WHAT IS AGGRESSION and WHY IS MY DOG ACTING THIS WAY?
It is important to remember that aggression is a natural survival instinct in ALL animals.
Without aggression, social groups and individual animals within the group, would not survive in the wild.
Aggression however always has a trigger and an attached emotional state, whether that be dominance, fear, anxiety or frustration…
Before we can work through aggression issues, we need to understand the triggers – in order to understand the emotional state that is driving the reaction.
We should not and can not use aggression to battle aggressive behaviour.
It is also important to remember that Dogs cannot consciously control their emotional state. For example a Dog cannot choose to be happy, fearful or anxious.
A Dog’s behaviour is instantly triggered by his (current) emotional state with the chosen behaviour being the behaviour that will ensure ‘survival’.
CAN I STOP MY DOG BEING AGGRESSIVE?
Aggression can be ‘managed’ (suppressed), however it cannot ever be completely extinguished. Once that window is open, it can never be closed. Anyone who tells you it can is not being honest – or doesn’t know any better. Aggression cannot be completely extinguished because it’s an instinctive behaviour.
Rarely is there such a Dog whose behaviour cannot be modified and/or managed to ensure a contented life for the family and their Dog. This is very achievable.
We see many Dogs who others have turned their backs on saying they are ‘red liners’, ‘cannot be helped’ (because they didn’t have the resources or the knowledge/skills to do so?).
We have saved many Dogs that ‘Behaviourists’ and Vets have said cannot be helped and recommended that they be put to sleep! These Dogs were simply terrified of other Dogs! Seeing a Dog was like putting you in a room filled with spiders (or anything else you are afraid of) – and these Dogs reacted accordingly.
Many of them have been poorly socialised and just as many had been ‘overwhelmed’ by another Dog at a Park – a ‘rude’ Dog who barged in on our Dog, did not respond to the cues given – submission or a warning growl. Our Dog then had to escalate their behaviour in order to keep Dogs away simply because they are unsure or afraid.
From that day on, they take the stance that they will do all that they can to frighten the incoming Dog away – as they would in the wild. They growl, bark, their hackles go up to make themselves look larger and more challenging…
Without realising, our reaction often reinforces their behaviour, thereby ensuring that future responses will be the same, or greater.
What we do from there is what determines their progress – into full on Dog Aggression, or managed and able to cope when other Dogs are around… it is all up to us!
WHAT CAN WE DO?
A Dog that frightens another Dog away has had a win – has been rewarded for the behaviour – hence the behaviour will continue to escalate.
A Dog will only continue to behave in a manner that is successful. For example, if you feed him every time he barks, he will bark for food – he has won. If every Dog that comes at him is chased away, he has won, he feels good about it, and he ‘knows what to do’ next time this happens.
The problem here is that after a few wins, he is now enjoying the wins – he is empowered and may even start to look for trouble – this depends very much on his character, and your response.
We understand this!
We, as Handlers, can only extinguish an Aggressive Response once we understand the trigger – that which is eliciting the response.
The outcome is faster and more ‘solid’ once the Dog understands that this aggressive response no longer works – if it’s not ‘working’ for him and is not self-rewarding.
As previously stated, and it’s important to remember – we cannot permanently extinguish aggression – just as we can never remove it totally in humans.
Aggression is always there. As part of our deep seated natural instinct – aggression ensures survival. The difference is that as ‘reasoning’ beings we have learned that we can (consciously) control this very deep seated instinct – to suppress aggressive behaviour.
Utilising Competitive Motivators…
We use competitive motivators when working with issues such as aggression.
These are different motivators that are competing with each other. The stronger motivator for the Dog will always override the weaker motivator.
|Q.||What is the objective of an aggressive response based say in fear, and therefore the overriding motivator?|
|A.||To create distance.|
|Q.||When the aggressive behaviour no longer rewards the Dog by creating distance, what will happen?|
|A.||When the aggressive behaviour is no longer successful in creating distance it is no longer a strong motivator.|
A Dog is motivated to use aggression because it works!The definition of insanity:
“Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”
Dogs are not silly – they will not continue with a behaviour that no longer ‘works’ for them.
When behaving aggressively, it is not appropriate to ‘distract’ the Dog, and reward for looking away.
He behaved aggressively, he looked away and was rewarded… for being aggressive? Unfortunately we regularly see Dogs that have been subjected to this style of training – sadly in most cases the behaviour has escalated and is now worse than before.
We CAN use a competing motivator when dealing with aggression.
What would happen if we motivated your Dog with something that overrides the motivation that has elicited the aggressive response?
|–||A perceived threat (a Dog) approaches.|
|–||Our Dog starts to react aggressively; we offer a treat, yet very few Dogs will find the treat a stronger motivator.|
|–||Once a Dog is committed to creating distance between himself and another Dog, and adrenaline has kicked in, the first thing to happen is that his digestive system shuts-down-food is never going to distract him!|
|–||If your Dog does take the treat, this does not mean we have overridden his current emotional state and motivated him to not behave aggressively – all we have done is given a fearful Dog a treat!
In his current state it really has little value.
Redirecting the Dog’s focus to a treat outside the Dog’s reaction distance threshold (before the Dog reacts), does not reward the Dog for not reacting. Instead we risk unintentionally reinforcing the aggressive response.
|–||If we move him away from the threat, we have reinforced the behaviour (I barked, Dog went away, problem solved) and then if we reward with a treat for not reacting we have again reinforced the behaviour.|
|–||Some may say that they are rewarding a) the change in the emotional state, b) and for the Dog not reacting. However, the initial aggressive response to create distance is actually the stronger motivator in that situation, not the treat.|
|–||Giving a treat to a Dog that is now feeling safe, is not rewarding a non-aggressive response from the Dog.|
When your Dog is in a fearful aggressive state, no amount of food is going to change this emotional state.
If your Dog is experiencing issues around aggression and you don’t understand, or you are not sure what to do, please don’t ‘guess’ your way through it and please don’t wait because it will NOT go away – it will get worse – it could get far worse!
Please get in touch, get on top of the behaviour now before it becomes a major problem!