Miami, Florida — Every Saturday morning at 8:30AM I teach my manners maintenance class for graduates of our board and train program. The class is specially designed for students whose dogs have already aquired the necessary skills for success to practice those skills with their humans. There’s no denying that a well trained dog is handler dependent. Meaning, even the best of trained dogs can quickly revert back to naughty ways if the human attached to that dog isn’t doing their part to maintain behavior. At the end of the day, even the most well trained dog is still an animal, and animals do what works for them. If being naughty works, they’re naughty. If being well mannered and polite works to get the things they want, then they do that. The same is true even for dogs with aggression issues.
Here at AYP we work with a lot of dog-aggressive dogs. Each case is different, and a successful outcome depends on several factors including but not limited to:
- The early socialization of the dog
- How long the aggressive behavior has been occurring
- Whether or not a dog has already gotten experience at successfully attacking and injuring another dog
- The way in which a dog was previously trained
- The owners commitment to continued reinforcement and enforcement of preferable behavior after the dog’s training is complete
The last bullet point is the one I want to specifically address because it’s not just about an owner’s commitment but an owners emotional capability. This morning in class we had a female american bulldog who just finished her program come to class with her owner for the first time. It was clear from the first few seconds the owner came into class with his dog that he was a nervous wreck. Not the dog, him!
If you’ve ever lived with or owned a dog-aggressive or dog-reactive dog you know exactly what this feels like. The last thing you want is for someone else’s dog to get injured, but even more basic than that you’re likely embarrassed that your dog behaves the way she does. You might blame yourself for things you did, or didn’t do, and you might even feel helpless because you can’t seem to get anywhere. I’m here to tell you it’s OK that you feel that way, and that lucky there’s people like me and my team who are just as committed to your emotional well being as we are to your dog’s training.
At the conclusion of this dog’s board and train program she could be out in a playgroup of dogs in a muzzle. Prior to her program she couldn’t even see another dog without completely losing it (barking, lunging, growling, jumping up in the air, snapping). Based on her bite history with other dogs, meaning … she has a history of severely injuring another dog(s), this is not a dog that we would ever trust without a muzzle on in a dog-park like scenario. There are too many factors that could lead to over-arousal in a dog-park type scenario, so for other dog’s safety this dog will always need to be muzzled around dogs she doesn’t know. However, with behavior modification (rehabilitation) she’s able to enjoy the company of some dogs if their temperament lends itself as a match to hers.
I don’t want to get too far off track, but I do want to re-itterate what I just said: she can be with dogs whose temperament lends itself as a match to hers. Why is it that everyone thinks that every dog should want to get along with every single dog? Do you get along with every single person you meet? We didn’t think so. Yet, just because you don’t prefer the company of everyone doesn’t mean you have to attack them or injure them. That’s where we come in. We teach dogs how to defer to their owners so they no longer bark, lunge, or become aggressive towards other dogs.
Over the course of her aggression rehabilitation board+train program this dog learned how to be in close proximity to dogs while staying cool, calm, and collected. She stopped wanting to lunge at dogs, and she stopped barking and lunging at other dogs when she’d see them. She could even go out to play with dogs we selected for her. You could walk her past any dog, anytime, without any incident. So why did she react this morning when she came to class? She was attached to an insecure human.
We try not to give in too much about the “energy” of dog training, because although it’s mainly hocus pocus there are some things about the concept that are valid:
- If you tighten your leash you are likely stressing your dog and triggering an aggressive response
- If you jerk on the leash or correct your dog harshly you are likely making your dog more aggressive (stressed)
- If you scream, yell or hit your dog we guarantee you your’e definitely making it worse!
Back to the American Bulldog girly and her human….
So, they walk into the classroom this morning and immediately the dog is highly aroused wanting to lunge at other dogs. I could see the stress on her owners face, and took some time to help calm him down. Once he was calm, his dog calmed down and started being super obedient. I also took some time to have another student in the class whose dog-aggressive dog now is super successful assure him that it take a lot of patience and time to heal a dog-aggressive dog. I think the words she used to help reassure the newbie was “It was really hard at first, but I promise it gets easier.”
I have no doubt that if this owner continues to come to manners maintainence class he will start to see how well his dog was and is trained, and even better than that — he’ll start to feel empowered that he has 100% control of the situation and no longer has to feel anxiety or stress about it. By the end of the class he had his dog off leash in a down stay with the five other dogs the class. He was heeling his dog within a few feet of other dogs and he could recall his dog away from the other dogs to come immediately to him. She was wagging her tail, happy to work, and totally focused on him. He started to relax, but only just a little bit. Him learning to control his human emotional responses is going to take a lot more time than it took us to train his dog. But, we’ll be right here to keep cheering him on to success with his dog.