Aggressive behaviour, is it through fear or something else?

Delilah was in another room behind a gate when arrived, barking but not for long. Her lead was already attached to her harness. When the gate was opened she didn’t join us for several minutes. When she did, she was fine. I had laced the floor between the doorway and myself with food so she immediately picked up ‘nice smell’ on entering my presence.

No sign of aggressive behaviourShe sniffed me, wandered about and settled between myself and the lady where we sat at the dining table. She looked just like a Corgi but DNA testing revealed a mix of German Shepherd, Malamute and Miniature Poodle!

I knew that she could bark, snarl and snap at people’s legs or shoes but only in her own house or garden. She is worse with men which isn’t uncommon and she has a particular fear of boots.

As she lay beside us I was looking for signs of timidity and saw none. However, the whole time I was there she was either in front of me facing outwards – it felt like she was blocking me in – or between myself and the lady. At one stage I needed to go to the toilet so asked the lady to pick up her lead and take her out of the room to avoid stressing her until I was sitting again. She returned to the same place  – in the picture the lady is on the chair to my right.

Delilah was a Romanian street dog and for the first months of her life completely unrestricted. She then was in a shelter for nine months, loose with lots of other dogs, followed by a few months in a foster home where again there were lots of dogs and much coming and going of people.

Now she is a single dog living in a quiet cottage with only the lady. For the first two months she was the model dog, happy to see people coming into the house. Fine with other dogs when on lead.

As so often happens with dogs fitting into a completely different world, gradually this began to change.

Although I felt I should be careful indoors, Delilah was very friendly and accepting of me outside the house when we went for a short walk, happily letting me hold the lead and demonstrate loose lead walking with her.

Where indoors she may be reactive to people but not when she’s out, when outside her aggressive behaviour is towards dogs – but only when she is restrained on lead. She may may bark and lunge (not always). Off lead, however, she loves to run about, playing with any dog who is interested – as I saw for myself. She is bold and fearless.

RussellDelThe lady has been exposing Delilah to as many people and dogs as possible. She takes her to some nice training classes. She has friends coming to see her at home.

Worried about her increasing aggressive behaviour to people in the house, the lady has had a trainer visit who advocated spraying the dog with water when she showed aggression.

This tactic of spraying water sums up the very opposite of what I would do to a dog displaying fear or territorial possessiveness or even anger. The way to stop the behaviour (which is a symptom only) is to stop the emotions that cause it.

How will punishment or even a short, sharp interruptor, change emotions permanently for the better?

Okay, it may stop the actual symptom in the moment, but what then? The emotion won’t change and will probably become worse. It will fester and break out somewhere, in some way, for sure.

What about trust?

The dog is feeling deeply uncomfortable about something and then gets sprayed with water, which she won’t like, by the very person she should trust, who has been advised to do this rather than try to understand and help her out!

Fortunately the lady refused to do it.

We have several things to work on and it could take time. We are working on getting Delilah to happily accept people coming into the house with desensitisation work around the front door in particular. It’s like now she has a permanent home which is hers, she is becoming increasingly territorial. Walking legs and particularly feet with boots being a target for her aggressive behaviour which could well be influenced by a herding element in here genes, we will work on boots away from feet first, then boots on the feet of sitting people, and then people walking in boots.

The lady will do her best to show Delilah in every way she can that she doesn’t need protecting and that it’s her own job to protect their territory. The lady herself is in charge of comings and goings. We have a couple of strategies for when people come into the house including more simple management.

On walks Delilah will unfortunately need to lose some of her precious freedom and to be restricted to a long line for a while the lady works on her recall. She is so used to freelancing that she will only come when she is ready. When we were out together I held my breath as she ran off, assured she couldn’t get out of the field. I fear it’s a crisis waiting to happen. Here is a great little video from Steve Mann: ‘A Recall is a Recall‘.

On a long line she shouldn’t feel trapped when she meets other dogs. If she wants to play it can be dropped. The lady will work on her on-lead reactivity to certain other dogs.

From a noisy life where she has been one of many to a quiet life where she is the only one, Delilah is still having big adjustments to make after only three months still.

I have since been unable to get My My My Delilah out of my brain (thanks Tom Jones!).

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Delilah and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)