Dog Aggression is truly one of those areas where extreme caution is a must.
While aggressive behavior is not common, recognizing the cues (signs) will allow you to be a safer handler, and will allow the dog to learn to understand how to behave more appropriately.
A quick note in case I haven’t made this clear! Serious aggression, where dogs have caused injury, is best left to experts with experience in recognizing, evaluating and treating aggressive behavior.
Types of Aggression
I believe there are multiple types of aggression that can be categorized as follows:
- Genetic Aggression – A behavioral trait, normally a result of improper breeding, that the dog has inherited from its parents
- Learned Behavior – Something the dog has learned to do during its life
- Breed Specific: A behavior trait based on the breeding characteristics of the dog
- Medically related – A behavior triggered by pain or as a result of medical problems such as neurological or biological issues
How We Evaluate Aggressive Dogs
We evaluate aggression through interviews, observation, staging and analysis.
We may introduce the canine to situations so that we can observe triggers. As with life, there are pros & cons to this. While we would like to observe first hand the behavior; by staging and triggering the response, we are in effect building and by extension, condoning the behavior.
We will also evaluate what level of response from us is needed to change the behavior; and what level of resistance is displayed.
What NOT to Do
- Do not TRY what you see on TV. TV shows are edited versions of reality, and there is a lot they don’t show or tell you.
- Do NOT read something ONLINE and assume it is FACT. Despite what people think, many online experts have little real world experience. We refer to them as “keyboard experts”
- And my favorite, avoid the “Friends & Family” advice – They are filled with landmines with long-lasting consequences.
Most cases of aggression are triggered by am action, exposure or an external factor. Triggers could be as little as another dog running past, a child moving towards a food bowl or toy, or by the owner themselves. Sometimes there are multiple triggers, making the cause even more difficult to determine. Remember that the trigger is not the cause of the problem. Rather it is a symptom of a larger issue.
What About Forceful Corrections
Having been in this business for some 30 years, I have seen and heard every approach to training. I have even been a part of most, including some of the “force” methods, and the truth is despite many people saying they don’t work, the truth is, some of them do work.
Here is the problem. In many dogs with aggression issues, using force to subdue force will trigger even more resistance. And if you are successful in achieving submission, you cannot transition this training to a new or different handler.
You are better off building trust, through repetition, calming and consistency.
It is a slower approach, but over the long-term, is more effective.
How we Train
We use a positive reward based approach with the dog. Basically we trade something good for a good behavior. This could include food, a toy or ball or even affection. All dogs respond differently, and we closely evaluate each individual case to determine the best possible result.
We strictly structure the dogs entire day. No freedom to run and play, unless it’s earned. We have found that most dogs that are acting aggressively have been allowed to develop this behavior through a lack of rules. Yes, this is often the owners fault, but that’s okay, that’s what we are here to help with.
We use crate training, numerous daily training sessions, and food-reward based pattern conditioning. Clearly, this is something only done while the dog is staying with us. And yes, it takes time to create a whole new set of manners in their life.
Build positive patterns in the dogs daily life; starting off at the most basic level.
Think of it from the dogs “basic necessity” point-of-view. First, we eat; then we sleep, then we play!
Build on the positive, in small steps, each building on the previous one.
Avoid confrontational training. Recognize when to back off a little, and quit each session when you are ahead.
Rome was not built in a day! Be patient, consistent and remain in control of your emotions at all times!
It’s important to note that what makes an experienced trainer is, well experience! He (or she) has learned to evaluate and respond to behavior and in so doing, find the most successful approach. There is no one way to train; you need to know what to do in many different and varied situations.
(By the way, I will soon publish “One Way to Train?” which looks at what technique trainers use to remedy issues.)