I am constantly asked by people in the dog world about my methods on dealing with dog on dog aggression. I guess because I have had really good success with dogs that others have deemed unfixable I have been labeled as an aggressive dog specialist. I never set out to specialize in any one area of dog training but I guess I’ll take it as a compliment. So now, the majority of calls that I get for training is usually some type of aggression. I get calls literally from all over the world and to be honest I’m still getting use to the positive attention, I’m still shocked by it.
When I started my business in Nashville, Tennessee a few years back, I only did it after many people convinced me to give it a try to just pay for my dog hobby. I never expected it to blow up the way it did. The funny thing is I do not do it to make a living, I do it because I truly love working with dogs, especially troubled dogs. I am a Federal Agent and have been for 17 years. I love my job but my heart is with the dogs.
As far as training goes, let’s start by saying I did not create some new fancy method that I put my name to and say I’m such a genius and just the greatest trainer around. I use all methods, all tools, and most of all I use just good communication and energy that the dog understands. They are not people, they are dogs and that is the language that they understand.
I’ll get into methods shortly, but first talk about how I live with my dogs. I have big powerful dogs, Rotties and Shepherds, all males. I have never had a fight between my dogs and my Rotty and GSD can’t stand each other. They do not play or interact at all, but yet they are together in the house all day alone, they eat in the same room, share the same water bowl, and I do give them raw bones unsupervised in my yard. Why don’t they get into it people ask me all the time, and the answer is simple. There is not a battle for leadership there. The dogs do not have that stress of taking over. I’m in charge, my wife is in charge, my 7 year old and my 2 year old are in charge, that simple.
Here is an example. The GSD was my dad’s dog. My dad passed away almost 4 years ago, and while he was dying from lung cancer he was worried about what would happen to his dog. I promised him I would take him, but to be honest I don’t think he ever believed me since I had three dogs and his GSD was dog aggressive and could be very people aggressive if not introduced properly. My dad died and when I left Jersey after all the services for my dad I took the dog back with me. Here is how it went.
I pulled in the driveway, took Bear out of the car and started walking away from my home. I told my wife to let the dogs out and of course they came to greet Bear. Bear erupted like a lion and tried to attack, that is what he was used to. I gave a little correction with the leash and choke collar, but I never slowed my forward progress or spoke any words, just kept moving forward. Again they try to greet and same reaction from Bear, you get the picture. I keep doing the same thing and by time we are through my development, about 20 minutes, I let Bear off leash in my yard and he is running around with the other dogs. Now there was a lot of tension from Bear and Bruno my Rotty but it was my job to be all over that, and here is an example of that.
We go into the house and Bear lays in one corner of the kitchen, which he still does to this day. Bruno walks through the kitchen and just looks at Bear. At that moment I jump all over Bruno. Bruno needs to know that I will not tolerate that challenge to Bear, because that is what it is, and more importantly Bear needs to see that I control things and he can put his trust in me. That tension went on for about two weeks and then it was over. Still don’t play together but no tension.
What I am trying to get at is there has to be rules in the house and you have to be consistent in enforcing them. The dogs do not make any decisions, if they do they will benefit them not you and your family. This is where the behavior is shaped, whether good or bad. To me behavior is 80% obedience is 20%. If I am lying on the couch and Bruno comes and drops his big beautiful head on my chest to be petted, I don’t. I send him away, and when he goes away and lays down I call him back and I love on him. I can’t allow him to say, hey bitch pet me, because that is really what he is doing. If one of the dogs are lying in the doorway to the kitchen, I do not allow my children to step over them, that is not the dogs space, it is ours. My children just tell them to go. My 2 year old is very polite and always says thank you to the dogs. The dogs never give them a hard time here and I promise their feeling are not hurt. A lot of people try but don’t go all the way. An example is I hear people give the same scenario, but what they do is when the dog demands to be petted they tell the dog to sit and then they pet. The problem here is that the dog still put himself right where he wanted to be and got what he wanted. Half your terms half his terms and that will never work.
I don’t allow dogs on my furniture and especially on my bed. Many people will disagree with that, but I’m telling you what I believe and how I raise my dogs, which by the way get more love and attention than any dog could ever imagine. The truth is they really need the structure and will love you for it. I won’t go any further here because I’ll be writing all day, I think you get the picture, I’m a fanatic about rules and boundaries and my wife is even worse.
Now for training with an aggressive dog. It definitely helps to have access to a well-balanced dog and that is where Bruno comes in for me. I am still amazed when I watch him work around an unstable dog. I’m good at reading dogs but Bruno is definitely a lot better.
When I take the leash I do not give commands. I just move with a lot of confidence and calmness. I just want the dog to follow, that is it. Once I’m comfortable here I decide what I’m going to do, it all depends on the dog. I will talk about a couple of different methods that some of you probably already know.
The first method is Behavior Adjustment Treatment (BAT). This is used frequently by trainers dealing with people or dog aggression. I won’t go into all the details but here it is in a nutshell.
You have a dog aggressive dog. You take your aggressive dog toward a stable dog being held on a leash. You find a distance where your dog becomes aware of the helper dog and when your dog starts to show any signs of stress you stop right at that point and you wait. You don’t say anything. You wait for some kind of calming signal like your dog looks away or looks at you or sniffs the ground. As soon as that happens you mark that behavior and walk your dog away and treat. What this comes down to is just another way of using Bart Bellon’s NE PO PO (Negative Positive Positive) method. So when using Bart’s method with E Collar the tap on the collar is the negative, the stopping of the e collar is the first positive and then the reward (food or toy) is the second positive. With BAT, the stress caused by the appearance of another dog is the negative, the removal of your dog is the first positive and the food or toy is the second positive. You repeat this over and over until you can approach all the way. A very simple but very effective method when done properly and combined with good leadership in the home.
The next method is not well known, but I have had tremendous success with it. It is called Constructional Aggression Treatment (CAT). This is similar to BAT but with CAT you are removing the trigger dog or person. It works like this. You put your dog aggressive dog on a leash and you relax. No talking no commands. Another handler takes the trigger dog from a long distance and the trigger starts to approach. As soon as the subject dog starts to show signs of tension the trigger stops and you mark that spot and wait. As soon as the subject dog shows any calming signs the trigger dog goes away to the safe distance that did not cause any tension. You do not say or do anything to the subject dog, you just stand there. After about 20 seconds the trigger dog approaches again. As soon as the subject dog shows any tension the trigger stops in place. When the subject calms, again the trigger goes away to the safe spot and waits 20 seconds. You keep repeating until you can get close without any tension. This is a tremendous method and I have used it in conjunction with BAT with great success. You can Google both methods for full details.
Here is the last example I will give and it involves a mix breed named Nash owned by Rafael and Michele in Nashville, Tennessee. Nash was very people and dog aggressive especially at their apartment complex. Rafael wanted to pay for and eight lesson package. I told him to take the three lesson and that should be enough. Rafael wanted to do e collar training and try to fix the aggression. I do not use e collar to fix aggression. I told them we will teach the e collar like I would with any other dog and focus separately on the aggression. I use a lot of reward when teaching e collar so I couldn’t do that if the dog was muzzled, and I did not want to cause any kind of conflict with the dog. So for the first two lessons I never touched the dog. I had Rafael control the leash and the food rewards and I controlled the e collar. It went like this: Rafael puts the e collar on Nash and a long line. I found the lowest level on the collar that Nash could barely feel. Once we have a working level, Rafael says Nash come, I tap the nick button, the second Nash turns to come toward Rafael he says YESSS and rewards. We did that for two lessons and added sit, place and down. The e collar training went perfect and Nash performed beautifully.
Now time for the aggression. Remember, I still have never laid my hands on this dog. I bring Bruno to help. I start in the parking lot at the apartment where they live. After 5 minutes of walking Rafael through the BAT method it starts to down pour, so we had no choice but to move into the stairwell hallway of their apartment, and it was dark. I had Rafael stand in the back end of the hallway, and by the way Nash did not eat at all that day. You need a hungry dog for food to be a motivator. Every time I entered the hallway with Bruno I instructed Rafael to start feeding. As soon as I left with Bruno the feeding stopped. We repeated over and over until Nash showed absolutely no sign of tension but instead starting looking to Rafael for his reward at the first sight of Bruno. We did this for about 15 minutes and then switched to CAT. Now when we entered and approached, Bruno and I stopped at a fairly close distance and Nash showed very little tension if any. The second Nash looked at Rafael Bruno and I walked away. It was much more difficult and less room for error doing this in a tight hallway, but you use what you have. We repeated several times and before we ended Nash wasn’t showing any tension.
The following weekend Nash came to his first group class. I asked all the other clients to ignore Nash and do not let their dogs approach him. After conducting class for about 10 minutes I walked over to Nash, gave him my side and squatted down. He started loving on me and I hugged on him. Rafael was filming this and my other clients had no clue that I had never been able to approach Nash until Rafael told them. It was a great moment. The following weekend Rafael and Michele were moving to Boston. They sent me a video of movers in their apartment and Nash lying down without a care in the world. I still keep in contact with them and Nash is doing well.
Nash’s training went successfully, but it would not have worked if his owners did not take control of everything else in his life. Behavior then obedience, always.