Fear Aggression in an Older Dog

Posted by kjd
Jun 16, 2009
Zoey is an 8-yr-old GSD. I've had her for 6 months. She spent the whole first 8 years of her life with her breeder, in the middle of a national forest. The breeder never spent much time training her animals. Coming to the middle of suburban America, with cars and steps and strange-looking dogs, and nobody she knows, has been very stressful for Zoey. In the beginning, there was no treat she would eat, she wouldn't climb stairs, she ate lots of paper (no need of a shredder!), and buried many things along the fence-line (including a blanket).

I've pretty much let her adjust. When she showed fear on the stairs, we only encouraged her if she approached them herself. One day, she saw the three of us at the top and charged up them. Now she has no problems with going down any stairs, and goes up those with a back (still afraid of open steps, so she goes down into the basement, but must be let out to the outside stairs to get back up).

With the paper-eating, we simply removed them from her if we wanted to keep the papers. At some point, she just stopped taking them off the table or even touching them when on the floor. In fact, I can offer her paper now and she turns it down.

I still fear she may sometime pick up my keys and bury them -- unless the object is big, I never see it again. However, she started out burying everything she was given (dog bones, toys); now she eats the bones instead. I think this was "adopted dog" syndrome. She was afraid she might not be fed sometime in the future and was burying a stash.

She is great with people -- kids can pet her through the open car window without me around. As long as it is a two-legged kid! She's been introduced to the mailman (one advantage of the forest is she doesn't see the mailman as an enemy). I've got different workmen coming into the house quite often (it has had a lot of work done on it) and she is friendly with them all. One of us uses a cane; initially, though she had no problem with it as a cane, she was frightened of it when used as a stick (holding it in front of him, petting her with it). Now she has no problems with it. A friend on crutches visited and she saw a new friend.

She is fine when I leave and, when I return, just notes that I am back. She does, however, see me as the one stable person in her life.

My problem with her is her fear-aggression around other dogs. She went to the first session of obedience and attacked the other dogs. She was obviously highly nervous. She barks at any dog she sees and lunges at them.

I bought Secrets because you advertised it would show me how to stop all aggression (and I would love for this dog to be able to enjoy other dogs and compete in obedience). As soon as I downloaded it, I read the parts on aggression. What I read was that a dog at her age is stuck -- too old to become acclimated to other dogs. No hope. Live with it.

I don't believe this. Personally, I think she is still working through the sudden, extreme change in her life situation. Every day she seems to be a bit more laid back, a bit more confident that the sky isn't going to fall again. I think taking it easy with her and giving her private obedience training will gradually give her the confidence to meet other dogs. (Watching Cesar Millan IS frustrating for me: he can get dogs like Zoey over their problems in a few sessions. I'd hoped that there was some secret that Secrets would have. I am disappointed it doesn't.

I'm going back to my methods; just wanted you to know I felt you over-promised on your ebooks.
Posted by Alpha-Dog
Jun 17, 2009
Hi there,

thank you for your post. First of all thank you for adopting your dog!
I apologize if there was confusion about whether it is possible to train an old dog new tricks or not.
I definitely think that you can train any dog no matter how young or old.
I apologize if that came across differently in the book.
Of course, the easiest time to train a dog is during their puppy time when they soak up everything like a little sponge.
By laying the right foundation you can save yourself a lot of work later on.
However, you have done a great job adopting an 8 year old dog. From your post I can tell that you deeply care about your dog and that is the most important thing. You come across as a calm and consistent pack leader and that is the best thing that can happen to a dog.
As you can see, if you don't force your dog and just take small steps she will learn that she can trust you and the world around her.

The one thing about teaching an older dog new tricks is that you generally need more time and patience. It seems to me that you are prepared to invest time.

In order to help you and Zoey, could you please give us some more details on her fear aggression? What does her body language tell you when she meets other dogs? How do you react? Do you use a normal leash? Does she behave like this with every dog or only certain dogs?

No matter how old she is you will be able to get her fear aggression under control because it sounds like you are very committed and caring. It might take a while, but in the end she will come around.

If you can reply with some more information we will give you some tips on how to go about it.

Thanks for your post
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jun 17, 2009
Hi kjd,

You sound like a really dedicated owner and I am sure your adopted dog will get over her fear aggression someday with your patience, consistency and understanding of her special needs.

Sometimes people give up with their dog's issues too easily. People who have aggressive dogs tend to think that is the dog's problem and keep the dog away from other dogs to avoid further problems. To me it seems like the owner IS a problem not to try to solve it. If you keep your fearful dog away from other dogs, he will never learn to get used to other dogs nor build his confidence.

I have a dog like yours. He is very friendly to people but becomes aggressive to other dogs. He was a rescue dog so I have no idea how he was raised. I have been socializing him for the last 3 years. I am also fostering dogs so that he can meet and live with stranger dogs without making any confrontation. He has become much better now. Through obedience training I have become able to control him before he gets into a fear aggression.

I am glad to hear that you are continuing with your dog's socialization and you are determined to have her get over it someday. Wishing you and Zoey the best!!
Posted by kjd
Nov 20, 2009
Thanks for your good wishes, MaxHollyNoah. Zoey did finally get over all her fear issues, but not the way we would like it to happen she is now playing happily with all my earlier dogs on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. I've heard many things about what killed her bloat. She was being fed from a raised position, once considered to protect from bloat though now the word is it can cause it. Another possibility is family history, but the breeder was never open to me about problems. A third possibility is soy, one of the ingredients in her dog food. I've taken the dish off the platform and gotten one with pillars in it to slow down eating. Now I am considering switching to another, soyless, brand of dogfood. I've a new rescue dog, five years old, Sunna. She is aggression-free, a bit timid (though that is improving), and fearless (although there have been no thunderstorms since she came). I couldn't bear to see another case of bloat!
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Nov 20, 2009
Hi kjd,

I saw your post about Zoey had died due to a bloat and I didn't know she was the one you rescued from a breeder and you were working on her fear aggression since then.

She was with you less than one year but I can tell that was the happiest time of her life, since she established a real trust with a human being for the first time in her life.

As for you, it would be harder to be apart from the one you paid such devoted attention, love and care.

I am sure Sunna is helping you alot by keeping you busy and with her sweet nature.

Thank you for rescuing dogs. I always read your comments with great interests.
Posted by kjd
Nov 21, 2009
No reason for you to connect the two. Somehow, I'd missed your post and wanted to let you know I appreciated it when I finally did get it.

I've learned a lot from you on this forum.