Fear of Dogs – Breed or Behaviour?

There are people who are afraid of dogs. When they see dogs, some scream in fear, some shiver and get tense, and in the worst case, some cry out of fear. However, have we thought about what is it in them (dogs) that really scares us? Do we really understand them? I would like to start off with a quote “Fear kicks in, in the absence of knowledge.”

There are stories where breeds like Pitbulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherds gave nasty bites to people. These stories have made the breeds seem even scarier. I would like to ask everyone who recognize dogs as who they are based on their breeds – “how much do you understand about respective dog breeds?” Much blame has been put on different dog breeds.

picture taken from : Facebook “I love Pit Bulls”

This article is not about who is in the wrong but rather, to bring awareness to people. The breed does not determine if the dog is loving or scary. It is the (bad) behaviour of the dog that defines what’s scary. You can have a Chihuahua or a Maltese that has serious aggression issues, e.g. lunging a bite on you, drawing blood from you. Of course, if this behavioural problem comes from a large dog like a Doberman, your injury may be worse.  But the breed is never the factor to define a dog – the owner and the dog’s behaviour is.

Many of us have watched television programmes where dog behaviourists rehabilitate dogs and train owners how to place their dog(s) back on track. This is all about education. Without knowledge, we are unsure and we can even be afraid of our own dogs, much less strangers.

picture taken from: google

That said, for those of us who are afraid of dogs, I would suggest that you think about this question –  are you afraid of dogs (even when a dog seems friendly and is wagging its tail excitedly) or are you afraid of what they are capable of (a bite)?

Dogs can feel what we are feeling. If you meet a very confident, calm and stable dog, you are generally safe. If you meet a dog that is unstable and you react fearfully to the dog, you may trigger them to react to your fear. It can be a bark, a growl, a chase or in the worst case, a bite.

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Here is some tips for our lovely friends who fear dogs and wish to interact with them or avoid getting bitten:

*Interaction:

– Do not give direct eye contact to a dog new to you

– Do not touch a dog immediately. If you are visiting a house, allow the dog to sniff you and walk away from you first. You can then invite the dog by squatting or kneeling down after both the humans and dogs are settled down.

– Give affection to a dog that is new to you by giving a gentle rub under the chin – that is respect.

– If a dog jumps on you, just turn your back and remain calm.

– Ignore the dog if you feel uncomfortable with his/her energy (too excited, charging towards you, etc)

Stay calm at all times

*Avoiding (If you happen to pass by a stray that is too friendly or barking at you and you want nothing to do with it):

– Do not give eye contact

– Do not scream. Walk as per normal

– If the dog charges towards you, turn your back and walk away

– Ignore the dog

Stay calm at all times

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Understanding how to interact with a dog is important. We can blame a dog for biting us for all we want. But we have to reflect on this – humans rationalize, but dogs can’t. Dogs react to different energies, body languages and situations. Before blaming a dog, shall we take a step ahead to understand if we are doing it right as a (supposingly) smarter species that is capable of rationalizing? If we show respect to a dog, the dog will not want to hurt you. But if we cross our boundaries and hit their limits, they will then give warnings through verbalization or body language. And if we do not heed their message, we may get bitten.

picture taken from: google

Breeds only tell you something general about them – how do we expect to match the dog and our family? How will the dog look like? But it can never tell you who the dog really is. It is the behaviour and character that determines who the dog is really is.

Thank you for your time in reading this article, I hope that you will find this useful. Friends that are fearful of dogs – it is not a fault, there is totally nothing wrong with your fear of dogs.  It is a choice if you would like to overcome it and if you do like to overcome your fear of dogs, please seek assistance from a professional. Have a great day.

Jeremy Lim

Associate Canine Behaviourist

Enforcing Structure and Discipline

Just came back from a 2-day dog behaviour consultation. I thought this was going to be very challenging case as both cross breed dogs (Singapore Specials) tend to be reactive, to the extend of fighting with one another.

I noticed how over-excited both dogs were when both me and my understudy arrived in-front of their door. Both dogs were barking, running towards the gate, one of them was jumping really high and barking at the same time.

When the dogs finally settle down, we sat down and find out more about the problems that the owners were facing with their dogs. After which, we went out to see how they walk their dogs. Walking dogs is one of the best way for me to see where the dog stands in the family as well as to be able to observe how the owner runs their house for their pets. The walk started excitedly fast! In a couple mins, both dogs and both owners was out from the house in a dash and into the lift. Once the lift door open, both dogs zoomed off really fast, leading both owners wherever they want to go. My heart stopped when their dogs pulled them across the road! My understudy whispered to me “waoh! that is very dangerous!” After walking, we went back to the house and observe more of their activity. Seeing how they play with both the dogs. Then, I got the mother and the eldest daughter to go out for sometime. The eldest daughter came back first – before she even ring the door bell, both dogs started barking. One of them rushed to the door and “greeted” her, jumping onto her. Both dogs were wagging their tail furiously. It took about few mins before both dogs settle down. After another 5mins, their mother right the door bell. Both dogs started barking again. The same one that “greeted” the eldest daughter at the door, did the same thing, however, this time was a different level of excitement altogether. Both dogs were over excited, plus the one that did not ran towards the door, went tense in a split second. The moment the other dog turned back and ran backwards, both went into a challenge. The tense dog went further with a hard stare and in 2-3 seconds, fight broke out. Both dogs aren’t light weight for me to stop the fight the way I usually do, therefore I decided to use a leash to leash round one of the dog which is really big size (fat). I had to lift up his whole body to get him off balance, but he was really heavy. Their helper managed to get the leash onto his collar, to maneuver him sideways. Thanks to the younger daughter, she took a cup and splash water onto both their face which shocked the dog who was clamping his jaw onto the other dog and immediately releases his jaw which I was able to pull him sideways. As he was in the flight zone, his eyes was still pretty round and body was still very tense. He didn’t like the discipline from me, however, I had to stand my ground while holding the leash for safety. (Remember: it doesn’t mean that if one is a trainer or a behaviourist, one should play hero. Everyone’s priority should be Not getting bitten. If one gets bitten, it doesn’t mean he/she is a hero or a very brave person. It simply means he/she have disrespected the dog and have made a very bad mistake which makes it the human’s fault.) He bared his teeth at me with a hard stare but moved backwards. After about 1-2mins, he decided to give up and lay flat on the floor. This does not mean I won. It just meant that he decided to respect me and the new discipline.

After both dogs and everyone settle down, I proceed with the last part of the first day’s consultation which is The Reality Check section. This is the part where owners learn what they did wrong and what needs to change.

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A list of issues that I’ve observe will be listed out together with the discipline that will need to be enforced.

The owners was willing to make a change and enforce structure and discipline for both their dogs. They expressed that they are very very determine to make a change for the good of their dogs.

Structure and discipline is one of the main key principles to having a problem free dog(s). We always have to understand that every living things need structure and discipline. Without them, things will fall apart. It is so easy to understand that humans need structure and discipline. We go to work, and there’s structure and discipline. In the home, parents set structures and boundaries, and a child will be discipline if any of those are crossed. In the same way, dogs need structure and discipline too. Parents discipline not because they hate the child, but because they love the child. Same for dogs. (People might not like me to say this, and I might get slam for saying this. But the truth hurts!) Real love for dogs means treating them like dogs. And what dogs really need is not eating waste! What dogs really need is structure for their lives! Exercise, walking beside the owner. Sitting until the owner says go. Eating after a walk, and after every human eats. Controlled play time so that they don’t get over excited. Discipline for dogs is not canning or spanking a dog! It’s creating boundaries. No entering the rooms unless invited. No going onto the couch unless invited. Wait for food. No barking. No jumping when humans enter the door.It is simply the most selfish act of a human to let emotions run and ignore structure and discipline for the dogs just because the human desires cuddle, affection and fulfillment of emotional needs.

The owners of the dogs understood what they needed to do, and the 2nd day was hard work for them, but they did it! As you can see from the video, a huge difference in the walking. They have brought the dogs for obedience class before, but the behaviour persist. From the video you can see that they actually pull the leash up to get the dogs to sit. After the walk, I corrected that to become something positive so that it’s fun for the dogs to sit, rather then getting a tug on the leash. Both dogs are not perfect yet, but they are on the way to becoming good dogs.

The walk was almost about 2 hours as it includes correcting the owners along the way. When everyone got back to the house, both dogs were flat-out. Not because of the long walks, as the walk wasn’t long at all. They were flat-out because their minds were stimulated properly, fulfilling their instinctual needs of following a leader. Because structure and discipline was enforced during the walking, both dogs with physically and mentally fulfilled. And almost half of the issues I saw the day before was totally gone. This takes consistent discipline on the part of the owners. If the structure and discipline is not consistently followed through, both dogs will go back to their old ways again.

Remember! Take time to understand dogs the dog way and not the human way. Dogs desire us to understand them their way and not our way.

By Ezra Koh