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Increasingly Aggressive Behavior From St. Bernard

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Increasingly Aggressive Behavior From St. Bernard

Postby Parisch » Sat Jul 18, 2015 6:48 pm


We adopted 6 year old male/neutered St. Bernard about 4 months ago.  We also have an adopted male/neutered German Shepherd and an 11 year old female/spayed Basset Hound.  Both of the male dogs are very passive.  The dogs are left home alone during the day and get along very well.  Incorporating the St. Bernard into our group has been pretty easy until recently.  Starting about a month ago, when I get home, the St. has been behaving in a very loud and aggressive way.  I don't talk to them or make any contact; I simply walk to the back door to let them out.  All the while, my St. Bernard is jumping in the air, barking loudly and scaring the other dogs.  It gets even worse when I get him out the door.  His jumping and barking get even worse and feel somewhat scary to me.  If I call him, he will come right to me and he will sit.  If I put my hand on him, he will remain calm.  If I try to walk away, he starts going crazy again.  All of this mayhem at the door is becoming very stressful. I am the female person in the house and the one who gets home first.  My husband has experienced this behavior, but not to the degree I am, and he seems to be able to get things under control quicker than me. All of the dogs are very attached to me. Any help you can offer would be appreciated.  Thanks!  
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Increasingly Aggressive Behavior From St. Bernard

Postby Wacuman » Sun Jul 19, 2015 2:13 pm

First: this is NOT AGGRESSION, so be calm.  Your habit of not greeting the dogs(as you portray it) isn't working for this dog.  Jumping in the air and barking loudly are NOT aggressive; unless this dog is baring its teeth at you, growling in a menacing way, or snapping at you(which I think you would have mentioned), what you're seeing is "Boisterous Greeting Behavior", VERY common!  As the dog has habituated to your household(it does take months for this to occur), he has become more at ease and has begun to make demands for attention.  I can't imagine the other two dogs are frightened by his jumping and barking(since they pretty much comprehend what's going on by his body language) BUT your fear and anxiety is definitely being communicated to them; that may be part of what you're seeing, their reaction to your emotional distress.  AND that distress is also being communicated to the Saint who is escalating in his own behavior.  ALSO: three dogs is a pack and there is a hierarchy involved here, one your dogs have apparently sorted out for themselves.  The Saint is most likely the strongest temperament and, as such, NEEDS to be the FIRST dog greeted(in the dog culture and in his mind); the behavior of the other two dogs that you interpret as fear may actually be accommodation to the Saint.  So this Saint is attempting to get his greeting(acknowledgment) while at the same time maintaining his status with the other dogs.  This doesn't occur as often with your husband because he is most likely perceived as psychologically more powerful due to the manner in which he interacts with the dogs on a daily basis.  Men are often less physically attentive, more emotionally unavailable to the dog(s) and obviously have testosterone(dogs can smell it), all of which promote the man psychologically in the dog culture.  Women, more likely to be the daily caregivers, are more physically affectionate, more emotionally available, less "bossy", etc.(of course these are generalizations).

I suggest you teach the Saint to "sit"(use a new word) using positive reinforcement and insist that he do so AT ALL OUTDOOR DOORWAYS before being allowed out or in.  When you arrive home, do not simply let the dogs out.  Step into the house, ask the Saint to sit, reward him(keep a package of treats in your coat pocket or in the car so you will have them handy), ask the other two dogs to sit and reward them, then let the dogs out: first the Saint, then the others.  In reverse: ask the Saint to sit for reward/praise and let him back in before the other dogs.  Don't allow a traffic jam at the door.  And don't allow boisterous behavior: if he ignores your cue to sit or becomes agitated(jumping, barking), close the door in his face, count to ten, open the door and start over.  Consistently, every single time you arrive home regardless of how long you've been gone, expect compliance(a sit on cue) from the Saint.  A "wait" signal can be obtained also as you are training the "sit".  If you choose to use a clicker(an excellent option), you can teach these behaviors in the following manner:

Approach the dog while s/he is lying down in a very relaxed mood,(at first, muffle the sound of the clicker by keeping it in your pocket)   toss high value treat(hot dog, cheese, etc., small piece) and the MOMENT the dog grabs it, click;  back away a foot or so, wait for the dog to react.  The dog may be startled(surprised) and may look a bit confused, but s/he WILL react in some manner(probably get up and come over to you).  If s/he does not get up, repeat the toss/click as described.  Eventually(most likely after the second click/treat) s/he will get up and approach you.  When s/he is standing in front of you, step forward very slowly touching your toe to the dog’s foot and s/he will sit: the MOMENT the dog sits, click/treat, back away.  Dog will follow, may automatically sit this time but if s/he doesn't, move slowly forward and the dog WILL sit: click/treat, back away; this time dog WILL come and sit in front of you, click/treat, back away, repeat again and end event.  A few hours later as dog is calmly lying around, click/treat as above, dog will get up and come to SIT in front of you, AS the dog SITS, give the dog the cue you choose(any word, just not the usual 'sit'), click/treat, back away, dog will repeat, click/treat repeat a third time, end session.  Randomly for the first few days, in plain sight of your dog and close proximity(not from across the room), cue the dog to “sit”, click/treat. Your dog NOW understands what the click means(THAT BEHAVIOR is going to be rewarded RIGHT NOW) and has a new cue for "sit".  

Developing the “wait” signal:

Once the dog has obtained a 100% perfect response to your signal for “sit”, hold out your hand(palm out) and say “wait”, ten seconds later, click/treat.  Do NOT click any longer for the simple “sit”.  Slowly extend those ten seconds to twenty, forty, and ultimately at least one minute.  IF THE DOG BREAKS(gets up), ignore it, turn your back for a second, turn back to the dog, cue the “sit” and “wait” and keep this wait short enough for the dog to succeed.  Eventually your dog will “sit” and “wait” for up to one minute(at least).  Remember: if the dog fails(gets up) the training is failing, NOT the dog, so go back to the ten second wait.  ALWAYS end training on a positive note: the dog has performed the “sit” and the “wait” with no problem for a jackpot reward(small handful of treat).  

The clicker is a tool that allows you to signal to a dog the EXACT BEHAVIOR that is about to be rewarded; in other words, all feet on the ground(instead of jumping up) gets a click/treat, silence between barks gets a click/treat, etc., so that you can capture(select) a behavior and shape(train it further) that behavior.  To learn more about the clicker I suggest you read Karen Pryor's "Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs" and visit her site, ClickerTraining.com.
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