Aggression - The Cure - Handler

Sunday, March 8, 2009

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In this second part we will focus on who we need to be in order to cure aggression. Before we begin let us focus on what aggression is.

How do we define aggression?

It has been my experience that:

Aggression in animals is the end result of complete mistrust a dog has for its master, based on the constant reiteration of an argument (physical or mental), without resolution.

When it comes to aggression, the dog originally was not comfortable with the path of socialization and the lack of resolution. A good example would be when the handler was constantly trying to get the dog to accept other dogs in numerous environments with numerous dogs in the hopes of the dog overcoming it (i.e. the dog park.) I read somewhere that a well-known behaviorist used this philosophy: Your dog should meet 100 dogs and 100 hundred people between the ages of 8 to 12 weeks as this is important to the social imprinting stage. I disagree.

Dogs Fighting

A mother dog (the basis of my technique) does not allow 100 visitors in to see her puppies in the first 100 days. The real issue isn't the age of the dog that matters, it really has to do with the terms on which you had the dog. A dog owner's need for their dog to be social is the reason behind this incessant socialization failure based on pushing the dog into social exhaustion, leaving the dog apprehensive and over-stressed. In fact, under the premise of the Whelping Box Theory is this is completely unnatural and in most cases totally devoid of you establishing or earning the right to have your dog trust you in its relationship.

Once the relationship is based on mistrust, all of the emotional checklist of baggage follows: anger, anxiety, fear, resentment, impatience, fighting for control and lack of respect become the fundamental responses for dog and handler. In this relationship, the dog's behavior is fed by the handler's emotional instability and neediness, which in turn is followed by the master being fed by the dog's responses (lunging, growling, barking, snapping, etc.)

Show me your dog, and I'll tell you what manner of man you are.
- Max von Stephanitz

To me there is no more profound statement made in the world of dog relationships than this quote. It is probably one of the first statements made about a handler looking at themselves first and seeing what they have perpetuated in their dogs. This short, 100-yr-old statement completely removes the cowardly genetic excuse that I  hear so often in the world of pet owners (and worse yet, in quite a few famous canine behaviorists in today's world of mentality towards dog behavior).

How do we Begin?

Change in relationship behavior comes from change in ourselves first. Many of us act fearful when a dog acts aggressive. We are afraid of what the dog will do. In the dog's eyes, the dog thinks "my handler is afraid so let me protect them". Many of us show anger in the dog's eyes, so the dog sees you being angry at the stimuli and therefore the dog needs to be angry and aggressive itself.

Next is the desperation. The handler gets anxious and averts to shortcut tools like prong collars, choke, etc., breeding higher anxiety in the dog leading to an added heightened, volatile response based on waiting for the pinch. My favorite of all is the dog strapped with the muzzle and put in a situation where dogs are around it - touching it - causing it to feel more vulnerable with the muzzle on. And then when it is off, there is a far more aggressive response - not only to the dogs, but also including biting the master. In my days of protection training, dogs had muzzles on to teach them to use their body, as well as their teeth, to subdue an assailant. With this type of work, well, we developed powerful man-stopping, indestructible machines.

Closely watch the dog's use of body movements in this video (the red Doberman's bite-work has been developed but is muzzled to show the sheer power of his body; take the muzzle off and the guy in the video would be dead. The aggression is elevated because of the dog's frustration from the muzzle):

How do we Re-establish trust?

Long before the aggressive result of your dog's behavior becomes prevalent, it basically has begun from the very first day the average person has acquired their dog, regardless of age. Quite a few owners dote over their dog in the very first week of having it. In rescue it is similar, the dog that is deprived, rescue volunteers think let's give it all the attention in order to make it up to the dog; and take it everywhere, showing it to 100 people/places/things the first two weeks.

As humans, we tend to be over-attentive to what we acquire immediately and want to show it off. However if we look at a dog when you just get it, you will notice it is nervous, apprehensive and anxious, we give it all the attention putting us in a submissive presentation with our dog. Further, with this attention, the dog now learns that if I am scared, nervous or apprehensive, then I get all kinds of attention so the dog begins to act that way predominantly. This is the first ingredient to the aggression outcome.

We do this time and time again without realizing it, and a good example being when we come home, we are so happy that our dog is paying us all this attention and we lavishly love the acknowledgment based on the dog being anxious; this creates obsession. When there is aggression or anxiety (an unpleasant canine reaction from a human's standpoint) we tend to try to correct the dog in some way which gives it more attention, low and behold the cycle begins to manifest into the feeding of the handler's and dog's false emotional needs. It is us who acts apologetically submissive with overpraise and/or domineering desperation when we try to control something that does not respect us. The dog's actions in your presence speak mounds of what your dog thinks of you (see Max's quote above.)

I have a rule when I come home, I don't acknowledge my dogs unless they are calm. When I am socializing or a guest comes over, I call my dog to me, wait for it to calm, and then pay attention to it. With this, the dog learns to be calm and confident in order to get attention instead of the opposite of my acknowledgment for the dog's anxious reactions.

If you go to Alpha Role vs Alpha Roll or Foster Home, the beginning process is described quite vividly. The secret ingredient in changing your dog's behavior is realizing that everything must change, and being the human in this relationship equation we must manage change with the perspective that everything that has been done by us has led to this final negative result. This is most difficult to achieve (and the reason why my camps take 10 months!) After all, we have not intentionally created this, and in our human minds we have done right by the dog.

When I start, I take all socialization away for a period of time. After all, the current situation and my lacking of control in those situations breeds anxiety in myself for fear of what the dog will do. My question is simple: why the fear or anxiety? The dog is on a leash and low and behold it can go anywhere or do anything. All I have to do is keep dogs or people away from it.

The Rule: Nothing Goes Out (the dog lunging forward) and Nothing Comes In (I don't allow people or animals to get within 4 feet of myself or my dog.)I take my training to quiet areas - i.e. behind a plaza or mall. There is seldom people there or anyone walking dogs. I learn to handle my dog consistently, teaching it to sit next to me when I stop and if it pulls I recall it back to me. With this in mind, watch as the dog does not make decisions and tries to guess your next move and lets go of its own decisive mentality. When that happens, I reduce the conflict and mistrust the dog has for my direction under circumstances that distract the animal. I gain my own self-confidence and imprint on my dog that it is to work in this mentality in order to achieve any form of acknowledgment. Working alone without stimuli allows us to have a worry-free, positive, relaxed time working together. Once I am done I put the dog away in a crate so it can think about what it just learned. This also gives me time to think about my approach; what had a positive end and a negative result. I would keep a journal to document my findings and ensure that I focused on the only positive results according to the dog, not to my human viewpoint only.

Yeah, well my dog should be doing this, my other dog didn't. Well, each dog is different and you have to tailor your approach with each dog. Keeping a journal will help you learn more about the thought process of the dog you are training.Eventually this training process would transfer to my other family members or to the dog my dog is friendly to and/or has played with. The dog in training would have to wait to approach what I call safe stimuli(familiar humans and/or familiar dog). Once it waits then it is sent to play or greet then I would call the dog back to me.

As we progress, the dog is taught to recall with this dog or my family when they are moving at a distance. The distance is determined by the dog; measure how far your dog can move away from you with permission first and then call it back (more or less where your come command can be effective and this is usually before the dog builds in attention to the stimuli.) For example, for some dogs the distance can be 5 feet from you and 50 feet from the stimuli. It is up to you to find these boundaries and then set them consistently. We use a 12 foot lunge line or training lead for safety, of course.Once this is achieved in your back yard, front yard, etc, then we begin doing obedience in a non-distractive environment (find this environment even if you have to drive to it). Achieve your obedience training and let your dog know that this is consistent from you as well as recall under distraction, i.e. sniffing a pole. Do not wait for the dog to be finished sniffing the pole, call them back immediately. When you have immediate verbal response without treats or toys in that specific environment then we can move towards solving the issues at hand. If you can call a dog off of a pole it is interested in sniffing, then you can call a dog off of stimuli it is attentive to (and possibly aggressive towards.)

We follow through with a dog loose-lead at a distance while you are training around humans riding bicycles, children playing and general social situations. Once the dog is taught and ignores all of these issues, then we begin the process of social interaction. You are teaching the dog self control first before releasing the lion to the sheep (which is the way the dog sees it.)

I strongly advise that when dealing with aggression, go to  the trainer who does not use gadgets (prongs, chokes, gentle leaders, harnesses, etc.) to restrict your dog and only focuses on the dog's honest, crude thought process as being the problem, not due to genetic mutation (oh, the dog has Pit in him!) If the trainer does any of the above, they are not the person to help solve your aggression problem in my viewpoint. Find one who understands all the drives - food, prey, and pack drive - and balancing those to help diminish the defensive drive. That is the key. Have courage with the trainer who holds you solely accountable for your dog's behavior. After all, if we put it on the dog then I guess IT is the superior being, and isn't that what started the whole mess in the first place?

The terminologies and exercises that I teach you to understand are the basic concepts to gaining trust, and they are: Find me for food and Territorial Line approaches;The three squares (dominant, tranquil, and territorial),The Handler box and who is in control, The inner circle, Hands off unless training, Crating, Handler neediness or independent strength; Training overkill and Handler obsession;Confident independence;Four levels of social interaction. These ingredients are taught and developed through the Who's The Dog? method of training. They are the recipe to removing the cesspool cake of emotional sludge. If you are inexperienced with aggression (or you fear it) but have an aggressive dog, it is extremely important that you find a trainer who can help you with this issue so you can gain your stature of admiration and respect from your dog. You must not attempt to solve this yourself or dismiss a dog who suffers from this problem through misunderstanding from us humans.

To deny a problem you caused or perpetuated creates an impossible conclusion to the conflict.

- Sam

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