How To Care For An Aggressive Dog

Zwergpinscher Cometh

After a day of preparation, it was time to get Clara. As I headed there on my bike, Vangie told me that she might have an extended stay, almost a week. A total rug pull, but she was willing to pay more money. I was trapped, since I already agreed, and rejecting her would mean trouble for the both of us. She probably planned this, but I will take the high road as she's willing to pay a handsome fee anyway. 

I took Mara and another bag of her canned food. She also paid in advance, so I guess I was mistaken about her intentions. They said their goodbyes and I secured Mara's crate on my bike. I informed my wife that I'm carrying the VIP and off I went, slowly at first, as Clara looked a little spooked inside her crate. I decided to slowly speed up because the faster we get home, the less time she'll be stressed. 

When I arrived, everything was set. Maui was inside his crate in the shed and the cats were nowhere to be seen apart from Friday who was nursing her kittens. I quickly delivered Clara into the office and placed her close to her dog bed, so she wouldn't feel as alienated. What little tail she had was tucked, and she was trembling, looking at me and my wife with her bulging glassy eyes. 

We decided to keep interaction first at a minimum. My wife left the office but I stayed because I don't want Clara to feel like she was completely alone. I closed the door and opened the crate so she can explore on her own if she feels like it. I got to my desk and did some work for a couple of hours while observing her. 

I did some thinking while observing her, trying to see what kind of aggressive behavior she has, and what signs of aggression she will show. Like Maui, she sniffed around her crate, likely trying to get an aromatic grip on the place. Eventually, she stepped out and found her bed which she promptly curled into. I thought she was going to nap when she suddenly started growling. Is this a sign of protective aggression? Now that she was on her bed, does it feel like it's her territory, therefore she growls to defend it? I am sure she can smell Maui and vice versa. She probably feels threatened by Maui, but I'm hoping that Clara could already smell Maui from me so she's not as threatened. 

After an hour and a half, of her just staying on her bed, I took the treats out and prepared the clicker. Suppose I am to help Clara's aggression issues. In that case, I have to use positive reinforcement on her desirable behaviors, so I will reward her when she does something good, the second she does it, and for now, ignore her aggression. 

Outside, Maui started to bark and whine. The poor dog probably feels like something's off as he's in his crate in the shed. I went outside and took him out, but for now, he'll stay outside, but I'll open the windows so that Maui and Clara can hear each other. 

When I went back inside, Clara was standing on her bed, looking as stiff as a figurine. She was likely hearing Maui's activity outside, likely triggering her alleged defensive aggression. I called her name as peppy and sweetly as I could, and as soon as she looked at me, I clicked. I then told her to approach me. She was hesitant at first, padding her paws on her bed, only to snap her attention back at the window. I gave the command to approach again, and when she looked, I clicked, and she slowly made her way across, looking in several directions as if she was a human crossing a street. She slowly ate the treat and looked around the area, only to toddle back to her bed. I took a picture of her and sent it to Vangie to show that she's doing well. 

She still growls every now and then. I think she hears what's going on outside but can't lash out the same way she would at home. I guess this is one way to mildly solve her aggressive behavior, but if I don't act soon enough, she will get comfortable and eventually increase her display of aggression. 

One other way to help a dog with aggression is "Counter Conditioning." It's basically changing the way a dog feels about something. So if Clara is showing defensive behaviors towards Maui or the cats, I have to call her name sweetly to get her attention, then give her a treat and some head or back rubs. The idea is to make them feel better about the stimulus, or at least distract them enough until they are desensitized.

After lunch, it was time to feed the animals. I let Maui inside but kept the office door closed and fed him. After feeding the cats, I fed Clara inside the office. She was still on the dog bed, and when I was placing the dog bowl beside her, Maui scratched on the door. Clara bore her fangs and growled. I quickly called her to get her attention, then reached out to her. I know she doesn't have any aggression toward people, so I confidently stroked her head while she was growling. It's almost alarming how quickly she changes from aggressive to adorable as soon as my hand touches her. But as soon as Maui resumes scratching, Clara would focus on the door and start growling. This is good because at least I can keep doing the counter conditioning until her level of aggression lessens. 

I let Maui out again so he won't make the situation worse. It's clear that Clara is reacting badly against him, so I need to take this slow. Two hours after she ate, I decided to give her some obedience training so she could shake off some of the stress. I still did this inside the office, but because of her size, the office might as well be a basketball field for her. I could not do the separate "Yes" and "Good" training anymore because I need to be consistent. 

I still need to be careful, because if I stress her out too much, she might end up biting me out of frustration or fear. Animal bites should be taken seriously, even if it's from a tiny dog. 

Now that Clara's fed, she curled up and slept. The cold air from the air conditioner is making her shiver, so I had to raise the temperature a little for her. She slept for nearly two hours and I'm pretty sure this is normal for dogs, even tiny ones. 

I noticed that she woke up when she started growling again. I went to her and tried to soothe her by calling her name and giving her a treat when she made eye contact with me. She seems to switch to the happy-puppy mode when I call her, and I will take advantage of this and hope that I'm not somehow reinforcing behavioral issues that would make her want to be aggressive so that someone would come and soothe her. 

I kept her company until around nighttime. After dinner, I decided to start introducing Maui. I placed Clara inside her crate and locked it. I then leashed Maui and took him into the office. Almost instantly, Clara started barking like the tiny terror she was. She was displaying such intense behaviors that her very bark makes her entire body jolt. 

Maui, however, was just growing more curious. His canine aggression was nearly absent and all he wanted to do was pull me closer. I did it inch by inch, and I also realized that Clara wasn't snarling. Nearly all the dogs I've seen have this "teeth-baring" expression when they are in fights or scary situations, and Clara wasn't displaying it, just a lot of aggressive barking. 

The ruckus caught my wife and daughter's attention and they wanted to see the spectacle. Step by step, I keep placing Maui closer. He was pulling with all his might, and since I'm the one that started this, I have to finish it or suffer having Maui scratch the wood out of the office door in the dead of night.

As the gap disappeared, Clara suddenly stopped barking, and instead, was jamming her nose between the cage rails, trying to sniff as much as she could from the approaching behemoth. Then, I allowed Maui to touch the crate. They sniffed at each other for a full minute, then, Maui started wagging his tail and started to look at me expectantly. Clara didn't seem all that bothered, but she looked quite alert. 

My wife told me we should let Clara out. I'll hold Maui by the leash and I will pull away at the first sign of trouble. The last thing I want is for Clara to suffer some sort of bodily injury, but the level of risk is quite low, as I know Maui to be quite a harmless dog. I'm more concerned about Maui getting flashbacks of being bullied by that small dog, I think it was a Shihtzu, I don't remember anymore. 

I pulled Maui away and my wife opened the crate door. Clara quickly came out and first posed like a proud, statuesque dog, before approaching Maui. Since she was the one slowly approaching, this is likely not a sign of fear-motivated aggression or whichever type of aggression, it's likely just her going through her own way of proper socialization. 

Like they did with the crate, they touched noses. I had to be very observant here because this nose-touching can go both ways. It could be a proper greeting, or a sudden dominance move, like shoving somebody you want to fight. 

However, Maui's tail started to wag and he suddenly slapped his two front paws on the ground. This is the unmistakable sign that a dog wants to play and it's now a matter of how Clara would react. To our delight, Clara was wagging what little tail she had. It was a success! I unleashed Maui and the first thing he did was run around the office. Sadly this was stressful for Clara. She slightly cowered at the sight of a large creature running around at high speed. I quickly soothed her, trying my best to do that counter conditioning, and it seems to work. Maui approached us and wanted in on the soothing action. I praised Maui for being the best boy ever and praised Clara for not giving any of us a bite wound. 

This was an extremely excellent start. The next challenge is to get Clara used to the three Lords of the Land, my three cats. 

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