Monday, April 20, 2009

Aggressive Dog - Part 2 Warnings

There are many people out there who correct a dog when it growls but then don't bother to address the cause (or 'stimuli') of the growling. This was a comment on one of my earlier posts and it's so true. It's frustrating because these people are not addressing the dog's needs, only their own. The problem, as she aptly pointed out, is that when people teach the dog not to growl, many others then aren't able to see warnings the dog gives.

Most people think that dogs growl then bite, so they assume the dog gave no warning if the dog doesn't growl, which often ends the dog up in the shelter.

Every dog gives warnings. Are the people around them aware enough to see the warnings as they come? That is the question. Many dogs that come to me don't growl before biting, but they all give warnings. If you read a dog properly, you can see him become stressed well before he starts growling and you can redirect before a growl even occurs.

If you're always reacting, than you will never be prepared. Note - This is where your redirection and positive reinforcement come in handy.

For some dogs, I go with the "Look" command so she looks at me, click and treat - this encourages the behaviour that she looks at me when said stimuli enters. For some dogs it works very well, for others, not so much. To use this method, you must have an awesome reward (could be meat if food is a motivator; could be tennis ball) and you must already know and be working the dog's thresholds.

The thing with teaching this behaviour is that it depends on the handler a lot - if the handler gets stiff, taught or shows anything other than normalcy when stimuli enters, the dog sees it and reacts. The trick is to teach the dog how to react regardless of what the handler does. Once you have taught the dog how to react with said stimuli, you begin to introduce variables into the situation (example, unknown dogs or strangers or environment change) until the dog knows, without needing your support, how to react. Then you can start relaxing your own behaviour.

Every dog goes through escalation before you even hear a growl. They are stressing before any verbalization. You as the handler must see this escalation and redirect and resolve before an unwanted reaction comes from the dog.

I have found that many people working successfully with rescues do this without even realizing what they are doing.

On the other hand, I have found some people that work with rescues who scare or bully them into giving the desired behaviour. This often gives you the desired behaviour quickly, but teaches the dog to hide its warnings and not to deal with the stress. The scaring and bullying works in that specific instance ... but when said handler is gone, either the new handler continues this bullying or the dog's behaviour then becomes untrustworthy again. (I'm sure many of you could think of someone you know who uses this method?)

Note that if the dog will only perform a certain behaviour when the handler is around, that behaviour becomes dependent on the handler or the handler's behaviour. Then you aren't truly successful with the rehab.

I have met and rehabbed dogs that people say "give no warning" ... I have never met one that actually didn't. All dogs give warning but the people around them don't know how to understand what the dog is saying.

Some warnings I watch for are the eyebrows shift, jaw line change, tail change, muscles tighten, shoulders in and high, back arch. There are many, many more, but these are the easiest to see. Staring, Growling, Barking, Lunging ... all these occur much later at a different threshold and the handler should have already redirected the energy at that point.

What are some of the warnings you watch for or have witnessed?


Thoughts said...

Great post here. I cant stand seeing someone yell at their dog for being aggressive, its just the wrong move. With our old pit bull, we used to use a very stern voice and let him know he was not the Alpha. Seemed to calm him down and make him realize what he was doing.

GoLightly said...

All great signs.

Eyes widening, but you did that with eyebrows.

Not everybody can SEE expressions in animals, though, right?

Splash said...

One thing I have seen many folks do is ask for the look BEFORE the perceived threat.

That takes away a dog's freedom, and makes them more reactive, not less. They still perceive the threat but they do not feel free to check it out.

You must be careful to ask for the look as a RESPONSE to the threat. Then just make the dog feel safe.

I'm currently reading and watching "Control Unleashed", and that's a point she makes in her materials too. I feel so validated. :)

Calsidyrose said...

Great post. Things I watch for: body blocking--when the dog turns perpendicular in relation to me or to another dog. Also the "four-square stance", when all legs are held almost in a "parked" position (like what you do with saddlebred horses).

My miniature pinscher (17 pounds, dominant social climber) gets a glassy look to his eyes as one of his first warning signs. He'll lift his lip, just a enough to wrinkle above the canines without actually showing the whites of his teeth. He may or may not growl.

In shelter, especially in the kennels, when there are more than two dogs in a kennel, I watch out for head-lowering. That two-inch drop, with the jawline horizontal to the floor means somebody is gonna get it.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Thoughts - good point. Yelling isn't going to help anyone in this scenario. Tone is very important

GoLightly - Eyes widening may not be the same as the eyebrows ... depends on the dog. Not all show the eyebrows, but they still may widen their eyes. Personally, I think everyone can be taught how to read a dog and how to see expressions in animals - but not everyone is open to learning.

Splash - great point! Timing is everything. Even if you teach the right things, if your timing is off, you may inadvertently reward the wrong behaviour. I LOVE Control Unleashed and recommend it to every person I meet with a dog.

Calsidyrose - I see that glassy look most often comes from dogs with history of abuse. I wonder where they go when they do this? This is such an instinctual behaviour so it really interests me.

I wonder ... Is it the same as when you see this behaviour in humans?

Calsidyrose said...

Interesting about the glassy eyes-abuse correlation. I'll have to start making note of it when I see it in other dogs.

Taco, our min-pin, is a rescue with a cloudy past--he came to us with numerous (healed) scars on his torso, which even today, after nine years have never regrown hair. We don't know how they happened, but they are part of him.

bob novotney said...

Great Post! Has any one ever thought of placing themselves between the dogs at a distance. If the dog reacts still, take the dog and reverse course away from the other dog. This lets your dog know that aggressive behavior is not going to be tolerated. Just a thought, I really enjoy your posts...

Splash said...

Is it just me, or do you also find "Control Unleashed" a bit confusing. I've had to restart several times, and the fact that there is a Clean Run group forming to study it indicates to me that the writing or organization could be improved.

She just loses me I guess....

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Calsidyrose - that's just what I have seen with the dogs I work with. I'm sure other people would give you a different answer.

I've noticed that it is almost like the associated action becomes a trigger. I've seen happy bouncy dogs that seem normal go glassy eyed in a split second for various reasons (maybe someone picked up a 2x4, etc). I wonder if they go into what I call 'survival mode' and if so, where does their consciousness go?

bob n - it depends ... This can be a good technique for certain dogs, or for other dogs it can be a dangerous action. It depends how quickly the dog will go up the adrenaline scale and how much time you have from warnings to extreme. Sometimes by doing this, the dog is already agitated and since you just took away the stimuli and made the problem you, you will now be the focus for that agitation. You may be attacked or bitten. You took the stimuli, but didn't deal with the issues of the dog.

Also, by doing that you aren't associating the dog with anything good, you are only taking the dog away (from vision) and leaving the dog you're handling with excessive frustration. When that dog comes back into sight, you may see an escalation and repetition of the behaviour. If you counter that behaviour with a positive experience (like a click/treat) then you encourage the pattern that if said dog sees stimuli, it is good because that means cookies are a-coming.

Then you 'condition' the dog to look forward to seeing other dogs because it means good things are coming.

Splash - It is poorly written I think. I have read it at least half a dozen times, but only read the whole thing once through. I keep thinking that some of the activities are great, but if your timing is off even by a split second, you create an unwanted behaviour. There are so many different activities in it that it is difficult to get through without a 'team' to help (IMHO).

Rebecca said...

The biggest tip-off that we have that our reactive dog is about to react is his face tightens up (and looks very sunken). Also, the base of his tail gets very stiff, but that one is a lot tougher to notice in a stressful situation than the hollowed out face.

Splash- I have a very tough time reading it too. It feels really disorganized, but I think it may just be organized for a class situation rather than an individual study. I just wish the closest class wasn't 4 1/2 hours away, I'd take it in a heartbeat. You probably already know this, but two other great books involving aggression are "Click to Calm" and "How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong: A Roadmap for Rehabilitating Aggressive Dogs", particularly the latter.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Rebecca - I really enjoyed Click to Calm and tried to get the author, Emma Parsons, in for a seminar to our local area ... unfortunately it proved to be a bit too much money for this year. I am hoping to follow up next year and bring her in then.

Regarding the second book you mentioned - I've never read it. Who is the author?