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Canine Aggression: Predict Prevent Protect
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Canine Aggression: Predict Prevent Protect

Can an aggressive or reactive dog be cured? The answer should be no. Even if your dog has been good for several years you need to realize that three things can cause your dog’s bad behavior to return (recover):

  1. Stress or fear
  2. Not practicing the prevention and control protocols
  3. Not practicing the exercises that increase oxytocin and serotonin, while decreasing cortisol
  4. Not teaching your dog a lifestyle of calm and control.
  5. If you are stressed – your dog is stressed. If you are calm – your dog is calm.

It is our first responsibility to keep people and animals safe. We are not in an emotionally healthy place if we cannot accept this as our personal mission statement. I have found that people who do not succeed in reactive rover and behavior modification programs have one thing in common. They have a singular goal – to prevent, and make things easier for themselves.

People who succeed are concerned about their dog’s safety, other people’s safety, and how to protect. There is a big difference in the handler’s focus. The first difference is in the amount of time the person is willing to invest.

The person who wants to prevent an incident so they don’t need to deal with the dog’s emotional problems, often spends less than 10 minutes a day working on their dog’s behavior modification.

The person who wants to protect so there is no incident often make behavior modification a lifestyle. They will practice for 1 – 2 minutes, 10+ times a day. They will also have long play periods

Eustress or Destress

Taking the time to learn the difference between the two types of stress may not even know they are becoming masters of their dog’s behavior. They only know that if they play with their dog in the back yard it is calm, relaxed, and happy after a play period. They may not understand why, but they do learn that taking their dog for a long walk also tires it out, but afterwards the dog displays bad behaviors, may be restless or anxious, and may show obsessive behaviors.

Eustress – Good Stress

Destress – Bad Stress

If you have a reactive or aggressive dog then you need to learn how to put your dog into Eustress, and to avoid things that put your dog into destress.

This also causes a problem. I’ve talked to several people who bought a dog because they wanted an excuse to go for walks at night. They like going for walks, or to the dog park. They enjoy the experience. It doesn’t matter to them whether their dog enjoys it, or not.

Managing your dog’s stress is the first step to success.

Aggression or Reactive or Bully?

This is easier than most people think. If your dog has intent to harm, then your dog is aggressive. If your dog has a bite history then you can measure your dog’s aggression by the bites.

If your dog has multiple punctures, tears, shakes, or goes for the face then we consider that an aggressive dog.

If your dog makes lots of threats (drama) and may only have 1 bite then it is reactive – or a bully. A lot of dogs learn that they can ‘run the house’ and boss around their family. These bullies can be just as dangerous as aggressive dogs, but are easier to help.

The ease that a dog can be helped depends on one of Five things:

  • Fear and/or
  • Stress and/or
  • Life between 5 and 12 weeks and/or
  • Canine PTSD
  • Temperament or Behavior

Fear – this takes a long time to help and a life time of work. The dog is afraid of being hurt, so it will lash out. It is very difficult to help a dog that fears.

Stress – creates behaviors that decrease the stress – in the dog’s mind. In a lot of cases if you can show the dog a better way to reduce the stress then the dog can live a happier, calmer life.

Socializing – between 5 – 12 weeks of life will shape your dog’s personality for the rest of its life. This is when the dog’s brain is developing. If your dog is highly stimulated in this time then your puppy builds coping skills. If it is not stimulated, then there are parts of the brain that will not develop.

Socializing is the #1 most important part of a dog’s life. Unfortunately, most of us either force our dog into stressful and fearful situations (dog park, meeting family, meeting strange dogs) in this time and teaching the dog to fear. Very few dog owners will even read an article on socialization – and fewer still will invest in doing the ‘100 day challenge’.

The problem with this problem is that if the dog doesn’t have the mental capacity to solve problems and handle stress then the only thing you can do is bandage the problem and control it. You can’t get the brain to grow the missing parts after 12 weeks. Once that door is closed, it is closed for life.

Canine PTSD – is the result of trauma and fear that the dog cannot overcome. It takes a lot of time and love, therapy and behavior modification to help this dog. It takes an owner who truly loves their dog.

It will require changing the environment, managing the dog’s daily routine, and spending every hour working on the 3P’s – Predict, Prevent, Protect.

Temperament – This cannot be changed. It is set by the time your dog is 12 weeks old. You can teach a dog to control it – sometimes, but it is an integral part of who your dog is. Sometimes it can also be attributed to a ‘high drive’ or cortisol problem. Other times the problem may be instinctual, or even a chemical imbalance. I lump all of these under temperament because they are the elements that make your dog what it is, and they are all equally difficult to fix.

Behavior – is a learned thing, and is easy to change. The dog may think ‘this is how I solve this problem’ or ‘my owner wants me to do this.’ When you show the dog a less stressful, or confrontational, way to solve the problem then the dog not only changes, it is often relieved and happier that it doesn’t need to ‘engage’ anymore.

Positive or Aversive

So the question always comes up ‘why not punish the bad behavior.’ I only have one response, ‘because aggression begets aggression.’  There are people who can use punishment with a high level of success. They are usually people who have spent hundreds of hours learning about dog behavior. They have actually practiced their timing and built a rhythm. They control their body language. In short – They make sure that the 90% of the equation which is them is a perfect performance, so the 10% that is the dog can be communicated effectively.

The rest of the people just want to vent their frustration or anger. They want to ‘stop’ the symptoms (aggression) without dealing with the chemical, emotional, and traumatic parts of the dog that cause the problem.

So in short – the only effective method of dealing with aggressive dogs is using positive behavior modification methods, classical and operant conditioning, and lots of affirmation and play reinforcements.

What is Your Choice?

So knowing what type of handler you are can help you make a choice as to how you will handle your dog’s reactivity or aggressive problems. If you don’t have the personality, or personal goals, to help your dog then the best thing may be to do what is best for your dog.

Only you can make this decision. Not your family or your friends. Whether you want to do the work, or not, it is still your legal responsibility to keep people safe.

What is Canine Behavior Modification?

  • It is 10% Helping the dog learn to cope and manage its fear/stress
  • It is 20% Predict
  • It is 30% Prevent
  • It is 40% Protect
  • It is 100% your legal and moral responsibility


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