Dog aggression is a tricky behavior problem. The root causes and solutions of dog aggression are often not well understood by the average dog owner. This entry is dedicated to all of you who struggle with this frustrating problem.
I took Zeke and Shiloh out for some training in Wisconsin this past weekend. First, we worked with Shiloh. When finished, we returned him to the air conditioned and running car and then worked with Zeke. When Zeke's private time was finished, we then let both dogs run and have a good time.
The thing you need to know about Shiloh is that, with a few exceptions, he does not like other dogs. He really does not like dogs who get in his face, even if just a friendly greeting.
I've worked with Shiloh and have learned some coping mechanisms so that he can inform other dogs that he does not like them, in a controlled situation. I invoked those coping mechanisms when Zeke and Shiloh first met. Though they are far from best friends, they tolerate each other at this time. Poor Zeke would love a new friend, but knows to stay away.
We were about done with the dogs happy fun time on Saturday and were about to put them up. A couple of guys out with their dogs ( two Brittanys and a large Cocker Spaniel) wanted us to walk, shoot the breeze, and talk dogs. I warned them that my dog does not like other dogs and displays some fear aggression. The said, "give it a try..." and , against my better judgement, I put my dog on the ground without doing the coping mechanism routine. After a couple of minutes, the Cocker wanted to make friends. Soon, the Cocker was trying to slink away with my dog jumping on her back and biting between the shoulder blades. I collared my dog without a word and proceeded to put her in the car.
Now, these guys are dog men and were not too terribly concerned. In fact, the Cocker's owner said, "They've got it worked out now...they'll be fine." I knew this to be true, but I certainly was not going to suggest it. We ran the dogs and there were no more incidents.
What NOT To Do - Go It Alone
Concerning dog aggression, I have one suggestion: do not mess with it. If you came upon this blog entry because you did a Google search, I need to strongly suggest that, whatever your problem is with dog aggression, you probably are not going to get it fixed with an inquiry before the Google oracle. While the solutions seem simple when they are presented, dog aggression is a complex behavior going on and it is risky to try to figure it out alone.
I've mentioned that I have some strategies that I go through with my dog to curtail some dog on dog aggression. I did not invent these. I got this information from a specialist in dog aggression. Working through these issues takes a high level of diplomacy...something akin to achieving peace between tweens arguing who is better, Edward or Jacob (For your reference, I needed to Google this, as I am not a 13 year old girl).
What NOT To Do - Punish
If you are one who uses a shock collar to train your dog, the absolute riskiest thing you could do is shock your dog when he is in an aggressive or on the brink of an aggressive situation. In my time with the specialist, I was advised not to scold, yell, or spank. But, I am in no way suggesting any course of action for you and your dog.
In fact, though I've gotten some coping behaviors that help diffuse behaviors before they escalate, I am not going to share these here because I do not want anyone to be confused and think that these are a good suggestion for your dog. They may work well for your dog or they may just make things worse. I am in no position to suggest anything.
What TO Do - Prevent The Problem
Give your dog plenty of time to socialize with other dogs. Not just as a puppy, but all the way through its formative days. My dog was in doggy daycare 4 days a week until he was 9 months old. I took him out because of health concerns. Had I been able, it would have been better to keep him in day care until he was 18 months. As a puppy, the dog learns to be submissive to other dogs. As an adolescent, time spent with other dogs teaches the pup how to interact on a more equal footing. The specialist who saw my dog suggested that my dog is lacking the skills of peer to peer interaction because I needed to cut off his contact with other dogs. At the critical time that he needed to learn these interaction skills as a young adult, he had no way to learn them.
Plenty of socialization with other humans is necessary, too. I have heard of puppy classes where people pass their puppies down the line and give every owner a chance to examine teeth and paws. It gets the puppy used to being handled by a variety of people. People interaction is vital as well.
What TO Do: Get Help
This is tricky, as anyone can hang a shingle stating they can help with aggression. However, the average dog trainer may not be equipped or educated to deal with dog aggression. Some may be able to help, others may be a charlatan, and others still will confess their inability. Your veterinarian can help you find a specialist.
There exists board certified vet behavior specialists. I do not know what goes into this certification. It seems to be a specialization that veterinarians can focus and work towards. There is also an organization called The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. In order to be associated with this organization, one needs to have put in class time and have met experience requirements as well. Even so, there appears to be members of this organization who do not offer help for aggression issues.
When I got some help for my dog, it was through Suzanne Clothier. She is very active and involved in dealing with dog aggression, and she has helped my dog through some of his issues. However, it does not appear that she has any of the certifications or associations listed above. She does not list any of these credentials on her website. She seems to be more of one who sets the standard rather than adhering to an existing standard.
In the Chicago area, a place called For Your K9 often hosts Ms Clothier seminars and seems to adhere to her ideas and programs. To my view, For Your K9 seems well equipped to help with regard to dog aggression. I keep intending to take my dog here for some followup training, but I keep putting this aside, as my problems are not so great and I can work around them with the coping skills.
Not every tussle between dogs is dog aggression, and a dog that accidentally nips a finger while playing is not aggressive. But be honest with yourself and if you find your dogs behavior is impacting your quality of life, it may be time to get things straightened out. Aggression toward another dog is a hassle. Aggression toward other humans is simply dangerous.
Update (7/27/2014) - I went ahead and wrote about one technique that I learned. If you want to read about it, check out this article: Dog Aggression: One Thing That Works
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