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A Band-Aid for a bleeding wound

When someone is wounded, the first step is to stop the bleeding before we can cure them. In this case our dogs initial reaction and why?


The goal to curing aggression is not to never feel it, but understand how to respond to it!




Aggression is an issue we deal with as a reactivity trainer on a daily basis.

However, it is essential to understand what aggression actually entails.

Aggression refers to hostile, injurious, or destructive behaviour directed towards an individual, for arguments sake this could be directed at a human or animal.

To effectively address aggression, it is crucial to identify its underlying cause. Aggression in dogs can stem from various factors such as guarding, resource protection, protection of an individual, fear, frustration, prey drive, learnt behaviours or pain. In any of these situations, a dog can quickly transition from reactive, fearful, or guarding behaviours to displaying aggression when pushed too far.

It is important for handlers to recognise and address behaviours that can contribute to aggression in dogs. Here are some key factors to be aware of:


Reactivity

Reactivity is often mistaken for aggression. Reactive dogs tend to overreact to specific stimuli or situations. Factors such as genetics, lack of socialisation, over socialisation, insufficient training in self-control, or a traumatic experience can contribute to reactivity, with fear being the primary driving force.

Reactive dogs have specific triggers, such as large men, small children, or feeling trapped on the lead. If you encounter a reactive dog, it is best to give them space and avoid approaching them in an attempt to greet them, you are only doing this in a selfish attempt to neutralise the threat you are perceiving and yearning for their acceptance. For owners of reactive dogs, working with a trainer who specialises in behaviour modification techniques can help address the underlying cause and prevent escalation to aggression. Now be aware of so called 'behaviourists', if you are wanting to understand why your dog is demonstrating these behaviours, then great, hit the cash point and throw £600 into the wind, in exchange for a 20 page document you can use as a glorified coaster! But do not expect them to fix it! You wouldn't hire a geologist to landscape your garden now would you!


Fight or Flight

Fear is the most common cause of aggression. Normally, when a dog feels scared and threatened, their instinct is to flee from the source of fear. However, in situations where a dog is trapped and/ or cornered and unable to escape, they may resort to fighting to protect themselves. Fearful dogs may not provide any warning signs other than their body language. Bites from fearful dogs are typically quick snaps involving their front teeth and may occur when the person is leaving or has their back turned.

By understanding these behaviours and their potential triggers, handlers can take appropriate measures to prevent and address aggression in their dog. Seeking professional help from a balanced reactivity trainer can provide valuable guidance in managing and modifying aggressive behaviours in dogs.

There would be a dramatic decrease in the number of dog bites and breed specific bans, if people were aware that their behaviour is normally the root cause. Even if intended to be friendly, your behaviour could be perceived as threatening by a dog. For instance, when we lean over an unfamiliar dog and extend our hand to pet them on the head, this gives us a sense of overcoming boundaries, when in-fact you just over stepped the boundary and have made that potentially fear driven dog feel threatened by your own stupidity and selfishness. Another common cause of fearfulness in dogs is a lack of socialisation. Think of a dog as a polaroid camera, they take photos of every situation, individual and item. The more photos they have the bigger photo album they can refer to, GOOD AND BAD!

Dogs who have positive experiences with various types of people, noises, and environments from a young age are less likely to exhibit fear. However, note a dog can and will develop new fears of new things at the crucial age steps 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months as an unwritten rule. Additionally, teaching a puppy to remain calm and building on impulse control, when being handled is also extremely beneficial.


Resource guarding

Resource Guarding is a common behaviour in dogs where they feel the need to protect their valuable possessions such as food, treats, sleeping areas, and over the years as a dog trainer in Basingstoke, I have even seen this behaviour surrounding specific people. This behaviour stems from their ancestors (Grey Wolves) who had to safeguard their resources for ultimate survival.

To address resource guarding, it is beneficial to spend time to teach a dog commands like "leave it," "out," "place," or "off." But simply a dog should understand the most fundamental command and consequences of ''NO!''. These commands can help in managing and reducing this behaviour, with the ultimate goal of eradication. Another approach preached by Positive only trainers is to engage in a trade with your dog, offering a treat in exchange for the object they are guarding, I do not advise this technique, in my opinion you are simply reinforcing the adverse behavioural trait and setting yourself up for failure. Additionally, when your dog is eating, I make a point of periodically stopping feed and restarting to control its impulse and build a respectful relationship with my dogs as the Alpha of the pack.


Leash reactivity

Leash reactivity is another common issue in dogs where they exhibit behaviours like growling, barking, or lunging towards things that make them feel nervous or fearful. These triggers can include other dogs, people, or specific characteristics such as children, men, people wearing hats, or male/female dogs. The purpose of these behaviours is to drive the threat away or increase the distance between the dog and the threat to avoid a potential fight.

There are certain signs that indicate anxiety in dogs, including but not limited to lip licking, sudden scratching, sniffing, panting, and tucking the tail under the body. On the other hand, signs of arousal in dogs include forward ears, closed mouth, intense eyes showing more white, a forward and tense body posture, a high and slow wagging tail, and raised hackles.

It is important to recognise the signs that precede a potential bite. These signs can include anxiety or arousal, intense eye contact, showing the whites of the eyes, growling, showing teeth, and a tense body posture. By being aware of these signs, it is possible to intervene and prevent a bite from occurring, but this is not advisable until you are trained in doing so and providing the correct response.


At some point, you just pull off the band-aid, and its uncomfortable, but then its over, you are relieved and ready to be treated

Inconclusion, the aim of this article was for owners of Aggressive or Reactive dogs to gain a deeper insight into their thought train and the likely causes behind their actions, this is not a step by step guide to fixing aggression and reactivity, if this is something you are struggling with, contact one of our dog trainers in Basingstoke. Ultimately the first step into rehabilitating a reactive dog is to stop the initial reaction. Until the initial reaction can be stopped, they cannot be successfully rehabilitated and vice versa, just because a dog stops reacting, does not mean it is successfully rehabilitated! A brilliant metaphor I like to use is

the following; I may get stressed at work, but it is still unacceptable to punch people just because of my own anxiety. If I choose violence, their will be repercussions and only once I understand those repercussions, can I then seek to address my own psychological hang-ups and change my thinking.


If you are struggling with reactivity and/or aggression, contact our reactivity dog trainers in Basingstoke










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