In a world where many dogs have missed important steps in their early development, dog owners are finding themselves with fearful or aggressive dogs that can become difficult or even dangerous to handle. Most frequently these dogs react negatively to outside stimuli simply because they have not been trained to do something else instead. He does not know that there are other options, options that will make it easier for him to handle situations that trigger fear or aggression responses from him. Author Pam Dennison outlines the Starting Point: Ten Foundation Behaviors in her book How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong: a roadmap for rehabilitating aggressive dogs.
Just like when building a house, the foundation has to be strong. If there is a weak foundation, or sections missing, then anything placed beyond that foundation is weakened or not able to withstand the stresses of everyday life. As commented by Ted Turner, an animal behaviorist, “Ninety percent of all complex behavioral problems can be linked back to a poor foundation.”
BEHAVIOR NUMBER ONE: BRIDGE RESPONSE
The bridge is what tells the dog when he does something correct the moment that he does it. This is frequently the click of the clicker or a verbal “yes!” given the moment the dog offers the correct behavior. These affirmations that he has done something correct must come within half a second after the behavior is offered, otherwise he may not understand exactly what was right.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER TWO: EYE CONTACT
When out in the world, if your dog is focused on you, then he will have less of a chance to focus on and aggress or react to something else. This is a very important foundation behavior for all training in the future due to the simple fact that if the dog is not paying attention to you, you will find it very difficult to train him successfully.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER THREE: NAME RECOGNITION
All dogs should know their names and instantly react to it.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER FOUR: HEEL ON A LOOSE LEASH
This is different then walking beside you on leash. If the dog is trained to heel, his attention should be focused on you, which again prevents him from paying attention to and reacting to things occurring around him.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER FIVE: ACCEPTING TOUCH
It is important for all dogs to be able to accept people touching him, even if they are strangers. There will be times throughout his life that other people other than who he is familiar with will have to touch him. For example, at the veterinarian’s office, at the groomers or at a boarding kennel. While it is ok for a dog that is not a social butterfly to prefer not to be petted, he should be comfortable with being touched.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER SIX: ACCEPT SECONDARY REINFORCERS
Secondary reinforcers are those things that a dog is not born with an innate desire or need to have, such as toys, play, and praise. It is important that you use all of these and anything else that you can think of, as being only able to use treats as a reward doesn’t always work. The dog may not be hungry enough, or in some cases, the dog isn’t really very interested in food treats. You will also receive better attention from your dog if you are more unpredictable. Food is the best place to start with a reactive dog as toys and games can excite them too much, but as the dog becomes more desensitized, you can slowly add in more active reinforcers such as tug of war and fetch.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER SEVEN: STAYS
This is an underutilized behavior that every dog should know well. Stays can be lifesavers, not only for reactive dogs but for all dogs. For a reactive dog, if something should occur that you were not expecting, you can have the dog stay until the threat disappears. It is also useful when teaching door etiquette or when feeding, especially with a multiple dog household.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER EIGHT: RECALL (COMING WHEN CALLED)
This is a very important piece of training for any dog. If the dog has a solid recall, then if the dog is loose, you have a much better chance of getting him to return to you and away from potential harm when you need him to respond quickly.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER NINE: CONTROL IN AND OUT OF DOORWAYS
It is beneficial to have control of your dog when you are entering or leaving a building or car, or when you are approaching a corner, hedges, fences or other barriers that you can’t initially see around to check for potential threats to your reactive dog.
BEHAVIOR NUMBER TEN: NO GUARDING OF PEOPLE, PLACES OR OBJECTS
Guarding people, places or objects is not a safe quality to have in a reactive dog. Many of the things that they may guard, such as toys, food, a certain corner of the house, or a favorite person, may create a dangerous situation. Any person or animal that dares to interact with or move into the reactive dog’s “personal” space can unwittingly cause a reaction from the dog