Taming Sophie’s Dog and Human Aggression
Sophie is a one year old Sheltie. Her owners contacted me concerned about her increasing aggression towards both dogs and people.
When I first sat down with her owners to discuss the situation, I asked what rules were in place that Sophie was expected to follow. As is usually the case with my clients, it turns out the dog really didn’t have any rules or boundaries in her life.
I find that most of the time that a dog has a behavioral issue, there’s a direct correlation to a lack of rules, boundaries and structure in the dog’s daily life. In this case, Sophie’s lack of having any clear rules or boundaries had resulted in her interpreting that there was no leadership in place for her pack, so she had nominated herself as leader.
Anytime you have a dog that assumes a leadership position in conjunction with humans it’s a recipe for disaster. Sophie was no exception as she had recently bit the lip of one of the members of her family when they attempted to disagree or correct her.
I suggested a number of rules to add to Sophie’s daily life to help instill some structure while also helping her identify as more of a follower. One of the most common rules I suggest to my clients is not allowing the dogs on the furniture. For dogs the height at which they sit has a direct correlation to their perception of authority or status in the pack. By letting an unbalanced dog sit at the same level as its human owners, the owners are unintentionally sending a message that they are equal in terms of authority. By denying the dog the ability to sit at the same level as the humans, we are literally able to communicate that the dog is at a different level then their human owners.
I also demonstrated the corrective sound and concept of escalating consequences that I like to introduce whenever a dog breaks the rules. I consistently use the same corrective sound anytime the dog breaks the rules. Doing so immediately with good timing makes it easier for the dog to identify what is and is not allowed. Every time a human corrects the dog for engaging in unwanted behavior breaking the rules, we are reinforcing the leader follower dynamics.
Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise to help Sophie see her owners as her leaders. Sophie nailed the first part of the exercise immediately, but required a little bit of coaxing and motivation for the send pert in order to complete it. However after a few repetitions it was clear that she started to understand what we were asking from her.
After I was satisfied that she had mastered the exercise with me, I coached all the members the family through it as well. By repeating this exercise daily for the next week or two, and increasing the level of difficulty we will be able to help Sophie see her owners as her pack leaders and see herself as more of a follower. This will give her owner’s the ability and (in Sophie’s eyes) the authority to correct her when she shows any unwanted aggression or behavior.
Next I took Sophie outside so that she could engage with a few of my dogs. Before we started, I took Sophie out for a short walk with a 10 month old Black lab / Border collie mix puppy Ariel that I’m fostering. As soon as she got near the puppy Sophie lunged for her, baring her teeth and barking a few times. I corrected her each time and showed her family how to do the same. Within a dozen or so paces, Sophie stopped showing aggression and fell into a heel next to me. After another minute she was sniffing Ariel’s butt which is always a good sign for a dog meeting.
After spending a few hours with her it was clear that Sophie isnt an aggressive dog. She just doesn’t know hot to properly interact with dogs she doesn’t know. So when she gets overwhelmed, confused or doesn’t know what to do, she went to what had worked for her in the past, barking and showing aggression to fend off the other dog.
Isolation can keep her safe, but its no way for any living creature to live. I suggested that after her owners master the leadership exercises that they look for a non reactive dog that is close to Sophie’s size and energy level. Start out by walking them together, then after the walk, let them interact in a controlled way. They will need to correct Sophie any time she starts to show aggression, but Sophie can absolutely learn to play and interact with other dogs without the aggression.