“Yep, he’s aggressive”

September 15, 2010


My job brings me up close and personal with many different dogs, and some very aggressive ones. You might think I would occasionally get bit, right? Well, I really don’t. In the past 30-years, my clients dogs have only claimed two, what I call, small bites and a few nips that have barely broken the skin. Even when I trained police dogs, I never got bit.  There are a few reasons I don’t get bit,  one is I don’t like getting bit (imagine that); I’m able to read a dogs intention’s;  I do the obvious thing and avoid putting a dog into an aggressive state, and besides I thought the name of the game was not to get bit, if I did get bit -a lot- wouldn’t I be in the wrong profession?

A few trainers like seeing the dog being aggressive, or they deliberately put the dog into an aggressive state. Maybe they do this because they think seeing the behavior will change the advice they give, or maybe they do it because it makes for good television? Well,  I got news for them, in the majority of aggressive cases, they don’t need to see the aggression. Just a few questions to the owner will usually tell a behaviorist what classification of aggression it is. There are several: fear, redirected, resource, territorial, dog, barrier, restrictive, dominance and a few others.

I’ll  believe an owner when they tell me their dog has bitten a couple of people, I don’t need them to show me, but some dog owners must think that’s what I want to see. I recall one client, who let their 95-pound German Shepherd in from the backyard, before I could yell, “Don’t let the dog in!” actually I did yell to the owner- but she couldn’t hear me over her dog charging, growling at full speed down the hardwood floor hallway, the dog then lunged up at me with an open mouth. So, I stuck my note binder (which I always carry) into the dogs mouth and luckily the owner was able to grab him and put him outside. Thank goodness for my experience being an agitator and catching police dogs on the wrap (arm protection).

I then said to the owner, “Yep, he’s aggressive.”

If I’m going to rehabilitate an aggressive dog, It’s important to have the dog trust me and listen to me. Once I can do that, I can get them to trust and like other people. So after speaking with the owner for about 30 minutes at the dining room table, I asked her to let the dog back in, and this time he didn’t try to bite me, because I changed his perception of who I was. I also didn’t get in his face, which doesn’t seem fair to do anyway.  Even though the dog didn’t bite people after that, there is still a trust issue for dogs that have a history of biting.  The owners must be very aware of any changes in their dog’s behavior for the rest of it’s life, especially when it gets older and crankier.  I can’t blame the German  Shepherd coming after me, to him, he was protecting the family from a stranger, although it’s not appropriate for them to behave that way, and behaving that way could get a dog put down. The owner needs to take responsibility, letting her -known- aggressive dog, a German Shepherd inside the house right after a  stranger enters (not good). Owners need to educate themselves before getting certain breeds, and make sure the puppy has *specific exposure and socialization to adults, children and and other dogs.

By using my experience, body language and creative thinking, I give dogs less of a reason to bit me. In many cases, dogs won’t display the bad behaviors the owner wants us to see anyway.  However, all the proper body language in the world doesn’t translate too well with really aggressive dogs, like the German Shepherd example above, but thankfully the note binder was there to make the translation perfectly clear.

If you have a dog that is showing signs of any type of aggression, it is a good idea to call a dog friendly dog trainer, sooner than later.

*Specific exposure and socialization to adults, children and other dogs; With certain breeds, dogs with certain behavioral traits or dogs that are  showing signs of fears or phobias. Proper socialization is not just letting people pet your dog or taking the dog to the dog park. These things can actually be counter productive or create other problems. You don’t want to wait till you see the aggression to take action. You need to follow a detailed “Early Socialization Formula”, If you want to avoid hearing me or other trainers say, “Yep, he’s aggressive.”