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!
Can the subject of family dog hostility be dealt with adequately in a book? A nagging question that’s been hanging around me for years. After an active, full career in the dog training industry, I’m still not sure that question can be answered with confidence. With all that said, this book represents my honest attempt to palatably address the matter.
As far as study and hands on experience, I personally don’t know of anyone who has devoted more time or energy towards this subject than I have. Even so, I’ve been reluctant to tackle this project because it’s such an emotional issue for everyone involved. The owners of dogs with unwanted aggression are usually stressed over this potentially injurious behavior their treasured pet displays. Embarrassment over the disagreeable behavior (when outsiders are around) and frustration over what to do about it, invariably accompany the stress over possible injury. On the flip side of this coin, all those on the receiving end of the family pet’s hostility, are usually filled with fear or overcome with anger when faced with such an intense confrontation.
From a professional dog trainer’s standpoint, I’ve been sought out for help because the dog owners really care about their four legged family member. They don’t want to see their companion uncomfortable or distressed during the behavior shaping process; I really do understand this compassion, however, the very act of trying to ward off an attacking canine or quash the emotional explosion of a fearfully defensive dog is distressing for all concerned. So it seems from all angles, that dealing with unwanted aggression in the family dog is an emotional business, a sticky wicket that I have to pass through multiple times each working day.
I’ve been leading this delicate dance of aggression control instruction for over thirty years. I’m quite sure in this small book I can offer you priceless insights in understanding your dog’s behavior and genuine guidance in managing these expressions.
In this book, I offer you what I have learned after working with literally thousands of aggressive dogs! Some of the most important advice we give to our clients during standard obedience training is calmness. This is especially true when dealing with aggressive behavior in a dog. The best way to view hostile behavior or aggressive display is to see it as an emotional fire, and if you react in the face of rage emotionally, you are essentially fueling a fire that is already burning out of control.
What a Herculean task for an inexperienced handler, to respond to a dog’s inappropriate, hostile behavior and effectively control the situation without getting caught up in it emotionally. However, the best results will be gained through calm decisive action on the handler’s part. Keep in mind that calm and firm are not mutually exclusive ideas! Demonstrating this maxim while actually handling someone’s aggressive dog is no doubt the best form of instruction I have to offer someone.
Understanding the effects a high emotional surge has on a dog, is imperative to real training success. This understanding will guide your course of action as the handler, because often the right thing to do may seem counter intuitive in the heat of the moment. Beginning with the introduction and throughout the entire book, I will elaborate on what I’ve found the effects of high emotional energy to be on a canine student’s thinking process, pain threshold, reward interest and deterrent concern.
This book is not intended to be a scientific journal. My intention is to relay to you (in layman’s terms) what I have come to understand about canine aggression and how to manage it. So when I mention a dog’s clouded thought process (when caught in the throes of hysteria) I don’t mean we ran an MRI scan during training, I mean this otherwise responsive, alert and handler tuned in dog is not! The scholastic study of animal behavior is a terrific foundation for understanding dog training methodology. However, the application of behavior shaping techniques can be a very tricky business because of the multitude of variables.
Nowhere is this truer than in dealing with canine aggression. The strength of a dog’s personality, energy level, his past experiences and the intensity of immediate distractions all greatly affect a dog’s response to his environment and his handler. So it is very difficult to outline in a text book, how to competently manage your overly territorial dog, who just bit you for thwarting his attempt to bite the delivery man. I have literally helped hundreds of dog owners take control of situations just like this, and that means I can pass on to you some very helpful do’s and don’ts that will work with most dogs in most situations. I use the word “most” intentionally. It stands to reason that with all the possible combinations in variants, there is someone reading this book that owns the dog or lives in an environment or possesses the personality that makes success in this situation nearly impossible. I assure you, unique situations like this that are destined to fail, are a very small minority.
Baron, Mister, Apache, Kublai and Hector are some of the names of dogs I’ve lived with. They were all my personal family dogs at one time or another. Some did police work, some were competition companions, and others were demonstration dogs. All of them were probably more aggressive than the dog you own and compared to the many thousands of dogs I’ve handled, I consider them the cream among canines in this world. By harnessing their energy and helping them direct their drive, all of my aggressive companions were able to safely experience life to its fullest. They were all house dogs and naturally interacted with my wife and children; they lived with me very much like your dog lives with you.
Taken as a whole they had the potential to display all eight facets of hostility that this book is about. Yet not a single innocent person was injured by any of them. The reasons for the safe record lie in these pages, and I can sum up those reasons in one word, rules! Rules for handling, confinement, environmental controls and rules for interacting with non-handlers are all set up in the name of safety. The rules for managing an aggressive dog are not really difficult to understand or setup.
The real challenge lies in their maintenance. Over the years I’ve witnessed a significant percentage of knowledgeable, competent owners relax too much with rule reinforcement (resting on the laurels of a safe record) and give their assertive dog enough loose rein to cause real trouble. Having no rules to speak of in the first place, is simply the dog’s ticket for a free ride as engineer on the control train. What intelligent canine wouldn’t take that ride as far as he could?
Aggression is a powerful tool! When a dog figures that out, he’s typically not going to relinquish that power willingly; and when you finally get him to acquiesce, he’s definitely not going to forget about that mighty sword he once wielded for a long time. Most dog owners and the majority of dog professionals don’t seem to recognize or won’t accept, that the lion’s share of assertive dogs get a rush out of a hostile display, or at the very least appreciate this behavior’s effect.
The usual adjectives that accompany an aggressive dog into our training center are: poor, pitiful, abused and scared. Often what I see walking through the door on four feet is: cocky, assertive, dominant and combative. Don’t get me wrong, we do get our share of truly pitiful cases; dogs who suffer because they were robbed of handling and socializing while they developed, dogs who have been left to fend for themselves in household packs that operate more like a Lord of the Flies society than a family. These cases I assure you represent only a small percentage of the hostile canines we handle year in and year out.
Recognition of this emotional rush and the value dogs can put on assertive behavior, helps a handler understand why it’s such a challenge to quash. When we discourage a dog from displaying hostility, we’re essentially telling him to put that effective tool back in the box. We are robbing him of a familiar, emotional high. Put in these terms, one can appreciate the effort necessary to facilitate real behavioral change in an aggressive dog.
I would like to humanize things for just a moment to bring our behavior shaping task into proper perspective. Most of us at some period in our lives, maybe even currently, have had to deal with a hot tempered human being. Maybe like me, you were the person others dreaded to be around when emotional control was lost. I use to refer to my temper as a vicious dragon. Most of my young life, I desperately tried to keep this monster chained out of sight; but all too often, usually in the flash of a moment, the overwhelming force would break free. The trigger for this flash fire could be anything from a life threatening experience to an insignificant comment, and for me, that instantaneous emotional surge was all consuming.
In the blink of an eye, I would morph from a cool, rational human being into a hot, irrational subhuman. I was never physically violent just downright unpleasant, kind of like a dog who does a lot of growling and barking but not much biting.