Pets' Life . . . temper temper
PUBLISHED: 12:36 31 March 2015 | UPDATED: 12:36 31 March 2015
A snarly dog can leave you at the end of your tether. With help, says dog behaviourist Helen Goodall, you can change your dog's aggressive attitude
Dog aggression is an in-depth issue and regularly appears in national news.
It can be a complex issue and the root cause is often misunderstood. Owners can miss the warning signals, and the result can be mentally and physically damaging for both dog and owner.
But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. The majority of the cases that I see can be improved successfully and positively. Foremost, when an owner asks for help, my initial aim is to improve understanding, to be safe at home or out in public, and to be realistic with expectations. We’re aiming for positive improvement within management, avoiding euthanasia.
There is not often a quick fix. It takes time to build confidence, to build bonds of trust between the dog and owner. It takes patience and plenty of hard work. An owner who has the right kind of guidance and support can benefit greatly from knowing what their dog needs, and how to keep him and others safe.
Each dog has his own character and has different learning experiences while he grows and matures. Negative behaviour is not always down to ‘bad’ character. It’s a learned reaction from a negative experience, or a situation where the dog learns his behaviour works to his advantage, so he repeats it. General training, gradual learning opportunities, plus plenty of social interaction are necessary for a dog to grow into a balanced adult, rarely needing to resort to aggression.
It is very important to create the right kind of experiences with a young dog. It is essential an owner provides, as much as is possible, appropriate learning through careful guidance, creating positive building blocks that set him up for life.
Exploring and learning about the breed type helps an owner to understand the kind of dog that they are living with. Instinct drivers that are natural to the type of dog are a powerful influence on behaviour, and can be a guide on how a dog will learn and react to his environment. This can help an owner avoid pitfalls and create the kinds of experiences that channel the dog in the right way.
Generational influences are also important factors to consider in dealing with the behaviour you see from your much-loved pet, but not everyone has the opportunity to take on a dog knowing the good character of his ancestors.
If you’re re-homing a dog, his breed type will be a good indicator of his nature and what to expect from his behaviour. Character comes in many forms though, so be careful not to tar one breed type with the same brush. Your rescue centre should be able to tell you his level of social skill.
A dog is never too old to learn. Yes, behaviour can become habitual, and the older the dog the harder it can be to change old habits. But when a person comes to me for help, I never say never. Often they ask ‘Is he too old to change?’ The dog will determine the level of improvement, alongside the time and commitment of the owner.
A point worth remembering – most dogs don’t like to fight. A dog showing aggression is often a dog pushed to the limit.