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Dog Training Brainstorm Session- Aggressive Rottweiler

Dog Training Brainstorm- How To Solve Aggression Issues

As dog trainers we often like to get together to talk and remind each other how smart we are.  I had the privilege recently to get together with Glenn Sherrill of Train Play Live  and some of his clients to talk about dog training issues.

Glen has been running a successful dog training company in North Carolina but we often find it helpful to talk about dog training issues just to see if there are other perspectives that may be helpful.

In this first call we are talking with the owners of a Rottweiler.  The dog is quite dominant and displays that personality through growling and other dominance related behaviors.  The dog has also upset the balance with the other dogs in the family and it has led to fights and other problems.

Listen below to this short call and see if there are training key points that you can take from the call that can help you with your own dog.

Dog Training- Listen To The Call

Press play below to listen in:

Dog Training- Keys To Solving The Problem

When dealing with any aggression issue there are key points that must be considered that apply here:

  • We must correct the aggression but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t escalate the aggression.  Correcting the dog while getting him to move, instead of challenging the owner, can be helpful.  The movement will change his frame of mind and allow him to accept and learn from the correction.
  • Obedience is key.  I preach this to all of my clients regardless of the dog training problem they are experiencing.  If you have great obedience training that means that you have a dog who is calmer, more respectful, and sees you in a leadership role.
  • Remember with dog aggression that you can’t just treat the symptoms.  I often compare aggression to a disease where you have a root cause that allows symptoms to manifest themselves.  The symptoms are the growling, the fighting, and the other dominant behavior.  The root cause, though, is a lack of a proper relationship, a lack of structure, a lack of understanding of what should be the rules.  From those ‘lacks’ we see aggression develop.
  • Give this dog ‘checks and balances’.  That means that he should be ‘working’ throughout the day.  He should be waiting at doors, staying off furniture, sitting before eating, heeling properly on leash, coming when called every time, etc.  These are frequent and constant reminders of the expectations he has.

Dog Fear- Where Does It Come From?

Dog Fear- Reader Question

The following question comes from a reader of our site:

Why are some dogs just flat out scared of men?  I have a 2 year old husky and he’s scared of men.  I don’t believe there’s any history of abuse.   He’ll run away or refuses to come to men and paces back and forth frustrated.
Rachel, Utah.

Thanks for this question, Rachel.  Dog fear is one of the biggest things I deal with in my company simply because it’s at the root of so many behavior problems.  Issues like dog aggression, some destruction, anxiety behaviors, and others all find their root in fear.  In order to solve these issues it’s important to understand where these issues come from.

Dog Fear- What Causes It?

The reality is that there are only two places that dog fear comes from:

  1. Genetics
  2. Upbringing

It’s the old Nature Vs. Nurture argument that has been waging in the halls of academia forever.  In fact, I find it unfortunate that many people these days are ignoring the science when it comes to dog behavior.

These days you don’t have to go far to find certain ‘breed apologists’.  Just log on to your Facebook account and you’ll see your dog loving friends posting graphics about how awesome Pit Bulls are and how any aggressive Pit Bull is simply that way because the owner trained it to be that way.

This type of thinking completely ignores basic tenets of dog behavior.

Nearly everyone will agree that both nature and nurture compose the makeup behind temperament, personality, and character.  Yet in the case of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, etc. people suspend this understanding in their attempts to protect their favorite breed.

Now, let me set the record straight first of all.  I’m a big fan of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers (I own one), German Shepherds (I’ve owned a few) and Dobermans.  And I’m not trying to tell you that ANY of these BREEDS are more prone to fear, aggression, or any other sort of behavior.  But I will tell you that certain representatives of those breeds (and ALL breeds for that matter) can have larger propensities than others for fear, aggression, and other related behaviors.

I know I’m on my soapbox right now.  You may be wondering why I’m off on a tangent about Pit Bulls and other powerful breeds when the question was about a Husky and fear.  The reason is that people seem to be willing to accept that fear can cause bad behavior, and many of those same people are willing to accept that a Husky or a Beagle or a Labrador MAY have been born with a greater propensity for fear and that MAY be why they are acting inappropriately.  But many of those same people are unwilling to accept that a Pit Bull was born with a fear issue and that is why she is acting aggressively…they seem bound and determined to blame aggression in these powerful breeds on bad owners.

This is a damaging style of thinking, though.  Many of our clients own these breeds and we deal with a lot of aggression.  Based on what these folks have heard many are convinced that they are awful owners and somehow ‘trained’ their Pit Bull or Rottweiler to be aggressive.  The reality is, though, that they’ve been good dog owners (everyone can be better) and they did NOTHING to cause their dog’s fear or aggression.  The dog was born with a greater tendency towards aggressive behavior.

The majority of the dog fear that I see for genetic reasons comes from poor breeding.  Most breeders these days have no clue how to make pairings that will result in mentally sound puppies.  It may be that they are breeding for looks and not temperament, it may be that they are pushing out puppies just to make a buck, or it may be that they are incompetent but these bad breeders have flooded the country with dogs who have weak nervous systems and low thresholds for dealing with stress.  And, unfortunately, it is the public who is supporting their efforts by always looking for the best deal.

As I mentioned, though, genetics are just one piece of the puzzle.

Upbringing is also very important.  When I’m referring to upbringing I’m typically talking about socialization.

Dogs have what I like to call a ‘socialization window’ between about 8 weeks and 6 months of age where it’s important that the dog receives the correct doses of the correct type of socialization.  Errors that lead to the type of fear being described with this Husky typically fall into two categories:

  • Under-socializing.  Dogs need to meet a LOT of people, places, and things.  They need to meet lots of men, women, dogs, cats, children, bicycles, floor surfaces, sounds, textures, etc.  Many dogs simply don’t get a lot of exposure.  As they grow older they fall into the old adage of ‘we fear the unknown’.  It’s possible that your Husky didn’t receive enough exposure to men and now finds the fact that they are bigger, deeper voices, etc. as off-putting and cause for fear.
  • Improper socialization.  I can’t tell you how much dog fear I can trace directly to dog parks.  Dog parks are the worst place to socialize a dog yet they are so often used and they often inject fear into a dog.  Aside from dog parks bad socialization occurs when the owner doesn’t control encounters the young dog has with kids, strangers, etc.  I have had numerous cases where a dog has ONE bad experience with a kid, person, dog, etc. during this socialization window and it taints their whole life experience from that day forward.  In your dog’s case, it’s possible the dog simply was handled roughly by a man at a young age and that’s the experience that stuck.

Dog Fear- How To Solve It

Dog fear comes from what I call a ‘chaos mindset’.  That means that the dog isn’t thinking when she’s reacting fearfully, she’s simply giving in to her surroundings.

The opposite of chaos in the natural world is structure, control, etc.  With our clients we immediately start on a healthy diet of obedience training to overcome these fear issues.  As the dog’s mind learns to focus on structure it can’t also be focusing on the subject of her fear.

Here’s the catch, though.  Treat based obedience training or other such ineffective methods don’t get the job done.  The only way to overcome big-time fear issues is through advanced obedience training and that simply doesn’t occur with treat training.  You need a style of training that properly balances correction with motivation to show the dog that obedience is the rule but it’s also enjoyable.

The Best Dog Breed For A Family

The Best Dog Breed For A Family- Is There One?

One of my awesome cousins (I’ve got 30-some-odd cousins or so) recently sent me a question.  Her question was one that I get quite frequently so I thought I’d turn it into a blog post.

Her question was:

“What is the benefits from having a male or female dog? I would love to get my kids a dog but I know nothing about them and am fairly allergic to them, (however I have had a dog before and had no allergy problems). Any ideas on what would be best for my small kids?”

Whether it’s casual conversation with friends at church, an encounter with a stranger on the street that finds out I’m a dog trainer, or a question coming in from the website, I frequently hear ‘what is the best dog breed for a family?”

Along with those types of questions I frequently hear various iterations like I heard from my cousin regarding breeds for allergenic dog owners and gender of the dog.

So the question remains…is there a best dog breed for a family?

Unfortunately, my answer is no.

The Best Dog Breed For A Family- Why Not?

So why isn’t there a best dog breed for a family?  The answer is that there is simply too much variation within breeds to say that one breed is going to reliably act a certain way around kids, within a home, etc.

You see, in my years of training I’ve heard from various sources that Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, and Rottweilers are the best dog breed for a family.  I’ve heard these assertions from dog owners, breeders, rescue organizations, and others.  If you go searching online you’ll likely be able to find collaboration for each of these breeds being the most suitable for your family and kids.

As a trainer, though, I can tell you that I’ve worked with dozens of aggressive Labradors and Golden Retrievers.  I’ve seen plenty of aggressive German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, and Doodles.  I’ve met Labradors that want to kill every kid they see and I’ve met Pit Bulls who will let kids perform on them a tonsillectomy without any anesthesia.

Dog Training MembershipI’ve seen dogs of all breeds that started out wonderfully with kids but turned into a liability when the parents didn’t supervise the children well enough and the kids abused the dog.  I’ve met dogs that are perfectly fine with their family’s kids but hate all other neighborhood kids due to taunting at the fence.

I’ve seen owners raise a dog around children and do everything nearly flawless and still have the dog turn out with child aggression issues.

As far as the allergy issue goes, I’ve seen people who have never been allergic to dogs suddenly develop an allergy to a particular dog.  I’ve seen scads of the supposedly ‘hypo-allergenic’ breeds (doodles, poodles, Portuguese water dogs, Havanese, Shih Tzus, etc.) cause allergies in owners.  And then I’ve seen owners who are allergic do just fine with their own dog.  (One of our trainers at my company is quite allergic to dogs, in fact, but manages fine with controlled amounts of medication.)

What I’m getting at is that for every ‘best dog breed for a family’ that you see out there, I’ve seen countless exceptions.

And I’ve quite frequently had conversations with dog owners who are down-trodden and confused when the breed they researched suddenly isn’t acting the way the book told them to act.

There are so many factors that go into the temperament and behavior of the dog including:

  • Proper breeding practices
  • Early imprinting and conditioning
  • The right quantity and quality of socialization during the puppy’s ‘socialization window’
  • Giving proper leadership to a dog
  • Excellent training from a young age
  • Nutrition, exercise, medical care
  • So much more.

If you tweak with just one of those components you may find that the Labrador who was supposed to be great with kids suddenly isn’t.

Now, on top of that, there are other considerations to be taken into account.

The truth is that, yes, I’ve found that MOST Labradors (leaving plenty of room for exceptions) tend to be friendly towards children.  Having said that, I’ve trained numerous Labs because they are ‘over-friendly’ with the kids and jump on them, run into them, knock them down, get in their face, etc.

I’ve also found that MOST Pit Bulls TEND to be gentle with children.  But many that I’ve worked with have had dog aggression issues so that poses various threats were the dog to be with the kids while another dog approached.

So even a dog that IS good with kids can often become a liability if other aspects of training, care, supervision, and smart dog-ownership are ignored.

So for these reasons I always find it incredibly difficult to make a recommendation on which breed to choose for a family.

The Best Dog Breed For A Family- So How Can You Choose?

I know I’ve spent the past page of prose waxing profound on why it is so difficult to find the best breed for children.  I don’t mean to scare you away, though, and I don’t want you to back away from your decision to get a dog.

Here are the guidelines the I normally recommend for finding the best breed for YOUR family:

  • Take into account cost.  Certain breeds are going to cost more to acquire, groom, and feed.
  • Think about allergies.  As I mentioned previously there are numerous exceptions but certain dogs have a better chance for not causing allergies.  Typically these are dogs that have ‘hair’ rather than ‘fur’.  Examples would be poodles of any size, Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Havanese, Bouvier de Flandres, Schnauzers, Airedales, amongst others.
  • Consider training.  I’ll get flack for this, I’m sure, but I find it easier to get dogs of medium to large size house trained and obedience trained.  (In my years of training I’d conservatively say that of the dogs that I’ve met past one year of age who still weren’t house trained 98% of them were Yorkies, Chihuahuas, and Shih Tzus.)  Also speaking in generalities, I find that a lot of smaller dogs aren’t best suited for kids because they can quickly become terrified when they have many pairs of hands coming at them all day.
  • Think of things like your family’s energy level, time that you’re home, and age of your children and use that data to help better choose.  Certain breeds will require more exercise, require more attention, etc.
  • Once you’ve found the breed that YOU like and you feel best fits YOUR family, go search out the right individual within that breed that meets those characteristics.  ***This is very important***  Many people through their research find that a Labrador or German Shepherd, for example, are the best breed for them.  What they don’t realize, however, is that those two breeds, amongst dozens of others, have been severely over-bred and improperly bred for the past two decades.  What that means is that all the info you learned in your breed related books doesn’t apply.  Yes, perhaps a German Shepherd is typically strong and confident but just try getting one from a lousy breeder and you could very well end up with a neurotic, fearful mess.  Yes, a Labrador should be happy-go-lucky but just try getting one from a horrible breeder (the majority of breeders are horrible breeders, by the way) and you could end up with a Labrador that snarls at children.  At this point it’s important to note that rescuing a dog is a viable option.  You obviously can’t know too much about the dog’s history, though, so you’ll have to test the dog out, take him out for walks, do a trial weekend at your home, etc. before deciding.

If you were to break down my advice into one simple adage it would be- ‘Don’t think about which breed is best for a family…instead think of which breed is right for YOUR family and then search out the individual within that breed that is MOST likely to be great with your kids.’

I’ll tell you that the breeds best for MY family would likely be Jack Russel Terriers, Labradors, Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Airedales.  Those breeds in other families, though, could be a disaster.  And just try giving my family a poodle, a boxer, or a Cocker Spaniel.  While I think those breeds are wonderful they are just a lousy fit for my family.

Best of luck in your choice and happy training.

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