Day after day I am asked to rehabilitate dogs for aggression. I have worked all different breeds, ages, sizes and yet they all have the same issue, they are asked or trained to protect us and condemned for doing so. This week in particular I have received multiple calls about human aggressive dogs, dogs that are growling and in some cases “unexpectedly” biting the family members. For me, there are no “unexpected” attacks just a dog that has been taught to do so. In very rare cases, a dog will have a medical reason for unexpected aggression; thyroid issues, brain tumors, or a pain response. This again, is fairly rare; most cases of aggression are due to the conditioning of the dog.
Now after doing this for over twenty years, not much surprises me anymore. I have seen some of the sweetest dogs become highly reactive and aggressive because of lack of understanding between the owner and the dog. This is normal in my opinion because humans are not born canine, so they do not understand the subtle little signs that lead to big problems later on; but to train a dog to be a “protector” or a “fighter” means you are asking and conditioning them to be aggressive.
I was told by a client (that contacted me for fear their dog would attack their own child after it bit a neighbors child), that they were worried their dog would no longer “protect” them from intruders if we taught them to be non-aggressive. This is the scenario the dogs and I are put in regularly. We ask them to show aggression, but make the rational decision as to who to be aggressive towards. Dogs do not rationalize; they do what they are trained to do. They do not see that child jumping the fence to retrieve their ball, as a friend but an intruder as you taught them. They do not see the mailman as a human just out doing their job, they see him/her as a threat to their territory that you have asked them and encouraged them to protect. Years ago, I was called to rehabilitate a massive Rottweiler that was highly aggressive towards humans. The background on this dog- for three years he lived chained in a basement and only allowed to be free in a fortress of a backyard. The owner, a single young college girl, encouraged the dog to be aggressive toward the neighborhood gang members that used her back alley as a drug trafficking area. I received the call to help her rehabilitate him only after her fiancée came to visit her and received 85 stitches to his thigh upon meeting him. The girl was completely shocked that her dog would show such fierce aggression towards the man she loved, but a stranger to the dog. Sadly, for three years the dog did exactly what he was asked, protected her by charging the fence anytime a gang member approached and he was paid back by being killed for not being able to immediately “love” this stranger she brought in. This did not have to be this way, but we as humans think our dogs can feel and mimic our emotional attachments.
I am regularly told “I like that he will be aggressive towards strangers, I live alone” and yet the very next sentence I am told “I can’t have him biting complete strangers”. So which is it? How can you want them to be aggressive but not show aggression? That is like asking a police officer to protect us from a gun toting criminal but not draw his gun. Thousands of dogs are chained in backyards, taught to chase small animals (a game of “get the squirrel” is common in most households), and provoked to bark at strangers at our doors. Many people amp their dogs up by saying, “who’s here, who is at the door” some even say, “get him” thinking this is fun and not thinking that they are conditioning them to show aggression. I often tell my clients to repeat “I do not feel bad” during a training session, but the truth is, I feel awful for them because we create the problem and they suffer for it.
Recently I had a dog in my care that was specifically bought to protect its original owner from a police raid and was supposed to be trained to become a fighter. Thankfully the original owner does not have the dog anymore, but the family members that took him in blamed the “breed” for the aggression issues. They told me because he was a “pit bull” he was unpredictable; this of course has nothing to do with the fact that the original owner trained him to “protect” his stash from the police or show aggression towards other dogs in hopes he could make money off of it. This is where we as a human race, need to admit that we have created the issues in these dogs and stop blaming a specific breed!
If we ask and expect them to protect us, we are responsible just as the criminal that loads the bullets in the gun before he shoots his victim. The gun is not to be blamed, the criminal is.