The aggressive dog is usually overcompensating for fear. (It is often the same with people) As discussed, fear in a wild canid is a perfectly normal and totally acceptable part of survival in the wild. If the wild animal has triggering fear behavior it serves to keep the individual alive longer. But fear presenting as aggression in our domesticated dogs, dogs that live with families in our modern world, is a serious and often misunderstood problem. Most dog training tactics NEVER help aggression. This is why aggression is so serious and why I say it’s almost always misunderstood.
Over the many years I’ve observed two tactics that clients employ when dealing with their dog’s aggression.
1. They don’t do anything. Believe it or not this happens quite a bit! Let me clarify. Obviously they do something because they’ve sought out our professional help (certainly the right call to make when encountering serious aggression issues). So great job on that. But, when they arrive for their first appointment they typically do NOT do anything (physical) during the exact moment that their dog needs it the most! They don’t take action. I mean to say that many clients (the first time they arrive at the Dog Language Center and take their dog out of the vehicle to begin the session) do NOT attempt to intercept or cut off the dog’s intense staring, barking, screaming, lunging, or snapping! I have often observed them holding onto the end of the leash for dear life and that’s about it. They let the crazy dog lead the way. The aggressive dog is just doing what it’s been allowed to repeatedly do, and thus, seizes control of the space all around the owner. The reactive dog hits the end of the leash and keeps the tension there in order to ramp up its energy and achieve even more anti-social behavior (directed right at me or at Jesse, my apprentice)
2. They do the wrong thing. Sometimes I’ll watch and see that the aggressive and fearful dog is usually being comforted by the owner (they say, “It’s OK” or “Your fine” repeatedly) and, as discussed many times on this fine blog, the dog is now being verbally reinforced by way of soft human talking for the wrong (fearful and aggressive) state of mind at the completely worst time to do so! Often the aggressive dog will, with the unwitting aid of their owners, position their rear end (the exact body part that cannot bite or attack) near the centerline of the owner’s body. The rear end of a dog is the part that is supposed to be available for smelling by other social members of their species. Please pause and reread that last sentence. It is quite common for us to see the dog sit on or right near the owner’s feet. The aggressive dog is, in simple terms, hiding it’s butt and simultaneously signaling that it is not at all social because it’s hiding its most social and smelly side – the butt! A dog’s rear end contains a lot of scent – that is the natural gateway to gaining proper information that leads to greater levels of social relation. Wise dog owners must Never let their dogs position the backside at the owner’s feet or position their body under the owner’s body by way of sticking the dog’s butt in between the owner’s legs. In this dreadful position the fearful and aggressive dog can truly fight because they now have their socially open/vulnerable backside fully covered (anti-social position) and seemingly protected and reinforced (by the owner)! In this position the dog has its weapons out in front of the owner and directed straight at the person or dog they intend to bite! It is a horrible position to let the dog get into and about half of our clients (initially) allow their dog to get into this fighting position. Remember, the aggressive dog is masterful at manipulating the touch, space, and movement of their owner.
3. They attempt training at an improper time. Most forms of dog training (however advanced the training may be) are excitement-based and externally-based and that’s NOT beneficial for excitable, anxious, aggressive, or fearful dogs!!! When the owner gets their dog to sit, or watch them, or stay right with them instead of allowing their dog to freak out on a stranger (or on a strange dog) or instead of allowing them freedom to sniff and explore and actually be social – the owner seldom realizes that all the obedience commands in the world (all the sits, downs, stays, et cetera) usually amount to niceties that have little or nothing to do with the real social work and experience we need to accomplish within the dog and within the owner’s psyche! In fact, many caring dog owners rely on “training” as a crutch because they know that their dog is quite unsocial and cannot be trusted. So, they often pile more obedience training upon more obedience training in hopes that if they just had TOTAL control their dog wouldn’t attack a person or bite another dog. Friends, total control is and always has been an illusion. Anyone who thinks total control is possible is living in a dream world. Good leadership, however, just like good dog ownership, seeks to balance control with freedom. At Stevens Family Kennels and Dog Language Center we teach people that too much attempted control results in eventual rebellion within the dog. Just as too much wild freedom without some basic rules and boundaries will most certainly result in chaos. Good dog owners, like good parents, or good government officials, must be aware of the locus of control/freedom and rebellion/chaos. Balance is key – as all nature testifies. Please think about that.
To sum up: do not comfort (with human talking) a fearful or aggressive dog during the exact moment that the dog is freaking out! And be sure and do something – do ANYTHING – to physically change the bad or violent positioning your aggressive dog may be used to assuming in order to save his/her own hide and in order to simultaneously threaten any one who walks up to you!
Need more help? Read my two books on dog behavior – Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! and So Long Separation Anxiety. And keep an eye out for my third upcoming book (!!!!!!) that will be all about the 5 incredible senses of a dog and the 4 Pillars of dog language as it pertains to real world behavioral results and proper application of the Garrett Stevens Method!