Fueling aggression

A clear message from Tilley; don't touch my ball.

Aggression fuels aggression. This phrase has been forever ingrained in my brain.

Aggression: the action of a state in violating by force the rights of another state.

We've all heard the term "dog aggression." But many confuse or intermingled the terms aggression and dominance. Simply; dominance is a state of mind, aggression is an act. Often a dog may be very dominant but not aggressive at all; as well as a very aggressive dog may be a very submissive dog so I am talking about aggression here, not dominance.

Several years back I was in a sticky situation; I was on a business trip with my husband up in British Columbia. While he was at a work meeting; I took my camera and went off to explore. The scenery was spectacular and I was snapping images like crazy. I ended up on a beautiful beach; there was no one around, just me and the great outdoors. That is until a black chow mix charged down the beach after me. This was sheer aggression; I was obviously on this dogs beach and he didn't like it. I tried ignoring the dog and he charged to within a foot from me; I turned to defend myself. The only thing I had on me was my camera and it was new so I had no intention of using it as a weapon. I quickly scanned the beach; of course no sticks, this place was immaculately clean.

Our whole interaction took probably 5 min. it was like a choreographed dance. He would charge; I would face him down and he'd back off. As soon as I turned to walk away he was on me again. He was a very menacing looking beast; large, black and displaying everyone of his pearly whites to me. My mind was racing; charging this dog could really be a bad thing although he had shown some signs that he was not confident enough to follow through with a bite. When I turned to face him he backed off; but not much. There I was stuck in a game of cat and mouse. Standing there watching this dog spitting and growling with his eyes fixed on me; every bit of his hair raised on his back and his tail held high with just the tip wagging, not good.

After what seemed like an eternity his owner road by on her bike; she called to him and he went running. I had a few choice words for her and let her know that I saw this dog bite a jogger who was up further. She yelled and swung at the dog but did not put a leash on him. There are so many types of aggression that you can never simply look at teeth, or a growl, it is the whole picture that tells you what is going on and how to diffuse it if possible.

The problem with using aggressive techniques to "fix" an aggressive dog is that you the human may end up on the loosing side. A dog that has a real aggression problem will not simply give in. This is where positive behavior work is so important. We humans are (allegedly) much smarter than dogs; with the correct use of our gray matter we can outsmart the dog. On the other hand; those who use physical aggression against an aggressive dog risk the possibility of a battle that they may not win.

One of the worst case scenarios is a conventional trainer subduing a dog with the use of violence which puts the dog in a further state of stress. This stress can then reappear to an innocent bystander; perhaps a child. Example; a food guarding dog is violently shown that they are not allowed to growl around the food bowl, with either alpha rolls or scruffing. The dog learns that growling is a no go with this one very dominant aggressive human. This is a stressful situation for the dog; a dog who naturally wants to guard his food is now blocked with aggression against him. Then one day one of the kids in the family walks too close to the bowl; the dogs sees that it is not the dominant one and has an aggressive outburst far worse than any warning had been before. There may be irreparable damage done to the child and most likely the dog will be euthanized.

The same case could be completely turned around by teaching the dog that humans around the food bowl is a great and beneficial event. By using food rewards and positive association you can create a dog who is safe with whoever walks by the bowl. Humans = good stuff. Aggression from a dog towards a human is a message; this lets you know how a dog is feeling about a certain situation. By taking this information and changing a dogs perspective on it; you can rehabilitate a dog safely and positively. It is not a quick fix but it is also not an aggressive attack on the dogs causing a more "on edge" dog.

When it comes to rehabilitation; aggression is never the answer. Aggression fuels aggression.