A Double Standard in How We View Aggressive Dogs. – Part 2

A Friendly Dog Curious About the Camera

So what kind of double standard is their in how we view dogs?  Just think about the warm cuddly Cockapoo or the goofy black lab with a tail that knocks everything over in the house.  It is easy to have compassion for them.  If we see them suffering we quickly wish to help them and are sad for that animal’s suffering.  The compassion is a reflex.

But what are we thinking or how are we reacting when a dog in a kennel suddenly becomes very aggressive or a dog in a pen from a hoarding case growls when you approach the pen? How often are we sad for that animal?  And how often do we really try to figure out why that animal is showing “aggression”.  Instead it is common to see those snarling teeth and those raised lips with attitude as we tense up, then we try to figure out how we are going to win with this conflict.  “How can you have sympathy for  a dog who doesn’t even want to cooperate.”   “If it thinks it can win, it is fooling itself because I am going to win.”   Such words are common.

I once helped coordinate caring for a hoarding case where almost 100 dogs were confiscated from an owner trying to transport them in a school bus (without chairs) and trailer.  I was not there when they took the dogs out of the bus but I was told it was total craziness with people trying to grab many of the dogs chained in the bus and several people getting bit.  It certainly wasn’t pretty trying to get those dogs out and into holding pens.

So are dogs which show aggression truly aggressive?  They certainly can be.  And it is definitely a potentially dangerous situation so we have to always address human safety.  But it does not have to be a fight.  It may not be a fight if we try softer, slower techniques first and realize how OUR energy, emotions, thoughts and actions dramatically influence how the dog reacts to you.  And if we cannot feel compassion for that snarling dog the way we have compassion for that goofy black lab, then the dog will feel that as well and trust us less.

A Soft Approach with the Y Pole

So when we are faced with aggressive acting dogs, let’s understand that most dogs show aggression because they are simply defending themselves because they are deeply afraid and we can use that as a tool by softening their fear making them easier to work with.  We can relax and move slow and at times not move at all.  We may choose to use the Y pole to protect ourselves while using it simply as an extension of our hand to pet the dog – first by mouth to let it bite then later on the head and neck.  We can strive to create the calmest, most compassionate environment for the dog, then use tools with a “quieter energy” such as the Y pole.  If the dog accepts we will have diverted a fight.  If the dog refuses to give up it’s fear and cooperate or if it is truly an aggressive dog who thinks he is alpha, then we have to use stronger methods.

I have always taught, “The crazier the animal is, the calmer we can be”.  The self awareness that is required for this approach and the practice of being calm and compassionate is the foundation for successfully working with fractious dogs.


4 Responses

  1. I use this on my horses, quiet is good!

    • Tracy,
      Yes, there is alot of similarity in working with horses and working with dogs. Both are very responsive to these calm approaches. I used to cowboy in Montana just after I graduated from high school in Minneapolis!

      So have you been using this approach with dogs?

  2. I do a lot of work with aggressive dogs. Based on my experience, in more than nine cases out of ten, their aggression is based in fear.

    Cesar Millan’s ‘no look, no talk, no touch’ combined with a calm, quiet, confident attitude works wonders with these dogs.

    Another one of the many myths of dominance is that one expresses it through strong, overt, intense energy. Truly strong, dominant individuals tend to be quiet and calm. They don’t generally need to get excited to assert themselves.

    I used to work in corporate America. I remember being in a meeting with a bunch of attorneys and Fortune 500 big wigs. Things had gotten a bit heated and one rather unassuming looking fellow sat up straight, raised his head and calmly and quietly told everyone to ‘hold on a minute’. The room immediately went quiet (and I thought “wow, I need to get to know that guy!”)

    That kind of strong, calm, quiet, confident energy is soothing to any creature (2 or 4 legged) in a stressful environment. It says “you can relax, I’m here to take care of things.” And it’s exactly the kind of energy fearful and aggressive dogs need and seek.

    • Janeen,
      Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights on dominance. I so agree that in addition to people thinking about dominance as mean and punitive, they also think of it as intense, overt, and strong. So true. The truly dominance are calm and quiet. I am a black belt in the martial art aikido and such calm dominance is what we train to achieve. This concept has worked so well with me when using the Y pole with wolves or feral dogs.

      And yes most canid aggression is fear based and fearful dogs are incredibly responsive to calm compassionate dominance – if not right way, then over time.

      Your mention of how people misinterpret “negative reinforcement” just as they do dominance is very interesting. I am not a trainer, but I can see how they would generalize with a knee-jerk reaction.

      Thank you! Mark

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