Problems with aggression and dominance. Help appreciated.
  • SekoyaSekoya
    Posts: 10
    Hello everyone. I wanted to try to get some input about about our male Shikoku, presently approaching 7 months old and now showing pretty severe aggression.

    Specifically, that aggression is directed towards strangers and other dogs. He started developing this at about 5 months of age, but it's progressed to the point where he bites at most hands that reach out to him, no matter how slow, calm and gentle--that is, if it's a hand he doesn't know. Biting is a huge concern, obviously. We socialized him a ton as a puppy, so this caught us off guard, however we've since learned that dog parks can be a bad idea and just worsen aggression, so perhaps that had something to do with it. We also tried our best to use primarily positive reinforcement and weren't using any special collars for training, so our corrections were basically annoying tugs on his neck. But we're at the point now where we've switched to a training collar that provides more control over his head. We're having better success with corrections (presently in week 5 of obedience training).

    So, what I'm trying to figure out is whether or not our dog is actually a dominant dog with overly aggressive behaviour for a male shikoku, or if it's just normal for the breed at this stage. He was fixed last week, so there's a possibility that this behaviour will slow down, but I don't expect it to magically disappear. Our trainer suggested the dog is dominant over us, but I don't buy that because:
    - He waits for us to go through doors
    - We can take his food dish away, grab food out of it, and get all up in his face and he shows zero aggression
    - He doesn't guard his toys
    - We don't let him sit on our lap and he doesn't try to stand or sit on us
    - He doesn't protect any areas within the house

    On the flip side, there are some things he does that show he's dominant (maybe just not over us). He jumps on all dogs, no matter how large, and with many dogs his first instinct seems to attack them rather than sniff/introduce. He appears to be guarding my wife and I, which makes me think he still feels he's dominant, so we're working on breaking that with various techniques, not just for these specific situations but for overall training.

    So any advice is appreciated. Presently our plan is to continue ensuring we have full control and stay on top of correcting any sign of aggression. We think we've been too wishy-washy, which was partly because we kept reading that harsh correction (pinch collars, shock collars) with Shikokus are a ' quick a way to ruin your dog', and we certainly don't want to go that route anyway. However, based on our brief foray into using a training collar for correction, it has worked a hundred percent better.

  • AjaxAjax
    Posts: 123
    Take all this as a grain of salt as I have not seen your dog in person like you and your trainer have, but here are my thoughts.

    At least in regards to the strangers, I find it difficult to believe that you are dealing with true dominance aggression in a dog only 7 months old. What a have seen in my Shikoku isn't just an indifference to strangers, but suspicion. In him, this suspicion developed around the same age, just as he was entering adolescence. If you haven't done so already it's probably time to enforce a no petting policy with strangers for the time being. I personally would tell people that he is in training and ask them not to touch, look at, or speak to him. Having people give him treats and other counter conditioning would come later, right now it sounds like there is too much risk. There is also the possibility that he is entering a second fear period that normally occurs between 6-14 months. There is discussion on whether fear periods actually exist or not, but either way adolescent dogs are sometimes spooked by the silliest things. On a side note, I have found Ajax is more comfortable greeting strangers if we don't asked him to sit for the greeting.

    One option to look into are muzzles. We use a Baskerville Ultra muzzle for vet visits. The ultra muzzle is a basket type that allows for normal panting and has is designed so you or others can give treats with the muzzle on. Nothing wrong with training collars if used correctly especially if needed to prevent a bite, but it is generally a bad idea to use leash correction with collars not designed for that job. More so than injury, these corrections are usually ineffective and just serve to desensitize the dog to leash pressure (not a good thing).

    One note on correcting signs of aggression, we personally use corrections, but I would not correct him for growling at strangers. The last thing you want him skipping the growl and going straight to the snap or bite.

    His behavior with other dogs sounds very normal for a young male Shikoku. While I doubt the root cause of his aggression is dominance when dealing with strangers, other dogs may be a different story especially if his aggression is mainly directed at other males. Shikoku's also just seem to be rude with other dogs and seem to take amusement in setting other dogs off. Ajax started showing signs of same-ex aggression at around 5 months. I do believe that this was related to hormones because it coincided with him starting to lift his leg to pee and the neighbors shepherd bitch going into heat. Ajax is still intact and currently good with most female dogs and submissive males. Males who respond back to his challenges with challenges of their own are going to be trouble.

    On dominance in general. Dominance has been greatly over applied in the dog training community. Many things that are thought as dominant aren't signs of dominance at all. For example rushing doors is just lack of training, food guarding is usually a nerve issue (watch videos of dogs who are food guarding, the worst food guarders have their their tails tucked and are actually showing very submissive body posture, these dogs are scared), same with toy guarders (what you see dominant dogs do is steal other dogs food and toys), territorial aggression, liking guarding the house, isn't connected to dominance or submission, and also humping. Victoria Stilwell points out "Dogs hump when they get excited, during play, as rehearsal, for sexual reasons, as a displacement behavior to cope with a change in environment, when they are nervous, to control or calm behavior in others, and yes, sometimes to dominate. To say that dogs never hump to dominate is just as wrong as saying that the only reasons why dogs hump are for sex and to be dominant."

    While dominance may have been over applied, it incorrect to say that dominance doesn't exist at all in dogs. Dominance is all about an organism securing priority access to resources. So dominance does likely play a part in things like same sex aggression, right to breed is a resource whether or not a female is heat is actually present.

    The evidence that dog/human dominance exists is weaker than whether dog/dog dominance exists. I personally think it is possible considering the unique relationship that humans have with dogs. Since dominance is all about the control of resources, as a resource provider, you put yourself in the position of the dominant animal by default, no force is required. I think most dogs see their owners as dominant and its takes a lot of mistakes or an extraordinary dominant dog to change that. Ajax is usually very submissive towards Will and myself, but I had to apologize to a friend who watched him when we were gone, because in response to whenever she made him go in a direction other than that he wanted to, he would attempt to hump her into submission.

    Lastly on dog training in general. My view is that all dog training works: Force free, all positive, balanced, from Millan to Stilwell and Dunbar to Koehler, et cetera . There frankly wouldn't be such a controversy in dog training if this wasn't the case. The catch is not every method will be approiate let alone the best for every dog or evey owner. The best method will always be a blance between what works best for a dog and what the owner is most confortable with and can best apply. Anyone who tells you otherwise has likely drunk their own Kool-Aid. The dog who can take no corrections at all is just as rare as the dog who becomes aggressive due to training with food. In short, if what you are doing seems to work and you are happy with the results and your dog doesn't seem to be stressed, don't worry about it.

  • jigzzorjigzzor
    Posts: 125
    To be honest, he sounds like one of our males.

    This is very typical behavior from what I gather from most Shikoku owners. This sounds like it's your first time raising a Shikoku yes?

    What I recommend first is get a new trainer. The trainer seems to easily denote something as dominance or aggression. Now that isn't to say I disagree with people using a balanced approach to dog training. I think the best kind of dog owner will exhaust the best methods they think fits their dog. Do not allow yourself to be brainwashed by the R+ Community but at the same time do not be brainwashed by the dominance theory community. A good dog trainer can recognize more than just one way of dealing with dog behaviors.

    Personally, I think this is just how Shikoku are. They like their own personal space, they are fiercely loyal only to their owners(meaning no touching please from strangers) and they might even guard you. This is a huge problem for most owners and I understand it can be frustrating. There are plenty of approaches to correcting and handling this. I haven't heard a single 100% fix though. As far as socialization goes, remember that they just because they were put in an environment of general interaction does not mean they were socialized. They have to engage and feel like the interaction was positive to a point the clock ticks in their minds that maybe humans aren't so bad after all.

    Now how much of this is age? I think most of it to be honest. Like nearly everyone who's dealing with this issue. I notice that the dogs grew out of extreme reactions. My boy is now 3 years old and is far less mindless about dealing with dogs and strangers now.

    As far as the being protective of his family, That's not dominance at all. That's simply safeguarding. It means a few things, Firstly and don't take this the wrong way. Your dog may not feel that you are capable of handling and protecting the family and so they get nervous when strange dogs approach. Lastly, I think his age speaks volumes. Young dogs can be very insecure and shikoku tend to use loud and obnoxious reactive behaviors to deal with the situation. Meaning he needs to add experience to these kinds of situations.

    I don't know what else I can recommend you in fixing these issues as I personally still have to deal with some of it, but what I can tell you is that as long as you are always aware and actively keeping an eye on your dog and correcting your dog before they do anything. Your dog will eventually understand what you want in those situations.
  • TheWalrusTheWalrus
    Posts: 1624
    None of what you have mentioned is a surprise to me, and it's not dominance or aggression. This is rather typical Shikoku behavior.

    My Shikoku are generally okay with people now, but they've all gone through phases where they were very unsure about people they did not live with or know well. Forced interactions in these stages can lead to aggressive displays. Shikoku are not the most confident of dogs, they are often quite sensitive to and reactive toward things in their environment.

    The best thing to do is to not put your dog where it is not comfortable. No one comes near my dogs or touches them unless I'm confident the dogs want to be there. If the messages from my dog signal that they're getting amped up about someone or another dog, I will remove my dog from that space. By setting your dog up to succeed (only putting it in situations with an almost fail proof positive outcome) you can eventually get to a good place. But just be aware that if you are hoping your Shikoku male will love everyone and all dogs, it's best to let go of that idea.

    Regarding correction of aggression, you need to be very careful with that. You can very easily turn the whole situation into even more of a negative memory and learning experience. That should definitely not be the first thing you do when your dog displays 'aggression'. I might correct the behavior IF the dog persists after I've already done my part to walk away from and deescalate the situation, but never in a forceful manner, just in a 'hey we're good, I've got this under control, you can calm down now' sort of attitude. Stay calm, teach your dog that following your cues is a good and safe thing to do.

    Rude play is very Shikoku. That doesn't change much, and often they seem to sadistically enjoy egging on other dogs. It's better to just find other dogs that play well with you dog and stick to meet ups with those dogs. Dog parks are not great for most dogs, but are pretty much asking for trouble when it comes to the Japanese breeds.

    My male Masa was great with all people and dogs until around 1 year old when suddenly he was very iffy with strangers, and I could see a bite forthcoming. I just removed him from being allowed to be near or go toward strangers at all, and just assumed I'd always have to be that way with him. After a year of only allowing him to be in positive situations, he's quite good with people again. With regard to strange dogs though, and especially males, that's definitely a no however.

    Anyway, hope that helps.
  • SekoyaSekoya
    Posts: 10
    I want to thank all of you for your comments and suggestions, and the time you took to provide so much valuable information. This makes us feel a lot better, and gives us plenty to work with. Prior to getting our Shikoku we had done a lot of research and knew some of the most common challenges the breed poses, but the aggression was one I didn't see mentioned too much, so I thought maybe we had gone far astray in raising him. Perhaps we have, but not to the degree I was concerned with. And as a couple of you outlined, his age is certainly a factor.

    It has sometimes been hard not really having any local resources (to date, not a single person we've ever encountered has HEARD of the Shikoku, and this includes our vet and our obedience trainer), so sometimes we meet other dog owners and get talking about advice, and then it becomes easy to forget that what worked for their black lab may just not work with our boy.

    We will keep all of your comments in mind as we wrap up obedience training. No more dog parks, no more forced introductions to people for a while, and we'll ensure he's leashed and that people ignore him for the time being. I picked up a muzzle today as he's due back at the vet to get stitches removed, and unfortunately the vet is a prime target. We also have an array of training strategies to try that aren't just food and correction based (see my earlier post about the dog not caring about food--the community helped us out there too).

    Anyway, we have a lot of work to do to get ourselves up to speed as trainers, but he is an absolutely AMAZING dog and we love him to pieces. Thank you all for your help.

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