Author - Junior Watson

How to Cope with an Overprotective/Defensive Dog

puppy-trainingWhen it comes to protection, most of us think of highly trained police or military dogs, who’s main purpose (usually), after all is said and everything is considered, is really to help provide safety to the handler. It isn’t to hurt criminals or to help ‘find the bad guy’, although those are useful skills.

After all, dogs are a naturally protective species. The desire to keep ‘family members’ safe is highly instinctual, even genetically ingrained. This makes perfect sense, since the average wild dog or wolf relies on its pack for survival.
Step One: Understanding
The first step to coping with an overprotective dog, even a dangerous one, is to understand the situation. What is causing the dog to feel the need to be defensive? Was it something that happened in the past, or does the dog view someone’s behavior as threatening? Certain breeds are simply more prone to defensive behavior due to original breeding, such as several livestock guardian breeds.

For example, the famous Rottweiler is believed to have been first bred during ancient Rome, about 2,000 years ago, to help guard and protect livestock (among other purposes).

You can’t truly begin to treat the dog’s unwanted behavior until you understand why it is occuring. What you Don’t Want to Do is simply try and punish these protective behaviors. Punishment might simply reinforce the dog’s need to offer protection.
Step Two: Reinforcing Social Skills
In fact, socialization is probably one of, if not the single most important skill anyone will ever teach their dog. Outside of trauma, such as a physical attack in the dog’s (either to the dog or someone else) past, a properly socialized puppy will very rarely ever become overprotective to the point of becoming a danger to the well being of others.

If they don’t see humans as a threat because they’ve learned to enjoy being around them, there is no need for a dog to feel defensive.

Counter-Conditioning
If a dog does feel the need to offer protection because he has learned to consider a person a possible threat, you’ll need to teach him to enjoy that person, not fear him. The basic training principle you need to consider is called ‘Counter-conditioning’, which essentially amounts to pairing something the dog enjoys with the thing he fears.

If the dog enjoys that ‘thing’ more than he fears the ‘other thing’, he should begin to enjoy that thing he once feared because it means he gets to experience the other thing he loves.

A loose example would entail teaching a dog not to fear water by slowly tossing the stick out further and further, so he is forced to gradually enter the water in order to retrieve it. Once the dog retrieves the stick, he is rewarded with that delicious piece of meat. The desire for meat far outweighs the desire not to get wet.
The Fearful Dog
To a human, that cowering, shivering, pathetic looking shelter dog huddled in the corner of his crate, doing his best to look as small and unthreatening as possible, has the potential to be more dangerous than that dominant animal snarling and standing tall, staring you dead in the eye.

This is because the dominant dog probably isn’t feeling his very life is threatened. He is just telling you to back off, this area is his. You know exactly what he wants. The shaking animal huddled in the corner, however, might feel his life is at stake. His capability of ‘flight’ has been taken away; it is the very definition of being backed into a corner. His only options left, as he sees them, is to either do nothing and hope the threat goes away or respond with force in order to protect himself.

An example would be a neglected puppy mill dog, or the victim of home abuse. These dogs have suffered a form of trauma, and socializing them could be a long and tedious process. In nearly every single situation these dogs can be saved with the gently care of an Educated, Experienced Trainer or Behaviorist.

When it comes to these extremes, you don’t want to simply ‘let things go’ and hope they improve, or try and cut corners by doing things yourself (unless you have done extensive research and are experienced).

Sometimes, all it takes to rehabilitate this dog is love, patience, and gentle nurturing over time.

Q&A: Why has my dog stopped using the doggy door?

My dog is about a year and a half old and has just recently in the last few weeks started peeing around the house. We have a doggie door, he knows how to use it, he has been using it for months so I’m not sure what is causing him to pee inside again when he has been potty trained for about a year now. Want to know if there are any tips or tricks to get him to stop doing this! Thank you! ~Alexis

Hello Alexis, I believe I can offer some insight!

Solution One
This is pretty straightforward. Rather than explain the process, I’m going to refer you to a fantastic article on Potty Training. You can do further research, but the training principles are generally the same across the board with most professional trainers. As long as you adhere to these guidelines, you shouldn’t have any problems!

But you said your dog is already trained, meaning there may be something else at work here. You may also simply need to reinforce training.

The goal would be the same as before. You need to give your dog a reason to want to make the effort to go potty outside, rather than just anywhere.

Solution Two
You didn’t name the breed, but certain toy breeds can be notoriously difficult to potty train. Also, dogs sometimes urinate out of excitement or anxiety. Did anything change recently about your living environment? If so, this might be the cause.

Solution Three
Intact males, or females, will often mark in order to leave scent identifiers for other dogs to pick up on. Again, if someone or something new has recently entered your family environment…

Solution Four
There may be a medical concern behind your pup’s urination problems. It would be a good idea to take him you see your vet for a checkup.

Tips for Training Territorial Dogs

It’s understandable that some dogs are just really hyper and energetic when they’re in the backyard, and some are simply protective of their turf. But if they’re always in high alert, there could be something wrong, and it has to be dealt with before they become aggressive and attack people! You don’t want guests to be scared of your dog or your dog attacking anyone, would you?

Why are some dogs territorial? There are some dogs who are more aggressive genetically. That’s why there are dog breeds perfect for guarding and other breeds that are more suitable for company and family. It’s because of their guarding instincts that they’ve been dubbed man’s best friend. But some can get too carried away and might even be aggressive toward family members when they’re protecting things that matter to them—treats, toys, humans, and territory.

Territorial behavior is dangerous, but not entirely hopeless. These pups can be trained to completely control their aggressiveness. A rule of thumb would be to focus on the “Quiet” command, basic obedience commands, recall, and techniques to reduce anxiety. To prepare your dog for the training, here are some supplies you might need to get:

A good quality dog crate
A sturdy pet gate
Good treats (go for the healthy kind of treats)
A long sturdy leash

Here are a few things to train your territorial dog:

Refresh basic obedience commands. It all boils down to the obedience of the dog. You need to work on your dog’s obedience if you want to tame him. The usual “Sit” and “Stay” commands falls under here and are commonly used as a way to control your dog in tense scenarios. You can use this when you have to get something from the door or are expecting guests—tell them to sit and stay.

If this doesn’t work yet, separate Fido from company using a pet gates or a crate. Even if they’ve been trained in the past, doing so again will be a nice way to bond with your dog. Don’t overdo it; limit training to five to ten minutes every day, and offer treats when they perform great.

Don’t give in. One of the common mistakes most pawrents do is give in whenever the dog annoys them so much. They might act cute and give you the puppy-dog eyes, but giving them that piece of chicken leg you’re holding won’t do any good. They might get aggressive if you don’t give them what they want, and they might growl or bark for it.

This kind of habit makes them think they are entitled to treats whenever, wherever, and this behavior will keep on coming since it always guarantees food. You can give small commands and maybe even have them go “down” for a while before letting them eat dinner. Teach them to work for their food!

Total recall. Does Fido turn or look at you when they hear their name, or does he ignore you? If the latter, then it’s high time to teach him recall, which teaches your doggo to come to you when called. This is quite useful for dogs who tend to find themselves in troublesome situations. You can start somewhere small, like inside your own home, and make sure you reward the dog if they get it right. A reward system is especially effective for dogs, and it will make them look forward to being called.

Before you can move somewhere else, make sure your dog is always responsive to its name. If you want to try it outdoors, make sure the leash can be extended and is sturdy enough so your dog doesn’t break it or you can stop your dog on time if needed.

Calm your dog. Dogs being aggressive doesn’t always mean they’re violent; they might be extremely nervous because of certain triggers. It can be as simple as a sound of a car dashing past or as overwhelming as being in a crowded place.

Isolating a nervous dog and feeding them somewhere peaceful and quiet might help. If your doggo is the nervous type, you might want to invest in a dog gate so you can safely keep Fido away when there are guests. Visit the vet for some advice about your dog’s anxiety. There are certain pet vests and gear that can also help them calm down.

Silent treatment. Dogs bark when they feel like a trespasser is in their territory, and it can scare off some guests. Teach them the command “Silent” or “Quiet” to calm them down. You can start inside the house and introduce different distractions and noises while saying the cue word you prefer. This can help them calm down whenever you say the command.

Desensitize. This can only happen if you have trained your dog basic obedience and anxiety control. Desensitizing can help promote a healthier and calmer reaction to past triggers. But never rush them or punish them—this will only make their anxiety worse—and be patient with their development. Provide rewards if they have done a good job.

While these steps seem daunting and overwhelming for pet parents, it actually has good benefits and might help you in your and dog’s everyday life. It will make it easier for you and your pet to cope with a stressful scenario and maybe even mold the pup into a better version of themselves!

How to Teach Your Dog to be Calm

Does your dog have an anxiety problem? Does your pet seem unusually nervous, jumpy or agitated? If you’re at a complete loss, looking for answers wherever you can find them, don’t worry! The basic guidelines listed below will help you well on your way to a calmer pet!

Step One: Identify the Cause
Before you can even begin to properly treat any unwanted dog behavior, whether it be anxiety or something else, you’ll need to figure out the ‘why’. What exactly is causing your pet to feel the way he does? What changed in his environment? Once these questions are answered, you’ll have a much easier time treating the problem without fumbling around in the dark.

Step Two: Exercise
In most cases, hyperactivity is simply a result of too much energy. If a dog isn’t given an outlet for that energy, he can become destructive, run ‘zoomies’ around your house, or perform a number of other unwanted behaviors. For example, Siberian Huskies, a breed with a near unlimited energy level, have been known to dig holes, jump fences or even become a threat to other small animals if not exercised.

Examples:
Take walks
Work on agility training
Play fetch, hide & seek, or tracking games
Visit the dog park
Invite other dogs over for a play date
Consider obedience/dog/puppy classes
Provide plenty of interesting toys to play with.

Step Three: Behavioral Training
Ignore attention seeking behavior. For example, if your dog jumps on visiting company, he is seeking acknowledgement from them. One of the best ways to cope with that particular type of behavior isn’t to correct the dog, but to turn your back to him, completely ignoring the pup and pretending he isn’t there. If you don’t acknowledge him, eventually he’ll learn his attention seeking behavior isn’t working.

Counter Conditioning & Positive Reinforcement
Teaching skills like ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ can be rewarded with something the dog enjoys, like treats. If your pup doesn’t like to sit still, try offering an incentive!

Keep Emotions in Check
Dogs judge a situation by the reactions of their human owners constantly, almost certainly more than you think. Yelling, frequent crying or other excess displays of emotion serve only to increase your pet’s anxiety.

Eliminate Distractions
A loud, busy environment with loads of noisy kids running around, crowds of people, or other animals playing, for example, will make it all the more difficult to calm your pet. It is much easier to keep your furry one calm in a calm situation. The same rule applies with dog training in general, and is valued by most professional trainers.
Step Four: Seek Medical Attention
Sometimes, a dog’s anxiety level becomes so extreme, he is at risk for harming himself or others. If nothing else seems to work, you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian, and discuss the need for an accredited animal behaviorist.

If it is a medical issue causing your pup’s strange behavior, your vet can help. The might even prescribe mood altering medications for your pet, in order to calm the animal and prevent injury.

Q&A: How to deal with house guest’s dog?

My brother and his dog (7 yr old male part Chihuahua, part Maltese, part Yorkie) are currently living with me. Mostly this has gone well but sometimes the dog bites me and not in a playful way. Once was when I was trying to take off his leash, so I just stopped taking off his leash. At least two of the times now have been when the dog is sitting on my lap and does not want to get up and I do. I’m wondering what to do about this, and how to interact with the dog after it happens. Should I not let him on my lap anymore? Are there things that I can change to make this less likely to happen? Thanks, Rai

Ironically, many people think Pitbulls or Rottweilers are the most aggressive breeds overall, but that is far from the truth. Time and time again, smaller breeds like the ones you mentioned score as some of the lowest on the ATTS Temperament Test, whereas the ‘Bully Breeds’ that have such a negative reputation actually score quite high. This is often a combination of poor genetics, poor breeding practices, and lack of training when the dog is young.

If the pup learns he can get the desired result by biting, he’ll continue to bite. You can do a few things here to avoid that.

1. Visit the veterinarian, just in case, to rule out any pain or discomfort that might cause the dog to react when you move. This does happen more often than you might think.

2. Ignore the dog, don’t acknowledge this seeking behavior. Act like the dog is a ghost or not actually present during these times.

3. Distract the pup with a toy, treat, or something he likes. This will cure the immediate issue, but may not help with the long term problem.

4. Hierarchy. I don’t like to recommend ‘Alpha’ behavior or establishing dominance; 90% of the time that is actually the opposite of what you want to do (despite what you may have heard). But, Chihuahuas sometimes can mistake themselves for the ‘leader’ of the house, of more important than other members, which might be contributing to your problem. This happens with other breeds on occasion too, but it is rarer with a positive upbringing and good environment.

Not to say your environment raising the little one wasn’t good; small breeds sometimes don’t ‘adjust’ in the same manner as larger dogs.

5. I have read many times that Chihuahuas lack the ability to perceive size, which perfectly explains their lack of caution. I can’t tell you for 100% that is true, but it is a supported theory. Your mix may suffer from this issue. To deal, you may want to use a more assertive manner.

Body Language
This is probably the largest suggestion I have. Body language is important; dogs read ours very well. Act assertive, don’t flinch, and try to give off an air of authority. Don’t be aggressive, but try to act confident, like the little one doesn’t bother you at all.

If you need to take extreme measures, I would suggest talking with your veterinarian, or the dog’s vet, about mood altering medication (before re-homing becomes an option). The vet will also rule out any possible medical issue, pain or discomfort that could be causing this behavior.

Q&A: How to deal with an aggressive small dog?

dog-jumpingMy dog (4yrs, pit terrier- about 45 pounds) came from a large yard to a town-home community late last year. She’s acclimated fairly well to the leash/harness and it’s training after some struggles.

We have a neighboring home that has two dogs — a larger pit bull type and a tiny toysized dog. This neighbor frequently lets his tiny dog roam (without the owner being around) and has shown aggression to not only my dog but me as well when we encounter each other.

When I’m lucky enough to see the tiny dog in advance, I try to pick up mine for her safety. However, there are times Dixie struggles down and attempts to protect me before I get her away from the situation as quickly as possible. After these encounters, my dog is very mopey and disinterested in her toys or even sitting next to us on the couch. The welfare of my dog is my highest priority. How do I handle this in the future when I encounter this dog on one of our walks? ~Cassandra

Hello! I love all subjects related to dog socialization, because I think it is a very important subject. Let’s see if I can help you!

So, first of all, though I love all dogs and try to understand their behavior no matter the breed, I honestly can’t think of a single toy breed off hand that was solely bred for its intelligence. In fact, many experts say some small breeds aren’t able to perceive size, so don’t actually understand the danger they put themselves in.

On top of poor breeding practices, many owners of these small breeds (Chihuahuas are notorious) never bother to try to socialize their dogs at a young age. I can easily see exactly what you are talking about; I’ve both seen personally and heard many stories of these smaller dogs running right up on animals 30 times their size and acting very aggressive. Understand this isn’t ultimately the small dog’s fault; it should have been the owner’s responsibility to socialize their pet, or control it if they can’t.

What You Can Do
You probably can’t control how this small dog acts, since he isn’t yours. If I had this problem, I wouldn’t think twice about talking to the owner. Be polite and courteous about the situation, no matter how furious your neighbor’s lack of responsibility makes you, because that way your neighbor is most likely to listen to what you have to say.

Ask your neighbor to please keep their dog off of your property.
You might suggest having a fence installed. 3-4 ft. chicken wire is all that is needed for most toy breeds, and not that expensive.
Politely explain the danger the neighbor’s dog places himself in by confronting other dogs.
If nothing else works, you might threaten to contact animal control. This should get your neighbor to step up. Though this may mean the smaller dog ends up being sheltered, it is preferable to death. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. This way, you also have a record of having contacted animal control, if you ever do end up facing legal matters.

No pet owner should simply let their dogs roam around un-restricted; that is very irresponsible! Other animals aside, what if they get hit by a car? What if they end up chasing other animals and run off? What kind of pet owner allows their dogs to roam free with so many possibly dangerous outcomes?

Your Dog
If these two dogs end up fighting physically, my worry for you would be about the legal repercussions you and your pet may face if your mix ends up killing the smaller dog. Look up the laws and pet regulations in your district. Be sure you are prepared if your fears do come true, and capable of handling the outcomes. You also have to worry about your neighbor’s larger dog reacting in defense of the smaller.

Next time you see your vet, try asking for advice. Also, make sure your dog is updated on all vaccinations so she doesn’t end up contracting anything from these other two. If your dog is leash reactive around these other two, there are good YouTube videos available for free on how to handle the situation.

In the End
You can’t ultimately control what your neighbors do, and can’t be responsible for their dogs too. But you can prepare yourself to handle any outcome you might face. Try to be extra vigilant on your walks, and avoid that area or walk the other direction if you need. ~Cassandra

Q&A: Help! My dog is now barking at children!

teach-your-dog-to-sitI have a one year old boxer/red heeler mix named Abby. We’ve had her since she was three months old. At four months we started taking her to the dog park daily and she never showed any fear of adults or kids. As she got older, around 8 or 9 months, she started barking out the windows when people walked by, but nothing too severe. She is now a year old and we’ve recently moved. Her barking inside the house got much worse after moving, but with training it is slowly improving. Where she used to bark once or twice but then greet strangers at the door, we now make her go to her crate when someone knocks at the door because she is so insistent with her barking.

The real problem, though, is that she now barks at kids. A few times people have brought their kids to the dog park and Abby goes nuts. She won’t get too close to them, but runs a circle around them, barking so fast it becomes a howl, almost like she is baying at them. She never barks at adults or dogs outside our home, and inside the home she is never so amped up that I can’t get her attention with treats, but when she sees a kid, she won’t listen to commands or pay attention to treats. I know the obvious answer is to carefully desensitize her to kids over time, but we don’t have kids or know anyone who does. Having just moved, we hardly know anyone at all. She only rarely runs into kids when they come to the dog park. I’m afraid though that if she continues to go without socialization with kids, her fear will get worse and eventually turn into aggression. ~Lisa Taylor

This behavior could be partially due to your pup’s instincts. Australian Cattle Dogs (Red Heelers) are very energetic dogs, known to sometimes ‘nip’ at or try to herd family members in some direction. To several herding breeds, in fact, the line between children and small animals can sometimes blur a bit. Without observing, if I had to guess, I would say this might be impacting your little one’s behavior.

Others might say your dog may have developed some sort of anxiety related to children, but I would lean toward the above explanation a bit more.

As far as barking as strangers walk by or knock at your door, that is very natural behavior for many breeds, but especially one bred to herd with a known protective instinct. You mentioned ‘fear’; are you sure it is fear she has toward other children?
It’s impressive that you mentioned desensitization. That’s exactly what I would suggest, or at least slow socialization. So, you don’t have any relatives or friends with kids, but you could try:

Signing up for ‘obedience’ classes. I personally think they are better for building social skills than anything obedience related, but they do teach a few useful skills.

Talk to neighbors. Ask your neighbors to hand your dog a treat that you give them on your dog walks. This will help teach your pup strangers (or kids) aren’t a threat to fear.

Building Social Skills: I don’t know of any other way to adapt a dog to new situations, people, and kids without introducing and socializing them with kids. Socialization is actually one of the most important things you’ll ever train into any dog. It’s important to start this as early as possible! At one, your pup is nearing adulthood; you don’t have a lot of time left before this becomes a more difficult process. At most dog parks, there is an area for small dogs, and an area for larger dogs. You could try the small one so your dog is easier to get ahold of, and purchasing a harness with ‘don’t pet’ signed on it. For your walks, ‘Gentle Leaders’ are good training tools to discourage pulling.

Q&A: How do we get our dog ready for our RV lifestyle?

sad-dogWe have a 7 y/o Pyrador, altered male, lots of energy, super-guardian, barks at cars going by and intruders; has bitten one intruder (a friend he didn’t know;) and he doesn’t like men as much as women. In the next 6-9 months, we are taking him away from 3 rural acres (we currently live in the country bordering a national forest) where he can run to his heart’s desire. We are moving into a 5th-wheel RV while we tour the nation for our retirement. He will have to be on a leash or lead at all times and will have strangers around him at all time (whom he will bark his head off at). How do we make this drastic change in his lifestyle? We are healthy owners and plan to walk him often, but we know the barking and restraint will be a problem.  Thank you, Kyla F.

So- think of the breeds that went into your mix. Labs are normally considered fairly docile and people oriented, but the Great Pyrenees is a different story. This is a powerful breed conceived with a very protective instinct, and are known to bark at just about everything. It’s not his fault at all, just the purpose for which he was bred.

It sounds to me the most important thing you need to consider is working on social skills, especially if he is aggressive toward strangers right now. I’m sorry to say, at 7 years old, that is not going to be easy. Dogs are most receptive to new experiences and welcome new encounters during puppyhood, specifically 12-16 months. It can be much harder to socialize a grown adult. It’s not his fault at all; even if he is fantastically social, this is a breed that will bark at unfamiliar things encroaching his territory.

You can try rewarding him for allowing strangers to approach, asking strangers to hand him treats, etc. Show him strangers aren’t a threat. You can contact a certified animal behaviorist if you have the money to afford one (be sure he is an actual certified behaviorist, and not just a trainer), which could offer one on one help.

If you are going to be around kids or other strangers are likely to approach while you’re away, I would certainly suggest keeping him inside as opposed to outside on the leash.

Consider a body harness with a sign, something like ‘don’t approach, or ‘do not pet’. I’m sure you’ve seen the harnesses that service dogs wear, with signs alerting strangers not to pet? Don’t go with those exact colors, but something that stands out.

Try this Training Method:
When your dog is barking, say “Quiet” in a calm (don’t show any emotion), firm voice. Wait until he stops barking, even if it’s just to take a breath, then praise him and give him a treat. Just be careful to never reward him while he’s barking. Eventually he will figure out that if he stops barking at the word “quiet” he gets a treat (and make it a delicious treat, such as cheese or chicken, to make it worth more than the barking.)

You might consider investing in a ‘bark’ collar. Not all ‘shock’ or jolt your pup; many of the new ones will offer a sound and vibration correction as well. You can also talk to your vet concerning mood altering medications, such as those used to treat excess anxiety or depression in dogs. Anxious dogs will often bark more.

As far as strangers entering your area or home while you are away, this is what GP’s were bred to prevent (as far as animals/predators) and it would be natural for your dog to show aggression. You might want to check the laws in the area you will be in regarding dogs, and prepare accordingly; not all will side with the homeowner (though it does seem ridiculous for any legal system to support an intruder).

Avoid muzzles that restrict your dog from panting, which any that prevent barking would probably do, but this could prevent dog bites.

Finally, I don’t like to suggest this and I’m sure you might cringe at the idea, but it is a preferred alternative to sheltering him. There is a surgery you can talk to your vet about that will ‘soften’ his bark.

Q&A: How do I get my dog to settle down?

My dog is a rescue that I adopted when he was 4 months old. He turned 1 year on Christmas day. He is a wonderful dog, and listens really well, usually. I even took him to puppy class at Petsmart, and he did well. The problem is when he meets new people or dogs. He LOVES everyone. But he gets so excited, he totally spazzes out. Whining and jumping on person or dog. Almost like he can’t get close enough. He stays close by my side when I am home with him. I have 4 other dogs, 3 Yorkies, and an Australian Shepard. And 3 cats. He gets along fine with all of them. Although he is a rough house player with the Aussie, and she is 4, so sometimes she doesn’t want to play as much as he does. How can I get him to settle down so I don’t have to put him in his crate when someone comes to visit? ~Sabrina 

Hello; I believe I can help shed some light!

It would help to know what breed/s went into your pup, as some breeds are higher energy than others. At least you have the social side down pat! It seems as if your little one is a bit too social.

You might try a few things. The first question most trainers will ask is- how much exercise does your little one get at home? Not enough physical stimulation might lead to outbursts like this. The reactions you describe are also often natural responses from a happy, well socialized dog, especially a highly energetic puppy, eager to play.

By acting out like that, dogs are looking for a response from others. You might also try asking company to completely ignore the dog; he should settle down once he learns his outbursts don’t get him anywhere. From the amount of pets you describe, it certainly seems like attention seeking behavior.

Without physically observing/meeting the dog, I would recommend increasing his daily exercise. Take him for walks. Play games with him. ‘Hide & Seek’, whereby you hide a toy or treat somewhere in the house and let him search for it, is a fantastically stimulating game (though you’ll need to train/teach the game first).

Puppies are high energy anyway; he (sadly) won’t always be that way! Aussies are also high energy breeds, so it is good your little one has a playful companion.

Q&A: I was attacked by a dog, now my dog is too protective

I have a medical alert dog who has always been very pleasant and quite submissive around other dogs. 2 months ago, I was attacked by a street dog in Mexico. Now I am finding that when we encounter dogs who stand and stare at us, rather than approach and sniff, my service dog’s reaction is to softly growl and become rigid. This is unacceptable as a service dog. How can I calm her fear that I will be attacked again, or that she must be defensive? I want her to feel safe and secure again, knowing that we will be fine. She was not harmed during the attack on me.~Greta 

Hello Greta! I believe I can help shed some light on your situation.

This is a very natural, protective reaction. Regardless whether the dog attacked you or your pet, the attack in itself could have had a traumatic impact on your dog. She is only acting in a protective manner. Unfortunately, she has learned that other dogs might pose a potential threat to her owner, and is now regarding these ‘encounters’ with suspicion.

Normally, I would tell you to begin focusing heavily on positive socialization and promoting friendly encounters by rewarding your pet for positive interactions, but your case is special. Service dogs are highly trained animals, subject to a unique set of social guidelines.

Options:
I would suggest reaching out to the organization who has initially trained and supplied your service dog; they will likely be able to offer a more complete answer, as well as better help, than anyone else. Don’t settle for just any dog trainer, as very few dog trainers have any actual experience with service animals or animal behavior.

You can also reach out to an accredited animal behaviorist in your area. In any case, it is important you contact a credible trainer with experience handling service dogs.

Take a look at this article. Specifically, the paragraph below, focusing on early socialization:

‘The most important rule of socializing Service Dogs in Training is to never, ever, ever, for any reason, force an SDiT to approach, interact with, touch or be on/near/with something that appears to frighten them. Forcing a puppy in training to engage when afraid ensures he’ll never form positive associations with the object, person, place, surface, equipment or situation. Instead of forcing your SDiT, always keep high-value treats with you and use them to encourage a suspicious puppy to explore a situation of his own accord. If you lay a solid foundation of socialization that rewards a puppy in new situations, you’ll create a confident learner who thoroughly enjoys circumstances he’s never encountered ’(anything Pawsable).

I understand your dog is no longer in training, and almost certainly no longer a puppy, but this still holds true. Your dog will need to learn not to expect possible threats everywhere, because that isn’t her purpose. Like the snippet suggests, I also wouldn’t force any interactions.

Important!
Before you do anything that may impact the original training, consult with either an accredited service dog trainer, a behaviorist, or the original supplier that connected you with your dog.

Conclusion/Answer:
From my experience, the only way to calm your pet and give her confidence other animals pose no threat is to focus on socialization with strange dogs you may pass (only after consulting with the owner) and counter-conditioning, to answer your original question. Unfortunately, you can’t always be sure how other strange dogs will react, despite anything their owners may claim, so use caution.

You Must Appear Confident
Dogs read our body language very closely, and often react to it, so it is important you always try to promote an air of calm security and confidence. Try not to appear afraid or insecure, or lose your temper in any way, around other animals.