Merlin is a 2 year old Airedale Terrier residing in London England. He was obtained at four months of age from a breeder. He is neutered and lives with a great family where he gets lots of daily exercise, toys to interact with and a real role to play in the family. He lives in a house with 3 adults. He is fed a well balanced diet and is not left alone very often due to the adult work schedules. The owners have had dogs in the past so they are not new pet dog owners.
Merlin enjoys a tennis ball and squeaky toys; he sleeps in a crate in the house. Merlin did attend a puppy class when the family first got him. The class instructor used primarily positive reinforcement methods but on further questioning the owner did advise me that their instructor also encouraged some physical positive punishment (grabbing of the muzzle and physical manipulation of the dog to get him into certain positions).
Merlin is a nervous, no cautious dog. He is cautious around new people and shows a combination of appeasement and agonistic body language. Merlin is sensitive to loud noises and very afraid of fireworks. Merlin is also very reactive, rushing, growling and barking, around the front door when the mail man or delivery man arrives.
When meeting other dogs Merlin is very unpredictable. He has been involved in a couple of fights with no serious damage inflicted to either he or his opponent. He is reactive on his leash toward both people and dogs.
Merlin’s owners describe his behavior as follows:
Merlin while on leash will lunge and growl on his approach to dogs. He does however sometimes completely ignore the other dog. The growling and lunging happens with most dogs and is triggered at about 5 feet when the dog is walking toward or passing him.
When Merlin sees another dog off leash he approaches them and is unpredictable during the ritualized meet and greet. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it can become aggressive.
The owners state that when Merlin was about 6 months old he was attacked by another dog. There was no damage inflicted but Merlin was noticeably scared, he attempted to escape and hide but was pursued by the other dog.
We are going to teach the owners the “let’s go” cue so they can continue to walk Merlin each day and keep him out of hot spots. This is a great management tool and can be used to manage his behavior while we do some more data gathering to determine how we will begin his behavior change program. For now Merlin will not be let off leash at the dog park. We need to manage his interactions to ensure they are positive and prevent him from being placed in a position where he can, or feels the need, to exhibit the aggression.
Having control of Merlin in this way, using this cue, will also give the owners more confidence walking him and they will not feel as stressed. Owners with unpredictable dogs can unknowingly trigger aggressive behavior if they are correcting the dog, punishing the dog or passing tension down to the dog through a rigid leash.