Afraid of Strangers and Aggressive Toward Other Dogs

by Anonymous

I am in desperate need of help for my pit bull!! Last April, we took in a stray what we thought at the time was a black lab mix. He had been left wandering the streets and a local farmer put an ad in the paper explaining the situation.

The poor boy had been on his own for weeks. We took him (Bear) to the vet and found out he was a pit mix - approximately 9 months old. We don't know any history of him prior to our taking him in. We got him fixed within the first month of getting him.

Bear has been great with our female cattle dog. However, in the past 6 months, he has started to show aggression towards strangers and other dogs.

With strangers, it seems to be fear aggression. He growls and barks, but cowers away from them. We tell people not to look at him and just ignore him - let him come to them. Eventually, he does and is very friendly. But, we hate having to be constantly worried about this.

Also, he is VERY aggressive towards other dogs. There are a few neighborhood dogs that come around and he gets in fights with them! He is always tied up when outside - so we know he is protecting his territory. BUT, none of this is okay with us. We punish him, tell him no, make him lie down, etc. He definitely gets that he is in trouble - but it is not stopping the behavior in the future.

We live in a rural area and there aren't a lot of resources for trainers, so we are kind of on our own. My husband is getting really frustrated and is talking about bringing him to the shelter! I don't want to give up on him and know there must be something we can do!!!

Plus, in our area, the shelters are filled with pits who never get I know what his fate will be and that breaks my heart!

Bear is such a little love bug with us...fantastic with my 8 year old stepson and other kids. It is just strangers and other dogs....PLEASE, any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated!!!!

Gale's Reply:

As a pit bull owner it's important to take into account the breed's heritage and that dog aggression is not uncommon. People who understand and love the breed accept this and control the environment and manage their dog to compensate for this trait rather than expecting the dog to be other than he is.

That said, there are some things you are unwittingly doing with Bear that have likely increased any dog aggressive tendencies he may have been born with. And if you reverse these, you may find that you have a dog that fits in nicely with your household and who will love you with his last breath.

The Tie Out: You say that Bear is tied out whenever he is outside and that neighborhood dogs come on to your property and he gets into fights with them. You believe this is because he is protecting his territory.

I'd say it's more likely that from Bear's perspective he's not just defending his territory, he's defending his life. Even if you see these other dogs as being harmless, that doesn't mean that Bear sees it the same way.

In an altercation, the other dogs can run away, but Bear cannot. And he knows this. He is in a vulnerable position. And he's probably adopted the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense.

Punishment: You say that
when Bear fights with other dogs you punish him. Yet, the behavior doesn't stop. And you don't understand why since "he knows he's in trouble".

Understand first of all that what you are punishing Bear for is instinctive behavior. If you want him to stop the behavior, you need to take him out of the situation that triggers it rather than leaving him in the situation and punishing him for it.

Secondly, because dogs can seem so human at times, many people overestimate their cognitive abilities. While Bear may know "he's in trouble". He probably doesn't know exactly why.

If he's made any association between being punished and preceding events, it's likely that the presence of other dogs cause him to be punished. All the more reason for him to fend them off. Ironically, the punishment may actually be fueling his antipathy towards other dogs.

You don't say exactly what you do to punish Bear. But dogs in general and pit bulls in particular are very sensitive to human emotion.

It's quite possible that not fully understanding what precipitates whatever form of punishment you're using, Bear has decided that humans are somewhat unpredictable and perhaps a little scary at times. And this could be feeding into his wariness of strangers.

As you've already surmised, the answer is training. You say that there are no trainers in your area. I understand that. I live in a rural area too. But that doesn't have to stop you from training Bear. Some people spend time and money with a trainer. Other people spend time and money learning from books and other materials. Here are my top recommendations for you:

1. To work on Bear's aggressive behaviors and fear of strangers: Click to Calm - Healing the Aggressive Dog.

2. To work on Bear's obedience skills and build a better bond between you: Canis Clicker Training.

3. To help you better understand Bear's psychology and the mis-communication that often happens between dogs and their owners: The Culture Clash - A Revolutionary New Way to Understanding the Relationship Between Humans and Domestic Dogs.

I know you had the very best of intentions when you took Bear in as a stray. But, to solve this problem, you and your husband need to face the fact that you're going to need to change the way you're doing things if you want to give Bear a fighting chance.

In Summary:

Get Bear off the tie out. Start walking him on a leash. He needs at least one long walk per day--preferably two. And, of course, take him out whenever he needs to relieve himself. The alternative would be to build an outdoor enclosure so that other dogs can't get to him. If you do the latter, please use this as an exercise pen only--not his living quarters. Pit bulls need to be with their humans. They get lonely very easily.

Use counter-conditioning--not punishment to deal with Bear's undesirable behaviors. I've recommended the book Click to Calm as a resource for that.

Obedience train Bear. You want Bear to be social, easy to live with, a dog you can be proud of. It's up to you to teach him how to be those things. But first, you'll need to learn how to teach him. I like Canis Clicker Training. But, any positive, no-force method will work. The important thing is to get started.

So you have your work cut out for you. But it is SO WORTH IT to have the love and trust of a true canine companion. Good luck. Let us hear back from you if you have updates or more questions.

Comments for Afraid of Strangers and Aggressive Toward Other Dogs

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Jan 15, 2012
scared pittie
by: dee

please don't tie him out..he's a sitting duck for other dogs and is probably afraid all the time. poor little guy already spent part of his youth on the street having to protect himself, he needs to feel safe now. let him stay in the house or build a nice big and secure area for him to stay in while you're gone. don't let this become another failed pit bull story. you seem to really care, so much good luck with this.

Jan 15, 2012
Stop tying him up outside!
by: Anonymous

Most 'pitbull' attacks are a result of someone tying the dog outside by itself. Don't tie him up outside anymore or if you must you need to build a fence around him to keep other dogs away from him but don't leave him out there for too long by himself. Have him wear a muzzle around strangers if you think he might bite them. You have to stop tying him up outside and take him for a walk instead. It's not his fault that YOU tie him up outside and make him feel VULNERABLE! Don't kill him for your mistakes, he doesn't deserve to die because of other people's mistakes. You need to socialize him with other dogs but in a very slow and careful way.

Jan 16, 2012
by: Anonymous

I am an owner of a wonderful 6yr old pit buddah i rescued him from the shelter at 9 months. First you should never tie your dog outside & leave him there. I am sure he is very scared when the other dogs come near him. My dog is the same he doesn't like other dogs at all is very protective of his house. I always keep him inside walk him every day with a harness. There are a lot of helpful books out there for you & hopefully he will come down once he gets a little older they are the best lovable dogs when treated rite & exercised & trained. Good luck

Jan 17, 2012
thanks for the advice
by: Bear's Owner

Thank you to everyone who has commented thus far. We have bought and read several books on pit bulls. Honestly, we just had no clue about the breed and how to train him (again, we didn't know he was pit!), so we are trying to learn. I have never had dogs and my husband only ever had this is a learning process for us. He is part of our family and we are committed to making this work! I will not let him be killed - under any circumstances! I am a HUGE animal lover - the type of person who would adopt all the animals at the shelter if I could!

I appreciate the comments about tying him out and completely agree with the how he must feel. The only issue is that we have tried MANY versions of fencing and he is a master escape artist! We are in the process of moving in the next 6 months and can't afford to put a chain link fence in our current house. Does anyone have any other suggestions of fencing that have worked for their pits?

We took him to the vet today to ask their advice about training. The vet said he is most likely suffering from separation anxiety. She gave us a book on behavior modification we should try and a D.A.P. Diffuser - a homeopathic therapy that plugs in to release calming phermones. She also suggested trying to crate train him, but advised that we take it slow, as he may try to escape the crate and hurt himself. The vet and we agree that meds are a last resort for the separation anxiety...we want to try other options first. I hate medicating if I don't have to. Anyone have experiences with crate training an almost 2 year old pit?

Jan 18, 2012
Sounds like a plan!
by: Gale

Hi Bear's Owner:

I'm glad you got advice from your vet about helping Bear with separation anxiety. As I reviewed your question and the subsequent responses, I didn't see any mention of anxiety related issues or that anyone had suggested meds. Perhaps that was from another article you read?

In any case, the D.A.P. diffuser sounds like a great idea. Another tool that some dog owners have had great success with is Through a Dog's Ear - Audio CD. It is psycho-acoutiscally designed to soothe nervous canines--especially good for car trips.

I'm not aware of any temporary fencing solutions that would stand up to a pit bull escape artist. Since you are moving so soon, you may just want to stick with walks for now.

Crate training an older dog? I agree with your vet to take things slowly. Have soft blankets, toys perhaps even a few treats to make it inviting. When introducing it, let him go in and out as he pleases. Don't shut the door right away. Let him learn that it's a nice place to be first. Increase the time he spends in it with the door closed in small increments over time.

If he won't accept a crate, you might consider creating a "den" for him in a small bathroom or laundry room. Good luck to you, Bear and your family!

Mar 12, 2014
aggressive NEW
by: Anonymous

I've been around pit bulls my entire life.I have a 3yr old male named Digger the most aggressive dog ive ever had.I got him when he was 6weeks old 1/2 his tongue was hanging off his head was split open.Digger is humane aggressive.Digger will lunge at anyone that is not a member of my family{my 2 boys my husband and myself}When people come over i muzzle him hes behind a locked gate between my kitchen and sitting room.Digger is extremly protective of me.I can not walk him I've tried but after he was about 6 month old he would lunge at anyone i had to use 2 leaches one in each hand,im a very strong women.I have a female boxer who is Diggers best friend,any other dog he would kill.The thing is thats why i have to protect him so that my mistake doesnt get my baby Digger killed.I just dont think that anyone should try to own a pit bull because it would be cool.Be prepared to alter your life and dont make any mistakes pit bulls have a bad name because of bad owners.

Aug 26, 2015
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Oct 01, 2015
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Jul 11, 2016
Pit bull attacks puppy NEW
by: Anonymous

My daughter and her boyfriend are putting their pitbull down. They got a new puppy and they played for the longest time and then yesterday the dog out of the blue attacked the puppy and hurt it bad. My daughter is having a baby in a few weeks and is now fearful to have the dog around the new baby

Jan 02, 2018
Causes of pit bull attack NEW
by: Anonymous

Someone said that most pit bull attacks are caused by the dog being tied out by itself. Not true. Most attacks have no reason or reasons that no normal dog woupd attack over. Here's a list...first our if the blue after years of ownership without even a hint of aggression. Now...triggers: hearing a vacuum cleaner,human having seizure, human sneezing, human opens door. Human looks at pit bull. Human tries to pet dog. Get my drift? Pit bulls are dangerous and unpredictable because they were bred to be dangerous and unpredictable.

Sep 19, 2019
What to do if you cannot afford fencing NEW
by: Anonymous

I know OP is long gone now and dog may not even be with us anymore, but just for anyone else wondering about the same question "What can I do? I can't afford a fence for my yard?" - the answer is fairly simple:
Don't leave dog outside alone, without active supervision, and without being on a long line. Keep him inside the house with you when you cannot supervise outside (or when you are out) and go out for frequent play breaks with dog on a long line so you can reel him in if you see a straying dog approaching or any other hazard or trigger your dog may react to. Treat the yard like you would an unfenced park, take precautions, supervise. It's really this simple.

Dogs don't need to be outside all day - most dogs are more comfortable napping inside the home and would choose this over being outside (especially when their owners are home).

If you do have a dog that is anxious / unhappy indoors and prefers to be outdoors then building a secure outdoor enclosure is probably your only choice - however it is possible to build one that can be dismantled and removed if you are moving soon, and want to take the enclosure with you. An enclosure should also be cheaper than fencing a large yard, and you may even get lucky and find one for sale second hand.

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