Hello Lab Lovers,
I'm in serious need of some feedback on training issues regarding a 6-7 year old Chocolate Lab who has recently come to stay with us. I posted his intro in the Introductions section, and also have a thread called "Help Me to Help Bear" in the general discussion area, where you can read the background and history of this dog.
Briefly, he has been living in a backyard, and his socialization skills are poor. He's great with people, he's obedient (knows basic commands and quickly responds, seems eager to please). The problem is with him relating to the rest of my dogs (6 in all). The only one he seems to have no problem with is the smallest one (45-50 lb. mixed breed), but the rest of the pack is closer (or bigger) than his size and his reaction has been growling, showing teeth, snapping at them.
I am in the process (which I know will be lenghty) of trying to re-socialize him. Currently, he is living in a spare room inside my house, it's the size of a small bedroom. He is being VERY good about spending time in there, he never makes a peep, tho is is very happy when one of us goes in there to spend time with him (which is often) or to take him for a walk. This is a vast improvement over his former living conditions (see post in general chat), but I am not happy with him being isolated, and want to get him to the point where he can be out and about with the others and be one of the pack! (altho I will probably never be able to leave him alone with the othes, he will be crated or in his room if I have to leave the house). By the way, he does not seem to mind the crate, he goes right in and stays quiet.
Here's what I've done so far. Whenever I spend time with him, I run him thru his basics (sit, stay, down, paw) and I keep a pocket full of small treats, which I generously reward. He now automatically sits when he sees me go for the leash, he sits before being given his food, etc. Fast learner.
I have rotated the other dogs pillows into his room so that he can become accustomed to their smell. I know he knows they are there, they are on the other side of the door whenever I go into his room, so he's getting their sounds and scents that way as well.
When I walk him out in the front yard on a leash, my dogs are usually out in the back yard (fenced), so we walk up to the fence so that they can greet that way, and as of yesterday, no lip curling or growling thru the fence (those behaviors were met with a sharp-voice "uh uh", to which he would always stop and approach me, tail wagging). Every time an encounter goes without a bad reaction, I am praising "good boy!" and giving reward.
Yesterday, while he was being given his solitary time in the back yard (other dogs inside), I put him on leash and my husband held on to him, while I brought one of the others outside (also on leash). I walked by and every time he ignored or had no bad reaction, he was rewarded. As we got closer and closer, he needed a few verbal reminders, while he is no longer growling, you can see the tail come straight up and his sideways glance at the other dog and then he will simply "snap" at them. We also walked the two of them together on leashes, and this did not seem to be a problem, he ignored her presence for the most part, but when we stopped, they did a little sniffing which seemed to go okay.
Now for the questions. I have been researching and researching on how to handle this. I have gotten some links for trainers and that is a consideration for the future, but since I am not the owner of this dog (owner has not even provided basic vet care for this guy over the past years, so chances slim-to-none that they would agree to pay for training) and since I already have a large pack (not to mention a large human family), I am not in a financial position to hire a trainer until I have given it my best shot. That being said, I'd love to hear opinions on the following ideas:
1. Muzzle. I have been reading on that, I have greyhounds (which came with muzzles), I have been showing Bear the muzzle, and letting him stick his nose in to get a treat, just in case I opt to try it out on him. Does anyone have any experience with muzzle training? Would it be a way for him to safely interact with the other dogs and maybe realize they're not something bad, or would this further his fear/agression ?
2. Safety gate. I am thinking about borrowing a safety gate and putting it up at the end of the hallway which leads to his room. It would not give him too much more freedom (just access to the hallway), but would this be a good way to let them associate thru the gate without anyone getting hurt? I realize it would have to be strictly supervised, as I have some lively pack members who could probably jump over, if not knock down a gate, should they be so inclined.
I will definately be discussing the situation with my veterinarian when I take Bear for his stitch removal (neutering), which was just done last Thursday. Also, he is heartworm positive and I'm not sure if there are any other medical issues for him.
Any thoughts and suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated. This dog has had a rough time and I want to give him a good quality of life which he deserves.
Thank you! Thank you!
and here's the problem with correcting a dog for growling - you've stopped him from giving his warning signal, now what choice does he have but to escalate to a snap? Correct that, and he might step it up further.As we got closer and closer, he needed a few verbal reminders, while he is no longer growling, you can see the tail come straight up and his sideways glance at the other dog and then he will simply "snap" at them. We also walked the two of them together on leashes, and this did not seem to be a problem, he ignored her presence for the most part, but when we stopped, they did a little sniffing which seemed to go okay.
I would definitely use a basket muzzle (introducing as you have been, that's great!), do the walking together as you have been, rewarding calm and happy behaviour, and redirecting him if he gets nervous or growly. (Ie, with voice, handclaps and the leash, turn him around away from the other dog and get him to sit and 'watch you', then reward him.
A trainer should be your first choice, but in the meantime, a few books you might find helpful:
Click to Calm
Bringing Light to shadow
all available at dogwise.com
I suggest http://leerburg.com/introducingdogs.htm
by this you are pretty much right on track. I have been dealing with a similar issue bringing in my sisters Yorkie in to the mix at my house. Granted I only originally started with 2 of my own. But, that's what I've got.