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Ask the Trainer: Is There Any Hope For My Dog?

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Dear Kevin,
Rudy is actually my teenager’s dog (at their dad’s house). We think he was about 2 when they adopted him. He was a rescue and not much is known about his past other than he was found, originally, wandering the streets. He was then adopted and left by himself for days on end. He has separation anxiety and is unpredictable around people that are not in his immediate family. He also seems to have a hard time learning. He has never been trained as the few people that have been asked, decided they would noy like to after meeting Rudy. To the people in his immediate family, he adores.

He is an 80 pound American Bulldog mix. To some outsiders, he can be aggressive. The aggression seems to be fear based. He decides he doesn’t’ like someone and he will jump at them and give them a warning bite. I only know of one person that he has broken the skin with, but he is a scary boy when he wants to be. How do we figure out what is going on with him and introduce new people into his world? I walk and watch him often. My boyfriend would like to be able to do this with me, but I don’t know how to introduce Rudy to him. Rudy seems to be mostly aggressive when you come in to his home. He seems less so when he meets people out. But, that doesn’t mean he won’t be aggressive. He is extra skeptical of men, but has been known to be aggressive toward certain females. He barks, and if you don’t leave he lunges and may bite at your arms. Its so strange to see him like this, because the rest of the time he just wants to be in your lap. Is there any help for this animal? Thank you for your time.

Hi Alison,

I do think there is help for Rudy. I think it will take some work and lots of consistency.

The first thing I recommend doing is finding something extremely high value to him. (e.g. hot dogs, turkey, cheese etc.) From there the next thing I recommend doing is going to a park or something like a park where there are people, but you can be far enough away from them that he doesn’t feel uncomfortable. (isn’t reacting). At that safe distance I want you to start giving him rewards every time he looks at a person. If you are far enough away from them you should be able to get his attention with those high value rewards. If you are too close you may not be able to get his attention so you will need to create more space.

What you want to do is create a game for him. Every time he looks at the person he gets his favorite thing. He should start to catch on to this game which will result in him looking at the people and looking back at you for the reward. That is exactly what we want. When he is doing awesome with this you will want to start getting closer to the people. Make sure you take your time with moving toward the people because if you try to rush it you will ruin your progress and will have to start from the beginning.

The idea behind this is it will start to get Rudy to like when he sees people. If he likes when he sees them, in theory he will no longer be afraid of them. If he is no longer afraid of them he will no longer react in an aggressive manner. In order to give him the help he needs this will need to be worked on daily/every other day.

Similarly, when people enter the house, I would have him on a leash a safe distance away. When they enter, I want them to toss him high value rewards. This will get him to associate people entering the house with awesome stuff. These methods will not work in one session. It will take repetition.

Once the person is in the house, you can play the same game stated above. Every time he looks he gets rewarded. When people first enter the house I want them to toss the reward regardless of what he is doing. He will probably be barking or something like that but I still want the reward tossed. Yes I know that sounds contradicting but we are building an association, not training a behavior.

These are just a couple things I recommend doing that will help. Additionally don’t be afraid to contact his veterinarian to get him checked out medically to make sure there is nothing wrong with him. Depending on the severity of this issue it may not be a bad idea to ask them about something that could help speed up the process as well. Also I know you mentioned that you tried to get some help from different people. Check out this website for certified professionals in your area. Make sure to ask them question in regards to how they would help. Being certified means in theory that they have the knowledge, but doesn’t guarantee their methods.

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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  1. Avatar Of Lynne Mayhew

    lynne mayhew


    I have a 13 year old bearded collie my partner has a 2 year old American bulldog each time we take them out my dog attacks his dog quite aggressively, is there any way of them getting along as is now effecting our relationship as would like to move in together but so worried about the dogs

  2. Avatar Of Irena



    Hi everyone,
    My dog has exactly the same behavior as yours. I also found him on the street (15 years ago :))), and he shows more aggression with men than women. He is not a small dog (30 kilos), and ppl usually afraid when they see him. I have to admit that I wasn’t good as a trainer, because I let him be this way, I was always feeling sorry because of his life on the street. But that is not good what I did, and I think that the training with treats that Kevin advised you will help.
    My dog is now around 16 years, and the aggression is a bit decreased, but he is still very protected and territorial. I know that kind of behavior is caused by fear. I also noticed with my dog, when ppl who have dogs enter into the house and talk to him authoritatively he get calm down.

    Anyway, I wish you luck and dont’t give up on him.

    Best regards from Irena and Zuca :))

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