Socializing an Older Dog

by Mark Thurman
(Pleasanton, CA)

We have an 8 year old female pitbull that is the sweetest dog I have ever known. She was raised with two other female dogs as a puppy.

When she got to be around eight months old she became aggressive towards one of the dogs she was raised with. They would be fine most of the time. Then something would set the pitbull off, and she would attack the other dog.

Both of the dogs she was raised with have passed away. We have not gotten any other dogs, because we have been afraid of her aggression towards other dogs.

We tried to take her to dog parks, and she would get into fights. She does not like to be sniffed, and will become aggressive if other dogs get too close to her space. She can play for a while, but it is on her terms.

When we walk her if another dog barks or is aggressive towards her she will try and attack the other dog. She is great with people she just doesn't seem to like other dogs.

My question is, is it too late to socialize her at eight years old, and if you think we can how to go about it?

Gale's Reply:

Hi Mark

Most people feel that the window for molding a dog's default disposition to other dogs, people, etc closes fairly early in puppyhood. That said, there is the possibility of re-conditioning your dog's behavior later on.

If you have visions of your dog frolicking playfully
with other dogs at the park, I'd say it's time to put those away. Otherwise, I believe you would be setting your dog up to fail.

Your dog doesn't like other dogs. It's unlikely you'll change her mind. But, you may be able to change her behavior up to a point under specific circumstances.

I would suggest you just focus on making your walks together more enjoyable and less stressful. One approach is to train your dog to focus on you rather than the environment. A helpful book on this topic is Bonding with Your Dog - A Trainer's Secrets for Building a Better Relationship by Victoria Schade.

I think you will also probably need to employ some counter-conditioning strategies along the way as well. An excellent book in this vein is Click to Calm - Healing the Aggressive Dog by Emma Parsons. If you decide to enlist professional help, look for a trainer/behaviorist with a background in counter-conditioning.

The degree of success you have with this will be mitigated by your dog's history. I don't believe you will ever have a 'bomb-proof' dog where other dogs are concerned. But with patience and persistence you may have a dog that comes more easily under your control in the presence of other dogs.

Make your motto: 'Progress Not Perfection'. And, feel free to post back here and let us know how it's going.

For more information on obedience training visit our Pit Bull Training page.

For help with behavioral issues, check out Dog Behavior Training.

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