Aggression or Spatially Sensitive, Does it Really Matter?
Sorry all, that I have been away from the blog. I have had lots to say, but life has gotten in the way. I wanted to comment on the issue of dog:dog aggression. I think the run of spatially sensitive dogs we have had at our camps recently warrants the mention of solutions on this blog. First of all please don’t wait until you have a full-blow “issue” before you seek out help with your dog. I was approached recently by someone with a reactive dog and when I asked “how many times has your dog put a salvia trail on a dog” her answer was “four times that were quite bad.” I probed further, as I hadn’t asked about “bad” incidents and found out that her dog had jumped other dogs 6 or 7 times at a minimum. The last one, which was the night before the dog was to work in camp, opened another dog’s throat up for what looked like 10-15 stitches. It is unfair to both your dog and the poor unsuspecting dog he jumps, for you to allow more than one rehearsal of such an unacceptable behaviour.
To on-lookers the easy answer is to call the dog an ass—- and suggest euthanasia. Even though I have suggested this for more than one dog, that really is the easy way out, to blame the dog. I am in no way an expert in aggression. But I do know true “organic aggression” stemming from an imbalance is rare. Most aggression is learn, based in fear that is not properly addressed. I have helped people with dogs with issues, but more often then not I refer them on to one of many CERTIFIED behavourist that I know and respect (there are many).
The thing that irratates me about aggressive dogs is that their issues do not crop up over night. Your dog will show you signs very, very early on. Your dog will shy behind your legs, pin his ears, errect the hair of his bursa and of course possibly growl. A dog showing any of these signs alone or in combination is communicating to both the other dog and to you that “I am uncomfortable in this environment and I need your help to cope. Sadly, the owners reaction to their dog’s plea for help is to collar correct him, calling him an ‘evil dog.’ How sad for the dog. What this teaches the dog is to stop growling at other dogs, but it does not alter the fact that he lacks confidence in those situations.
What may happen next time is that rather than growling your dog may just lunge and bite the dog! When your dog gives you his feedback, you need to evaluate it and act on it. Pack yourself loads of great treats in order to dole out the cookies when other dogs are near by. Please don’t think this is the extend of my suggestions. The truth is that a dog that has a history of reactivity around other dogs should never be put in a position to hurt a dog or even be allowed to lunge at his crate door or fence run with the neighbour dog.
The dog at our place that had torn up the throat of that Sheltie was a dog that constantly fence fought with the dog next door. Any guess what breed that was?? Yes, it was a Sheltie. Years of pent up aggression that was never fulfilled with the neighbour’s dog was taken out on an unsuspecting other. You need to stop reherasals of undesirable behaviour in your dog. Practice makes perfect, so the more rehearsals of aggression your dog is allowed, the better he gets at being aggressive. Intimidation and blame is not the answer. Such a dog must always be on a head halter.
There are some games that I have outlined in Shaping Success that I used with Buzzy to help him with is dog:dog issues. When Buzz was a three year old, we were at an agility trial in the crowded walkway between the two rings. I had bend over to tie my shoe and Buzz went over my head at an intact male German Shepherd. Luckily for me, in that vulnerable position, it was a very stable GSD that did not retaliate! Not long after that Buzz made it clear he would hurt my, at that time ‘new puppy,’ DeCaff. That is when I listened to what he had been trying to tell me all along and I and started counter conditioning his fear of other dogs. Today Buzzy actually seeks out other dogs, he loves everyone.
Even if your dog is a happy go lucky dog that loves all other dogs, don’t allow the opportunity to give him treats around other dogs pass you by. Check out the video clip in my last blog when the 6 month old puppy starts sniffing Buzz’s man parts. Buzz instantly seeks out my face to be told what a good boy he is. Once again the power of the “R” word. Reinforcement really does build behaviour!
Today I am grateful to be home for a staggering 4 1/2 weeks in a row!