I was prompted to write this after having quite a few aggressive cases and assessments lately. I do not post all clients on FB for various reasons. But I hope this article helps give people some insight into dog behaviour.
I have been dealing with some pretty aggressive cases over the years, and although many have successfully rehabbed, it’s not to say that a few had to be pts (put to sleep). Its not for lack of trying, effort, sweat, tears, behavior modification and training techniques. Sometimes we simply can not change them or save them. A dog has to want to change and a dog who refuses could be predispositioned for that behaviour. Genetics can and do play a huge part in a dogs behaviour and responses just like their environment and experiences do too.
Many wonderful people own aggressive dogs. Why? Well that’s a loaded question. The word fur baby is used far to often. People, you are living with an animal that has grey wolf DNA in them. They are NOT a fur baby. Just because you socialized your dog at a young age, or did puppy training won’t prevent all aggressive behaviours. Consistency, rules, follow through and supervision helps gives the dog guidance. That leadership is vital to have a happy balanced dog. If you treat your dog like a baby or like a china doll, guess what? You’ll get a total lack of respect. Mutual respect is what creates and keeps balance between human and dog. All in all it sometimes takes time for aggressive tendencies to show their ugly face but it can happen gradually. Like a slow buildup similar to a volcano. Don’t nip it in the bud and you get a lunge, a growl, a bite or worse.
If a dog has issues, get them off of the couch and your bed. Height matters and to a dog it represents stature. They haven’t earned the right to those privileges if they are going to behave badly. Your love isnt going to fix your dog. No amount of kisses or hugs are going to change a dogs mind on biting someone. Stop letting people and kids invade a dogs private personal space. We all have boundaries. Do not let kids hug dogs…ever. Do not let
kids and dogs go unsupervised. Educate yourself on dog body language and be proactive. Dogs will tolerate ALOT. They will NOT tolerate things they don’t like forever. Advocate for your dog. Have their back. Set them up for success instead of setting them up to fail. Don’t take a dog who doesnt like people to a dog park. Thst is the last place you should be taking your dog to learn to be friendly or social with people or dogs. It’s a huge liability. You have a muzzle? Grest. Muzzle condition your dog with its food and on leash. Never take a dog in public with a muzzle and let them lose. Just because he can’t bite doesnt mean he wont try. This doesn’t help him learn to respect other people or dogs spaces or learn right from wrong.
Dogs need boundaries. They need affection, food, water, exercise and fun, but they desperately need structure and discipline to know what is acceptable and what is not. You are living with a canine. Canines do not think or act like a human. Therefore, they do not judge situations the same, they do not process info the same and they are not emotional beings. If you stub your toe they won’t care! They might react to you swearing or crying or raising your voice, but I can assure you they will never express an ounce of empathy.
Dogs can change with age. Your once cute, happy, social puppy is now growling and lunging at people. Once they get to the bratty stages (young adults) they start pushing boundaries. Thid typically is anywhere from 5 months up. A young dog is under 1 yr of age. If you do not set the standards from a young age and you let the structure and boundaries go to the wayside aggressive behaviour can start to develop. You need to be a responsible dog owner and be consistent and take dog ownership seriously. A well socialized dog is a happy balanced confident dog. A confident dog has no reason to react. They trust you because you have proven to them to be a good leader/guide and they respect you. Therefore they listen and behave better. They understand this because they are a pack animal. Just because your puppy has met 50 other dogs when they were younger doesn’t mean they will grow up to be social. You have to set them up for success from the beginning, middle and the end. Social means they can handle meeting other dogs AND they can handle distractions like people, kids, trucks, vaccums, bicycles, stores, country setting vs city noise, etc. Agsin, a social dog is a confident dog. Not all dogs want to play and that is completely ok. As long as they are respectful it is completely normal. When a dog reaches sexual maturity ( typically around 2/3 yrs old) many do not want to play, but just want to sniff or walk or observe from a distance. Again, this is normal and completely acceptable. Some dogs will engage in play. Especially if it is a familiar setting and familiar dogs. Again, the dog park is meant for well socialized dogs with responsible owners or lazy people who won’t add structure to the dogs routine and instead let the dog run with wild abandonment. What do you expect is going to happen? Why would your dog listen to you?
I had a client years ago who had a large wonderful dog. The owners let their kids ride the dog like a pony. They pulled his tail and never once growled or reacted. The owners said he was so tolerant and let the kids do all sorts of things. The owners didn’t see a problem with what they were allowing to go on. They hired me as the dog started to change a bit and they didnt know why. I told them to immediately start supervising the children and to stop letting the kids ride him. We had one lesson. I warned them. I get a call that the dog was put down for basically taking the kids face off (30 stitches). The dog was put down. Completely preventable. A dog will and can tolerate a lot. However, if you don’t show respect they will not reciprocate and things happen. After 5 yrs of basically being abused by the kids the dog was getting tired and cranky and had enough, and shit happens. You need to advocate for your dog, educate your children and always supervise.
When dogs do things that are inappropriate, what do you do? Think about this for a moment. How do you teach your dog right from wrong? How do they learn? You have to match the behaviour they are presenting with a consequence of equal value. It has to be slightly intolerable for them to use their brain and not want to repeat the behaviour again. For example, if a dog is barking, a simple firm no or shhh might be enough. If a dog growls you need to take into consideration the environment and or situation to see if the warning is warranted. If your dog is on leash and a friend walks by and your dog growls or lunges that shows you that you are not in control and your dog doesn’t trust your judgement. You are not setting up clear enough boundaries so your dog makes better choices. If your dog bullies another dog them simply get control of your dog and leave. It os not ok for a dog to bully another dog. Instinctually many dogs will pick on puppies and elderly dogs as they are seen as the weaker links. Do not let other dogs do this to your dog or puppy. Leave. Those experiences are teaching moments and what are those experiences teaching your dog? to be fearful? To not trust you or other dogs? Thst it’s ok to bully? It’s not ok. Be in control at all times. Dogs should never be left to ” sort it out by themselves.” Giving dogs a correction for negative behaviour is necessary to have a dog be balanced in their choice making. If you do nothing how does the dog learn? What does the dog learn? Nothing is being set up for the dog to make better decisions in the scenario.
It’s not about changing who you are as an individual. Its about learning that you have a canine species and learning how to communicate on a level they can appreciate and understand. With that ownership comes responsibility. It’s not about being mean or yelling and getting emotional. It’s about understanding and respecting what you have and always, always, always setting your dog up for success vs setting them up to fail.