At times things can go very wrong. Sometimes, if we are paying attention we might not be caught by surprise but in other instances not only can things go wrong but they can do so very, very fast and as a result find us unprepared.
Most of the cases I see and the ones that I enjoy the most have to do with dogs exhibiting aggression as a result of being fearful. A dog being fearful to whatever he was not exposed to in a positive manner over and over again when very young is kind of the “rule” unfortunately and not the exception. I cringe when I am made aware of my client’s paltry intents of socializing their young puppies to all sorts of people and situations.
Think about this: Why get a young puppy – a puppy of your choice when you make the most dangerous mistake ever one can make with any animal? And yes folks, any animal with teeth will bite. I feel that many excellent trainers and I are constantly battling this same issue and sometimes it feels that we are not getting ahead.
Many times, of course, someone adopts an older dog with all the “issues” that a dog might have if again he or she was not properly socialized. These are the folks that I love helping. I find these cases many times are the most satisfying because we can make (some) progress when it comes to changing the emotional connotation a dog has for something or someone from fear to neutral or better yet a positive connotation. As a result both the dog and the owner will have a less stressful and more enjoyable life.
As I was writing for a panel discussion about difficult behavior cases and what we learned about them, a particular case came to mind. The “offending” dog was a 100lb dog that would lunge, bark and growl at everyone (including me during the first session) that would approach, come inside the home or even pass by too close for this dog’s comfort level.
This is an example where the owners will always have to follow protocols for visitors in the home as well as specific protocols we put in place for walking the dog or having the dog in public for the rest of this dog’s life.
Do keep in mind that dogs’ aggressing is kind of the tip of the iceberg. We can see the displays of aggression or even fall victim to them but what we cannot see but should address is the underline cause or causes for these outbursts. This is what I mean that we must be vigilant when we are made aware that our dog is not comfortable with “x” or “y” scenarios.
Some dogs, of course, choose to remove themselves from a scary interaction. At least this time or that one, but again, not a guarantee to how the dog will respond the next time he is presented with the scary stuff.
Protocols exist for a reason. And they are completely useless if we do not follow them. Not are protocols only a safety mechanism to keep everyone safe but what I also love about them is that when they are executed with consistency they continue to teach the dog confidence. His world just became more predictable and this helps the dog relax.
Predictability – with some novelty sprinkled here and there is one of the protocols I love to recommend for all dogs, but mainly to those that have had rough beginnings and now are anxious or fearful a lot of the time.
Life is anything but predictable. So it is very likely that those folks living with dogs that aggress will find themselves in situations they would rather not be. However, once protocols are in place these events should be highly minimized or gone all together and with every positive interaction the dog has, we continue to help the dog and the family improve their lot in life.