Dog Behaviour Advice - Dog Advice Articles
Challenging your aggressive dog part 2
Many years ago, when I was only beginning to learn about training dogs, a professional dog handler asked me for my help to solve a problem. He had lost his previous dog because of illness and been given a new puppy. Until the puppy was old enough and trained, they issued him with a temporary experienced dog that had been through many handlers in the past.
When he got the dog home and started to feed it, the dog immediately pushed his muzzle into the bowl, pinning it to the floor. He also would put his foot into the bowl, again holding it down so it would be impossible for the handler to remove it. The dog also curled its upper lip and growled at the handler, trying to force him to back away whilst it ate his food.
This show of protective aggression was unacceptable to the handler as he had a wife and two children to consider. Something had to change. When I was next round at his house, he asked me for my help. All I had to do was hold on to a rope that went round a pole of the dog’s compound and then onto the dog’s collar, his tracking harness as well as knotted in a loop round the dog’s neck, just in case the collar or harness broke. When and if ordered to, I was to pull hard, forcing the dog back and pinning it against the compound, so stopping it biting the handler.
Once all this was set up for the dog, the handler then put on many thick shirts with a protective sleeve on his left arm. He then put gloves on his hands and came out the house with a bowl of dog biscuits without meat, to make it less appetising for the dog. He then fastened a strong lead to the dog and the compound pole, giving the handler a known safety zone.
All was ready and the handler bent down and offered the food bowl to the dog. As it touched the ground, the dog buried his face in the bowl and then followed by his paw. The handler then shouted at him to leave it and went to remove the bowl. The dog lunged at him growling like the hound of the Baskervilles. The lead did its job but what happened next seemed to take ages, yet took only moments.
As the dog lunged at the handler, his right hand came up under the dog’s throat. He then swiped his left leg under the dog taking its legs from under him, knocking the food bowl and food all over the place. The dog turned in the air landing upside down on his back with the handler holding him down by the throat. Now I understood the reason for all the shirts as the dog growled and clawed at the handler’s arms and body, but to no avail.
The dog was now effectively pinned to the floor by its throat. After a while, it gradually began to quieten down. Moments later, it pulled in its legs and tail showing submission but the handler kept on pinning the dog to the floor.
It then began to squeal and urinated on itself at which point the handler slowly let him free and he removed his gloves from his hands. The dog immediately stood up but with its head held down in submission and began licking the handler’s hand. This was one very sorry dog.
The handler asked me to sweep up the dog biscuit and he brought out new food with dog meat included. He offered it to the dog and it was very reluctant to take it but after a while, it did. After a moment, the handler told him to leave with a gruff tone and the dog backed up.
The handler then asked his wife to do the same followed by his two children, gaining the same response. I too offered him his food and then took it away again. The dog was now a very different dog.
The handlers said he would have to practice this for some time using the lead to designate a safety zone but as far as I am aware, he had solved the problem. I do know the dog went onto another handler some time later but there was never any mention of any possessive aggression again.
For me to witness this correctional work I doubt I could master the skill he used in the way he used it. He knew what he was doing and he was like some martial arts grand master in achieving the desired result.
I would not ask anyone to try this at home but only for you to understand how such retraining can solve such problems. I would not even attempt it. To do this correctly is to understand the dogs reasoning and its abilities to defend itself. The handler had to consider everything to make the retraining exercise work without any harm to any of us.
For me looking back on this retraining I do have the same feeling that Monte Roberts (the horse whisper) felt watching horses broken by such a harsh traditional manner used by his father along with other horse breakers at that time. Monte felt there should be a better way. In fact, there was. The American Indians learnt this once they were able to catch horses even though they lacked the saddle with which to remain on the back of an unbroken horse.
Certainly my training in working trials and my association with those police dog handlers that also wished to participate in competition, found that enforcement methods, whilst working, did take away some of the spirit of their dogs so never allowing them to regularly win in the Police Nationals nor against the civilians in Working Trials.
The change in the North Yorkshire Constabulary view by the then Chief Constable who wanted to see well trained and controlled dogs in line with the Home Office guide lines, succeeded in the Police Nationals held at Catterick in 1983. They achieved the unbelievable in having coming first, P.C. David Clayton with Neypol Bona, P.C. John Birks with Neypol Ali coming second and P.C. Geoff Foster with Neypol Brig completing the grand slam taking the third place. Certainly this was an achievement that was never nor has been to date matched by any other force. Also in Civilian working trials, David Clayton went on to make Bona a Working Trials Champion.
This does show reward-training works but not everyone wishes or needs such a high a standard. It all depends on the character of their dogs if such enforcement correctional training will actually work. One commonly used method is the rolled up newspaper. This does cause the dog some discomfort but it does learn to respect the owner. The problem again is some dogs learn to hate it and react in an aggressive manner only making the problem worse.
My only and continuing concern is with some dogs it may teach them that they too can use aggression on those they do not respect. I wish there was some survey that checked the correlation of aggressive dogs to the way owners had trained them. Such a survey would be most interesting.
We all know that dogs on ropes or chains will gradually become more and more aggressive as do dogs kept behind fences. In addition, dominant dogs that do wrong and their owners have given them some aggressive chastisement; some do learn to resent this and will stand up for themselves. If the owner then backs down the dog becomes a grave danger not only to the owner but also to the public.
It is therefore necessary for any aggression problems the owners should seek help before they try any correctional training that may not actually be suitable for their dog. Get it wrong and somebody will likely pay the price.