John Fisher's Two Reward System

to recondition dog-to-dog aggression

Seminar Notes
taken by Bianca Uittenbogaard

These notes were taken by me during a seminar from John Fisher, a great dog behaviourist who sadly left this world way too soon. Although I haven’t known him long he was my friend and a wonderful teacher and I am grateful for the knowledge and friendliness he gave me.

The Two Reward System is a way to recondition dogs that respond aggressively to other dogs in a very clear and friendly way, without using punishment of any kind. It takes time, it takes knowledge, it takes preparation and it takes endurance of the owner of the dog, but it sure is worthwhile. The rewards in the two-reward system consist of:

It is very important to let the training take place in a controllable environment so that there is nothing and no one to possibly disturb you. A club building or other big room will do, preferably with doors on either end of the room. You have to be able to close the doors, a window next to the door or in the door would be a plus.

The participants are: a trainer / behaviourist, a handler with a well-trained dog, the aggressive dog and its owner. The aggressive dog is leashed with a solid leash on a hook in the wall. The owner sits on a chair next to the dog, but does not make contact with the dog. John Fisher said to take the time to let the dog acclimatize, before being confronted with his ‘opponent’. As soon as the dog settles in i.e. lies down calmly, the training session can begin.

At a signal from the trainer a handler with a well-trained dog comes in. (They have to be out of sight at first.) The handler approaches the leashed dog until this dog starts showing the smallest sign of aggression. At this point the trainer (who is orchestrating every move) signals the handler to stop, preferably with a hand signal. As soon as this signal is given, the owner of the dog walks away to a corner and stands there with his back to his dog. As long as the dog is showing interest in, or aggression towards the handled dog, this situation does not alter. All this time the handler keeps his dog quietly busy with small training exercises on the spot.

As soon as the aggressive dog looks for his owner, or shows a different behaviour like yawning, licking etc. and while doing so is taking his eyes off the handled dog, the handler (at a sign of the trainer) leaves the room. After handler and dog have left the room, the owner can come back and sit next to the dog without making contact. After a short resting period (3 to 5 min.) the handler and his dog are coming back into the room. As soon as there is a small sign of aggression the handler stays on that spot and the owner leaves the dog and goes to his corner away from his dog. As soon as the aggressive dog relaxes, looks for his owner or looks away from the handled dog, the handler and his dog disappear and as soon as they are gone the owner reappears. This should be done for four or five times, (no more than six). If this method works, the dog will make eye contact with his owner on the fourth of fifth occasion as soon as he sees the handled dog appear. When this happens, the handler and dog leave the room, and the owner comes back and praises and rewards his dog. A few of these training sessions should do to recondition the dog. This method only works if the dog has a good bonding with his owner, and is disturbed by his leaving. If the dog shows no improvement in the first five sessions then this method will not be helpful. A period of three or four weeks with one or two training sessions per week should be sufficient to recondition the dog completely. It is very important not to let the dog make any contact (read: be able to be successful in using aggression) with other dogs during this period of training.