her closer and closer and talked soothingly till she could sniff him and he sniff her. Anyway, 15 minutes later they were the best of friends and never had one fight.

My husband never believed Icy had this aggression because he never saw it. Not until he was out with us when I was service dog training him.

Icy was different in that he thought he needed to protect himself and me. I was teaching him that I could handle myself and by the end of that year he was mostly walking past dogs without comment (none close). I could have both dogs sit at the vet for me just fine. I also had Icy wearing a backpack and I would weigh it down. This is a good way to give your dog more of a work out for a shorter walk. I was recommended to try this to calm him down because of what he was bred for. It put him "in a working mode". It worked.

When i came out of the hospital, when I saw the way the dogs were naturally reacting to me, I thought to train Star. She's younger and I've never seen a problem with people or dogs. I finally decided to give Icy a shot as in the house he was so good (they both were) and he was more used to me. I had to change my training because of my disability. Icy immediately went back to sitting when he saw another dog and usually barking to tell it to keep away. I had to break him of this habit. And we started just walking along and I would ignore and try to get him to ignore the other dog.

I have never had to bribe my dogs to do anything. I've had to work on bribery since getting ill. It's reinforcing the good behaviour and ignoring the bad. When I came home they both had bad stuff they had picked up. I could go into that but that's not the subject right now.

As I had to walk with a crutch (and still do) I couldn't train Icy like I have in the past. I also couldn't hold a treat to give him if he did something right as I'd have to stop and dig it out of a bag or pocket and it felt like I would be reinforcing the bad and making him think stopping is a good thing. Icy is amazing with every situation but other dogs. I have managed to get him to see them as potential play things rather than threats. Which is the next step really. But I then need him to realize that while he's working he can't play. What I have resorted to is a muzzle. My husband had bought some cloth muzzles when I was in the hospital to stop the dogs destroying the house. They can't open their mouth much in them. I've never used a muzzle but I couldn't think of another way to get across that the barking was very bad. So when I stop, I put the muzzle on and he has to wear it for maybe 5 minutes at the most unless I see another dog. This way when we stop because of his behaviour he gets a very serious NO.

At my son's school I have offered to muzzle him so they would feel safer with the kids around him. I bought him a heavy wire muzzle for that. It's not pretty but he can breathe. Icy breathes a lot through his mouth. I continue to use the cloth one as his discipline one.

I am still aiming to walk both dogs at the same time. I have to move from a crutch to a cane first and that's all down to trusting Icy. Then trusting Star.

Anyway its working. Each dog is different and the training is different. I had to radically change my training methods because I became disabled. But understanding the dog is understanding the training.

If you want to read more about Icy and Star's work then have a look at Lone Star's Diary (because it's all there):


Icy Retired Mobility SD


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Mobilitiy SDIT
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