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Are our dogs aggressive?

This question is one often asked of me by concerned dog owners who have seen their dogs do something that appears very antisocial. Not only are such incidents upsetting for the owners but also for those owners that they meet.

What often happens is the owner of a dog that seems to be becoming increasing aggressive; they restrict its activity in meeting other dogs. This may sound logical, but after a while, the aggression only seems to increase. This often makes some owners’ reach the decision they cannot keep their dog and either give it to a shelter or put it to sleep.

We look at so many other dogs that are so docile that people often assume that they were born that way. Kathryn Hollings has a Spanish Water dog called Coco and it is a delight to meet. Coco loves people, children, and any dog that will play with her. She is certainly no guard dog but who wants one of those.

The question was would she have been this character whatever Kathryn did in the way of training. Coco does not have the normal character associated with the breed so was she born that way or was it sociability training.

I know Kathryn has been walking her dog everyday in Denia, on the Arenal in Javea or in Moraira and I am certain that such constant sociability training has made her the very sociable dog she is now. Even the Vets and Breeders say she does not have the natural character they would have expected of her breed. This for me begs the question why should she have to become some pre-determined character at all.

I like to think puppies are like blank sheets of paper. We, as handlers, mould our dogs in the way we want them to be or not as in some cases. I cannot fault Coco’s character of what is a very sociable and friendly dog, but why do some people still end up with an antisocial dog no matter what they seem to do.

Most owners know that sociability training is necessary, but I hear many reasons people just do not do it. Whilst it is nice to have a lovely puppy and watch it grow, just like our children, puppies are what they learn and it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure dogs are properly socialised.

You cannot just sit at home, thinking that just because the dog has a nice big garden or goes for walks in places without dogs or people, and still expect their dogs to become naturally sociable.

This is not to say that some do, because some dogs have no interest in aggression or leadership. It could be that the owners socialise in other ways like having many people and children constantly coming in and out of the house or maybe they just leave the dog to its own devices to learn that all people are normally friendly.

This week I received an email where owners had an older bitch terrier and have how acquired a Winston look alike. Their problem is taking them out together, if another dog comes up to them in a very friendly way, their dog chases them away for quite some distance with the bitch joining in.

One other problem is the bitch sometimes seems very aggressive towards their new dog so is she trying to wind him up into becoming an aggressive dog in order to protect her.

It does sometimes happen that the female will expect her dog companion to look and act the part of the Alpha male. Reading the e-mail, I did wonder could this be what was happening.

When they arrived, I had previously placed Winston in the far obedience field. This left the Agility field in between him and my garden where Winston normally has a free run. I asked them to let their dogs out for a run round the garden and sniff the new surroundings. Their dog did indeed look like Winston but only a smaller version.

Both their dogs did notice Winston but there were no signs of any aggression towards him. This meant the next step was to walk into the agility field. Now they could sniff at Winston through the fence but again there was no aggression. There was only lots of wagging of tails and Winston barking wanting to play.

I asked the owners to place their dogs on their leads. I then placed a remote citronella collar on the dog whilst retaining the remote control. I then went into the field and took Winston up to the tree at the top of the field. There I fastened him to it with a long rope, and placed his muzzle on him.

I had instructed the owners to walk into the field and on my signal to let there dog off his lead. He shot up the field like a rocket but no sign of aggression towards Winston. It was therefore unnecessary to use the remote collar, compressed air or my 9mm blank starting pistol.

The dog only wanted to play, so I let Winston off the line. After they sniffed at each other, they then both charged round the field together. I walked back towards the owners who were standing with their bitch. Winston went up to her but again no aggression from her at all. I suggested the owners to let her free and all three charged round and round the field having great fun.

The owners were in disbelief as this is not how they think they are on the beach when they walk. This might be true, as they possibly never allowed their dogs to introduce themselves properly by sniffing. This tells them a lot about each other and when concluded it is then they will often play. What they saw as the chase game they interpreted as aggression.

They were still certain the bitch was aggressive. To test this I tried throwing a toy into the long grass for the bitch and Winston to find in the hope she would show this hostility. All she did was to tell Winston very clearly, when she found the toy, it was hers. From her body language, she made it obvious Winston should back away, which he did.

On a couple of occasions, Winston tried to take the toy from her. This did result in a sort of scrap, but it was only lots of noise and mouthing, but no actual biting.

It was during these exercises where i could see where there was a problem. The wife was off across the field showing a lot of anxiety at what was happening. Even the dog went with her fearful of something indicated by her nervous body language, but he did not know what. This had to stop.

All the three dogs played well together. Only the dog’s lack of introductory skills with other dogs was a problem. Because of his boisterous body language, other dogs ran away chased by him and the bitch hot on their tails.

There were no fights. The so-called fights between their two dogs were the normal annoyed reactions we will all see if we have more than one dog. How many owners often have to shout something like “settle down,” and the doggy argument is over.

This is normal when you are living with more that one dog. We just come to accept it happens but usually, there is no harm done to either dog. What ever they were arguing about is quickly resolved.

For these dogs, the answer was for the owners and particularly the wife to loose their anxiety. For this, I suggested a clicker to improve their recall. For what they thought as aggression, I suggested they place a muzzle on the dog for a while and tape up his front dewclaws. Once they have done that, then they can take them out to meet other dogs and let them play, knowing their dog cannot do any harm.

When the owners loose their anxiety, they can then dispense with using the muzzle on their dog.

Please do not overlook the importance of sociability training and if in any doubt do not restrict the dog but do the opposite and using a muzzle get out to even more places with more and more dogs and people.

As shown by Kathryn Hollings Coco, she must be a pleasure to own and a credit to her sociability training. Can we not all follow her example?

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