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Is our dog aggressive towards people?

This week instead of Winston always being in the firing line, it was my turn. So that he did not start that sarcastic chuckling, like Dick Dastardly´s Mutley in the classic car racing cartoons, this time I left him in the house.

I had received many emails from the owners about their dog. There is a commonly held conviction that for this breed, along with its colour, nervous aggression is common. As I said last week, I believe puppies are like a blank sheet of paper. Owners create the characters of their dogs, but if we do not get the language right, it is then we find we have problems. Look at how many dogs seem to copy their owner’s mannerisms, often even looking like them.

The owners found if they took the dog out of the room when they had visitors, then once they were inside and sat down, the dog seemed to settle when they brought him back into the room. When walking outside and particularly with the husband, whilst the dog was on the lead, the dog was appearing very aggressive to humans. If off the lead, it would charge up to humans, but stops short of actually attacking.

What could I do to change the problem, that for the owners, was becoming an increasingly worry with each passing day?

Certainly reading all the mail, there were many choices, but the crucial question for me was how far had this dog gone. What was actually stopping it attacking? Was it its own fear that was holding him back, or something else? What would happen if the people showed fear of the dog could it then learn to loose its fear and attack?

The next question is why. What was it trying to protect, because attacks at a distance are not common for a nervous dog. Normally when in close proximity to the handler, the dog can feel cornered, resulting in attack in an underhanded way. There is often no warning, the attacks are fast, and are more nips than real aggressive bites.

Certainly, the owners were aware they had not given their dog enough sociability training. They could see the aggression growing, but walking the dog in public looked the irresponsible thing to do. They considered it better to keep him in and find out what they must do to alter this quickly.

This time, Winston was initially staying in the house so, when they arrived, I asked if they would keep their dog in the car until we had talked. This lasted about an hour where I learned that the wife had done all the house and basic training. The husband simply enjoyed the dogs company and acted in a laid-back way towards the training. The dog was sleeping in their bedroom, often changing from one side of the bed to the other. During the day, the dog was the husband’s shadow. You might think it was acting like a one-man dog but it was not.

In all our discussions, there was no doggy style organisation or real leadership. The dog was certainly worse with the husband who possibly lacked the correct leadership qualities that he expected. Because of this, it was creating confusion for the dog that needs the correct social structure in order not to feel vulnerable.

Added to this, the owners were showing concern when out with the dog, which he was detecting and reacting accordingly. This would be initially warning people away with aggression on the lead, or when off the lead by charging at them, but this could ultimately lead to a real if only snapping attack.

At the end of our first discussion about the problem, I demonstrated the remote controlled compressed air collar. I then showed them how to put it on their dog, as I did not want to see him at this point. I wanted to act like a total stranger who would not show any fear, allowing me to experience the problem first hand.

I went to the far end of the obedience field armed with my remote control fob, a can of compressed air, as well as my 9 mm starting pistol. When they were ready, I asked them to walk through the agility field, close and lock the gate. Then once inside the obedience field and on my signal, I had asked them to let their dog off the lead.

The dog looked at me but did nothing. Only when I waved my arms and shouted did he begin his charge. This was very hesitant but he kept coming. The compressed air collar only veered him a little from his direction. At twenty metres, compressed air only made him weave slightly, but he now increased his speed, possibly because I kept staring at him. Just before he reached me, I fired the 9 mm blank round. This immediately stopped him in his tracks and made him run back to the gate. All he wanted to do now was to go home.

I now walked down the field in order to move him away from the gate and back to his owners, so that I could then talk to them again. During this time, the dog jumped up on the back of the husband a number of times and I feel sure that if he had a hood attached to the jacket he would have climbed in it and disappeared.

Now it was time for Winston, so placing his muzzle on him I brought him out of the house and walked him into the field on his lead. There was not a problem and eventually I let Winston free so they could play chase round the fields. This was something the owners had never seen before.

The dog was eventually becoming tired of the chase game. Though Winston wanted to continue, on a couple of occasions, he went for Winston. Again, the attacks only stopped when I fired further blank rounds.

It is not possible to walk about using a starting pistol. Continued use will eventually only desensitise him to gunfire and in time will not stop his attacks. Gunfire was therefore not a logical or long-term solution.

We went back into the house to see how the dog would react there, whilst we continue discussing methods of curing the problem. The main problem I could see was when the dog became more nervous he would sit as close as he could to the husband.

Just to prove a point, or a sore point as it turned out to be, I walked between the table and the husband sat in the chair next to the dog. The first time I passed by nothing happened. On the second occasion, I should have been wearing my Kevlar gloves as it shot out from between the chairs and nipped my hand. His nip left a small hole that could not have happened wearing the gloves. The husband did though realise it was his proximity to the dog that was the problem.

The solution is the dog must stop being the husband’s shadow. He must ignore his dog as if he did not exist. He must teach the dog to stay out of the bedroom without having to shut the door. He must feed him in an obvious away that promotes him as the Alpha leader where all food is his for him to do with what he wants. The next most important thing was to socialise the dog by taking him out whilst wearing a soft muzzle and taping up his dewclaws. He must learn to meet dogs and more importantly people whilst he cannot do any harm.

I was going to telephone the owners today, but they telephoned me instead. They were asking would I be willing to look after their dog whilst they went to England. They were hoping I could start to retrain him of his anti social behaviour. Not wishing this dog to end up learning any more aggression and possibly attacking someone, I agreed.

Now, did I just hear a little Mutley snigger coming from Winston?

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