Dog Behaviour Advice - Dog Advice Articles
Challenging your aggressive dog part 1
There seems to be a growing belief that owners should make their dogs submit to them by using challenging techniques like taking a muzzled dog by the throat and pinning it to the ground. Another method is lying on top of it until is submits. There is also the method of facing up to your dog by placing your face directly in front of it, hoping it will force it to back down. Other methods are letting your dog eat whilst on a choke chain, saying eat by relaxing the lead or stop eating by pulling up on it. Other methods described in newspapers refer to professionals and ordinary owners resorting to hanging, kicking and hitting them until they no longer resist, effectively breaking their spirit.
All use of such tactics is due to the failure of the training or lack of knowledge of alternative methods. Yes, some dogs pushed from pillar to post can learn bad habits. Again, here the belief is that such methods are the simplest, quickest, and normal methods of correction. You may often hear someone say that any dog that bites me will then bounce off the walls a few times, but it will never do it again. This may well work if the owner inflicts such punishment. My question is what happens to other people that could come into the firing line that the dog does not respect that have not also bounced it off the walls.
Other owners take the easy way out and either have the dog put down or take it to a shelter for someone else to sort out.
Talking to my good friend P.C. Trevor Ellis (retired), he was in charge of Manchester Police dog section, asked me why I was so interested in people testing that they were able to remove things from a dog. He like me, never ever had any problems like this with any of our dogs. I certainly do not remember doing anything specifically to train any of them to accepting me removing a food bowl or take anything else away from them.
At one time, I had seven German Shepherds in my house and aggression towards humans whilst eating never existed. I can also say I never even worried about it, though I knew people did have such problems.
Domestic dogs should never growl at the owners. Nor should they place their paw into the bowl to stop the owner removing it. If they do attempt to do so, such a dog will most likely resort to biting them. A dog that bites the owner is a dangerous dog as it has learnt it can control humans and this needs correction. The common excuse is to say always leave the dog alone when it is eating. Fine but how many small children have learnt to their cost, as children do not always do what people tell them to do.
So what is going on? Most dogs normally try to defend their food. This is the only way they believe they can survive in the wild. This still exists today but it will easily learn to accept humans doing this, especially when they are puppies. They soon learn to accept that humans can remove a food bowl and return it. This teaches them that we do not act like dogs. It may still warn away other dogs but not humans.
In most cases the average dog, hierarchical need is not an important issue. This means anyone could remove a food bowl, a bone, or toy without a problem. However, some dogs have learnt to protect their food like for instance an older dog, a shelter dog or a one that finds its hierarchal position important to it. Learning it can make its human owners back down is a learned skill and one that some dogs will use to their own ends.
There are however many people who give a puppy a bone then say leave so they can take it off their dog. Almost immediately, they give it back to them so the dog learns the removal is only temporary. As it is not permanent, there is nothing to fear. Taking a ball from a dog then throwing it again is a simple example.
I never set up a training programme to make sure my dogs never protected their food from me. I just was able to do it straight away without thinking.
For those of you who may remember the western the Good the Bad and the Ugly. In this film, Toco, played by Eli Wallach, thought at the beginning of the film he had killed all of a family that had been hunting him, but one survived. This person finally caught up with him whilst he was taking a bath in a bombed out hotel. The man swung open the bathroom doors and pointed his gun at Toco. He then started telling him how long he had been tracking him and now how he was going to enjoy killing him. Before he could finish Toco fired his gun from under the soapsuds killing the man. He then got out of the bath shooting him again making the following well know quote “When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk.” I feel this quote is very apt to this problem with possessive aggression. Don’t threaten your puppy with removing its possession just do it. Hesitate at your peril. Growling from a little puppy may seem funny at first but it is no laughing matter.
If owners would only check that their puppy accepts that we can take things off them and then return it, they learn not to fear us. This is because we are not permanently depriving them of something. Puppies quickly learn to accept it. As I say, we are humans, not dogs: we act differently.
Many owners never bother with this little test until the dog is much older. When they do try to do this, they are surprised the dog growls at them or even attacks. The owners are obviously shocked. What is worse, they become anxious. This means that the next time the dog can easily read their body language. They can tell we are worried so bolstering their belief they are in control and this becomes worse with each succeeding day.
The future dangers are obvious to us all. It is no good walking away from it or trying to ignore it. There is a potential accident waiting to happen.
Normally if your dog bites you, for you will surely do something about it. No one can live with a dog that bites the hand that feeds it. If the owners just know how to keep out of its way, they are leaving the accident to fall on some other unsuspecting person.
You cannot overlook this type of aggression and it is important to correct this quickly. The other problem is if you do correct it, how many trust their dog again. Will they always be uncertain?
Many people love their dogs so much they are willing to overlook the potential danger and ignore their lack of trust. The excuse so often used when their dog does bite someone is they say, “He has never done anything like that before.”
Yes, it is possible to correct a dog from various forms of aggression but we need to know why the dog became aggressive and offer the correct desensitising methods that give the dog confidence in not needing to use aggression.
It is for this reason I believe that such established harsh methods of retraining only teaches a dog that if humans can use force on it, then any humans it sees as being lower in the hierarchy, it can use force on them. I believe making such challenges like these is potentially dangerous when there are easier alternatives if you use a little lateral thinking.