Over the years, a far number of aggressive dogs have found their way to me. Some of these dogs have been on their last chance and if they had not come to me, they would have been on their way to the vet for that final injection. All of these reactive dogs have have taught me so much and helped me to develop my TRUST programme.
So why did I develop TRUST?
My approach to dealing with aggressive dogs have changed over the years that I have shared my life with them. Way back when I first started with reactive dogs (over 30 years ago), I followed the commonly advised approach of correcting the dog for barking, lunging, attempting to bite etc. I’m not proud of that fact now, nor am I proud of the stress that I inflicted on my poor dogs. However, I did learn that punishing dogs for exhibiting aggression just doesn’t work. It may appear to work, as the punishment will stop the dog giving warning signs (so will stop them growling/barking/lunging), but it does nothing to solve the fear that they feel when they see a person or dog (or whatever their trigger is). Most dogs are aggressive because they are fearful of something and using punishment makes them more frightened of their owner/handler than of the scary object and so stops the behaviour to some extent but when the dog goes over threshold, the dog will react, seemingly without warning (remember we’ve punished the dog for giving those warning barks and growls) and may go straight to biting. The dog doesn’t trust us to protect it from what is scaring it and in some instances, the dog is more scared of us than the original trigger. What an incredibly stressful way for a dog to live.
The other problem with using punishment, is that it doesn’t actually teach the dog what we would like it to do instead. it only tells the dog what not to do.Not particularly helpful and again very stressful as the dog has no idea of how to escape the punishment. Punishment also needs to be escalated as the dog will eventually habituate to it. It is also very difficult to assess just how much punishment is enough to stop the behaviour; for one dog a sharp intact of your breath may be punishing enough, for another dog a more severe punishment may be needed. There is far too much room for error.
Please do not use a trainer that advocates the use of punishment (leash corrections, e-collars, rattle cans/tins, spray collars, alpha rolls etc) on your dog. It will not solve the aggression issues, nor will it teach the dog the correct behaviour that you want it to sow instead.
Of course, I tried newer techniques and some of these techniques had bits that I liked and bits that I didn’t and with each dog teaching me something new, I gradually developed my own approach that is based on developing a trusting relationship with the dog and on teaching the dog what to do, rather than what not to do and in addressing the dog’s emotional needs.
The first step in my programme is to develop trust. Trust is a two-way thing; the dog needs to learn to trust you and you need to learn to trust the dog.
The dog needs to know that he is safe from:
- Scary situations
- Aversive training equipment and techniques
He needs to know that:
- He will be taught to make good choices
- His warnings will be listened to
- You will protect him when he feels worried
- He can have his own safe space
You need to know that the dog:
- Will keep his teeth to himself
- Will learn to give clear warnings
- Will let you protect him
Many of the dogs that arrive with me are incredibly worried by people and or dogs and need time to relax. They need to be allowed their own space and time to relax and de-stress. Yes, moving to a new environment with new people and new dogs is stressful and we need to make this as stress free as possible, by creating them a safe place, not approaching them whilst they are in that safe place but encouraging them to come with us. I will use long lines, but these aren’t used to drag a dog out of its safe place, but to encourage the dog to move with me. If they stick the brakes on, then I leave them be until they are ready to move. I will not force myself onto the dog, demanding its attention. I wait for the dog to make the first move. I want the dog to trust me and I don’t want to break any trust by forcing myself on the dog or by forcing the dog to do anything. Time is a great healer and by allowing the dog to de-stress, they become less reactive.
For the first few days, I may do little more than feed the dog and let it out for toilet breaks. Don’t get me wrong, I will still talk to the dog, but I won’t force my affections on the dog until it sows me that it is ready. Once the dog starts to react and show some interest in the environment, the other dogs or even me, then we can begin building that two way trust that is so important. It is important to listen to the dog by observing the body language and to back off if the dog is showing signs of being uncomfortable.
This is just the first steps in the process of rehabilitating an aggressive dog. Watch out for our workshops on our TRUST programme that will be part practical and part theory. Keep an eye on our FaceBook page for details of workshops.
Want to host one of our TRUST workshops? Bookings are now being taken for 2017. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com