How to evaluate your pup’s behavior

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When dealing with doggy behavior, there are a few things to take into consideration before labeling your pup as “dog-aggressive” or “human-aggressive.” Think about the scenarios and settings in which you are putting your dog.  A lot of times there are outside factors that contribute to your dog’s behavior that may not be a true determinant of the dog’s nature.

For instance, say you take your under-socialized dog to the dog park and set him loose. Instantly a pack of five dogs come running over to him and he cowers down with his tail tucked between his legs, teeth bared. The other dogs either turn away or attack him. You may label your dog as dog-aggressive and completely shut down any interaction with other dogs. Instead, take a step back to reevaluate your actions that put your dog in a precarious situation that was clearly a bad idea. You took your timid, fearful, possibly under-socialized or shy dog to a place where there are lots of excited dogs that are meeting and greeting all the dogs entering the park. Some dogs can handle these types of settings, but not all dogs are hardwired to deal with such doggy socials. In human terms, think of it like taking an introvert to a party shoving them in the door and expecting them to mix and mingle comfortably with random people they don’t know.  Not every person is socially equipped to deal with these interactions just like not every dog would be.

So when dealing with shy, introverted dogs, a doggie day care or dog park may not be the best type of setting for socializing your dog. Try a controlled obedience class or a group on leash walk where your dog will be around other dogs in a controlled situation. They will learn to feel comfortable and confident in social doggy settings.  Also consider a smaller doggy day care that understands the special needs of your pup or a friendly dog-loving neighbor who you can share puppy play dates with.

The opposite end of the spectrum is a dog that is over-socialized, confident or excited at the sight of other dogs. Again, you may see some behaviors that are not true to your dog’s real nature. Your dog may think every dog they see wants to be their best friend. Although your pup may have good intentions, he may get his face in trouble by his forward approach. They may bum-rush the dog walking by and get a growl or flash of teeth and, in an instant, you are in the middle of a dog fight. Your dog’s forward, invasive approach may leave the unassuming passerby feeling threatened and defensive, resulting in a dog fight. Try teaching your over-exuberant dog some self-restraint by not letting them say hello to every dog they see on the street or at the park. This may keep them from sticking their nose where it does not belong.

Another thing to consider in the environmental stressors of the situations your dog is facing. In dealing with a lot of rescues and shelter dogs, I see dogs that are labeled “dog-aggressive” or “human-aggressive” that are neither. They find themselves in an incredibly stressful and chaotic environment surrounded by strangers and barking frustrated dogs and are expected to behave like nothing is happening. A lot of times perfectly adoptable dogs are killed in the United States due to their behavior at the shelter. Removing the dog from that environment may literally save their life.

Groomers and veterinarian’s offices are other good examples of environmental stressors that may not show the true nature of your dog. I don’t know about you, but I get nervous going to the doctor and getting a shot. Imagine how stressful it must be not being told what’s going on! Having a person your dog generally sees once a year touch them, examine them and sometimes doing uncomfortable things to them can be pretty stressful for your pup. Your dog may react out of fear and a true belief that they need to defend themselves.

The next time you put your dog in a stressful situation and see a completely different dog from the one you know and love at home, think about how your actions and decisions may have contributed to stressing your dog over his threshold. Take a step back, reevaluate and get on the road to enriching your dog’s life the right way by creating a well-balanced, confident canine that can handle anything that comes his way.

Jennifer Towers is owner of Lead the Pack Dog Training. You can also find Lead the Pack Dog Training on Facebook.

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