© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
I recently received the following email from a lady asking about my dog behavior consultant services.
“I have an energetic 1 year-old male Mini Australian shepherd. Overall he is an okay puppy, but he is aggressive toward other dogs. He is aggressive toward me only when he knows he is in trouble. He has bitten me on a few occasions leaving marks. He is VERY friendly toward others including strangers, but he is extremely stubborn and doesn't want to listen. He listens only when he wants.”
“…her dog is now using aggression in an attempt to keep her away from him.“
If you are a long-time dog owner, you most likely already see the red flags in her email. Let me briefly break down my concerns sentence by sentence.
“I have an energetic 1 year-old male Mini Australian shepherd. Overall he is an okay puppy, but he is aggressive toward other dogs.”
Her first sentence is the least concerning to me. Her dog has dog-fear-aggression which is caused by his fear of unfamiliar dogs and his desire to keep them a safe distance away from him by using aggression. This is a common behavior problem in pet dogs that can be addressed with proper behavior treatment.
The first red flag raises its head with this statement, “Overall he is an okay puppy…” No one I know who truly cares for their dog would ever describe their dog as an “okay puppy”. Frankly, it seems somewhat cold to me.
“He is aggressive toward me only when he knows he is in trouble. He has bitten me on a few occasions leaving marks. He is VERY friendly toward others including strangers…”
The dog owner is saying so much with these particular words.
Her dog does not know “he is in trouble”. However, her dog does know that the owner is acting really scary and threatening around him and he is showing stress behaviors because he doesn’t understand whatsoever why she is acting like this. Dogs don’t show guilt; they show fear – and in this case – fear of the owner.
“He has bitten me on a few occasions leaving marks.” Now things are becoming very apparent, especially when she follows with, “He is VERY friendly toward others including strangers…” The owner is probably punishing the dog inappropriately for his misdeeds and her dog is now using aggression in an attempt to keep her away from him. The fact that her dog is fine with everyone else should be an important indicator to the owner that her relationship and actions toward her dog are improper and the cause of these problems.
“…but he is extremely stubborn and doesn't want to listen. He listens only when he wants.”
Allow me to translate what is happening with her dog in her last statement. She has not properly trained her dog in the things she wants her dog to know. At one year of age her dog still thinks like a puppy to a great extent. Dogs don’t come into this world or to a new home knowing all the household rules – they have to be trained (for more on this see 100 Reasons Why You Need to Give Your Dog More Respect). The occasional compliance she is seeing from him is for the things he does understand. Her poor relationship with the dog and the fear he feels around her certainly don’t help any of this.
I am not being judgmental here; I’ve learned that 95% of dog owner mistakes with their dogs are because they just aren’t informed about proper and better options. Most dog owners are not intentionally hurting their dogs when they make mistakes like this. I believe that is the case with this dog owner too.
If you are having problems like this with your dog or you know someone who is, seek the services of an experienced and certified full-time dog behaviorist for help to objectively discern the real issues and get proper guidance.