By Nick Jones
As a full time dog behaviour specialist, my role is to help owners whose dogs are showing undesirable behaviour. In my work dog aggression is relatively common, falling into three broad categories: dog to dog aggression, aggressive behaviour towards people, and finally aggressive behaviour focussed upon guarding food, territory or toys etc.
Both the type of aggression and the way it manifests can vary considerably. Due to the complexities involved, I shall not attempt to offer a one-stop guide in how to deal with dog aggression here, as each dog and owner will require an individual programme based on their set of circumstances. What might be just right for one dog, may be excessive or inadequate for another.
A long time ago I began to see very clearly the importance of early and correct socialisation with young dogs in an effort to prevent aggressive behaviour in the first place. On the basis that most aggressive behaviour has a foundation of insecurity and fear, this brings us back time after time to the fact that the dog was (probably) not socialised correctly at the right age. There are other factors that could create this behaviour in a dog, and another common aspect is that the dog may have been attacked when at an impressionable age, leading neatly back in a full circle to creating a reactive dog. The dog may now drive away what concerns it most by showing (often through learned and repeated practice) aggressive behaviour and actions.
In attacks that leave a dog nervous aggressive, we can see a long and repeated chain of events as the dog passes this fear on to other dogs through its own aggressive behaviour, and the cycle can go on and on in an almost virus-like action. This seems to be particularly so in built-up areas where the dog may not have adequate supervision or control, or the owner may lack the skills to effectively resolve the behaviour at an early stage. If you should find yourself in this position, I would pause here and say it needn’t be this way…there is help available.
It’s not unusual for people to take on a rescue dog that may exhibit dog to dog aggression (or other unwanted behaviours) once the dog has become more settled in the home. This behaviour may have been developed and practiced by the dog a long time before the new owners took it on, and this can change what should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience into a highly stressful one. In this situation, the dog’s early socialisation is well beyond the new owners influence, and one should seek the help of a recommended behaviour specialist to safely establish the best way forward.
Those that read any of my other articles would find a common thread that is never far away from most issues I cover and the work that I do, and that is the one of leadership. Refer to my Articles page on my web site to read more on this. Very often one can literally lead the dog out of this stressful behaviour by an increase in leadership and control. It’s rather like taking a new kids hand in class and saying ‘It’s ok, let me show you how to do this’. When this is done with a calm and convincing approach, it can be enough to redirect the dog onto a new task when in the same circumstances that would have previously created a scene and stress all round.
Sadly, a global approach and method does not resolve all cases. Some dogs can be improved by simply implementing a number of leadership based actions in and out of the home resulting in a miraculous change, whilst others are deeply disturbed, and may never fully recover despite our best efforts.
Apart from correct socialisation at an early age, I am also certain that the leadership balance is not always helped when people choose what seems to be an inappropriate breed for them. With aging we may lose the agility and quick responses we once had for a particular breed or certain size of dog. But it’s not just ageing that can cause reduced influence over your dog; life’s circumstances also change on a regular basis for many of us, with work or family pressures being the obvious ones.
Pip my female Border Terrier, and Oscar the Maine Coon cat are a perfect compliment to our life style as a family. We can cope with the exercise requirements of Pip, and she is a relaxed dog for the best part. Oscar tends to be a law unto himself! My daughter can handle and exercise Pip with ease, and this is another area to consider should you have children at home.
Should you be researching a new breed, I urge you to take extra time to carefully decide with a calm collected head what would be manageable for you and your family. This will increase the likelihood of you being able to control that dog on a physical level on lead, and to have the confidence to put your best foot forward. Some breeds are not for beginners, but I see first time owners with them all too often. Choosing the right breed can save a lot of blood, sweat and tears. There are incidentally a number of free step-by-step questionnaires online that can give guidance on this matter. Well worth a look. Google ‘dog selection questionnaire’ for example.
So what do you do when you find yourself in the situation where you are struggling with dog aggression in one or more of its many guises? In the first instance it would be wise to have your dog assessed by your vet for any medical symptoms, and to then seek the help of a recommended behaviour specialist that is both prepared and equipped to deal with aggressive behaviour, and has a proven track record using humane techniques in doing so. Your confidence in being able to work together with this practitioner is also essential in my view, as the behaviourist will be instructing you as much as (if not more than) the dog. Be sure to ask a few awkward questions, and seek references to satisfy yourself that they are able to cope with the situation.
Whilst I regularly travel long distances to help with such cases, you may need more local help from a practitioner with the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association here CFBA.
Nick Jones MCFBA
Dog Behaviour Specialist and Trainer
Nick Jones, a full time Dog Behavioural Specialist and Trainer wrote this article. You can visit his website atwww.alphadogbehaviour.co.uk for more articles and training information. You may freely distribute this article or save to any electronic media as long as it is left intact, including this copyright box. Please let Nick know out of courtesy where and when you publish. Email will suffice. Thank you