Here at Ty the Dog Guy we deal with a LOT of dog aggression cases We always find ourselves preaching the three steps to fixing dog aggression are:
1- Achieve high levels of obedience
2- Apply that obedience to moments when your dog is prone to being aggressive
3- Correct the aggression when it occurs in a way that makes sense to the dog
We have a ton of success with this formula.
Well, the other day we got a small group of clients together. These were clients whose dogs have some pretty intense aggression issues and we wanted to work on step three; how to correct the aggression when it occurs.
Our head trainer, Joe, was off teaching another class so I, Ty, took this small group and we met at a park. As all of the dogs in the group were dog aggressive I wanted to have a dog there with me who could be the demo dog. My dogs are getting too old for that kind of stuff so I decided to use Joe’s dog. Joe’s dog is a 2 year old Belgian Malinois named Pluto, pictured above.
Pluto is a great dog. If you’ve ever seen him with Joe you’ve been impressed at the level of control and obedience that this dog has. Even better, when you see him with Joe and other dogs you’re also impressed by how confident he is with other dogs. Joe is able to use him all the time as a demonstration dog to help other dogs feel calm and normal.
This wasn’t the case with me…
I brought Pluto to the park and we got to work with the other dogs….only Pluto didn’t react for me the way he always responds to Joe. He growled a bit, he didn’t listen to my commands with the same speed as he does to Joe, and the energy of the other dogs put him off a bit.
As it turns out, his behavior was fortunate. He acted a bit foolish which brought out some bad behavior in some of the other dogs. We were able to correct that bad behavior in the other dogs and it ended being a fruitful session with all of the dogs in the group learning new skills for dealing with their anxiety towards other dogs.
It got me thinking, though, on why Pluto would growl and bark at other dogs when he NEVER has done that before.
I had to look to my own words.
We’re constantly teaching our clients that one of the best ways to get a dog over an aggression issue is to display leadership. When a dog feels a strong leadership presence it doesn’t make sense to act aggressively. When a dog feels a strong leader he can trust that the leader will take care of issues as they come up.
Pluto doesn’t respect me as a leader. Sure, he knows me and we’ve hung out before but him knowing me does not translate to respect for me. On the flip side, he’s very respectful to Joe. So when I took him into a situation that was dicey and nervous for him he felt he needed to take it upon himself to ‘fix’ the situation with growling and barking. When Joe takes him into such situations he trusts that Joe will handle things and therefore there is no growling or barking.
The question here is, are you in a leadership role with your dog? If not, is that contributing to any aggression issues that your dog may have?
The way to leadership is through obedience. You’ll read all sorts of weird stuff online about growling at your dog, pinning your dog on his back, etc. in order to establish leadership. Those things don’t work.
What does work, and why we are uniquely qualified to help people with their aggression issues, is advanced obedience. Obedience for treats and cookies may be fun but it will never be advanced. There are far too many things more interesting to your dog than a piece of hot dog. The type of obedience that solves aggression problems, and the type that we teach, is a more advanced level of off leash obedience where your dog will listen to your commands even under heavy distraction. THAT level of obedience can help put you in a leadership role and fix aggression problems.
Think about it, if your dog comes when called EVERY time…he’s putting your will first. If your dog stays when told EVERY time….she’s putting your will first. If your dog walks perfectly on leash even through distraction…he’s putting your will first. As your dog learns to put your will first, through advanced obedience training, leadership is achieved and other behavior problems become easier to deal with.