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Blog of the Week: The Inner Workings Of Canine Aggression

The Inner Workings Of Canine Aggression

Aggression, simply, put is an assertive dog’s way of getting you or someone else (dog or person) to stop something that irritates them. Assertive humans tend to do the same (just more in a verbal correction). I think it’s safe to say that we all know someone that gets cranky in the morning, doesn’t like other people eating off their plate, or someone who doesn’t like being told what to do. It’s funny when I point out all the things that can make us (humans) irritated and how awfully similar they are to what some dogs find bothersome. The main difference between canines and humans, is that dogs correct more in a physical way, rather then a verbal fashion like we do. Most assertive dogs are more interested in getting a certain behavior or action to stop rather than actually with hurting someone, but with each repeat encroachment onto their trigger, a dog will often feel justified to increase the strength of their action. With that being said, we should not entirely skirt around the dog’s trigger to avoid an aggressive reaction.

When managing a canine with aggression, we must take a balanced approach. Respect your dog’s boundaries, only trespassing upon the trigger when directly able to address the problem through training. Approach the issue in a natural fashion, start slowly, applying only enough pressure or difficulty to make controlling the canine’s temper challenging but ultimately successful. Endeavor to not make the canine feel harassed, respect your furry friend, but as the pack’s team captain, it’s your role to ensure that there is peace within the team. It’s important to note; that we must not allow an unwanted/uncontrolled aggressive action to go unanswered, if we did not follow through with our own effectively strong deterrent the intense behavior will continue, the dog will become more confident in their response. It’s much easier to manage aggression at the first sign of it, rather then addressing it when the dog is bigger and more confident. An accurate analogy would be, it’s much easier to snuff out an errant campfire ember rather then waiting and letting a spark turn into an out of control forest fire, facilitating the need of brave firefighters to battle the blaze.

Aggression in humans and in dogs have triggers that typically make a hostile display predictable. The assumption that a dog that has displayed aggression is now untrustworthy is false, a person only needs to be cautious around that dog’s particular trigger. Now; if successful aggression is left unchecked, then a dog may find that hostility is a useful tool, trying it out in new situations, this is similar to what human bullies would do. A dog maybe genetically hardwired to be assertive but it doesn’t mean that we can’t shape their behavior enough where they can learn to control their temper. Human beings often confuse learned behavior with inherited traits (personality). For example; a dog grabbing human cuisine off the counter whenever you leave them alone is a learned behavior (they connected you leaving the room, with them being able to successfully steal food off the counter), an inherited trait is a behavior/tendency that’s been genetically passed down from the dog’s dame or sire (in this case the dog inherited a trait from one of their biological parents giving them a higher drive for food, making them more likely to steal those edible treasures).

If you have read the book Dog Training And Eight Faces Of Aggressive Behavior; written by Matthew Duffy, you may have read the story about my dog Basher, a lab mix that was fully invested in his aggressive actions. Hopefully you got to read the part that talks about, after training, what a great family pet he became. Basher is such a caring, tolerant animal to my young children, I couldn’t ask for a better family protector and friend than him. Training Basher was a long process but it was so much fun for him and I, that we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Even as I write this; I’m watching him calmly play with my two young children, he maybe older with streaks of grey through his fur, but I enjoy reminiscing on the journey and reflecting on what a good dog he became.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Article written by Josh Decker

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Matthew Duffy is well known for his renowned dog training services, books and DVDs, and online video training sessions through memberships. Matthew uses "genuine control without the rigidity of formal commands." Bring on the dogs!