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Why is Buddy so Mean?

Updated: Feb 7

This is the question I am most often asked...

People keep asking me, "Why is Buddy so mean". The fact is, Buddy really isn't mean. Buddy is actually a very nice dog. Unfortunately, his upbringing caused him to be extremely afraid to the point that he feels he has no choice but to bite to protect himself from the world - to save his life!

You see, Buddy was isolated from the world for the majority of his life, so everything is very new and scary to him. He doesn't understand all the strange noises, things, and people he sees and as a result, this terrifies him. He is afraid of anything he does not understand (which is most things because he was exposed to very little his entire life) and this fear causes him to think he needs to protect himself. A dog that was neglected and abused has learned to fear everything that is new, and feels their life is in danger when something new is presented to them, so when they are confronted with something new it scares them and they think they must fight for their life, and it doesn't take much for them to reach their threshold due to their fear.

To help illustrate, let me explain how a dog who has been properly managed behaves. A dog that has had a healthy upbringing, one where he/she was socialized properly, introduced to things in the world gradually and at a young age, is much more tolerant of new things because they have learned that new things don't harm them just because they are new. They have a wealth of experience with being presented with the unfamiliar where nothing bad, and even good things, happened.

When a dog with a healthy upbringing encounters something they are uncomfortable with, they will give warning signs using body language such as shaking off, lip licking, pinning their ears back, yawning, etc., to let us know they are uncomfortable. Unfortunately, most people don't "speak dog" and therefore don't recognize these signs, and the signs are often so subtle and occur so fast that even people who do understand them may not notice them. When that happens the dog may feel the need to increase the intensity of their signals because the signals they have already given were not "heard". An increased intensity signal can be something like stiffening the body, intently staring, etc. If these signs are not understood and the dog is still uncomfortable with the situation, he/she may feel the need to increase the intensity further by showing teeth, growling, etc. Unfortunately, when a dog gets to this point, an uneducated owner will correct the dog, teaching the dog that the owner does not want them to give this type of signal. If the owner has not corrected the situation that is making the dog uncomfortable, and the dog is still afraid, the dog may feel there are no other options left and lunge and/or bite in order to protect him/herself. Dogs typically don't go directly to lunging and biting unless the situation is extreme, or unless they have been taught not to give the normal warning signals.

So why does Buddy go directly to the bite instead of giving a warning sign that he is uncomfortable such as growling or showing his teeth? He does this for two reasons. First, after his many years of isolation, the people who came into his life exposed him to (confronted him with) too many new and scary things too fast and all at once so he was continually being quickly overwhelmed causing him to reach his threshold very fast and very often, resulting in him lashing out due to the overwhelming fear he was feeling. Just think about it, if you are terribly afraid of spiders and someone shoves a big, hairy spider in your face you will probably freak out, scream and swing your arms and swat your hands at them, or some similar thing, to protect yourself from this thing you fear. It is no different for a dog. When they are presented with something that they are terribly afraid of they also are going to freak out and react in a way to protect themself. In addition, for the times when Buddy did react with the normal warning signs, they corrected him. When he increased his intensity to growling and showing his teeth, they strongly corrected him. So what he learned is that they don't want him to show warning signs and now he thinks his only option is to go directly to the bite.

Each time the dog gets to the point that he bites, the act of biting as a solution is reinforced as being appropriate in the dogs mind and it starts to become muscle memory (in other words, a reflex; see my blog post "Rehab 6 - The Experience Bank" for a detailed discussion of this). Things can escalate from here with the attacks becoming more intense each time until the situation is out of control. The more this happens the harder it is to rehabilitate the dog to a point where they can be considered "safe" (although after a dog has gotten to the point of biting, they will never be 100% safe).

This is how someone can end up teaching their dog to bite without realizing that is what they are doing. Many aggressive dogs are aggressive for this reason. It is completely avoidable if one understands how to read a dogs signals, and if proper handling and training methods are used in the first place.

Unfortunately, many people (and unfortunately some dog trainers) are not aware of how to properly handle and train a dog so we end up with dogs who become aggressive simply due to improper training and handling.

So, in conclusion, Buddy is not mean. He unfortunately was isolated for the first 5-6 years of his life, not properly introduced to the world or socialized. Then he was suddenly thrust into the world and subjected to a string of bad situations and circumstances, coupled with improper handling and training, which ultimately caused him to fear the world and think his only option was to bite to protect himself from the "dangers" that were threatening his life. Buddy is not mean, he is extremely fearful.

I invite you to read the other blog posts where I am detailing his history and the efforts thus far toward his rehabilitation. This is a very long story so please stay tuned and check in often as I unfold it for you. I am hopeful that sharing his story will help prevent other dogs from being put in a similar situation, and will help people know what to do if they find themself with an aggressive dog.

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

If you don't want to make a purchase but still would like to help, you can make a donation here. Any amount helps!

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.

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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