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Modern methods to cure dog aggression

Following from last weeks article, did anyone win the lottery by using your dog’s precognitive powers? It reminds me of the days of Horace Bachelor and his Infadraw method.

It makes a pleasant change to receive a call about a problem with a gun dog working too far in front of the guns. This does require early learning for the dog to know how far is too far so the command I used was ‘back, back, back’ and then let him continue. One of my tax clients is a gun dog breeder and trainer, training all the dogs to the whistle and when blown all dogs must return to touch his hand before they do anything else. He indoctrinated this rule from when they were small pups and regularly reinforced it again before each shooting season. My dog was a German Shepherd who had hip dysplasia so was unfit for working trials. Local farmers with all their Springer Spaniels did look at him a bid oddly but agreed he did work well.

For the problem, I suggested the remote Master Plus gas system as if the dog does get too far ahead then if it fails to react to the command to come then a single squirt will distract the dog and encourage it to return. At £170, it is expensive but I am prepared to purchase them and then I will lend them on to anyone who needs to use one.

It was also a pleasure to hear of a problem of a very big dog being overly friendly. Trying to use the rejection methods on such a big dog can almost be impossible. Again the use of the Master Plus to reinforce the come command should readily solve this.

Aggression in dogs is the most common problem I receive requests asking for my help however, it is important to discover which type it is.

Dogs learned in the very early days that to control other dogs within the pack if they injured one another then their hunting skills became impaired so the pack would fail to survive. Dogs therefore developed a method of ritualised fighting, which required showing dominance, and submission postures. Deeper growls and barks had more control than the size of each dog. It is not really a dog’s nature to attack others of its own pack.

On the other hand, attacks on dogs from other packs could lead to death yet they are prepared, after a very long ritualistic posturing, to allow a lone wolf into the pack. There are fights to the death within packs of husky type dogs. Here humans trained them for pulling sledges and because they regularly fed the dogs, survival was unimportant. This encouraged aggression by the lead dog to control the others and some disputes could end in the death of a dog. Man ether by choice or inadvertently over wrote the dogs genetic survival rules.

I would like to know when dangerous aggression became so prevalent and wonder if this coincided when we started training using the enforcement methods. I certainly believe that our aggressive training using chokers and pain does teach a dog that aggression works and will override its genetic rules. We see aggression against children and dogs outside of the family pack in which the dog lives, yet dogs love the children within its pack. This shows that the old rules are still there and working. It is this importance of teaching dogs the concept of the infinite pack with sociability so dogs retain and use its genetic rules and does not attack anyone within the infinite pack.

The good thing is that aggression is controllable but we must start at the beginning and stop aggressive training then retraining should become less of a necessity and make behaviourist redundant. It also requires instructors who still preserve the old ways to come to terms that they contribute to dog aggression. For so many years, we have attempted to call enforcement training by all sorts of names to make it palatable because there was no alternative. It worked when in fact we all know it is training by aggression and that pain is the most powerful stimulus for creating aggression.

There are different types of aggression and if we run through each you can see the importance of deciding which type a dog my have a problem with.

Dominance Aggression.

One of the needs of all dogs is to have a place within the hierarchy of its pack. Most dogs are neither the forceful pups that try to dominate nor the nervous one. They are usually the average type that like the easy life with all its needs fulfilled. They do not mind children dragging them about and like most dogs and people. They recognise their place in their family and content with life. There is however, a dog that wants more and feels they can climb the pecking order to obtain greater goals but thwarted by most owners. Signs usually begin to show at the age of two, which is the age of puberty in wolves but not in dogs. We seem to have somehow speeded up the age of puberty in dogs.

The rule to follow is dogs should react to us not the other way round. However, some dogs will find owners reacting to a dog’s wish and so dominance over the owners. It is then life in the house revolves around the needs of the dog. Dominancy problems are not quite as common as behaviourists lead you to believe. It is though correct that you should ensure your dog does accept humans as decision makers in the pack and some dominance training is a wise precaution in the early days of laying down the rules. If you find your dog is displaying such aggressive behaviour, you must correct it as soon as possible. The dog will probably not physically attack owners that it perceives as submissive but may do to someone that tries to equal it.

Possessive Aggression

Maybe this first starts at feeding time when the cave man threw bones and scraps to the dogs and hunger would make dogs possessive of food and establish the important pecking order. We find this also with possessions given to dogs as toys and like articles that allow a dog having some sort of medal denoting its position within the pack. A danger here is if children are in the family where having possessions denotes position so aggression is the defence of that position. This is more dangerous with no other dog’s only children. The number of children injured wishing to play with the dog’s toys is common. It is not only possessions but also rivalry with the other members of the pack and a need to maintain the pecking order. Anything that supports this like the owners supporting one dog over another should cease and be very aware of the danger of acknowledging their dogs before the children when they enter the house.

The simple pull game where the dog pulls the toy away from the owner is a game of dominance over a possession. This again probably started from those early days of fighting over the possession of food with the dominant one winning.

Fear and pain induced aggression

If a dog is fearful then it will flee, freeze or fight depending on the situation. This does bring me back to enforcement training. I could teach a dog to attack and kill not just anybody but training with severe pain and using scent, I can direct it to one particular person. This is not fantasy you all know this is possible. Simply using the fear of pain plus using scent are the key elements that make this possible. Sometimes like the electric collar and invisible fence the dog is looking for someone to blame for this pain and can channel the aggression to the wrong person.

We also have the same with illness. If a dog is in pain, it sometimes becomes irritable and fears anyone touching it or anyone who is in the vicinity when the pain occurs can become the target. Most aggression from fear is lack of socialisation with other dog’s humans and in particular children. This is the most common problem found by behaviourists. The body stance of a dog showing this type of problem looks submissive tail down head down but with teeth bared. As the normal reaction for us is to back off this teaches the dog that the aggression works and so it gets worse.

Protective and territorial aggression.

It is a genetic rule for dogs to protect the territory of their pack in order for the pack to survive. We should be wary of allowing boundaries to become the dog’s boundaries. People are allowed access to your home so positive training is required to let your dog meet people even escort them but never attack. Possessions also can play a part here as they do in dominance problems. Possessions are property, cars, owners, children, its toys, its pups or pup substitutes if the hormone progesterone is responsible. Where such protectiveness is long term, it may well be encouraged as the reason for wanting to have a dog, as a companion but it can become a self-generating problem. When people come to the door like the postman or paperboy or walk up close to the car they then go away again this encourages the dog that they left because of its guarding technique. The owners can also cause a further increase by thinking they are helping by locking the dog away, which only magnifies the situation in the same way as teasing the dog.

Male-to-Male Aggression

Complete males within the infinite pack usually create a conflict in who is dominant. Two evenly matched dogs not necessary in size but where both feel they have the right to dominant the other. This aggression is related to the hormone Testosterone following puberty. Castration often helps here by removing the hormone or even replacing it with the female progesterone to quieten the dog. The fact that domination plays a part here does make it a question of which dog needs treating. Castrating both males will probably not solve the problem as the balance remains. It would be better to castrate the subservient dog first if the test hormone treatment shows some improvement.

Predatory Aggression

This is the most dangerous type of aggression as the aim is to kill but because most dogs feed regularly the least encountered. Often as puppies, they do not remain long enough with their siblings so never get the chance to practice these hunting techniques. They do though still remember the genetic stances and know how to slink up on their prey. It is here that you should never encourage any type of chase games between dogs and owners or their children. Because feral dogs also lack these skills, they become more like beggars’ or scavengers than true predators. Behaviourists consider this the hardest to correct because of the rewards gained from the thrill of the chase and the reward of food. With gas-collars and the reinforcement training that we have today we can easily retrain. I only wish we had these thirty years ago we could have so easily changed the Police standoff to a recall. From my visit to Romania, I can confirm my contemporaries’ earlier findings that stray urban dogs do not show predatory aggression.

Idiopathic Aggression

This is where there is aggression shown even to people the dog knows but there seems to be no reason for why. The suggestion is this is a deep-seated genetic problem and only associated with certain breeds. Many years ago people would say the dog has turned or reverted but it is more likely some mental problem and one that only after the vet has tried various drugs may suggest euthanasia.

Learned Aggression.

This is where we as owners have trained dogs to become aggressive for guarding or fighting using pain as the major stimuli. If the training is to cause pain to other people or dogs this is a dangerous game to play. Competition and Police dogs handlers know how to teach aggression as a game but the reward is not to inflict pain but some other reward like retrieving the protective sleeve or a toy. Most competition dogs sent to chase a criminal who is not wearing a protective sleeve will not bite because it is absent. One police dog handler’s answer to the question of how we trained dogs to only bite the right arm replied, “We paint a sign on the arm saying BITE HERE”. We call this stage aggression and we can switch it on and off at will. To the untrained, eye it looks like true aggression but to most people who know dogs will recognise that the body language of the dog is wrong. No one should teach a dog to use aggression to cause harm but where and because someone has taught the dog, it is very easy to correct.

I have covered most of the subject of aggression, as this is my particular interest. I could still write volumes on each type as well as how to prevent and treat each of them but that is possibly going to deep. If any owner has a dog showing any such symptoms, they should not feel embarrassed nor resort to using protection methods by keeping the dog out of public sight. Use a muzzle and positive socialisation as the best way to retrain your dog and if necessary seek advice from your vet followed by a recommended behaviourist.

In conclusion and looking on the bright side, I can tell you that most dog aggression is re-trainable.

I have received an invitation by Roger Mugford to visit him next week and sit in on two of his acclaimed clinics for behavioural problems and to discuss dog aggression in Europe. I also need to correct the problem with the Master Plus system as the new ones are in need of a little adjustment. If you do purchase one, do first check that it has had the modification for the power drain.

Next week is any behavioural updates, a look at further training for the search square plus a quick refresher for puppies of Sit, Stand, Down, and Come. If you have any questions or queries then, as before, please contact me.

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