On Aggression

Aggression is not a diagnosis and if a trainer has diagnosed your dog aggressive, that is wrong. Aggression is a symptom, the outcome of a problem. One needs to understand the underlying causes of aggression and work on that. Most dogs that show aggression would be considered “reactive”, not aggressive – they are reacting to some stimulus.

Truly aggressive dogs are very rare in the overall field of aggression – these are the dogs that are out for blood, and they don’t back down. They will rip a dog to shreds, and they will rip a human up. When a dog is in that state – the brain is gone, they are thinking anymore. You don’t fix this with PR and treats, it’s a lie – but you can work with it, overcome it.

Most of the dogs I meet have been declared “aggressive” by multiple trainers that wouldn’t work with the dog in the first place – they tell the owners very negative stuff from “your dog can’t be around dogs or kids” up to and including “put the dog down, it’s the safe thing to do”. What does that do to the owners state of mind when they hear that repeatedly about their dog?

But during assessment, they are scared, fearful, insecure – not outwardly aggressive and they don’t want to bite. Push them and they will bite – it’s people that don’t see or heed the warning signs. The dog keeps repeating the same and eventually, it’s all the dog knows to do – drive people away.

Aggression has encompassed reactivity, and that’s not fair and it’s a very dangerous ideal to apply to dogs – all it does is serve to scare the owner into management. Once you’re locked in that room of “management”, you’re not getting back out without help. This is why so many owners of reactive dogs – believing their dogs are aggressive – live a quarantined life. The dog tends to get worse – more frustrated – because the owner is scared to meet the dogs needs. Friends and family don’t want to come over, their whole life is changed for the negative – because trainers don’t know how to diagnose aggression, let alone work with it.

So lets look at fear aggression, that tends to be the bucket that 99% of dogs are tossed into by trainers – it’s all misdiagnosis. It’s not aggression, it’s reactivity – aggression in the moment doesn’t make an aggressive dog. So take a male aggressive dog for example, ooooh, so scary – puts on a good show against men, but challenge it and it will hide behind the owner. The dog is a chicken, it’s afraid. Push the dog in that state – and it will bite.

That’s not aggression, that’s aggression in the moment – the dog is reacting negatively to a stimulus that it’s afraid of and coming at it. I would expect to get bitten if I push a dog like that. Pushing a dog like that is desrespectful and isn’t going to build trust.

I’ve met dogs that were absolute rage in a cage. Again, dog is declared aggressive and when the average trainer sees that, they don’t want to work with it, they are scared of it. Many of these dogs end up losing their lives because trainer after trainer says the dog isn’t fixable. If a trainer doesn’t have the balls to open that door calmly and fearlessly – they will never see that the dog is insecure. It’s all a big bluff, it’s all a show – it’s all the dog knows to do. Call it what it is – reactivity. Aggression in a moment doesn’t make an aggressive dog.

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