Is Your Dog Aggressive or Afraid?
Aggressive behavior almost always stems from fear, but a veterinarian must rule out any possible physical or neurological reasons that may directly or indirectly trigger an aggressive action or response. Rather than being aggressive, have you considered that your dog may more than likely be afraid of something?
That a person must be the “alpha” dog is an old theory that somehow became a legendary fact through no basis of real, actual study of dogs. Unfortunately it became a “fact” about 50 years ago that you, the owner, had to be the alpha or the dominant or your dog would take over and all of the seemingly aggressive behaviors that resulted were founded on this conjecture. Hence, many incorrect thoughts on training were developed. What dogs need is Leadership, not subjugation.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior came out with a fabulous article about 10 years ago debunking this theory over and over and over again, but unfortunately there’s still an abundance of trainers out there who are using that as their foundation for everything they do.
Also I think we need to remember that dogs can act aggressive on occasion, but they are not aggressive all the time and any dog can act aggressive if the right (or wrong) things happen to occur, like the so called Perfect Storm.
Today I would like to begin a series of articles that address some of these misconceptions so we can all understand our dogs and their behaviors better, and by so doing, help them to be more sociable and well adjusted.
1- What causes fear or anxiety in dogs?
They say that humans are born with only two fears, falling and loud noises, both of which are designed to help us survive.
Puppies are much the same way. Some dogs, just by nature are more shy and some dogs are more outgoing. More outgoing puppies experience more because they’re less afraid to try something and have a good experience or perhaps a bad one. But the shy ones often don’t even try it at all, therefore they have no positive or negative results that influence how they feel about things. The less you know about something the more likely you are fearful of it. Really good breeders are going to handle their dogs more, have them inside and outside experiencing normal human life sounds such as telephones, vacuum cleaners, the television, radio, kids that scream and run and make noise, cars, planes, and everything that they can. Every dog is going to react in their own way as to how they feel about these things…just as a human will.
So, experience can set up a fear that is learned. That same experience can be made to be so positive that the dog enjoys it so much that they don’t develop a fear of it, they actually see the crazy thing, a stranger in a hat and beard, noise on the television or the vacuum cleaner, as a means to get treats or food or something yummy, a bully stick, and a special prize, a new toy, play time, etc., that the fear is not developed… That thing is not a monster, but a predictor of something good.
When your dog is faced with something they are not accustomed to and they become fearful, here’s how you can turn a fearful situation into a positive one: Watch for whatever triggers their barking or other negative behaviors, such as other dogs, and keep a farther distance from them. What if your dog feels fearful when the doorbell rings? Feed him cheese and/or hot dogs. It may sound funny, but it really works. Be proactive and creative, once you have identified the trigger, begin the process. If it’s the doorbell, don’t wait for it to ring, ring it yourself, then drop the cheese for your dog and walk away as if nothing happened. Repeat the exercise a few times. This kind of training is very effective. For example, Chubb, an English Bulldog now only barks twice and is happy when people ring the doorbell. The power of association is huge!
Can a dog be born with fears?
There are also dogs whose parents have neurotic issues and in case studies, such as those by Allegheny Sue (a neurotic dog, who had puppies and they did a case study on her), they did prove that those issues can be passed down, although they are not always. Some dogs do tend to be more shy than others, but I think it’s more personality, experience and socialization and exposure, rather than breeding, but some dogs are innately more so, just like some people are. Is it a lack of self confidence, self esteem, feeling like they fail before they even try? Possibly, I am extremely outgoing, but I am NOT without fear. I am still shy at times, especially doing something new… I am not athletically inclined so my physical weakness makes my confidence go down.. But if I want it bad enough I try.
This is why socialization of puppies is so very important and socialization needs to be more than just exposure, but rather setting that exposure up in such a way that the dog says, “that was really cool let’s do that again! ”
Join me for the next article discussing how we can understand our dog’s behaviors.
At Pawsitive Steps Dog Training, I care about the welfare of your dog, and about his training. My training techniques are based around one simple question: What do you want and expect from your dog?
I believe that the most effective method of dog training revolves around teaching your dog what you want them to do, how to behave, how to act in their environment, and what appropriate behaviors are under given circumstances and situations. Check out our Family Friendly Training Classes.