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How did I handle a human aggressive dog on day one.

I like to talk about my pick-up session of Rufus so you can have a glimpse of what happened when l went to pick up a human aggressive dog.

A bit of background: Unlike a lot of trainers, I like to meet a new dog in a busy public area rather than my facility so l can observe how the dog behaves around triggers next to the owner and after the owner is gone. I also like to spend a lot of time with the dog before we even come back to my place so we would already have a proper foundation from which we could start building a healthy and balanced relationship on day one.

When l first met Rufus, he was barking aggressively at me and acting really nervous around me. I was originally walking behind him and his dad. He was really nervous he decided to stop moving and kept staring at me. His dad tried to drag 110lbs Rufus to move forward a few time without much improvement.

When l saw that, l decided to walk next to the dad while maintaining enough distance. His dad for some reason decided to move closer to me, and Rufus was not responding well to that, so l told the dad I would walk in front of them. This way, l could control and keep the right amount of distance with Rufus, and he had no reason to keep looking back and stop walking. He started walking forward without any more pancaking.

As we crossed the street, I could see that his dad was nervous about bringing him too close to other people, so I suggested to walk on a wider road rather than a narrow pathway. His dad was trying his best but he was nervous. Rufus probably had reacted many times to other people, children, dogs…and l did not want him to see that again as that would certainly make him feel worse.

I have not said a single word to Rufus, but I was watching him closely, and I was “talking” to him with my movement and spatial pressure. I told him l knew exactly how he felt, and l kept positioning my body in a way that was just within his comfort zone so he knew l understood him and l was someone who was there to guide him and work with him.

When l moved a bit closer to the dad, Rufus tried to stop moving again. He no longer showed aggression but he did not want to deal with the increased spatial pressure. This response was common for a dog who had never been taught how to handle pressure and did not have confidence in his human nor himself to overcome anything stressful — so he chose to freeze, to just avoid dealing with it altogether.

I had not said one single word to him or tried to touch him or anything like that to that point, but he knew from my movement and my behaviour that l did not behave like the other people he met before. He did not know what to do with me. He figured fight would not work, and flight was not a sensible choice, so he tried to just stop hoping it would all go away.

His dad thought he was too hot to move and kept talking to him, petting him, telling him it was okay, he was a good boy…etc. l moved forward, and he moved with us. When we got to a water fountain, l asked the dad to give him some water, as l stood quite close to him positioning my body to block the people and dogs walking by us. His dad was positioning his body behind Rufus as he gave Rufus water.

There were people and dogs walking by. When another dog walked by, l moved my body slightly in front of the dog. I saw Rufus’ ears moved forward, he saw my movement, and his ears went back. I knew then l was starting to be someone relevant to him. And he was drawn closer to me eventhough l had not said a single word to him at that point, not even his name.

His dad said Rufus must know he was being evaluated because he had never been this good.

At that point, Rufus was actually ready to walk closer to his triggers. He also had stopped pancaking and was paying a lot of attention on me but no longer in an aggressive way.

I took out a pet convincer as we started walking closer to more dogs and people. I saw Rufus’ ears moved up again when a small dog walked by, he looked at me, ears went back. His dad told me Rufus would have reacted. He thought may be Rufus was having a sensory overload.

I knew that was the time for me to further introduce myself as someone who not only understood him but was able to interrupt and help him to handle walking by dogs successfully. So l told the dad I would use the pet convincer if Rufus’ ears would move forward again. His dad told me they had already used this with Rufus when he was younger but it only served to make him more excited. He said Rufus would become more playful when he heard the sound of the compressed air.

When l saw Rufus’ ears moved forward slightly, l pulled the trigger of the pet convincer about 1/8 of the way — he stopped looking at the dog and turned to look at me right away. That was the first direct “voice” communication l made with Rufus, about 45 minutes into our walk.

We walked by more people and dogs and he responded very well to the compressed air interruption. I never had to pull the trigger more than 1/8. Still, I never gave him any verbal command nor talked to him. I was not holding his leash, his dad was.

Rufus was a dog with low confidence. He did not want to learn how to deal with anything new. He did not have any confidence that he would succeed.

But he also realized that things were a bit different during the last 45 minutes. I listened to him and I challenged him - without overwhelming him - and l proved to him that l could help him to overcome what he never dared to face.

I did all that without verbal commands (just using spatial pressure and tactile pressure, which are the most instinctive ways dogs learn and communicate with each other). I did not tell him “that’s okay” using baby voice; but l convinced him that it was okay using my action.

I still had not called his name nor talked to him once at that point. I wanted to go into a pet store, which l knew he was ready for. I suggested that to his dad, and his dad said, “no, it’s going to be really bad. He is doing so well now I don’t want to ruin this on his first day with you.” When l heard that, l said, “sure” and we did not go inside. I would not have suggested that if l did not think Rufus could do it. But l respected the dad’s decision. If the dad did not feel comfortable, his behavior could validate Rufus’ distrust in him and cause Rufus to feel that l did not have good control of the pack, which would be counter productive.

The dad was trying his best. He was really concerned about the safety of other people around us, and he was particularly concerned about my safety. He is a very responsible dog owner. I really appreciate that.

When we waited at the light, Rufus was a bit concerned when a dog on a flexi leash appeared behind us. When his dad saw the dog, he asked Rufus to “sit”. I stood between the dog and Rufus as that dog kept coming closer, and l told the owner, “we don’t want to say hi, my dog is very aggressive, that is why he is wearing a muzzle.” I reached out my arm towards that dog, so Rufus knew what l was trying to do. And he never looked at that dog. I positioned my body between Rufus and the dog as we waited for the light to change.

I asked the dad to put a slip lead on Rufus and l started walking him myself. Rufus had no problem around me whatsoever. I almost fell down once but he did not react to my sudden movement at all. He act like he did not even notice it. The dad told me Rufus used to react to sudden movements like that aggressively.

I could see Rufus was still conflicting though. He wanted to go back to the old way (Velcro to his dad) but he was also showing willingness to follow me.

I wanted to walk by more dogs so Rufus’ departing memory of his dad would be one in which he could overcome one of his biggest fears next to his dad. Unfortunately, his dad had a long drive to catch a ferry back to the Sunshine Coast so we could not do that.

In order to help make the department from his dad less stressful, l told the dad to walk away as l took Rufus into a building so he would be distracted by the people inside. His dad had a funny look on his face, like “are you sure?” but he left.

Rufus did not look back as l walked him into a building full of people. He probably had very little experience in such a setting. But he followed me - no pulling, no reacting - and we walked out of the building without any problem.

I walked him for another 30 minutes. He let me touch him, I took his muzzle off, gave him water, put the muzzle back on, walked more, then he jumped into the crate of my car and came back without making any noises in the crate.

That was how my first “date” with Rufus went.

Aggressive Dog Board and Train


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