On a daily basis, my staff and I provide training, rehab and behavioural services to people with dogs that are, let’s say, challenging.
It may surprise you to know that many of these problems arisen simply due to the owners having very little or no standards or goals in training their pet dog.
When you get a puppy that is going to be your pet dog, you might have dreams, but what is the lowest standard of obedience you will aim at?
These are not dogs that are safe to attend obedience clubs, obedience trainers who are not specialists in serious dog behaviour modification, trainers who think they can change the world one piece of food at a time or owners muddling through.
We get dogs in here that have killed other dogs, almost killed people, bitten many people, often owners included. Dogs that cannot cope with any form of stress or pressure including people simply looking at them or even walking by on a public street.
Dogs that have been through many trainers, homes, and chances and have not at all got better, but worse.
Dogs that have not been out of the back yard for years, that have not been able to attend vets for standard health checks or vaccinations for years or ever, due to their behaviour being so uncontrollable and or dangerous.
Dogs that behave in ways that mean the owners cannot leave the home, have friends over, or go on holidays.
Dogs that pretty much everyone before us have said to put the dog to sleep as there are no possible ways to deal with this problem dog.
So, let us just say that, if there are worse cases anywhere in the world, I would be incredibly surprised.
So, it begs the question, should these dogs be put to sleep?
First, I want to clear something up that some people will not know.
Most of these dogs are simply displaying behaviours that: –
- They have been allowed to, and now it is has gotten worse
- The behaviours they are displaying are genetically driven, a breed was chosen that the owner does not truly understand
- The dogs are living in a life where they cohabitate with people with little or no rules, boundaries or structure, until all goes bad, and sometimes after
- The dog’s education and training is non-existent or minimal, perhaps a puppy school that involved mostly play
- The dog’s socialisation plan was mostly playing with dogs, until something went wrong
Therefore, whilst they may be dangerous, difficult and or have done some horrendous things, they are simply a product of the environment they have been raised in.
This doesn’t mean that I think people are purposely doing things to create these dogs, but I think people need to take a fresh (realistic) look at how dogs need to be raised to fit into today’s culture.
They need to really consider the breed that is best for them, not the one they like most on TV, not the one the trainer has, not the cool looking dog or the one that the neighbour had when you grew up.
Over 90% of the very serious dogs that we work with are working / hunting breeds. Guardians, Herding breeds, Terriers etc.
This does not at all mean these breeds are dangerous, uncontrollable or any such thing, but it DOES mean that if you get one of these breeds, you should commit to: –
- Understanding the breed
- Seeking out quality training that suits the breed and your goals from the moment you get the dog until the dog meets the goals
- Taking socialisation and education seriously and ensuring that goals are met
- Setting rules and boundaries and providing structure so that your dog understands “how to behave”.
In the working dog world , it is common to hear that, “Malinois are not pet dogs”, and whilst I don’t disagree, I think it may be better to say that
“Malinois will need quality training and socialisation suitable for a working breed”.
Then if we use the same sentence but change Malinois to: –
- German Shepherds
- Australian Cattle Dogs
- Staffordshire Bull Terriers
- Hunting Breeds
- Livestock Guardian Breeds
The same thought process should apply…
If you want to get one of these breeds and don’t have a working or sport role for the dog, that is fine but you will need to invest time and effort into training and measure the results, set goals and ensure they are met.
If you don’t, chances are you will end up with a dog with behaviour problems and a dog that will not stop just because you ask them to.
My dog is dangerous and my trainer can’t help
This is not uncommon, in fact I often run training courses for other dog trainers and many of the experienced trainers that come to me cannot fathom working with some of the dogs that we do.
Training a pet dog to sit is very different than dealing with a dog that is aggressively trying to attack you.
I have seen trainers shut down and refuse to work the dog, even on a muzzle, as their emotions had taken over. Others will take the leash, trembling and with all colour drained from their faces.
I do not blame them at all, very often they may be just starting to work with aggressive dog cases and self-survival mode has cut in and the rational brain has switched off.
Even getting the dog on a leash can be extremely dangerous and challenging, so if you need help, find someone working with and providing solutions to this level of dog.
Finding a way to motivate these dogs to trust us, work for us and follow our guidance can sometimes take some outside of the box techniques.
This is a highly specialised field and if you are to change the way your dog behaves, you should find the right specialist.
Training techniques, training aids and tools and ideals
I have a successful Team of handlers that compete in a wide array of dog sports across Australia and into New Zealand.
When training these dogs to perform at the highest levels, there is little going on other than strategically adding and removing rewards (positive reinforcement and negative punishment).
We have the luxury of being able to apply basically an unlimited amount of time and the worst that will happen is that the dog may not get the points, placing or title.
When faced with a dog that has bitten people, killed dogs and worse, is totally out of control, we are faced with a hidden timeline, and this is not about points or titles, it is very often about life and death.
Highly stressed and or motivated dogs, way outside of their ability to cope, jumping and lunging at you with a solid bite history, so even capturing and getting a leash on these dogs is not always easy, pretty, or safe.
Like capturing a wild animal, fight, flight, freeze are often the only options they present with.
Bribing them with food over several days and weeks sometimes, has proved ineffective and serves to convince the dogs owner that their dog is possibly beyond change.
There are certainly dogs that will effectively change their behaviours through reward only systems, but we truthfully do not see many here and very often we are the last chance after failures with (at times many) other trainers.
This does not mean that we directly target behaviours to punish either, the goals may be to reduce or eliminate aggression, but we often do more teaching of the correct behaviours rather than focus on extinction of undesirable behaviours.
It’s the dog!
Well, to be honest, when we have a dog stay with us, and the dog improves out of sight, we must ensure that when the dog goes home, he or she must go into a supportive environment.
It goes to reason to accept that something in the dogs home environment, either created the behaviour problem or allowed it to develop and exist, so changes to that environment are essential or the dog will regress.
So we cannot say at all that it is the dog only, we must take some responsibility too and form a relationship in which the dog takes their cues from us.
If a trainer works with your dog and you bring your dog back home, and place him or her into the same environment, you will end up with the same dog.
Standards? What are yours?
If a child was not able to read or write by a certain age, there would be intervention, right? But when most people own a dog that is not meeting even basic standards, they wait until the dog is aggressive before intervention.
But how many people reading this have got a dog that: –
- Walks through public places on a loose leash or without a leash with no food or toys
- Will sit calmly at a cafe whilst people and dogs stroll past
- Can be off leash and will come every time
- Can meet people appropriately with manners, no jumping or pulling on leash to get to people?
What is your minimum standard?
If you want to avoid ending up with a dog that causes you stress, anxiety and heartache, the first 12 months that you spend with your dog teaching and training him or her are crucial to get right.
Below is one of our Herzhund Labrador pups at 5 months of age.
He already has had a lot of experience in “The Big Three”.
The benefits are clear, he gets to come on holidays and be involved in everything, including freedom, games, rewards and structure.