IS MY DOG AGGRESSIVE?

Aggressive for me is a really funny term.  Why?  Because it just isn’t a clear cut representation of a dog.  It’s actually quite a horrible label to put on a dog, but we use it from time to time to describe a  behaviour a dog is displaying.

‘Aggressiveness’ comes across in many ways.  A dog may be guarding it’s food, barking, lunging and snarling at dogs, or people.  It may only do it when people are at the door or walk past.

Did you know, that the dog that is hiding under the table because fireworks are going off outside, is feeling the same emotions as the dog that is barking and snarling and growling at the people or dogs over the road?  They are both scared and choosing a behaviour either randomly, or one that makes them feel better.

Did you know that the dog that is barking or snarling at other dogs or people over there, actually was fine 10 mins ago when he started his walk?

Dog behaviour can be really complicated but it generally boils down to one thing.  Your dog is just shit scared of something, and they are pulling a behaviour at random that makes them feel better.  Maybe cowering or hiding behind you at first used to work, but you know what, you thought it would be ‘good’ for them to keep exposing them to the scary thing.  And now they bark.  Now they lunge.

I wonder if the dog that hides under the table from fireworks, if exposed to them every day on a walk would eventually end up as a barking, lunging ‘aggressive dog’?

Buddy is a very nervous soul and still a baby really, so we are working through some things with him to increase his confidence at home and at a good threshold on a walk.  When you are feeling confident you can take on the world right!

We can go on a walk and generally the start is always very good, he can take interest in people and dogs, but I can get his attention.  If we are out for TOO long, or he has TOO many experiences, then he can start to become reactive.  The stress levels have started going up and actually he’s gone ‘shit I can’t handle this now mum time to go home’.  The same can be said for meeting people.  He can start off very sweet, but soon turn to being very scared and appear ‘reactive’.

Ideally I want to stop this before it happens, so now we do. 

Rehearsal is scary – me and my trainer were only talking about this the other day.  Some dogs especially those that are very VERY clever only need to do something a couple of times, and it’s a HUGE deal – it’s almost instantly engrained.  It’s the kind of thing that needs management STRAIGHT away.  You can’t ignore it, and you can’t make a big deal out of it. The good thing is, that it’s totally changeable!

There are a whole heap of other things in the mix here as lately Buddy’s bucket has been full before we have even left the house, without me even realising.  As a little while back we were seeing HUGE improvements in his behaviour outside.  However, he has slowly and quite scarily become too interested in flies to the point that he is looking for them all the time (whole other blog coming soon and OMG a whole other level of learning!)

But just know this.  Don’t accept the label that your dog is ‘reactive’ or ‘aggressive’.  They are just shit scared of something, and it’s your job to ensure that you don’t keep putting them in that situation.  You need to help them feel cool about the world.  You need to be their advocate.

So:

  • Stop the rehearsal
  • Watch that bucket – what else is filling it during the day?  Busy house? Other dogs? Very little rest? On the go all the time? Often just ensuring it’s empty can be enough to dramatically reduce some reactivity!
  • Work at threshold – either keep walks short or avoid too many exciting experiences.. It’s also not going to harm your dog to cut down on walks a bit.  You do NOT need to force them to have three walks a day if they aren’t enjoying them right now.  Cut them down and then you can slowly increase them as and when your dog can handle the world.
  • Ditch the routine and ditch the bowl.  Two concepts we live by and have made Buddy the most amazing bomb proof dog when it comes to chilling in the house and car and it makes training SOOOOO much easier! Dogs LOVE to work for their food.  It’s a proven FACT.  So stop wasting it by putting it in a bowl. It’s boring and does nothing for your relationship. Routines are also a HUGE bucket filler. You dog anticipating things creates so much excitement and even anxiety! Buddy never knows what he’s doing next.  It’s the norm for him.  Nothing is predictable.  So he never has to ‘worry’.  It’s very cool
  • Get a good trainer. You need to be putting training in place to build up their confidence, build your relationship, create calmness and increase focus on you.

Just remember you are doing an awesome job. No one is perfect but being your dog’s advocate is the most important start!

3 comments

  1. You are so,so right Sam. I feel terrible now when I think of all the things we did to “socialize” Stanley, which really had the opposite effect. We took him to ” Puppy socialization” where they ran around and he hid behind us and had diarrhea and we tried to make him join in. One of the owners tried to pick him up as they were moving some bigger dogs to a different area and he snarled at her. He also snarled at the vet technician when she picked him up the first time we took him there. At Obedience class he lunged and barked so much he choked and threw up. I tried other classes. So thank goodness I stopped taking him to all those classes. Then I found a trainer who used positive reinforcement and also ran classes but they were a disaster too as he couldn’t deal with the other dogs and she really didn’t understand him. We had another trainer just before Covid lockdown who I now realize he was scared of. When we only had him a few days friends came over to see him and he either snarled or hid from them. He wouldn’t even let us handle him and family gatherings caused barking and snarling. To be honest I didn’t really like my dog and wished I had never gotten him. Anyway thank goodness during lockdown I found the Absolute Dogs website and also found your blog and Nikki. It all makes sense now and I realize I was doing more harm than good. it is so good to have people to talk to who understand as most of my family and friends don’t “get it” and think I am wasting my money, time and energy. They think I should just take control and be “the boss” and stop letting him rule our lives. Thank you again for helping by sharing your journey.

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    • You are SUCH a good dog owner! And I am so so pleased you found us too. I know that feeling very very well. Especially as my
      Fluffball is so cute and cuddly – and i’ve even made the mistakes still even knowing what I know! It’s really easy to feel the pressure to make them do ‘normal stuff’ the most important thing to remember is that it is totally changeable. Just think how lucky he is to have you and how different it could have been with someone else! You are a star! 😘😘😘😘

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