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!
Because of the unique twists and turns along my life’s path I’ve been afforded many thousands of opportunities to both develop and control the aggressive potential in dogs. For over thirty-one years I’ve been totally immersed in all the nuances of canine hostility.
With personal protection dogs, security dogs, schutzhund sport dogs and police dogs; I’m paid to develop strong confident aggressive responses in canines that are under the absolute control of competent handlers. On the polar opposite side of the hostile dog world, my services are sought to quash any and all hostile responses, as is the case with most of the aggressive family dogs I meet.
What has come from a lifetime surrounded by this kind of behavior, an uncanny familiarity and understanding of growls, barks and bites? In order to be successful at my job I had to get results, which means effectively shaping the behavior of the dog while keeping all participants (owners, dogs, trainers and decoys) in the training exercise as free from harm as possible.
When people or their dogs get hurt they tend not to return for further instruction, which makes it very hard for a dog trainer to buy groceries. If the dog and the owners along with the environmental conditions are not assessed accurately, realistic goals cannot be set and that ensures failure no matter how much energy is directed toward canine behavior shaping; and failure equates to unhappy clients who do not refer other people, which makes it very hard for a dog trainer to buy groceries. So throughout my career it’s been imperative to keep all who are involved with a dog’s training as safe as possible, while we work toward those realistic goals set from an accurate assessment.
During my early years as a professional dog trainer, I lived much like a starving artist trying to support a family, I turned away no (I mean none) training opportunity. I was young, confident and eager. I had also accumulated countless hours of expert instruction on canine behavior and training techniques. So in my naïve mind (thinking experience was somewhat overrated), I had all the tools to teach any dog anything. As a side note, if young Matthew Duffy walked into my training center today looking for employment, I’m not so sure I would hire him.
I really don’t think there’s enough square footage in the training center to hold all of the ego and energy I carried around in those days. What that ego and energy allowed me to do though was fill a niche. I was willing to work with all the hostile dogs no one else wanted to handle. It really didn’t matter to me why a dog tried to bite someone, I didn’t care how many bites a dog had under his belt. I wasn’t terribly intimidated by even the most powerful breeds. My hunger to be a professional dog trainer was all so consuming, that any trepidation or anxiety I experienced over working extremely challenging canines was pale by comparison.
To tell you the truth, I’ve always found the challenge of winning an aggressive dog over-exciting. Even from those seminal days as a budding dog expert, I have admired and respected Canis familiaris with all his impressive tools. My approach to handling a hostile dog has evolved immensely over the last three decades, but the underlying plan has not. Directing a dog’s potential, not quashing it, has always been my goal. Forming a team with the dog and establishing a handler as captain has always been the number one plan!
I like dogs the way they are and I genuinely mean that. So running across a rowdy dog doesn’t turn me off. Being confronted by a hostile canine doesn’t make me wish he were a cat. No one would argue that a small, quiet dog is easy to live with, but he’s probably not going to keep the house safe. He’s not going to be very good at herding sheep or retrieving ducks from an icy pond. The best search and rescue dogs are bold and energetic, so not necessarily the best companion for sitting on the couch and watching TV (ok, maybe sometimes). My point is this, the more tools a dog is born with, the more challenging he can be to handle. That doesn’t make him bad! That just makes him harder to handle.
The sheer number of cases I worked with each year ensured my training finesse would evolve, and it did. Training knowledge came with a high price at times though. The most gruesome dog bites I’ve ever witnessed have all been on me! Multiple trips to the emergency room taught me a lot: I wasn’t as fast as I thought I was, I didn’t have all my handling skills quite up to snuff yet and maybe that whole experience thing was more valuable than I once thought! Oh yeah, I also learned that cleaning out deep dog bite wounds was nearly as horrific as the bite itself.
Although I may require multiple hard lessons before information will sink into my thick Irish head, I do eventually learn. Thinking back as I write this, it almost seems I had to experience the in- effectiveness of standard obedience training with aggressive dogs before the proper technique could unfold. It became apparent to me after working with thousands of hostile canines that the best aggression control was self-control in the way of manners and distraction conditioning for the dog, having nothing to do with formal obedience commands! So what I began teaching a dog was how to control his drive, energy and emotion by using incentives and deterrents under the challenge of distractions. Hands-free control over the potentially hostile dog came before the introduction or use of formal commands. This approach applied to and worked equally well with the police type dogs that I needed to build up, or the family dog that I needed to quiet down.
Casual but absolute control without the use of harsh or emotional communication coming from the handler, now that’s what I’m talking about. No militant like commands needed to keep that unwanted hostility in check, that’s the approach I’d longed for in the early days of my career, only there was no one around to demonstrate how that could be done. Truthfully, I don’t think anyone thought about this kind of self control training as a technique or a means to an end like I do.
In my first book, Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog, I laid out the principles of this self-control training technique at the very beginning, in the handling manners’ section, even though this book only deals with basic obedience issues. The reason I begin basic obedience training with this self-control technique is the same reason I employ it to control aggression.
It is the single best way I have found in all these years to get a dog to think clearly, and if a dog thinks clearly his lessons are truly learned, he will efficiently assimilate the necessary information. For a dog trainer that means consistency in his canine’s responses and less testing of the rules on the dog’s part, which all leads to faster, better training. In regards to hostile canines, consistent responses and less rule testing equates to a higher degree of safety.