This is kind of a random thing to talk about for my Sunday Journal, but Morton (my shepherd mix) is a huge part of my life, so I figured y'all may want to know about what's going on with him sometimes too!
We used to be able to take Morton to dog parks all the time. When we first got him (while we were in Houston), we would take him to the dog park at least once a week. One day, this huge dog -- I'm talking huge... like a mix between a mastiff and a pitbull -- attacked Morton at our dog park. Morton put up his defenses and ended up having that dog cowering under a picnic table. I was somewhat proud of him for being able to hold his own, but also embarrassed. Even though Morton did not start the fight, we were asked to leave. We tried to take him back several times after that, but he was so afraid of getting in a fight again that he immediately had his defenses up. Our sweet boy had become "aggressive" and we stopped taking him to the dog park.
I read several Cesar Millan books, and even bought a Cesar DVD to try to fix his aggression. His tactics may have helped some, especially his avoidance suggestion to have your dog move to the side of the sidewalk and sit while another dog was passing, but they didn't really fix the problem.
We just basically decided to avoid other dogs, and have him just be a people dog. He's so great with people.
When we moved to New York, it was basically the same stuff. We pulled him to the side when other dogs passed and there were no problems. But two issues arose:
1. Some people in our building don't leash their tiny aggressive dogs. Even though small dogs can't cause a lot of physical damage, they still do pick fights and them being off leash would make any leashed dog anxious. If you have a small dog, please try to think about training your dog as someone would train a big dog. If a big dog wouldn't get away with being aggressive/jumping up/being off leash, a small dog shouldn't either.
2. It's hard to find someone in the city who is willing to watch a 65lb dog who doesn't get along with other dogs when we are out of town. For the most part, people who want/can have dogs in their buildings do have dogs. And those who do not have dogs either don't want them or can't have them. So it's really hard to find someone who can watch Morton. We also don't like the idea of boarding him because of his social anxiety.
We finally decided to fork out the cash to get him some real training, and we have been really pleased so far. We've been taking him to Instinct Dog Behavior & Training up in Harlem. Our trainer, Sarah, is so nice, and has provided us with a lot of actionable tips as well as reassurance that we can help to alleviate Morton's social anxiety so that he can interact with dogs without being afraid again.
Basically, we are teaching Morton that his walk is a safe and happy [read: treat filled] space, and that he doesn't have to be fearful of anything that we see along the way. He's gluten intolerant and allergic to chicken and beef (I'm serious), so we've been treating him with gluten-free turkey hotdog bites. We pack them into our super dorky training fanny pack thing (along with a napkin to wipe all the slobber and hotdog smell off our hands).
We've also transitioned from the prong collar to the Halti gentle lead. Sarah is having us reward Morton for all attention given to us on the walk, and she said that the Halti would help with that. She also said that the prong collar might actually increase his walk anxiety.
She gave us a bunch of homework, including working on turns, responding to commands on the walk, and just teaching him to be happy on the walk. They gave us a lot more information that's specific to his anxiety, but I don't want to overshare because 1) I think each dog is different and their aggression should be treated differently, and 2) because they charge money for this stuff and I don't want to rip them off by sharing their secrets. Ya know?
So far so good! I've definitely noticed him paying more attention to me on the walk, regularly checking in with me to see what I'm up to. He also seems to care [slightly] less about people and dogs who pass us. I hope that this interest will gradually decrease as we go along.
We still have a lot of work to do, and I think in a couple weeks, Sarah is going to start working with him and other dogs directly. We just want our boy to be happy and feel safe with us and around others.