Is my dog aggrassive?

**This picture shows a dog in a highly fixated, aggressive behaviour. (Picture taken from Google)

I just came back from a case which I thought was an aggressive case, because the dog growled and bare his teeth at the family’s friend and snapped at their son on both legs. (I won’t be showing the dog’s photo or using any names to respect the family’s privacy)

To me, safety of humans comes first, especially when there are kids present.

When I arrived at the house, the door bell triggered a territorial behaviour, which yes, it’s instinctual, however, it was excessive. This dog was from my shelter, and he has one of the most gentle behaviour. One of our volunteer brought him home for about a week after his sterilization, and he stayed in my pet shop for a couple of days too. He totally ignored door bells and whatever bells that ring or any kind of distractions.

He went to his new home, and after about a month, I received a phone call saying that he attacked their family friend, chasing her around the car. And 2 days later, they called and told me that he has bitten their son on both legs. Being in this line of work, we must never judge anyone in anyway. My first instinct is that, they might have accidentally approve of his territorial behaviour without knowing it. And this happens to many dog owners. Like I said, no one is to blame. It’s not easy trying to understand fully about dog’s behaviour just by reading or watching CM or any other programs. All this comes with practice and experience with different types of dog behaviour.

When their daughter open the gate for me, immediately I noticed that no one stop his territorial behaviour before opening the gate for me. This is one common mistake owners make. Many will just open the gate, and many will just leash up the dog while the dog is still presenting the bad behaviour. Some will stop such behaviour in a frustrated manner by shouting and tugging on the leash excessively or even spank the butt of the dog or use a newspaper to cane the dog.

While speaking to the family, I noticed that he eventually gave-in and lay down quietly and calmly at his favorite spot. After seeing and understanding his reaction, I explained to the family about his actions, why he growl and chase and why he snapped at their son.

First; he was already learning to be territorial in the house, and when their family friend rang the bell, no one follow through with the discipline when he barks. Therefore, the barking became territorial, and without redirecting that territorial behaviour, it leads to guarding his territory which took him into the flight zone, that’s where he started chasing, trying to nip the legs to chase away an “uninvited” guest.

**This picture shows a dog moving into a flight zone… You can see a shock collar being used. Something which I don’t advocate. A shock collar can take a dog to a higher level of flight zone which can be dangerous for both the dog and handler. (Picture taken from Google)

After which, no one corrected his behaviour, which leads to a classical reinforcement of that unwanted behaviour.

Second; their son was petting him and asking him to sit, because he saw how easy it was when his parents and sister asked him to sit. He tried, and he tapped lightly on his back to sit. However, he faced away and moved off from their son, but his son continued and followed him asking him to sit, which he then went into a split second of silent before he turn and nipped their son on the leg.

**This picture shows a dog going into a split second of stillness before he nips or attacks. Eyes round, jaw closed and tense, head and shoulders tense. (Picture taken from Google)

Of course, with a nipped, anyone will be scared and run off. Their son fell, and he continued to move in nipping their son’s other leg. Yes, for people who understands dog behaviour will know that that’s a sign of protecting themselves and/or chasing away unwanted visitors out of being territorial or disliking the disrespect presented by another dog or the human, not aggressive, because he did not jump up and try to attack towards the boys jugular or face. But we must always remember, most people are not equip to understand the details of dog behaviour, and they will definitely lose confidence in the dog and start fearing for the safety of everyone, especially their children.

Some of you who have talked to me before, you know that my priority is always human first. Safety of humans, especially kids. And I always advocate greeting the humans first before the dog and humans always in or out of the door first. It’s not just about pack leadership, it’s about satisfying the dog’s instinctual nature.

After hearing what happen, I was worried for their son, at the same time, kept wondering what went wrong. I was glad to hear that they decided to discuss as a family before making any final decision, at the same time, I was ready to understand their decision as well. They decided to take responsibility over him with the understanding that, even if it’s some other dog, big or small, or very super tiny dog, they might make the same mistake again causing some other unwanted behaviour if they don’t make an effort to learn and find out what went wrong.

I explained to them about the actions of their dog, as mentioned above, and we did mock-up scenarios with them to help them understand that not every behaviour can be ignored.

Scenario 1: Their sons went out of the house, and without telling us when they will come back in and ring the door bell. As they walk closer to the gate, their dog went on slight alert. When they rang the door bell, their dog went into a territorial bark. Before he could continue barking excessively, I stopped him. The method I use is non-communicative, and no touching of the dog. I went towards him, snap my fingers and gave a firm, calm ‘hey’ sound and he immediately snapped out from the territorial behaviour, walk to his favorite spot and sat down. While their sons entered, he stood up, but again, I snapped my fingers and pointed to go back to his spot. He went back, and this time, he directed the territorial behaviour towards resting calmly – he lay down and rest.

Scenario 2: Their sons went out of the house, the same thing, but this time, I told them to make a lot of noise when they ring the bell. They made more nose then I expected. The door bell rang, their dog went into the territorial state again, but he heard my fingers snapped from a distance and went directly back to his spot and sat. I then walk towards the gate to invite the boys in. While I did that, he got up, and again, I snapped my fingers; he went back to his spot, and this time, he lay flat down and relax while I invite the boys in. Seeing that behaviour, I told the daughter to give him gentle affection to reinforce that behaviour.

Scenario 3: Because their son who got bitten presents fear towards their dog, I got him to walk next to me, away from their dog, this is to protect their son as I’ll be the first person he needs to get pass. I instruct their son to take a deep breath, relax, walk together with me and don’t bother about their dog- act as if there’s no dog around. He did exactly that very very well. While we walked pass, their dog stood up, immediately when he heard my fingers snapped, he lay down flat and relax.

Both mother and daughter tried the exercise a few times and succeeded. Next, I introduced a mesh muzzle which is comfortable for dogs because they can still drink water and eat small bites through it.

**This picture shows that the dog isn’t comfortable with the muzzle. It wasn’t introduce to him positively. (Picture taken from Google)

I introduce the muzzle because it’ll help build back the confidence with the whole family. And because I instruct them to have their boys walk together with their dog to enforce leadership and gain the dog’s respect as leader of the house too. When I mean leader of the house, I meant in respect, not in dominance.

How I introduce the muzzle to him:

1. Gave him small pieces of boiled chicken meat (which from hereforth be known as treat(s)).

2. Let him smell the muzzle, then treat. I did this for several times.

3. I used the muzzle to give him affection above his head and below his chin while feeding him the treat. This helps him associate muzzle with positiveness.

4. I put the treat in the muzzle and let him eat from eat several times.

5. While he eats the treat from the muzzle, I clip the muzzle on, feed him small pieces of treat through the muzzle, then unclip the muzzle and reward him with a treat again. Did this several times as well.

6. Finally, I left the muzzle on and fed him more small pieces of treat through the muzzle.

7. He lay down and rest with the muzzle without trying to take it off.

8. Patients!!

Muzzle is foreign to dogs, therefore, when introducing anything foreign and unnatural, we must enforce positiveness.

At the end of the session. Their dog became how he use to be. Relax, calm and gentle again. I instruct them to give lesser affection for now, so that they’ll be sure that they do not enforce the wrong behaviour by accident.

Usually the safest will be 3-4 months, after-which, when your dog’s behaviour becomes ‘happy-go-lucky’ behaviour, then it’s fine, but still enforce good structured discipline so that unwanted behaviour will not turn-up in the later part of your dog’s life.

Remember, prevention is better then cure. Enforce structured discipline like how your parents did for you, or how you do for your kid(s), or how schools enforce rules.

Give affection for the behaviour you most desire, ignore the behavior that is disrespectful, and correct the behaviour that can lead to something dangerous in the future.

Lastly, consult a professional if in doubt to prevent escalation of unwanted behaviour or injury.

Ezra Koh

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