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Enemy at the Gates

Human anxiety is one of the greatest problems for all of us when we are trying to train our dogs. As with the articles about Rio, it was human anxiety that was the problem.

The owners have brought him back to stay with me for the weekend. They were telling me that as they learn to understand him they are now loosing their anxiety. Because of this, Rio has improved dramatically. They would still like to borrow my gloves for a little longer, just so they never have to be anxious in front of him.

One other suggestion for them is to brush Rio whilst he is eating. He still freezes for a moment, but as he loves the grooming, he just carries on eating. This way he learns to accept the owner’s presents.

In the Rio case, there was no aggression towards other dogs or people, just themselves when they checked if they could remove his food.

When owners first see any aggression in their dogs, whether it is when walking or people coming to the door, the first thing they start to do is restrict the dog. They become anxious and the dog reads this and becomes apprehensive as well, making it more aggressive. I know restricting the dog does sound like the logical thing to do, but it is the wrong thing if you wish to stop such aggression.

Quite a few dogs and their owners have come through our gates and the first thing on the dogs mind is to attack Winston. It is here were he excels. I on the other hand can only read what is happening, in order to try to protect both dogs, whilst Winston tries to teach it how to greet other dogs and then to play with him.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a worried owner that their dog was indeed very aggressive towards other dogs. Though they were now walking in remote places in order not to meet any other dog walkers, unfortunately, someone will always turn up. On the last occasion, it pulled so hard it broke its collar, just to chase after another dog, flattening it, and biting it quite badly.

For this dog, I put Winston on a harness and a long safety line, whilst he wore his Hannibal Lecter muzzle. I also put him on a lead to keep him close to me. I set up another safety line, at the other side of the drive, for the other dog to wear. The lines are set so that they overlap at only one point. This will allow them to meet head to tail. If necessary, using the radius of the lines, I can pull Winston to the right, so moving him into a safe zone where the dogs cannot make physical contact.

At the appointed time, the owners and their dog arrived. I asked the husband to put his dog onto the safety line and keep hold of the lead. As soon as the dog saw Winston, it was instant aggression. When it lunged forward, I fired compressed air between both dogs, stopping him in his tracks. This was a good sign, so I asked the husband to release his dog from the line and lead. Dogs are always more aggressive when restricted, especially when next to their anxious owners.

Once free, the dog began to explore my garden. Winston was barking in a playful way, but standing in a rigid body stance, hackles up, tail up with only the tip slightly wagging. A number of times the dog, on seeing Winston, would make an aggressive charge, but stopped when I used compressed air.

After about ten minutes of searching round the garden, he came towards Winston and started to sniff him. Eventually I allowed Winston to move forward a little. This meant they were then in the normal head to tail position to smell each other. Many owners find this repulsive, but it is their normal way to learn all about another dog. The first time is always the longest. The dog then went off again exploring, only to return and go into a half-hearted attempt at the body stance of play bow.

Looking at Winston, his hackles were still up, with only the tip of his tail wagging. This meant he was still unsure of the dog’s intentions. After a few minutes, the dog came charging back again going into the full play bow posture. This is where its elbows almost reach the ground. Winston mirrored this stance so I released him, letting them run round the garden together. Shortly after, we all walked up through the Agility and Obedience fields as both dogs chased each other like the best of mates.

Using my clicker, I called Winston to me, so I could remove his muzzle. Once it was off, they began play chasing each other again. As I turned round, I saw the wife in tears of relief. She said she had resigned herself to the fact that she would never see her dog play with another one again.

In another recent case, the husband telephoned me to tell me that whilst their dog was ok with him, when his wife took their dog for a walk, it was always on the aggressive lookout for other dogs. Even off the lead, the dog would rush up to other dogs and flatten them, but without actually biting. This was the problem, but only for the wife. What could they do to solve it?

Again, suspecting anxiety was at fault, I put Winston into the Puppy Play pen area. When the owners arrived with their dog, I asked them to place my remote controlled citronella collar on their dog’s neck and let their dog off the lead. I could see straight away that the wife was deeply worried about what may happen.

Their dog started to search my garden and as we talked, it eventually went up to the puppy play area and sniffed at Winston through the fencing.

Because neither dog had their hackles raised, I put Winston on his lead and let him out. With no sign of a problem from their dog, I released him so they both could run round the garden together. Eventually their dog saw the others I had locked in the agility field. Again, there was no sign of any problem, so I let them out, one at a time. Eventually all five dogs were running round the fields having a great time. Whilst the husband was very pleased at the result, his wife was very uncomfortable, knowing what her dog is like.

There was only one problem. Their dog was a dominant bitch, trying to make it obvious to all that she was the boss. At times, she would spar with the other dogs but without any real aggression. I waited until she attempted dominating Winston. As she tried, I pressed the button on my fob, releasing the citronella spray. That immediately stopped her. She did attempt this a couple more times, but gave up when I activated the collar. After that, she was less inclined to show any further dominancy on any of the other dogs.

The wife was impressed with the collar. She said that having one, she would feel she was finally in control. This would also reduce her anxiety that was generating the protective aggression in her dog, whenever she walked with her. With the husband, he never had any such problem.

Humans must learn to control their anxiety, as it is part of our complex language. Dogs are reading us and interpreting what they think is making us fearful. As a result, they become protective aggressive, never thinking your fear is of your own dog.

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