Mark's Dog Blog

Dealing with aggression


Dog owners need to stop listening to all the rubbish. Behaviours need consequences, and especially for aggression. All this rubbish that using counter-conditioning techniques, redirecting on to a treat, or keeping the dog below threshold, will stop extreme cases of aggression, is lunacy.

Keeping a dog below threshold so that the aggressive response is not triggered is nothing more than avoiding the trigger, which is almost impossible to do in society unless we lock the dog away and give it no quality of life. By avoiding a behaviour being triggered, we have no way to extinguish it.

First rule: A dog cannot learn what behaviour to avoid unless it is actually in the process of displaying the unwanted behaviour.

We catch the dog at threshold (and not allow it to go too far over) and then punish the aggressive response. If we allow the dog to become overly aroused or stimulated the firmer the correction needs to be to override the dog's current emotional state. We, of course, want to use the least amount of force as possible, we therefore only take the dog to threshold, and not wait for the dog's emotional state to overload, and therefore intensify the aggressive reaction.

My rule of thumb is, first condition the dog to avoid the aggression as soon as it is presented, no matter why the dog is displaying the aggression. And then once the dog avoids the aggressive response, then we can work on the dog's emotional state, and why the aggression was triggered in the first place.

It is important to understand, punishing the behaviour is not about being abusive, or getting angry at the dog, it's simply pairing an unpleasant consequence with the aggressive reaction, and the trainer remaining emotionally neutral during this part of the rehabilitation process.

Whilst the dog considers aggression its first and only option (no matter the reason behind the aggressive reaction) the process that positive-only or force-free trainers use could take months and months if indeed the method is going to work at all. In most cases, their methods rarely do work for extreme aggression. This extremely slow process (if it works) is not being fair on the dog or its owner. Stopping the aggression quickly should be our initial focus. Safety and the well-being of the dog, owner, other people and animals is always our number one priority. Once the dog avoids the aggressive reaction, then we can work on conditioning a calmer and balanced state in the dog, and if fear based, focus on building confidence through positive reinforcement.

Whilst going through the rehabilitation process with the dog, I not only focus on the dog's aggression but on all areas of the dog's relationship with its owner, as there are always other factors that are contributing to the dog's overall behaviour that may not be obvious to the dog's owner. I have a holistic approach to aggression, but I always work on the aggressive response first as my number one priority, for the safety and well-being of the dog, the dog's owner, and other people or other animals in general.

Anyone that tells you that we should never punish aggression is keeping that dog a dangerous liability for longer than it should be... It sickens me that some have the attitude, "death before discomfort", as their hidden agenda because of a purely emotive ideology.  This attitude is a disgrace, and never a philosophy that I would EVER consider! A dog's life and well-being is more important than any emotive based ideology.

This article is not a 'how too' article on dealing with aggression. The point I am hoping to get across to dog owners, is that positive only or force free training methodology is not in my opinion the best option for the dog in most cases. If you are dealing with any aggression issues then please seek out the services of a balanced dog training professional, that has a solid background dealing with these behaviours.

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