Dog Problems Take Time To Develop
Dog on dog aggression usually does not “just happen” overnight. More often it develops slowly over time with tell-tale signs being missed by busy owners. It can be baffling to pet parents who can not understand how dogs can be happy to snuggle and sleep together, yet get into bloody, frightening fights later during the day.
When a fight breaks out between members of a family (or pack) it is often the end result of long build-up of stresses and preceded by a catalyst such as a strange dog going by on the sidewalk outside, the ring of a doorbell by the mailman, or a toy tossed out for play.
A big contributing stress point in this type of situation is quite simply: A lack of proper leadership, boundary setting and training by the owner. Unfortunately, many owners have no idea what sort of training they should do with their dogs to prevent things from escalating to extreme behavior on the part of their dogs.
We love our dogs! We love them unconditionally because they seem to love us so unconditionally. When we are relaxing after long days of work, we naturally want to chill with our buddies and expect them to hang out with us peacefully. When our family dogs develop the habit of fighting violently with each other, peace is hardly possible.
Recently Fast Pup Dog Training received a call from a family who had been experiencing tremendous chaos with their four dogs. One of their bull dogs had become a victim of frequent attacks by one of the other dogs. He was receiving painful and frightening injuries to his head and neck before the family could pry the two dogs apart. During these attacks the two other pack members participated by loudly growling and barking. They also tried to join in the fray. With all the biting and nipping going on, there was a real danger of human members of the family getting bit while they tried to separate the dogs.
When Kate visited their home she had advised ahead of time that each of the four dogs be on a leash with a separate family member handling each one. She rang the door bell after “placing” her demonstration dog “Spanky” on a park bench about 15 feet away from the front door. When the mom opened the front door, the dog she was handling went crazy barking and snarling at Spanky, telegraphing his aggression to the other dogs who then began barking, snarling and lunging toward the door—and each other. (If they could not get at whatever was outside the door, it was obvious that they would have redirected their energy onto each other.) All the family members could do was to hold tightly to the leashes as the dogs lunged wildly. There was no way to interrupt their behavior except to drag two dogs off to the laundry room, another to a crate in the dining room, and the fourth dog to the living room across the hall behind a baby gate. Getting the house quiet enough for a conversation to take place took nearly 15 minutes.
The dogs had never had any obedience training that had been reinforced with drills. Everything was purely reactive on the part of the dogs and there had never been any self control instilled in the dogs. Three of the dogs had been enrolled in an obedience class at a big-box pet store, but according to the owner they had all “flunked.”
An appointment was set to begin training the following week right there at the home. ***Important note*** No trainer can ever “train” a dog to have a different temperament. The only way to solve this chaotic type of situation is to give owners and dogs an expanded array of choices to make rather than the same old reactions that got everyone into this mess in the first place. Empowering owners with new methods of dealing with their dogs, teaching them to read the signs of a problem developing and showing them how to stay ahead of the curve rather than reacting to an out-of-control situation is key. Teaching the dogs new boundaries and drilling on self control exercises will allow dogs to make better decisions and to pay attention to their owners. Looking to their owners for direction and listening to commands changes the playing field for not just the dogs, but the entire family.
In this case all the dogs were taught to walk on a leash without pulling. They were taught not to even pay attention to another dog strolling through the neighborhood, but rather, to look to their owners for reassurance that it was OK for a strange dog to be in the vicinity. They were taught to go to their “place” in a certain part of the house while the family was engaged in activities like cooking dinner or baking holiday cookies. They were taught that they must “stay” in their places no matter what was going on—especially if there was a knock at the door.
Now that the dogs have learned that they must exercise self control and listen to commands, there is no more escalating aggression. If aggression is not allowed to get started with the pack feeding off each other’s energy, there will be no more injuries.
Dog Problems Can Be Fixed–Expect A Habit-Changing Adjustment Period
The first training session with this family took several hours due to the large number of dogs and people needing the training. By the end of the second day on their own, the family was naturally a little doubtful that anything was ever going to really change. Because it takes repetition and a little bit of time to change people’s habits and reactions, let alone changing the dogs’ behavior.
Kate spent some time on the phone during that second “on-their-own” evening with the family revisiting some of the training concepts. However, one of the dogs was presenting a great deal of drama over the changes taking place in the family. This is almost always to be expected. No one likes change, not even our dogs. We all want to continue to float through life doing things that are familiar and comfortable to us—even if those things are harmful to us. We don’t enjoy being humbled by the realization that we have been doing things wrong. So at the very moment we need to be strong leaders for our dogs, we begin doubting ourselves and experiencing worry. Our dogs sense this. And they react to our obvious emotions. So right after we start down a new and better path, we hit a bump that challenges us to have faith. We look at our dogs and wonder if it is all going to be worth it. This is another turning point. Push on through the feelings of doubt with a shiny goal in mind and we will get to a wonderful new relationship with our dogs. Or slide back into old familiar patterns and we will get nowhere.
Whenever starting a new program for ourselves, whether it involves changing to a healthier diet, stopping a habit such as smoking or starting a new exercise routine, we are told that it takes a certain number of days or weeks to change a habit. It is the same with changing our habits with our canine friends. We must give ourselves a little time to change our automatic responses to our dogs. And we must give our dogs a little time before expecting perfection from them as well.
On the third day of the new training Kate visited the home when the family got home from work. She was able to show the owners how much progress the dogs were making when she was at the other end of the leash. And she was able to demonstrate clearly that the dogs were not having any problems with training—just with the emotions the owners were experiencing about the changes. Emotions and doubt are not helpful in training dogs. So we must have faith initially that we will be successful.
By the next weekend a fabulous transformation was taking place in this household. Kate knocked on the front door with Spanky placed outside the door. This time there was very little barking and what there was stopped quickly. Each dog had a leash attached to the collar, but no one was holding them back. The leashes were simply dangling to the floor. No one lunged. No one snarled. Everyone waited to be told to leave their place.
After just a little reassurance from Kate, the family was able to move past their doubts and project confidence to their dogs. Their dogs quietly accepted their owners’ leadership. Nothing was perfect yet, of course. But the change in the household was breathtaking.
Kate learned that the mail man had earlier knocked on their door to deliver a holiday package. He was obliging about waiting while the dogs were settled into place before the door was opened. When the door was opened and the dogs stayed in their places, he was impressed!
Doubt and worry on the part of the family has been replaced by relief and encouragement. Confidence is growing every day and the dogs are so much more relaxed now that they don’t have to “protect” their family from every little imagined threat.
We can not train our dogs not to be aggressive. But we can prevent aggression from happening by teaching and training dogs self control. If we provide the right kind of leadership and stay ahead of the curve, learning to spot tell-tale body language before an incident occurs, we can have a quiet conversation with our dogs and redirect them to other activities.