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HomeDogsBehaviourNavigating Dog Aggression and Biting-Expert Insights from Treat to Train Dog Training

Navigating Dog Aggression and Biting-Expert Insights from Treat to Train Dog Training

In our enlightening interview with Angelique De Kock, the esteemed founder of Treat to Train Dog Training, we delve into the complex realm of dog aggression and biting. With her wealth of expertise and compassionate approach, Angelique offers invaluable insights into understanding and addressing these challenging behaviours. Join us as we uncover practical strategies and profound wisdom to navigate the delicate balance between canine behaviour and human interaction.

Could you please provide some insight into Treat to Train and share your personal journey with training aggressive dogs?

Treat to Train is a multifaceted dog training organization with a branch in Johannesburg and the other in Pretoria. Our mission at Treat to Train is to facilitate meaningful connections between dogs and their owners. As a team, we offer a range of services tailored to meet the diverse needs of dog owners, including private lessons, behaviour consults, agility, scent work, tracking, tricks and other group classes. We empower pet owners to have fun with their dogs and do things together with them.

My journey in training aggressive dogs began long before the establishment of Treat to Train. I gained valuable experience working under another esteemed behaviourist consultant, where I honed my skills in understanding and addressing canine aggression. Additionally, I pursued further education, including specialized courses such as Michael Shikashio’s aggressive dog course. This combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience has equipped me to effectively tackle issues such as resource guarding and reactivity in dogs.

Can you identify some common triggers or underlying causes behind dog aggression and biting, and how do you approach addressing these root issues?

Dog aggression can stem from a variety of triggers and underlying causes, ranging from fear and frustration to pain and territoriality. One of the key aspects of addressing aggression is understanding the emotional state of the dog. By conducting a thorough assessment, we can identify any health issues or emotional imbalances contributing to the behaviour. Additionally, we emphasize the importance of clear communication and mutual understanding between dogs and their owners. By addressing the root causes and providing appropriate training and guidance, we can effectively manage and modify aggressive behaviours.

While certain breeds may have predispositions towards certain behaviours, including aggression, it’s important to approach each dog as an individual. Rather than attributing aggression solely to breed characteristics, we consider the unique genetic makeup and environmental influences of each dog. Both nature and nurture play significant roles in shaping a dog’s behaviour, highlighting the importance of a holistic approach to training and behaviour modification. By understanding the complex interplay between genetics, environment, and behaviour, we can better address and manage aggression in dogs of all breeds and backgrounds.

READ| Identifying Common Signs of Aggression in Dogs and Addressing Them

Aggressive dog barking. Dog bitting and aggression - Expert Insights

When working with an aggressive or biting dog, what initial steps do you take to assess the situation and formulate an effective training plan?

Firstly, it’s crucial to prioritize safety for everyone involved. Professionals need to be well-equipped to read dog body language and prevent potential bites. We also consider scenarios where bites might occur unexpectedly, ensuring that both professionals and owners are informed about safety measures. Management strategies tailored to the specific situation are then put in place to minimize risks.

Rushing the training process can exacerbate fear and anxiety in dogs, leading to setbacks. We need to progress gradually, taking small steps to ensure the dog feels safe throughout the training. Trigger stacking, where stressors accumulate, is also considered, and training intensity is adjusted accordingly to prevent overwhelming the dog.

Can you share a particularly challenging case you’ve encountered and the strategies you implemented to help mitigate the aggression or biting behaviour?

In a challenging case, a border collie became aggressive after a traumatic vet visit. To rebuild trust, we arranged for the vet and physio to visit the dog at home, gradually reintroducing positive experiences. We conducted training sessions at the vet’s office during quiet times, using games and treats to create positive associations. By gradually exposing the dog to the vet environment and monitoring his reactions, we helped him overcome his fear and regain trust. This process involved Cooperative Care procedures, allowing the dog to opt in or out of procedures, ensuring his comfort and cooperation. Throughout the process, we monitored the dog’s body language for signs of stress and adjusted the approach accordingly. By patiently and systematically addressing the dog’s fear and anxiety, we successfully helped him overcome his negative association with vet visits, demonstrating the effectiveness of gradual desensitization and positive reinforcement techniques in behaviour modification.

Two dogs fighting. Dog bitting and aggression - Expert Insights

How do you educate dog owners about understanding canine body language and signals, particularly in relation to aggression?

This is really crucial because if you can interpret a dog’s signals well, you can likely avoid getting bitten, as there are often subtle signs beforehand. We typically advise people to be attentive to changes in body language, as most individuals can sense when a dog is about to bite. For instance, I’m currently working with a ridgeback, and before he starts barking or showing aggression, all the hairs on his back stand up, which is a clear sign. However, there are more subtle cues too, such as tense body language or lip licks. These can be easily missed, but they indicate that the dog may be feeling uncomfortable. A good resource for learning about this is a book by Lily Chin, titled “Body Language,” which includes excellent illustrations. I also have a free webinar on body language you can watch.

Click here to watch the Treat to Train Body Language Webinar.

What proactive measures do you recommend for dog owners to minimize the risk of these issues arising?

There are several important steps to consider, as it depends on why the aggression is happening. Firstly, if you get a puppy, ensure you set them up for success. For instance, if you have a Bully Breed puppy, avoid exposing them to situations where they might learn that fighting is enjoyable. Be selective about the dogs and people they interact with. If your dog is around children, teach the kids to respect the dog’s boundaries to avoid potential incidents. Positive interaction is key. If you can’t supervise interactions, use management techniques like baby gates to separate them. Accidents can happen quickly, so prevention is crucial. You should also consider attending puppy school with a qualified trainer/behaviour consultant, as dogs that are well-socialized tend to be less aggressive and anxious.

Make sure your dog always feels safe around resources like toys or food. When asking for a toy, initiate a trade rather than simply taking it away. This builds trust and avoids triggering fear. Similarly, if your dog eats from a bowl, leave them alone and avoid sticking your hand in the bowl, as it can worsen resource guarding. Teach commands like ‘drop’ and ‘leave it’ for better control. Always carry treats on walks to reinforce positive behaviour.

Introducing new dogs should be done carefully and gradually, avoiding rushed introductions that can lead to conflict and doing these introductions in a neutral space is often best. Seek professional help if needed. Ensure your dog has a safe space where they can relax undisturbed. These proactive measures, combined with proper training and management, can significantly reduce the risk of aggression issues arising.

READ| How to Safely introduce your dog to situations

Woman training dog. Dog bitting and aggression - Expert Insights

What words of advice or encouragement would you offer to dog owners who are struggling with a pet exhibiting aggression or biting tendencies, and how can they best support their dog through this journey?

I just want to emphasize the importance of seeking help if your dog displays mild aggression. It’s crucial to address it promptly to prevent escalation. Aggression is not something you should try to handle alone; professional assistance is necessary, especially for cases involving aggression. Safety should always be the priority for both you and your dog, as well as others who may be affected.

Now, for dog owners dealing with children showing aggression or biting tendencies, my advice would be to remain calm and patient. Understand that this situation requires time, effort, and consistent training to address effectively. Seek guidance from professionals who specialize in behaviour modification, as they can provide tailored strategies for your specific situation.

Search for Treat to Train and other pet trainers near you here

Supporting your dog through this journey involves creating a positive and safe environment for them. Be consistent with training and provide clear boundaries for both the dog and the children. Teach children how to interact respectfully with the dog and avoid situations that may trigger aggression. Use positive reinforcement techniques to reward good behaviour and provide plenty of mental and physical stimulation for your dog to prevent stress and frustration. Most importantly, maintain open communication with your dog trainer or behaviourist and follow their guidance closely.

Is there anything else you want to add to the blog?

So the only thing is that I’m going to launch an online membership program soon. It will include recall, loose-leash walking, scent work, and even activities like herding games. Everything that I offer online will be available under one monthly fee. Click here to join the Treat to Train online membership program.

Angelique De Kock’s profound understanding of dog aggression and biting behaviour offers hope and guidance to pet owners facing these challenges. Through her expertise and empathetic approach, she empowers individuals to foster a harmonious relationship with their furry companions. As we conclude this enlightening interview, let us carry forward Angelique’s insights, armed with knowledge and compassion, to nurture a safer and more fulfilling bond with our beloved dogs.

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