When we first adopted Lucas, everything new terrified him – strollers, bicycles, plastic bags, the TV, you name it. We spent the first year with him attempting to desensitize him to new experiences, and – with a few minor mishaps – I’m pretty proud of how successful we’ve been. In particular, he used to exhibit some serious fear-based aggression around other dogs, barking, lunging, and snarling if we passed one on the street. Now, two years later, he loves other dogs, loves the dog park, loves to play with every puppy he meets.
When we moved to Indiana, the guard dog in him emerged. Whenever anyone passes our house (and we live on a very pedestrian-heavy street), he goes nuts barking and jumping up on our windows and front door. I’m pretty sure that this is still fear-based behavior. So I tried the same methods we employed getting him past all his other big fears, which was purely positive reinforcement – let him figure out the appropriate behavior and reward him for it. The problem, though, is that it’s impossible to reward a behavior that never happens!
Next, we tried a counter-conditioning method where whenever a pedestrian went by, we tried to entice Lucas to play with his favorite toy, the idea being that people going by means playtime. But that didn’t work because our excitement in trying to entice him to play just got him even more worked up.
Then we tried teaching the command “enough” and encouraging him to sit, which sort of worked, but only if we saw the dog/person/bike coming before he did.
So today, as an elderly woman peddled by our house, clearly enjoying the beautiful weather, Lucas started his growling routine. But before he could work himself into a hissy and start barking and jumping up at the window, I grabbed the spray bottle we use for plants and squirted him in his darling little face. And it worked. He stopped and just looked at me with this how expression that said, “How could you do such a horrid thing to me?”
Twice more people went by, he growled, I squirted. And it somehow sunk in because later on, I saw a couple walk past our house with three greyhounds and Lucas gave one little whimper and that was it!
While I really wanted him to figure out how to not be an ass on his own… with the squirt bottle, victory is mine!