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Buddy goes to School

Updated: Feb 7

Part 3A - Buddy gets an education, but what is he really learning?

Before I begin, I want to make very clear what my intentions for this post (and this blog) are, and what they are not. I will start with what my intentions are NOT. The methods described below are typical of what many people, who are not knowledgeable or appropriately trained in animal behavior, believe to be an appropriate way to handle an aggressive dog. Unfortunately, these methods are proven not only not to be helpful, but also to be detrimental to the success of rehabilitation and likely to cause the aggression to escalate. Because of this, it is NOT my intention to criticize, shame, or otherwise embarrass those who were involved in Buddy’s past. I truly believe these people thought they were doing the right thing. Unfortunately, they were inexperienced and did not understand the importance of seeking the advice of a Veterinary Behaviorist, who would have advised them in the proper methods.

My intention IS to bring awareness to the issue of dog aggression, some of its causes, and to educate on how to proceed if one finds themself in a situation where their dog becomes aggressive, using Buddy's story as an illustration.

One additional thing I would like to note, and please stick with me here... This is something I was taught a long time ago, and it has served me well in my life.

“Before you can learn, you first have to be willing to admit what you don't know.”

If you are too proud, and too stubborn, to admit you don’t know something and need to learn, you will never be able to open your mind sufficiently to learning. There is strength in seeking knowledge, and humbling yourself to allow yourself to attain that knowledge is a very powerful thing. You have to have sufficient self-confidence in order to be able to do this, however, so if you are someone who has trouble saying 'I don't know', this might be something for you to think about. In life, and especially in a situation with an aggressive dog,

“fake it 'til you make it” is not the way to go.

And one more thing, we all make mistakes, and we all have things we need to learn. But when we make mistakes, it is important to be able to admit we did so and then to take action to seek out the information necessary to learn from those mistakes, and then correct those mistakes. To translate that to this situation, if you find you have an aggressive dog and/or that your methods either caused or escalated the aggression (and chances are they did), it is important that you realistically admit what occurred, the errors you made, and then go get professional help so YOU can correct the problem. Don’t try to rehome your dog because you now have a difficult situation. Pushing the problem off onto someone else never solves it. In fact, rehoming the dog will likely make the problem worse due to the dog now being forced into an unfamiliar environment which will only cause the dog more stress and anxiety, escalating the aggression and causing potential harm to whoever the dog is rehomed with.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no-one sitting around waiting to get your aggressive dog to rehabilitate. There aren't people who want to do this. Just think about it, if someone came to you and asked you to take their aggressive dog off their hands, would you want to spend all the time and money (and it is ALOT) to rehabilitate a dog that someone else caused to be aggressive? I HIGHLY doubt it!!!! You would probably think they needed to solve the problem they created, not push it off onto you. So why would anyone else think differently; why would anyone else WANT to take your aggressive dog and rehabilitate it? People who do take these dogs on do so because they see them being abandoned and have a great heart - believe me when I tell you that they (and I) really don't want to have to rehab the dog, we do it out of a sense of duty, not out of a desire to make such a great sacrifice.

If you have an aggressive dog, You CAN and SHOULD be the one to rehabilitate your dog. Anyone, and I mean Anyone can rehabilitate a dog, as long as they are willing to seek the proper professionals for guidance, and as long as they are willing to spend the necessary time (and money) and do the necessary work. Get help from a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.

Just a note: For those who are going to say you don't have the money, I can tell you that I have heard that before and then after I ended up with their dog and all it's expenses which caused me to have to make great sacrifices in order to pay the expenses and spend the time doing the rehab, I have seen these people go on vacations, buy expensive non-essential items, get another dog, etc. So it wasn't that they didn't have the money, it was that they chose not to spend their money on their aggressive dog, but instead chose to push it off onto someone they thought should have to make this sacrifice for them. And for those who really don't have the money, get creative - sell something, get a part time job, see if there are resources you can tap into to get financial assistance; your dog is your responsibility. Dogs are expensive even if they are not aggressive, so it is important to make sure you have the money to properly care for them before you get a dog.

Ok, enough of that, now onto Buddy’s schooling.

I don’t know all the details of Buddy’s schooling, other than the few things I was told. I did ask the trainer involved repeatedly for his training records, but that information was never provided to me. What I was told is that Buddy was in a 4-week training class while he was with Owner #2; typically those classes are basic obedience so I can only guess this is the type of class Buddy was in. Whether or not he was in the class with other dogs, or was the only dog in the class, I do not know.

Don’t get me wrong, "obedience" training is a useful tool, and it often teaches the owner as much as it teaches the dog. Unfortunately, it is not the type of training Buddy needed to overcome his fears and the resulting aggression. While it can be used as a tool in the rehabilitation process, "obedience" training on its own will not solve aggression.

Toy Aggression (aka Toy Guarding, Resource Guarding, etc.)

I asked both the trainer and Owner #2 how they handled Buddy’s toy aggression and what type of training they did to help him overcome it. I was told by both the trainer and Owner #2 they would take the toys away and “take ownership” of the toys to make Buddy understand that he owns nothing, and that they, as the dominant pack leader, owned and controlled everything. They also said, when they would give Buddy a toy they would soon take it away to teach him he has to be ok with people taking his toys from him. There was no process, or trade, or reward offered for Buddy to relinquish the toy, they would just take it away and they thought he should be ok with that. When Buddy wasn't ok with that, they thought continuing to take the toy away would cause him to get used to it and then to eventually be ok with it. Both explained that when they did these exercises Buddy would act possessive of the toy and snap or otherwise act aggressively toward them, and they also stated they knew that was how he was going to react. They both told me that because of this, the solution was to take all toys away from Buddy because he had to learn that they were the dominant pack member and they controlled Buddy’s toys. Buddy had to learn his place.

The way Owner #2 and the trainer handled this situation did not help, but instead it escalated the problem. Please read the next blog post ( for a detailed explanation of why their method was wrong, and what method they should have used to help get Buddy over his toy aggression.

Aggression toward People

I asked how they handled situations where Buddy showed aggression to people. I was told they would make him “submit”. They explained this was an important thing Buddy needed to do as he needed to understand that he was not the alpha of the pack, they were, and Buddy had to learn to submit to them. A situation was described to me where Buddy had gotten aggressive toward someone. Buddy was in a room with one person and all was calm. A second person entered the room. I am told the second person either startled or somehow scared Buddy and Buddy reacted aggressively and attacked the second person. Both people involved told me that Buddy was clearly acting out of fear. They got the trainer who took Buddy’s leash and, as the trainer described it to me, had a 10 minute “standoff” with Buddy. He said “it took that long to get him to submit". Buddy had stopped attacking (the attack was very short lived), but the trainer required Buddy to submit to him as well, acknowledging the trainers as dominant and the alpha in the situation. Exactly what the trainer wanted Buddy do to I do not know, but often times when people say submit, they are expecting the dog to roll over.

The two methods described above, when used with a fearful dog, will guarantee you an aggressive dog. In the next blog post I will explain why.

Be sure to read the next blog post, which explains why these methods didn't work and what methods should have been used. You can find that post by clicking this link:

If you would like to support Buddy's Dream and our mission:

You can feel good knowing that every cent of your purchase goes directly to pay Buddy's rehabilitation expenses.

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A Valuable Resource

If you are interested in learning more about dog behavior, here is a link to an excellent book written by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. I highly recommend everyone who has a dog, or is thinking about getting a dog, read this book. You will be glad you did.

Stay tuned for Part 3B – Why didn’t Buddy’s School Lessons help him?

Note and disclaimer: All information in the blog posts on this site is my opinion based on my own experience rehabilitating an aggressive dog. I am not a professional behaviorist or otherwise involved in the Veterinary profession. If you are dealing with an aggressive dog, I recommend you seek the advice of a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.

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