Thursday, December 8, 2011


What is fear? Fear is avoidance, even when "fight" is the behavior used for fear responses, it is still avoidance. The dog is avoiding any communication, ignoring all body language and insisting that the person, dog, thing that is feared go away. So how do you handle fear? Bring back the willingness to communicate.

Almost all reactive behavior issues are based in fear - including those that look like all out aggression. Reactive dogs are like Mad-eye Moody, they are always watching - watching for what may bite them - constantly alert. All that stress is what makes them a reactive dog. Hair trigger. They don't have any room left over to involve themselves in a decent engagement with a human or even other dogs.

How many of you have watched the video clips that I and others have posted here on FB that have a "ghost" or something scary pop out at you suddenly? Have you ever watched them more then once to get use to the suddeness? Try it, feel the emotions, the adrenaline, the body responses as you anticipate the "scare". Now apply that to a dog what is constantly looking for danger.

Think also of the avoidance that you may feel in going to back to find those video clips and the emotions and stress you might feel when contemplating viewin them again - the remembered response from the first time you watched it and were s...tartled or even frightened. Now try to imagine how your dog feels everytime it sees another dog and remembers the leash jerking hard on it's neck, the bite it got at the dog park, the kick it might have received by someone in it's past when just trying to play with another dog.

Fear is sometimes easy to recognize, but sometimes not. Dog owners often have difficulty recognizing that a problem is fear motivated because of their own fear when a dog does something dog like. Growling, snarling, snapping, barking fiercely are usually frightening to humans. But these are just canine communications - "you are scaring me, please move away". The most used method of handling this type of communication is to punish or discipline the dog - which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Punishment and intimidation increases the fear and suppresses the communication which makes behavior worse. This terrified dog now needs to escalate his threatening behavior to get his message across. If one keeps punishing and disciplining this dog, the next time is even worse. These methods do not change the emotional response of the dog, they don’t change what dog wants to do - create space between himself and the what is scaring him.

Judging others, putting labels on them, seems to be so easy for humans to do and they extend this courtesy to their dogs. "he's dominant", "she's alpha", "he's so aggressive (when the behavior is just growling)" - statements so common that I wonder how people can believe that these labels can help the dog. If you break it down - the dog, upon seeing another dog, tensed; as the strange dog approached I saw my dog lick her lips, put her ears back, and get a crease between her eyes and when the strange dog was 10 feet away she lunged at it. Breaking it down this way, and realizing that the basis of these behaviors are most likely fear and you can come up with a plan to return your dog to normal.

Few dogs are born with or raised to have self-control. They are taught impulse control and self control first by their mothers, then by their siblings as they start their education in the form of play and mock fights and lastly by other adult dogs who are part of their social group.

Our job is to teach a dog self control and how to live in a human world without stress. We rescue the dogs that end up in the pound because of behavior problems, or at least perceived behavior problems. Now we make them adoptable, through medical treatment for illnesses and training for self control and confidence. This particular piece of training is for the dog who has learned that he can only get his way with a bite. He has run the gamut of snarl, growl, lunge, air bite, floor them while growling furiously and then finally – a bite. This dog, through fear and insecurity, has figured out that if you act first the other dogs or the humans go away and leave you alone. All of the self and impulse control that he learned in puppyhood is gone and it's our job to bring him back to stability - especially considering it was our responsibility in the first place to teach him about our world.

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