Normal may be illegal – Menacing or Dangerous Dogs

Every week, I speak with someone either in a phone consult or an in person consult that is in trouble with council due to something their dog has done.

They are usually in a panic because their dog will be declared menacing or dangerous and the restrictions that will be applied and the conditions they will need to meet are frightening for them.

In most situations, the dog is not displaying some unusual unexplained, unpredictable behaviour, in fact very common the dog is doing what is perfectly natural for this breed.

The problem is that perfectly natural can be illegal.

Prey Drive

A very common example is that a dog has chased another dog, cat, bike rider, car or person. The dog was chasing something that was moving and this triggered your dogs prey drive and the cycle of chase and capture begins.

The problem is not the dogs prey drive, the problem is that the dog has not been effectively socialised and had his or her prey drive channelled into desirable prey items.

Socialising young dogs “effectively” is not as easy as most people think, in fact much of the advice you will get out there is going to create BIG problems.

You may allow your pup, of a breed such as a German Shepherd, to play with other dogs. As he grows you might not see this, but he isn’t playing, he is chasing.

He is small so he can’t catch the bigger dogs, but this only serves to frustrate him, and this escalates his desire to chase by a thousand.

A few months later your walking him down the street on leash and he sees a dog. He really wants to get to this dog, and you won’t allow it, this time.

So, the leash holds him back, creating a great deal of frustration and he starts barking – predatory aggression is forming.

A few months later he is off leash in a quiet area, and he spots a dog and is off after it, your recall means nothing to him and the other dog see’s him coming as fast as he can move, and starts to run.

He chases it down and grabs it, and shakes it (like dogs shake prey). The other dog is small, like a rabbit and now lays dead on the grass.

Your dog calls this a win, it is highly rewarding, perfectly natural – but highly illegal.

Council is on your back now and you explain how well you socialised him…

In the below video you will see a dog that is just starting to display predatory aggression, his owners have asked us to help and as you can see he is thriving.

Now what?

Well council are going to want to make sure this never happens again and their avenue for doing this is to declare your dog menacing or dangerous.

A life sentence of living in an enclosed dog run in the back yard, muzzled when out and never allowed off leash, amongst other restrictions.

I honestly wish this was a rare case, but I am seeing dozens of people with this very problem every year. Sometimes dogs are not the target, it is a cat, or sheep or other stock or a kid on a bike, but in all these situations the dogs natural prey drive is what is driving this issue.

Genetics play a big role in the dogs mental make up and whilst these attributes are natural and desirable, they need to be understood, accepted and channelled.

You will also need to be a good Life Skills trainer and manage your dog effectively when you’re not with him or her with a secure area that is escape proof.

When dogs get in trouble here are the top 5 reasons

  1. Dog has escaped the home and does something when roaming.

Answer: This is very easily avoided by having a secure area. At some time, many people’s dogs have escaped, but you should take action if this happens even once and stop this from happening. Then your dog will not be doing anything when you’re not home, except staying at home.

  1. The dog does not have reliable training; the dog goes to get involved in something he shouldn’t, and you have no recall.

Answer: Train your dog. Train him or her to a level that exceeds the reliability you need, and then you can escape this situation simply with a recall cue.

At some point the Government will work out that the problem rarely is the dog, it is the dog’s education, socialisation and management, which comes back to people. When this happens training will be compulsory, or dog ownership will be gone.

  1. The dog has a behaviour problem and is off leash, and owner knows the recall is not reliable but believes there is no one around and “the dog needs a run.”

Answer: There is always someone around and they always seem to find people that have dogs with issues. Your dog needs to be under control, or he or she may lose his life under a car or by lethal injection.

Take care of your dog, by all means give your dog a run on a long line, then you can stop him getting in trouble he can’t get out of.

  1. The dog is aggressive or reactive and cannot be controlled on leash, you keep walking the dog though until someone reports you, and now you are facing a Dangerous or Menacing dog Declaration, or worse.

Answer: Stop walking your dog, start rehabilitating your dog. The time input will be the same, it may even include walking in a different way, but take action before someone takes action against you.

  1. A fight starts in the dog park and a dog is hurt or killed by your dog. Now council wants to force you to manage your dog more effectively with a Declaration.

Answer: Dog parks are risky, maybe your dog doesn’t start fights but is quick to join in or finish them?

Does your dog have a recall that no matter what happens in the dog park he will race toward you? If the answer is no, you could be the next person in trouble.

I would never take a dog to the dog park, yes there is always someone that will jump up to say “my dog loves the park and has a great time”, but honestly my consults are full of dogs that have become aggressive due to interactions at dog parks. Too risky to even think about.

All the above are 100% preventable and in all of cases it has come down to poor management and or training.

Get the right breed for you

My Malinois have extreme prey drive, extreme food drive and very strong social dominance, so for me who uses these traits to motivate training from very young, these dogs are awesome, but as a pet that ONLY lives in a backyard with an average club level trainer, they could be a disaster.

Someone who wants to dabble in basic training doesn’t need this level of power and quite honestly would probably find it aggravating.

I also see many Working Line German Shepherds in homes with people that wanted a German Shepherd like they grew up with, but chances are, they didn’t grow up with a WL GSD, so now they are overwhelmed by the supercharged drives of this dog, that now lives with an anti-bark collar on, digging holes and is overstimulated by everything that moves, ignoring the owners pleas for obedience.

Rottweilers can be the same too, any high prey drive breed often chosen for Police – Military style roles will need you to be a solid leader and great trainer to avoid problems.

You choose an Amstaff or Staffordshire Bull Terrier and yes, he or she will lay on the couch with you at home but it is not uncommon that some of them explode when they see a dog or a cat.

Given that people used these breeds for fighting at some point in their past and to be successful, they needed some physical and mental preparation in their breeding, and in some dogs still is very strong today.

No, not all but these behaviours are genetically imprinted and will come out without effective socialisation, management and training.

This means that they need effective socialisation when young, starting at 8 weeks, they need solid obedience training and good management, or these genetic traits could get them in trouble. So, if you don’t plan to raise them well, get a different breed.

I work with a couple of great friends who breed their own Staffords, these dogs compete in multiple dog sports and title at the highest level in all of them.

All of my staff have Malinois, they work here and see them and fall in love with them. They train with me and the dogs are under very good control and perform at the highest levels, our team also have Working Line Shepherds and also, perfectly well behaved.

These breeds do not have to be difficult, in fact they can be incredible, the difference is you.

Education – effective socialisation – management.

These three words mean something different to everyone I ask, but they need to be defined and adhered to if you want to avoid problems.


This means teaching, training and maintenance training. Training is not a trick, it needs to be carried out to a level that means that your dog will obey your cues even under distraction.

It does not matter what method you choose, but the outcome must be reliable and that may mean different methods for different dogs.

Your dog needs to come when called or not be off leash

Your dog needs to sit when cued or you need to train so he or she does, and they should stay sitting until released.

Your dog should be trained to manage their emotions so they behave appropriately in public or they should not be in public until they can.

If you were learning CPR, you would not take this lightly right? It could cost a life, but training your dog and not getting a level of reliability could also cost a life, your dogs.

Effective socialisation

Allowing your dog to play with every dog does not mean they are socialised, what it likely will result in is the collapse of reliable obedience and a dog that is overstimulated by other dogs.

Effective socialisation means that you have introduced your dog to many dogs of different sizes and shapes and they have investigated each other by scent and learned to be calm and relaxed around other dogs, kids, people, cats and anything else you would likely to encounter in your life with your dog.

It also means giving your dog experience in many different environments, including different textures, surfaces, night and day so they are comfortable in all environments. An uncomfortable dog becomes frightened and emotional easily and that is where problems come from.

Socialisation should be started from the moment you get your puppy, that is 8 weeks of age normally. Do not wait, every day your puppy is learning, make sure you’re the teacher.

I suggest people take puppies I breed into a social environment every day between 8 weeks and 15 weeks (onset of first fear period 15 – 16 weeks). I take my litters out to shopping centres etc from 5 weeks of age and they are incredibly confident.


Every dog and breed is different but some breeds should be taken out every day possible from 8 weeks to 14 months of age. This is what I recommend for my Malinois pups or they will not anyone near you.

If you have a dog that is not a puppy and he or she is frightened, aggressive, reactive, predatory aggressive or rank aggressive then he or she DOES NOT need more socialisation if he or she is aggressive or reactive to other dogs or people, they need desensitisation.

Desensitisation is a natural occurrence with controlled exposure.


When you do not have management strategies for your dog, it allows opportunity for them to experiment and find rewarding activities that may not be ideal.

Perhaps barking at neighbours, fence fighting with the dog next door, escaping, chewing and the list goes on.

Crate training is a great management option where a dog can switch off and not have endless opportunities to self-reward.

Management is what happens when you are not around to give your dog advice on how to behave. You’re at work, your dog is in the back yard but can jump the fence. Build an enclosure he cannot escape from.

Your dog is tied on the back of your ute and displays aggression to people walking by, add a cage on the back of your ute, remove the chance of a bite happening.

You are training your dog around people to reduce his sensitivity, as he or she is aggressive. Use a muzzle, this manages the biting very well.

I had a man come to see me and his 50 kg dog had bitten a lady on a walk. The dog broke the leash and chased her and bit her.

I asked did you know the dog was aggressive, his answer “yes I try keep him away from people”

I asked does the dog pull on leash, his answer “yes like a steam train”.

I asked where he got the leash and collar, his answer “pet store, $20”.

Can you see how at some stage it was inevitable this was going to happen?

He knew the dog had a behaviour problem and did not in any way try and resolve it. The dog is big and strong, and he is relying on cheap equipment.

These cotton web leashes will break

Mitigation of risk is a must, or you are just taking risks that you may not be able to control. Given the sensitivity of the world at this time, it is only a matter of time before council will have to force manage you and your dog if you don’t take action.

If you have a dog that your worried about, perhaps because he or she is a puppy, but you do not know for sure how to raise a puppy, read on.

If you have a dog that is over excited, out of control but not aggressive (yet), read on.

If you have a dog with a behaviour problem and you can’t get improve this behaviour, read on.

5 Tips for those raising a puppy

  1. Understand fully what socialisation is and how to achieve the values in your pup that will keep you the most valued player in your dogs team, and rank other dogs and people happily behind you. If you don’t know how, contact us BEFORE it starts to go wrong.
  2. Establish a safe, secure management area inside your home, so the puppy can observe your life but not get into every part of it. Get your puppy out every 1 – 2 hours and engage with him or her with food rewards. Recalls, food games etc are great fun with puppies.
  3. Try and hand feed some or all of your puppy’s food vs placing it in a bowl, this is harder to do than it sounds but very worthwhile. This sets your dog up for earning his or her rewards from you for desirable behaviours, a currency if you like to keep the pup loving the learning.
  4. Use a long line in all off-leash work for the first twelve months, so every recall cue you give will be responded to. A solid recall is a ticket to off leash freedom in later life.
  5. Be an advisor not a complainer. Teach your pup what he or she should do rather than complaining about what they just did.

    Pro active training produces responsive dogs that love to offer the behaviours you love. Dogs that are complained to, love to tune out their owners and dive at every opportunity they see.

This is far from the complete list, but this is a very good start.

5 Tips for your adolescent over excited dog

  1. Over excited dogs are usually dogs with no ability to regulate their emotions, this means more often than not you will be saying “no” or “stop it” to your dog, thus denying him access to a rewarding event. This is going to put you in the “reward taker” seat.

    Teach your dog how to place train, I have literally been training dogs to place for over 30 years, yes you will see everyone falling in love with it these days but years ago I discovered the benefits of placing a dog somewhere I can reward and this somewhere will prevent him or her from getting involved with something I would rather they did not.
    On the left he is 8 weeks old – on the right he is 5 months old!

Place training lowers unrealistic expectations and helps a dog learn to regulate their emotions. Helps train the elusive “off switch” and can form part of a management program.

  1. Teach your dog loose leash walking, not heeling, not advanced luring, not food following or some sort of trick that can last for 3 seconds on video, but actual loose leash walking.

A dog with a calm demeanour, one that is not about to explode waiting for food, hand targeting you or any other trick, but instead a dog that understands this is a method or transport and just to settle into this for an hour or so if need be.  

Even if there are other dogs or people around, it can be done but if you have not had success, contact us, we will show you how to make this your dogs best exercise.

  1. Stop letting your dog meet other people and dogs, practice makes PERMANENT. By allowing your dog to gain access to people or dogs in a heightened state of mind, this only serves to reinforce the behaviour your trying to stop.
  2. Switch your rewards from food or toys to verbal praise when your dog should be calm, some dogs become over stimulated by tangible rewards like food or toys and this can be counterproductive to Life Skills.
  3. Teach your dog duration in every exercise. This means end each exercise with a termination cue, not a terminal bridge. The difference is there is no reward in the termination cue. I use different words to signal this, “ok” to end an exercise and “yes” to end the exercise and provide reward.

Duration lowers intensity, so longer exercises that just terminate without reward expectation will lower energy and expectation.

5 Tips when you have a dog with a behaviour problem

  1. Avoid triggers until you have a strategy in place. Rehearsal is reinforcement and this means that every time your dog displays the behaviour problem, it is becoming more solid.

    This may mean not walking your dog as much or at all, until you get some control on the situation, trust me this is better than the alternative.
  1. Find a way to train your dog to respond to you, find a trainer that will help you achieve this, dump all the excuses and reasons for it not to work and find ways to make it work.
  2. Measure your improvements and failures and make adjustments, don’t just plod along saying it is going well on your good days and its terrible on your bad, adjust the outcomes.
  3. Make a plan or speak to a trainer who can make a plan or help you make one. Write it down, the difference between a wish and a plan are plans are in black and white.
  4. Run that plan like your life depends on it because your dog’s life might. Don’t be swayed by side steps and people who have all the answers, real trainers will share the real secret with you “it takes work”. There are no tricks, secrets, hidden traps, just do the work and apply these five steps and watch the changes happen.

Summing up

You will notice I did not mention methods or trainers, or balanced vs force free trainers, because results are results, but know this, no results are no results too, so get yourself help from someone who can show you dogs and clients that have been where you were but are not any more…

Then do the work.

If your dog ends up in trouble with council or Government, please just stop and think about something else for a moment, do not euthanise the dog, do not hand him over to council or assume there are no ways out.

Councils are and should be there to help you have a dog that behaves well in a social environment, they are not trainers or behaviourists, but they may have to restrict or remove your dog from public if you don’t get control of the situation.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, consider a phone consult with me as I may be able to offer some advice that can help you and your dog.

Comment and share away!

About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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