Do Not Trust Your Aggressive DogMarch 10, 2020 2020-09-08 8:29
Do Not Trust Your Aggressive Dog
This is not going to be a happy post that leaves you feeling all good and cheerful and ready to go train your dog. If you are anything like me, it might leave you saddened, melancholic or discouraged.
However, I think it is time we talk about something very important:
You should never, ever, trust your aggressive dog too much.
I Saw A Therapist, To Talk About Client’s Dogs
I train with a lot of families and their dogs, from all walks of life. Puppies who are difficult to house-train, adult dogs that need manners, multi-dog households with conflicts, dogs that chase rabbits, dogs that bite people, dogs that bite dogs …
Whenever I see any situation in which I feel that there is the potential for the dog to be a problem (whether for humans or other dogs), I do my best to warn the families that they must not trust their dog. I do this more than once, probably 5-10 times throughout a standard 60 minute training session. Most of the time, this is enough.
Sometimes however, it isn’t.
Within the last 1.5 years, I have trained with two dogs of local families that would eventually end up killing another dog in the household. Both instances occurred quite some time after we had worked together, and still the dread of what had happened, and the question whether I could have prevented anything will stay with me forever.
I am thinking of the innocent, sweet dogs that were attacked every single day. I think about the floppy ears and thoughtful eyes of one of them. I wonder what I could have done to keep them safe. My thoughts turn in circles and don’t reach a conclusion.
I ended up seeing a therapist, to talk about those dogs. Not to talk about the owners or the situations in which the attacks occurred, but to have someone to share my perception and – yes – grief with. I had only met those dogs a few times, and still I felt like I should have known or prevented something, and that I owed them.
Do. NOT. Trust. Them.
The reality however is that I could not have done anything beyond telling the owners over and over that they cannot trust their aggressive dog. That the dogs can never be together unsupervised. That they might not even be able to be together under supervision. That they need to be prepared for slip-ups in their management system and have back-up plans in place.
We tend to trust dogs way too quickly. A couple of friendly interactions can sway our opinion on whether or not our dog might be aggressive.
It is important to always keep in mind:
The absence of aggressive reactions in certain situation does not equal absence of aggression.
Would You Trust A Thief?
When I was in elementary school, I had a friend in whose presence things seemed to magically disappear. My mother eventually figured out that it was the friend herself who would steal them as soon as I turned my back to her (I was actually very surprised as I had not figured that out myself at all – guess I was never made to be a detective!).
The feeling of deception was huge. I never really became friends with her again after that. I didn’t talk much to her, I didn’t want to be around her, I was done with that friendship.
This is how most people would react to another person breaking their trust in them – always being a bit on edge, ready to react, never trusting 100% again.
With dogs however – things seem to be different. I would be rich if I would get a $ for every time an owner told me “They had one friendly interaction this week!” It’s great that they did. It is not a prediction that the interactions will always be friendly, though. If your dog has shown you in the past that he can and will physically react to another dog, then you need to be as wary of his interactions with other dogs as you would be about an acquaintance coming to your house who has formerly stolen your stuff.
“Now And Then” Triggers Are Actually The Worst
If you have a dog who only reacts sporadically to triggers, this will actually make training a lot harder. With a dog who always reacts to his triggers, we can pretty confidently say that if he one day (after a lot of training) stops being reactive, then he is probably not triggered anymore.
(Of course, you always want to work with a local trainer who can see the situation with their own eyes.)
For dogs who do sometimes react and sometimes they don’t, and we do not know which might cause one reaction or the other, this is a whole lot more complicated – there are so many different options:
- They might be triggered, but not enough to show us
- They might not be triggered by that specific situation, but by a very similar one
- They might be triggered, but have had a reasonably calm day so far so it is not enough to push them over their threshold
- They might not be triggered by that situation at all anymore (through our training)
So, even if it seems counter-intuitive – especially if your dog is one of the ones who only sometimes (at certain times, certain places, towards certain dogs) react:
Do. Not. Trust. Your Aggressive Dog.
Please, don’t. Have safety and management systems in place. And have back-up systems for these systems. Keep everyone around your dog safe, they deserve it.
My therapist helped me to work through the worst that came after I heard about the deaths of the dogs. We cannot turn back time, though – not for me, not for the families that had to witness the events, not for the dogs that were attacked and not for the attacking dogs.
Let’s not let this number become any higher.
Love your aggressive dog, play with him, work with him, cherish him, spoil him – but do not trust him around others.
Be safe and responsible, everyone.