Eight Facets of Canine Aggression, a guide to assertive behavior management, is in the wrap up stages. White Fang Ventures is going to offer a preview of this detailed work by posting an excerpt a week from each section of the book leading right up to the publishing date. Enjoy!
My main purpose in writing this book is the promotion of safety! Safety for one and all is the top priority, even over training success. Injury or the risk of injury is part and parcel of managing canine aggression. There is no way to deal with a hostile dog and not have someone within the immediate proximity at some risk for some degree of injury. Often times the danger factor may be comical, as in the case I just wrapped up with an old, toothless Chinese Crested (I’m not kidding!).
The poor little thing was rescued from a true puppy mill and had been bred to death but never socialized. She was highly defensive, which is completely understandable, and she would bite if any attempt was made to handle her although the damage her gums inflicted was negligible. With the proper leash and collar and lots of positive, forced socialization, the little Crested really turned around; seemingly grateful that she finally landed in the hands of someone who cared and really understood who she was.
Even though the degree of danger was nonexistent in this particular case, emotional distress was still present. The Crested’s new owners felt the little dog had already suffered enough in her short lifetime and didn’t want to see her exposed to yet more uncomfortable situations. I entered the training business because I enjoy bringing out the best in dogs, so I sure didn’t want to see her uncomfortable either. I also want my clients to enjoy their training experience with me so that my workdays will be pleasant and so they will want to return or refer other people my way.
The Chinese Crested definitely didn’t want any part of reform, yet here we all were entangled in this stressful behavior shaping dance. Here is the reason these emotionally challenging training scenarios are worthwhile; the Crested’s new family had already spent a few months trying to coax and bribe the little dog into accepting handling and socialization, to no avail. She virtually lived under a bed in the guest room. The family had to capture her in a net, in order to take her to the vet so she could be further traumatized by strangers with needles.
The Crested actually resembled a wild animal more than she did domestic pet! She truly lived in a miserable state through no fault of her own or her new family. This is where my lifetime of experience can be so helpful. I knew using the right equipment (a leash and collar, a crate, a long line and a muzzle) and following the right protocol we could push this little dog into a more confident and relaxed state. We wouldn’t be able to turn her into a gregarious Labrador (not that the family wanted that), but we could and did get her to hang out in the main parts of the house, nap on her bed in the family room, eat her meals in the kitchen and go for walks on leash around the neighborhood.
She wasn’t ever going to be a visitor’s best friend and sit in their lap on the couch. She didn’t have to be, my goal was to push her into a tolerable level of comfort in her new environment and she actually went beyond that, that little dog made it all the way to peaceful. I knew what could be done. I knew we could get at least close to the goal we initially set, because I’ve worked through so many similar situations in the past.
I also knew, to make life better for that little Crested, she would have to follow my lead (unwillingly at first) through numerous unpleasant challenges. How much easier dog training would be if you could just lay it all out for our canine friends, just like a dentist does for us; in order to take care of the hurting tooth, you have to drill it out or pull it out? It seems to be a common sequence of events in this world, an uncomfortable process to end the discomfort! Whether it’s dieting and exercise to be in good health, long hours of work to secure our necessities or changing the way we behave so we can fit in and be at peace.
On the other end of the aggression spectrum (working with a truly dangerous dog), it’s nearly impossible to keep everyone out of harm’s way. A case in point is an 18-month-old, male, hound mix I currently have in training. This young man of a dog is named Joker, and he is highly territorial, explosively defensive and a frightening bully to his human and animal family members. Joker is extremely confident and experienced in confrontation at such a young age, he’s formidable and he knows it. I could feel his intensity the very moment I met him; as I calmly walked up to his owners to introduce myself and shake their hands, I could see Joker straining against his leash (towards me) but he was statue still and quiet as death.
When I first meet a dog and his family, I know very little about the situation as was the case here. One of my associates set up the appointment so I didn’t even have the chance to talk about Joker over the phone; besides his age, breed type and sex, all I had was a little contact information and the single word AGGRESSIVE! That one word didn’t tell me much though, that brief note could mean I’m dealing with anything from a butterfly killer to a real man stopper.
It didn’t take but several steps into the room to size up Mr. Joker though. His stance, tail set, tightly closed mouth and hard stare gave all his intentions away. Within the same few moments it took me to run up a red flag, Joker decided that I wasn’t that impressive and he could make short work of me. A non professional dog trainer may think at this point “thank goodness this dog is being restrained by his handler”, but after countless painful experiences I’ve learned, I am on my own in the presence of an aggressive dog.
My motto in this kind of situation is hope for the best, but only a fool with my kind of experience would not prepare for the worst; so before I reach hand shake distance I slide my leather bait pouch around from back to front to afford some protection to my essentials and I also lower my appointment book to cover my thighs. The worst of the situation became reality even before I was close enough to extend my hand, Joker launched with genuine fury, pulling the lightly held leash cleanly out of his owner’s hands.
His attack was faster and more powerful than I anticipated, so I barely had time to pull my appointment book high enough to block his bite. Joker bit my book with full force and I held on just long enough to grab a nearby chair to use as a shield. It took a long couple of minutes to back Joker off with the chair, but eventually he did calm down while being corralled in the corner. When I asked the owner to pick up Joker’s leash, the look on his face was the same as if I asked him to stick his head in a lion’s mouth. Timidly, the owner did regain control of the leash, demonstrating by his unsure movements that Joker was clearly the captain of their team; because there was nothing unsure or timid about Joker!
One of the strange aspects of this absolutely true story (except for the name) is that Joker and his owner were ordered by a county judge to see me to determine if Joker was a dangerous dog. This court order stemmed from a lawsuit brought on by two unprovoked bites from, you know who. The man and woman who own Joker obviously care for him or they would not go through the effort and the expense to alter his reputation, they would simply allow animal control to haul him away. Unfortunately, they were off to a very bad first impression with me, and to tell you the truth I was much more perturbed with their lack of concern for my safety than I was with Joker’s hostility.
At least Joker was up front about his intentions, he was a tough guy and he knew it, he didn’t pretend to be anything else. Joker wasn’t crazy; to the contrary, he was a clear, calculating thinker who had a plan to impress upon others his dominance. I knew where I stood with the dog, now with the owners I wasn’t so sure. Did they really think Joker was not aggressive even though they had the hospital bills, a lawsuit and a multiple bite history to prove otherwise? Did they think that maybe he wouldn’t bite me because somehow they had explained to him in dog language that his future just might lie in my hands?
Maybe they just didn’t like me and didn’t care if Joker sent me to the hospital as his fourth victim. Whatever it was that they were thinking I couldn’t tell, because they really didn’t say much beyond hello and they made no effort to keep me out of harm’s way, and during the attack they never left their chairs or made a sound. Believe it or not, this is not unusual behavior from owners when I evaluate their aggressive dogs. That’s why I have the motto I do, and that’s why I know my well being is in my own hands. If I could pinpoint the aim of this book with one word, it would be safety; and my sights are set on effective dog handling, secure environmental development and responsible behavior around aggressive dogs!