Let’s discuss a common and confusing issue many dog owners face: aggressive displays in the car.
A friend of mine came to me confused and concerned about his mature German Shepherd Dog, Lily, which acted aggressively toward a well-known friend who had approached the car in an attempt to welcome home my friend Cray and Lily after a long trip to New York and back. Lily was very well acquainted with Cray’s friend. According to Cray, she had never reacted aggressively toward outsiders while in the car.
Below are the key points to consider in explaining this behavior.
- Lily was in a small space when the aggressive display occurred. A vehicle is a very manageable space to patrol and protect. Consequently, dogs will often take advantage of this and act like a trained sentry.
- Lily was in this space with the most important person in her life. This is a simple issue that Matthew describes in his upcoming book, Eight Facets of Canine Aggression, as “insiders and outsiders”. The insider-outsider concept is an idea that most canines live by. Simply put, family members are the insiders, and anyone else is an outsider. German Shepherds adhere this concept, in my opinion, more strictly than any other breed.
- The pair had been traveling in this space for over a week. The amount of time spent in the space is a factor in this equation. When a dog spends significant time in an easily protected space with the most important person in their life, the desire to ward off outsiders becomes more intense.
- Another possible factor may be very simple and, consequently, overlooked—the approach. It is conceivable the friend’s direct, purposeful approach was the straw that broke the camel’s back in Lily’s mind. Innocent passersby may not elicit concern from Lily vs. a more defensive dog that perceives anyone and everyone as a threat. This would explain why Cray hadn’t seen this sort of display previously.
This natural expression of aggression, although at times startling, should not be concerning to the handler. As Matthew’s upcoming book will explain, territorial aggression may be the only form of aggression your dog demonstrates. It is very possible for a dog to be both a fierce deterrent to outsiders and the sweet, tolerant family dog. As a matter of fact, my dog is both of these and I encourage her to display territorial aggression as a watchdog. I often skirt around town with my dog in the car, but occasionally I need to leave the windows down and park in shady areas for her comfort and safety while I hurry into a store leaving my belongings vulnerable. It is at these times that I expect her to ward off outsiders with her fierce bark. Although she is in a crate and secured, her bark is a real deterrent.
It is important to maintain your position as team leader during or following expressions of territorial aggression in the event the “outsider” is to be welcomed into the space. This is where you will implement a “hush” command. When I tell my dog to “hush,” I am essentially telling her, “The alarm was heard and I will now take control of the outsider.” At this point, the dog should stand-down.
Stay tuned for the follow-up article entitled, Hush, where I will discuss how to implement this command.
Go Do Some Good
Contribued by: Cathy Cantu