When asking thousands of past clients why they think their dog became aggressive, two answers stand out. Often I hear their dog’s behavior changed immediately after being spayed or neutered. More common still, dog owners tell me of their dog became fearful of other dogs after being attacked or getting into a fight. It’s this final scene that I will unpack in today’s blog, as I think it’s an area in dog behavior that is rather misunderstood.
When dogs are attacked, they really only have three options.
2: Try and run away
3: Freeze and do nothing
I’ve always found it fascinating that some dogs do not develop any leash reactivity or dog aggression and others change faster than a traffic light.
The dogs that roll over during an attack are often dogs that do not become aggressive after an attack, while the dogs who hold their ground during an attack almost always develop aggression towards other dogs.
Often times, dog trainers and dog owners over-generalize the concept of fear after a dog attack because it’s low hanging fruit. 83% of the dogs that I’ve worked within 2019 are leash aggressive towards other dogs. And of those, I would suggest that about 5% of those cases stem from a fearful response.
Blasphemy I tell you, blasphemy! Yes, I said it. Most aggression (I believe) is not based on fear, it’s a willing response.
Wait, how can this be? I mean… essentially every dog trainer in the world believes that all or most aggression (leash or otherwise) is based on fear. A good defense is a good offense, right?
So what is a good defense for a fearful dog?
A good defense is to ignore other dogs, and growl if they come to close, snapping at them if they don’t give them space. A good defense is not when he/she screams their head off the moment they see another dog from 5 blocks away.
It literally does not make logical sense to bring attention to yourself when you are scared for your life. If my car was broken down in a rough neighborhood, would my fear cause me a sit in my car, with the doors locked while I wait for the towing company? Or would it cause me to run around the neighborhood, cursing at people?
Why are so many dogs who go to daycare 5 days a week, complete idiots on the leash? Is it fear? No, they are frustrated that their social mojo is being stifled.
Why do so many millions of dogs get diagnosed as fear aggressive when they run across a field and start a fight with another dog? Just because he was attacked when he was 6 months old?
What about dogs who were attacked? Surely 100% of these dogs have a case of fear aggression right? Meh. Could we conceive for a moment that some of these dogs actually enjoyed the fight? Humans have MMA fighting, right? Maybe dogs have something similar? Clearly, this is not always the case, but I have seen it over 1000 times. Some dogs like to fight… Maybe them being attacked at a young age wasn’t the horrible tragic thing that we humans made it out to be. Maybe it sparked something in your MMA fighter that they enjoy. Is this possible?
Humans assuming that dogs are being thrust into these aggressive roles is not helpful because it’s often not accurate, and it leaves dogs owners with the wrong path to move forward. If you are incorrectly convinced that your dog is fearful, you will take training measures that coddle your dog and ultimately will not help your dog.
So what is a normal fearful response? Avoidance.
The fearful dog avoids conflict at all costs. They don’t run up to other dogs. They keep to themselves. If another dog approaches them, they communicate with the dog that they need space. If space is not given, the fearful dog will growl. If the growl is not effective, they will nip.
Fear is using force only when communication has been ignored.
Some dogs are fearful. Some dogs like MMA. Some dogs are assholes, and some dogs are in the middle.
Dogs who provoke fights are not fearful.
Dogs that are leash reactive are frustrated and trying to get out energy.
Dogs who are fearful, avoid conflict.
Hope I made you think.