Q: I adopted a Shar-Pei/Australian Cattle Dog cross from a shelter. She had been a stray. She's lovable toward us, and very smart, but when we walk her on a leash, she becomes a devil dog, going after other dogs, barking and spinning. It's very hard for me to settle her down. I want this adoption to work out. Any advice? -- S.B., Harland, WI
A: Don't give up, get help. First, know that aggression is most often due to fear.
"Understanding that your dog is likely afraid, or previously had no experience of meeting other dogs on leash, and also having patience can help you to at least take a breath and understand," says Chicago-based dog trainer Laura Monaco Torelli.
Consider your equipment. If you use a so-called choke (or chain link) collar and/or a retractable leash, toss them. Instead, Monaco Torelli suggests a body harness, such as the Freedom Harness (available at some boutique pet stores and http://wiggleswagswhiskers.com/). Attach a standard 6-foot leather leash to the harness.
Monaco Torelli, a faculty trainer for the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy, suggests you visit an REI store or Whole Foods to buy a GoToob. Inside this small tube, place a special treat your dog will only receive on walks, such as Cheez Whiz, liverwurst, or low-fat, low-salt peanut butter.
When you do go for walks, go somewhere where you know there will be other dogs, says Monaco Torelli -- a parking lot at a pet store, for example. But stay far enough away that your dog isn't bothered. Each time your pet even catches a glimpse of another dog, offer her a treat. If she reacts in a hostile manner, or expresses concern, you're simply too close to the other dog, so back up.
"Distract (your pet) by having fun, playing training games, and offering treats all the way," says Monaco Torelli. "Gradually, bring your dog closer to those other dogs."
Meanwhile, when taking your pup for an ordinary walk on the street, stay away from other dogs as best you can until she's made significant progress in training under controlled circumstances.
Since following Monaco Torelli's advice is easier said than done, she strongly suggests enlisting help from a trainer who uses positive reinforcement, a veterinary behaviorist, or certified dog behavior consultant.
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