Aggression or a Normal Response?

Posted on Nov 13, 2016 in Aggression, Dog Training, Leash Training, Positive Reinforcement, Posts, Reaction, Reactive, Socialization | 0 comments

 Based on their maturity and tolerance, dogs respond to other dogs behaviors in different ways. Let’s be honest, many of you reading this have disagreed with another person, lost your temper, and became angry in response to someones actions. 

Consider:  Una, a beautiful long haired German Shepherd, loves to play with dogs and has shown friendly behaviors to all the  dogs she has ever met. Until last week. As she was running on the beach with a Sheltie she just met, and all was well until she saw a tennis ball go flying over head.  Already on the run, Una bolted after the ball, but was immediately body slammed by a Retriever mix who was in hot pursuit of his beloved tennis ball. Upon crashing into each other, Una snarled at the Retriever mix as a reprimand for causing her a bit of pain, Una is six years old. He did not respond to her reprimand, yet remained running at her hip, Una beat him to the ball and snatched it up.

The Retriever Mix again body slammed Una, aroused from the chase, and feeling another shot of pain in her back, she dropped the ball and reprimanded the Retriever Mix by putting her mouth on his neck and giving him a good hard shake, then let him go.  The Retriever  snatching up the ball, and returned to his owner as if nothing had happened.  

Red, the Chow is being pushy.  Kandi, the Chow on the right will tolerate this for a bit, and then will growl and snap. Red takes the reprimand every time as is their relationship.

Red, the Chow on the left is engaging. Kandi, the Chow on the right will tolerate this for a bit, and then will growl and snap. Red takes the reprimand every time as is their relationship.

Una’s response to this Retriever’s use of body contact when playing was very appropriate in her mind, and she tried to return to playing chase with the Sheltie as she was enjoying this type of play. 

Response: Unfortunately, her owner saw her as being aggressive, and called Una in a harsh tone.  Una went to her owner who is usually trusting and gentle, but not this time, she was stiff and grabbed Una’s collar — nearly lifting her front feet off the ground.  Her owner is usually very excited when she comes when called, so Una was quite confused by this aggression.  The ride home was scary as her owner verbally scolded Una in a harsh tone.  Once home, Una was grabbed firmly by the collar and put into her crate while her owner continued to stomp around the house and gave Una hard-eyed stares. Una has now learned when her owner calls her it makes her feel very unsure and afraid.

The Malamute is moving forward as the Tuverian Shepherd is moving away.  These two dogs have very differnt playstyles as they are beginning to discover.

This Malamute, Loki is moving forward as the Tuverian Shepherd, Nell is moving away. These two dogs have very differnt play styles as they are beginning to discover, having just met.

Humans also respond with different levels of feedback depending on age and life experiences.  If the Retriever had lightly rubbed Una’s shoulder as he was heading to the ball or lightly bumped her body when she won the ball, she may have only turned away or growled. 

Did I mention Una initiates play with a play bow followed by a game of chase. She does not enjoy wrestling. Did Una have time to tell the Retriever Mix how she liked to play? Did he even ask? Is it possibly the Retriever has learned that a hard body slam is therefore more likely to win the ball?  Will Una’s feedback prevent him from body slamming another dog?  Doubtful, however it depends on his temperament and his sensitivity to a reprimand.


This Alaskan Malamute, Loki has not seen me in about a year. His use of space is very clear, he likes to be close!

My point: If your dog scuffles with another, consider the entire incident.  How well do they really know each other?  Was their contact made before an invitation was offered?  Was one dog trying to steal a resource from another?  Do the dogs have different styles of play?  If one dog is a wrestler and another only enjoys chase, then you can expect some conflict to occur. If the reprimand or feedback given ends in a puncture or broken skin, take a breath and ask your self how many times has your dog played with other dogs and not broken skin?  If the answer is many, then you can assume these two dogs were very different and conflict was somewhat expected. If your dog is beginning to reprimand dogs more often, then slow greetings down and be sure  the dogs have similar personalities, play styles and time to signal intentions. This will not only reduce conflict, it will reduce the level of reprimand, and make for a far more enjoyable ride home!

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Is It Just the Dogs Breed?

Posted on Jan 31, 2016 in Barking, Dog Training, Pets, Positive Association, Posts, Puppy, Reaction, Reactive, Rescue Dog, Training |

Does your hound constantly have her nose to the ground?  Is your retriever pup a bit too mouthy?  Is your Pyrenees, Chow or Catahoula mix

Don't kid yourself, this girl is a loud barker when on a leash!

This sweet girl is a loud alarm barker!

acting a bit growly with strangers? Does your terrier like to grab and shake toys?  How about your adorable herder? Ever nipped at anyones heels?

Ray Coppenger, author of Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution explains Breed Specific Behaviors. Not that long ago, dogs were chosen and bred based on their ability to be useful.  For example, dogs were kept around if they were able to:

  1. Protect the herd from predators by alarm barking.
  2. Could find or flush out the bird or grouse to be hunted.
  3. Retrieve a kill after it was shot.
  4. Kill pesky rodents and small animals that jeopardized the crops.

Desired traits which were specifically bred for in the past may not be so desired for a family pet. A lazy, relaxed calm dog was not as desirable and therefore not chosen for breeding.

Isolated Behaviors in Breeds

I recently participated in a Webinar by Ken McCort. Here are some things I took away: 

  1. Hound dogs were used to search and track, which meant their nose needed to be on the ground.
  2. Sporting dogs were used to search, stalk and point at their prey. 
  3. Herders were bred to drive and chase, and, yes, even nip at heals when needed. Example, the Corgi was encouraged to nip the heels and bred low to avoid the kick back from the hoofed animal they were moving.  Shelties were bred to bark when herding as they used noise to drive the herd.
  4. Terriers and heelers were bred to grab and hold and were even knows as “catch dogs” as this was a desired motor pattern.
  5. Retrievers were used to bring birds back to their handler using a soft mouth.

To learn more, here’s a useful link: Ken McCort, Wolf Park Educator

If you find yourself wanting to change a behavior in your dog, first

Alert but not overly aroused.

Alert and ready to hunt.

consider if this behavior is a normal one to your dog’s breed.  You may never extinguish a behavior trait that your dog was specifically bred for.  While this behavior can be modified by rewarding another behavior, you must be realistic with your expectations during the behavior modification process.  

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You are NOT invited

Posted on May 17, 2015 in Aggression, Dog Training, Leash Training, Posts, Puppy, Reaction, Safety, Training |

Many dogs get a reputation for being dog aggressive, when they are IMG_1590simply responding to adolescent dogs with rude behavior.  My foster beagle was one of those very rude adolescent greeters who invades other dogs space without an invitation.  I knew he would eventually receive some feedback, I just wanted it to be an air snap or nip and not a level 3 grab and shake.

Well, it finally happened, as I approached a neighbor with a calm female labrador,  my foster boy wanted to walk right up to the labradors face who was standing tall, motionless, mouth closed tight, tail a bit high and not looking at my pup at all.  

I could easily see my boy was not being invited into the labs space, but hey, he has to learn to read his own species body language as a part of growing up, right?  So, while I slowed his approach, and his body was wiggling, the labrador showed her teeth and snapped at my dogs face, again, my foster pup wagged harder and tried to approach a bit lower and more submissive, he was once again met with lots of teeth along with an air snap.  Understood!  The beagle finally understood the labradors signals that he was not invited into her personal space!

My pup calmly walked farther away, sat down and never again IMG_1591looked at the labrador as we continued to speak to one another.  My neighbor apologized profusely and would not stop going on and on about how rude his dog was!

I let him know that it was my foster dog who was NOT invited into his dogs space! In fact, his dog was very clear when we were 20 feet away that she was not interested in visiting.  Many puppy’s and adolescent dogs need a few reminders to respect the space of others.  


The Boston Terrier is getting necessary feedback from Pablo on the left. I am NOT your friend and I do not want to be social with you.


If your dog invades another dogs space who is looking away, standing stiff, immediately sniffs the grass or scratches himself, then he is not inviting your dog near him. This dog may send more obvious distance cues in the form of a growl or snap.  This is not aggression, it is simply normal distance cues from one dog to another, a request for one dog to move away.


In my experience, humans have unrealistic expectations of how our dogs should behave. How can we label dogs when most of us have very little knowledge of how dogs communicate.  If you are a dog owner, please take time to learn more about dog behavior and body language cues before saying your dog is aggressive.  It is very possible your dog is simply reacting to the other dogs rude behavior!

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Why Does My Dog Do That?

Posted on Oct 12, 2014 in Barking, Certified Dog Trainer, Dog Training, Posts, Reaction, Rescue Dog | 0 comments

Do you ever wonder why your dog performs certain behaviors or motor patterns?  I sure have! For example: Why does my dog roll on smelly things?  Why does my dog shake his toy?  Should I be worried if my dog stalks his playmate?  Why does my dog guard his bones?


Hunting, for fun or survival?

Specific behaviors that are unique to our dogs are called Phylogenetic behaviors.  These behaviors, or behavior patterns, have developed over many many generations and truly have evolutionary significance to maximize reproduction and survival.  Stalking and bouncing are examples of phylogenetic behavior, as is an innate fear of loud noises.

When we think of our dogs behaviors we can summarize that all their behaviors come from three simple motivations:
1. Hunting/obtaining food
2. Safety/avoidance seeking
3. Sexual/reproductive behaviors

Behaviors observed in just the hunting motivations:   orient to sound or moving object, stare, freeze, creep, stalk, run, jump, grab, hold, shake, hold down, kill, eat, guard.

Can we change phylogenetic behaviors?  All behaviors can be modified to some degree with patience and a strong counter conditioning process.

Inherently genetic behaviors may be strong in your dog and low in my dog, as each dog has a different  genetic make up.  Such as rolling in feces, a yucky behavior to us humans, but many of our dogs do it!  Why? The science behind this behavior is that our dogs roll in animal feces or on a dead animal so they can mask their scent to better help them sneak up on their prey.  Does your dog need to stalk his prey for survival? Unlikely, but this behavior can be a strong genetic trait.


Resting for the next hunt.

We know some dogs learn to play fetch just by watching another dog play fetch. This is called Social Learning.  Other dogs perform behaviors for the reward, for example my female Scottie will frequent my neighbors back yard and scan for a squirrel to come down the bird feeder. She has been successful on two occasions and enjoyed eating them as well.  Does she need to hunt for survival?  No, but this behavior is both rewarding to her, and a strong genetic trait, therefore she will repeat it.

Many dogs use hunting behavior patterns in play, others will use sexual motor patterns like mounting and neck biting to initiate play.  The point is our dogs do many behavior patterns as a result of their genetic make up. If this behavior is followed by a reward, then this behavior will most likely continue to be practiced.

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Dog Aggression and Communication Signals

Posted on Jul 5, 2014 in Aggression, Barking, Certified Dog Trainer, Clicker, Crate Training, Dog Training, Leash Frustration, Leash Training, Pets, Positive Reinforcement, Posts, Reaction, Reactive, Rescue Dog, Socialization, Training | 0 comments

Why is my dog so aggressive to other dogs?  This can usually be diagnosed with a detailed history: no play ever, hereditary, mother was sick or a guarder, or over socialized with aggressive or rough playing dogs.

Cycle of On-Leash Aggression (created problem from humans), as described in the Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson, “The Bully dog” is often kept away from other dogs for long periods of time, he is usually rude with crude behavior brought on by a super motivated greeting as a result of deprivation when meeting other dogs, and has poor social skills.  The owner is alarmed by intensity and tightens the leash and get’s too excited or nervous when interactions occur.  High arousal, lack of social skills, scuffles with defensive dogs can occur.  Barrier frustration such as windows, fences and leashes can increase the dogs frustration which makes you want to “correct” the behavior,  which = punishment  which = more Aggression = total isolation.

I believe dogs need time to express their intentions before they greet unknown dogs.  Personalities among dogs differ as much as a classroom full of kindergarteners, therefore, expecting your dog to like every dog they meet is not that simple. Some dogs are very soft and have appropriate greetings, these are the dogs who are able to visit the beach and off leash parks without incident. 

Helping your dog greet new dogs much slower will give your dog important and necessary information about the other dogs intentions.  To the left, you see the brown dog in the middle of this pack at a local park.  He is standing quite still with head lowered, visible tension in his jaw, mouth closed, low tail, ears back and a his hair beginning to stand up on his back.  He is very uncomfortable about being so close to a strange dog and was called away quickly to avoid any conflict.  This particular dog’s behavior tells us humans that he needs a much slower greeting with new dogs.
In this photo to the left , this beautiful girl has just seen a new dog and is reading the other dogs intentions and clearly expressing hers as well.  Note the open mouth and soft eyes, lowered tail which is in motion and she is beginning to offer a play bow.  While she is expressing intentions that she does want to greet the new dog, she is very excited and the other dog is a bit alarmed by her intense need to visit.  After about 30 minutes of walking near each other, this girl and the other dog became play mates as you will see in the video below. 
If you have a new puppy, please keep him/her safe and find nice friendly dogs to socialize with.  Your dogs friends will influence his/her behavior! Just like you were influenced by those you visited with as an adolescent.  So, know who your dogs friends are and watch for signs of fair play between the two and you let’s try to prevent aggression from spreading.  
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Aggression in Dogs

Posted on Feb 25, 2013 in Aggression, Barking, Dominance, Leash Frustration, Positive Reinforcement, Reaction, Training | 0 comments

Canine aggression will always be an interesting topic discussed among dog lovers.  We know conflicts are normal and it is our job as humans to teach young children how to cope or resolve conflicts with other children and adults.

We humans are taught to resolve conflict by using our words at a young age, often through examples by our parents, teachers and grandparents.  Yet, many teenagers and adults have difficulty coping with conflict and may find themselves in a yelling or physical situation.  Having someone who loves them and are willing to help them change their behavior in very small steps is a blessing and a must for them to be successful.

If you find yourself the owner of a dog showing aggression, take a deep breath and first realize that changing behavior is difficult and will take time.  Many animals use whatever defensive mechanisms they have  to scare threatening intruders or scary stimuli away as a mechanism to feel safe.  Cows may only be able to kick at their aggressor, chickens may claw and use their beaks to peck or bite a scary stimuli.  Cats are known for their hissing, arched back and fast clawing as a way to say “back off.”

Our furry canine friends also use what works for them which is often rapid barking, growling, show of teeth, lunging or snapping to scare off anything that they are afraid of.  If your dog is getting into scuffles at a park or daycare, please do not take him there anymore.  Aggression is a defensive mechanism that dogs will use to keep themselves safe or gain resources.  If your dog learns that aggression works, then he will continue to use it and even get good at it.

Now, avoid putting your dog in situations where he is showing even the smallest amount of aggression as you want to change this behavior right?  Then eliminate the possibility of practicing an unwanted behavior.

  • Make a list of the triggers that set him off, even those that put him into a heightened arousal or anxious state.  
  • Make a list of the alternative behavior you prefer your dog do.
  • Start slow and set your dog up for success.  For example if your dog barks at kids 20 feet away, then keep him 60 feet away for now.
  • Know what motivates your dog and be GENEROUS with the reward when he offers the alternative behavior.
This is just the beginning, breathe, really take a big breath as your tension is not helpful to your dog in any way while helping him feel safer.  Make your plan and remember your entire day is a series of habits or sequences of behavior just like your dog.  So, your plan should set your dog up for success just for today as we will be taking this one day at a time.  Stay tuned for more tips on changing your dogs behavior.
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