Recently I was called to help a dog that exhibited some aggression issues. The owner had already hired several trainers and a clinical behaviorist. Everyone was concerned about the dog’s aggression and offered different views on how to handle it. The overwhelming consensus was that the dog needed to be controlled when outside and should possibly be muzzled.
I observed the dog for a while, and most importantly I observed the interaction between the owner and the dog. It was so simple to see that this dog was lacking in confidence and because of that aggression issues were starting to fester. The family has two dogs, both are free to play, and needless to say there have been more than a few fights between these two dogs.
I saw the older dog dominating the younger dog, but when the older dog was restrained, the younger dog would taunt the older one. One of the primary issues for concern was that the owners “allowed the dogs to figure out their ranks.” This is something I strongly urge people against. I believe in drawing the lines of rank with my dogs and it is very clear to them that there is one rank and that is mine.
Watching the owner play with the dog showed me a clear sign of what the dog was looking for, and that was structure. Learning to play tug was the first thing we did and it opened the eyes of both dogs ( as well as the humans ). First and foremost we taught the dogs the rules for the game and then we played the game. Within a few short minutes the dog’s body-language completely changed. In fact, when we switched the game and allowed the younger dog to play, she got it almost instantly. What I found most interesting was the fact that the taunting between them was much easier to control.
Dogs that have aggression issues must be examined closely. I truly believe that it is the rarest of dogs that have truly dominant based aggression. So many dogs don’t even have true aggression, but instead suffer from a lack of understanding of what we (the humans) expect of them. If a dog is unclear of what it is we expect, and we don’t make it very clear, there are a host of issues that can develop in the dog.
All behavioral issues should be examined deeply before drawing a conclusion, and the key to solving the issue lies in tracing the dog’s relationship with his primary human back to where the trouble began.
Does the dog have a strong bond with the human?
Is the human able to clearly communicate what it is they expect of the dog?
Is the human able to give the dog a “fair” correction to “block” any unwanted behavior?
And when I say a “fair” correction, I mean fair to the dog. Oftentimes we place our human expectations on a dog that is not capable of dealing with them no less “understanding”them. This includes yelling, nagging, explaining, pulling on leashes and so much more. The key thing in “correcting” a behavior oftentimes involves preventing the dog from performing the behavior that is causing the problem. Yelling at the dog does little more than exacerbate the issue.
If you have a dog that has some behavioral issues one of the best things to do is to go back to square one. Establish a fair relationship between you and your dog. Be certain that he understands that you are there for him and you have his best interests at heart. This involves allowing him to be a dog, but not allowing him to do things that can cause him harm, in short – don’t let him do anything stupid. If you do, he will suffer – and so will you.
Please read the articles on the site under Dog Training Articles to get a better understanding of what you can do to build a fair relationship with your dog.