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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
So it's been a very long time since I last posted. A quick recap - I have one 6 y/o Kelpie mix with fear aggression that is manageable. Almost one year ago I made the decision to adopt another dog into the house and found a young Cattle Dog (8mos-ish, now about 1.5 years) who was very sweet, had a good attitude and got along very well with my 6 y/o. Within the first week we questioned our decision as everything in our lives went to total chaos. But we stuck with it, thinking it would get better once everyone got settled. It's almost the year mark and we're still struggling with chaos.

Ember's happy go lucky attitude is still a big part of her, but she's now developed a roaring case of territorial fear aggression. It's bad. She WILL bite someone if not managed. At this point we can't have people over to the house without having both dogs locked away, which isn't an issue if people are over for just a couple hours, but when we have parties it's a huge issue. We have a fenced in yard and she guards it fiercely. It's embarrassing when our neighbors are outside just trying to cook. We have kids who play in the culdesac and every now and then if one of them comes too close to the house, Ember displays her guarding behavior. That then sets off Riley, my other dog. Ember is better outside of the home territory, but she will still guard me occasionally, and she's a total menace in the car. Riley has none of these issues – he is only territorial in the house, and not even close to the level that Ember is.

At the beginning of the year I was able to find one of my area's best animal behaviorist/trainer, who agreed to take on the challenge - all the other trainers I reached out to would not take my case. Unfortunately after a month my behaviorist concluded that she wasn't sure what the next steps were for us, since Riley seemed to be the cause of the issues and his problem was neurological, not behavioral, and all the things we tried to address the behavioral aspect were not having any effect. She advised that in our situation, the best option would be to find another home for Ember, preferably with someone who was home a lot and had experience with Cattle Dogs. We initially agreed and she was going to reach out to her network. But after much soul searching, we decided that we didn't want to give up on Ember - or Riley - and so we decided to keep trying, even though now I did not have the benefit of a professional trainer.

During this time Ember had been dealing with a very strange digestion issue. After 3 months on a very limited ingredient diet/treats, she is finally in the clear and has been for a few weeks. That was another reason I didn't want to rehome Em - I couldn't do it while she was still recovering from the mystery tummy issue.

Since then I've gotten her into different "fun" classes - barn hunt & agility - and established a good routine with her so that she knows what to expect and when. She goes to doggie daycare 2x a week and is very good there. She is still a challenge to train, but being in agility is really helping to strengthen our bond, and she is starting to really listen to me.

Unfortunately, last week we had a setback with the aggression issues, and I'm back to square one with the decision to keep her. The aggression issue started when my husband picked her up from daycare on Wednesday. Apparently it had been very busy, with lots of people there picking up their dogs all at the same time. My husband had Ember but stood in a corner waiting for the traffic to clear, when a lady - who Ember has seen before but not interacted with (she is a customer who also brings her dogs in), saw Ember and went over to pet her, overhand and without any introduction. Ember snapped at her. Then later that week on our Friday afternoon walk, a man walked past the car while we were still in it and that set Ember off. Then later on the walk that same man - not sure if she knew it was the same man or not - called out to me to ask a question about the preserve we were in. Ember started growling at him but stopped when I told her to quit (also gave a quick tug of the leash - she is harnessed when we walk - because it was my initial reaction). Then later that weekend we had a friend over and I tried to introduce him to Ember while in our garage. Even loading him with treats to bribe her had no effect - she growled, lunged and snapped, all within a few seconds. I immediately took her inside - I didn't scold or punish, just removed her from the situation.

All of this, however, has me very worried. I know how dangerous this can be, especially with two dogs who are fear aggressive. I am very attached to both of these dogs. But, I just don’t know what the right thing to do is. Should I admit defeat and find a new home for Ember? Am I leading with my heart too much in this situation??

EDIT TO ADD:
I don't mention a lot of Riley in this post because he is MUCH easier to handle and I do not have half the issues with him that I do with Ember. However, having the two of them together causes an implosion of chaos, with both dogs reacting off each other and raising stress levels immensely.
 

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Have you asked your vet about her issues?

What have you done to address underlying anxiety?

We've been through several remedies with Chisum and are now starting prozac to see if that helps. His issues are clearly anxiety but most likely have a behavioral component and though he's not a biter (and will run/hide if someone comes toward him) he's super reactive and does the growling/barking/lunging thing to any number of things he's finds dangerous.

It seems you've gone the trainer route, and I'm sorry they just ran out of ideas for you. I did 5 weeks with a trainer I loved and I think at the end she was kind of out of ideas too though he did improve some. I'm hoping to go back once we can get his baseline anxiety under control. :)

I'd be interested to see, medically, what the doc says.

As for the chaos - I totally hear you. I have a little terrier mix who isn't so much fearful as she is, well, yappy. She'll bark at something, then my Cocker will think something's up and *he'll* start barking, then my terrier thinks something is *really* up so she'll start barking more fiercely, and the cycle goes on...and my Aussie mix will just give me a look like, "how do you put up with these idiots?" :p
 

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We just rehomed our second dog. From the start it wasn't the right fit, we worked on it for 5 years, including a ton of relaxation and calming work. At times their relationship was good, but it was never great, and the stress level of the house was always high. Over the last few months it went from ok to bad. Our last options were medication or rehoming. We've seen what prozac does to dogs, how it totally changes the dog's personality, and we hesitated to try it. We weren't sure even it would help because their main triggers were each other. So we worked with a breed specific rescue, and in three weeks, he found a great home. It's been a week now. I realize the main reason why we didn't do it earlier was because we were afraid of the kind of home he'd end up in. Luckily, we were upfront about his issues and he's in a really supportive home. Now we can turn our attention to our first dog, who needs some serious BAT.
 

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In my limited experience, if their behavior problems are intensified when they are together, the only way you'll be able to make any headway is to keep separate when they are in situations that might trigger problem behavior in one or both. This could mean they're separate just for certain times/situations, or it could mean they spend the bulk of their time separated, and only you know how fair that would be to you and them.

I've had one dog with significant fear aggression/territorial/guarding issues, and that dog spent time when company was at our house in a locked bedroom, and at times with young kids present, a locked crate in the locked bedroom. If they were there all day, she got leash walked past or around them, outside, and back in to her room as needed. Extra time walking/playing outside if she was getting squirrely from being cooped up, or one of us would hang out in her room (it was also my bedroom so I'd sleep in there). Same over a weekend or even longer periods. She mellowed a bit with age and training, and if there were only adults and they were there for a longer period of time, I could bring her out on leash in other areas of the house, or eventually even on leash in the same general area as the other people (they could be sitting in a chair while she laid across the room on the couch beside me), but the understanding was that they would leave the dog alone and she would leave them alone. She wasn't particularly reactive to people, which meant that I had to protect her and them from bad situations, but could have her out when people were there without her causing a big scene- it would've been harder if she was barking/growling lunging, but she was content to ignore as long as they stayed out of her "bubble".

I never bothered to "introduce" her to anyone who wasn't going to be around regularly (either living with us or visiting multiple times a week), and for a long period of time (months, years, etc). Just not worth the time, risk, and stress, since merely interacting with someone didn't necessarily erase all her suspicions of them, and she might still react if they did something she perceived as inappropriate. In fact, it could make it more dangerous, as people think that because they sat near/touched/whatever a dog one time, they are now "friends", and dogs like that don't see it that way at all. In her case, we found it best to not do "introductions", just let her and the person cohabitate in the same areas with her on leash until she was used to them being there, and expressed interest in greeting them upon their arrival, then muzzled and slowly allowed more freedom. For some people it took months of repeated exposure before we reached the interacting part.

I walked her mostly at night, and we went to the park at quiet times and walked trails where we were unlikely to meet other people/dogs. I carried a muzzle just in case we found ourselves in a situation where close proximity was unavoidable, and she was never off leash in public. She could be pretty reactive in the car, and had broken a window in our house freaking out when the neighbor's dog killed a cat in our yard, so we never left her in the car alone for fear that she might try to get out if provoked. Maybe overboard precautions, but we had had some close calls when she was younger and more reactive, and IMO, you can't be too careful, particularly when a dog has clearly told you they might/will bite in the right situation.

I'd look to manage more carefully- maybe talk to the daycare about whether there's a better time or maybe a less crowded side door you can drop off/pick her up at. My dog would never have been a day care candidate (she was in a kennel environment before we got her and had to be handled with a catch pole until a few people made friends with her), so the liability of a potentially people aggressive dog attending makes me cringe a little, but if it's something that she does well with and your trainer has given the green light, different strokes for different folks/dogs :) . Make sure you have at least one human per dog in situations where things may get hairy, don't try to manage both on your own. Be proactive if/when you have her out to prevent people from trying to touch her willy nilly (don't be afraid to say, "NO!"), and it wouldn't hurt to invest in a basket muzzle since she has shown that she will at least "warn" someone who encroaches on her space. I would only let her out in the yard when you are able to prevent/redirect guarding behavior, and keep her on a long line if she doesn't listen when you call her off.

I've known quite a few ACDs that run on the "stranger danger" side of the spectrum, and for the most part, owners of those dogs seem to just accept that their dogs aren't necessarily social dogs, and manage accordingly. It might be worth having someone with breed experience (someone from ACD rescue, or a local breeder) look at her, and see if they think her behavior is in the realm of "normal" ACD behavior. If so, they may have additional advice, or if you decide to consider rehoming her, may have suggestions/connections to help.

If you are wanting another professional behavioral opinion, or are considering trying medication to manage her behavior, you may want to consult with a veterinary behaviorist: For The Public « ACVB
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Good luck, and I don't envy your position, those are some hard choices to make. My dog was a great dog, despite her issues, but I wouldn't choose a dog like her again- too much risk and worry in my current living situation.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thank you so much for the replies, everyone. It's great to be able to read other's experiences and know that you aren't alone - and that your dog isn't the only one with issues, lol ♥

We've taken her to the vet and she checks out medically. Her issues are just breed and influence from my own dog. I'm not ready to rehome her so we're going to just keep on keeping on. I do feel confident that in time she will get better. I just wish we had more dog friendly/knowledgeable friends who would be willing to help us work with her.
 

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These two sites have loads of info on working with fearful, reactive dogs...
www.careforreactivedogs.com
Fearfuldogs.com

There's also a facebook page named Reactive Dogs that is a good resource if you need help with certain behaviors.

I'm going to echo working with her separately from Riley, it's amazing how dogs pick up on other dogs behavior and copy it. I think you'll see faster results doing that. You need to try and keep her under threshold as much as possible, and yep I know from my own reactive dog how much the threshold can change. When she's over threshold she literally cannot learn. I start shoveling treats at my boy as soon as he spots someone he doesn't know, and stop a second or two after they are out of view. If he starts reacting what I do is tell him "Let's Go!" and lead him away,

Know your dog, some people recommend feeding the dog treats even if he's reacting mildly and have a lot of success with it, but I learned that I can't do that with my boy. I did it in the beginning and stopped the day he barked at someone then looked back at me, a happy expression on his face, for his treat. So now we do Let's Go and he gets a treat for leaving.
 
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