I remember my mum telling me when I was young…
“You know what I love about you, Dan? You always look after the kids that are weak and need help.” She wasn’t talking about dogs at the time, but it’s true.
And I guess I haven’t changed!
My heart always wants to reach out and help. This morning I was able to help a sea bird injured on the beach, and I often rescue honey bees I find lying exhausted around the property. All they need is a little sugar solution and a place to rest before heading off in the morning back to their hive.
I’ve always loved the underdog… Buck, a dog I’ve had the privilege of working with, is one of those “underdogs” who totally captured my heart. He’s a dog I learned a lot from…and I think you will too.
So, before you continue, check out this quick video clip of me working with Buck.
Now that you’ve watched the video, I thought I’d share with you a few things that come to mind as I look back at my time with Buck about aggression, fear and the ability that dogs have to change.
Did Buck try to bite me?
No. If he had wanted to, he would have got me. Trust me…a dog’s bite is lightning quick, and it rarely misses the mark.
So why did Buck growl and snap?
Buck’s growl and snap were simply to warn me off because he was unsure and didn’t want me to stroke him anymore.
It was nothing more.
If you watch it closely, there is no way he is trying to bite. He simply growls and turns his head towards me. Remember dogs don’t speak English, so it’s very easy to misinterpret them.
Dogs will often growl like this at another dog if they get too close to their food or invade their space…it’s how they communicate.
Could the incident have been avoided?
With hindsight (video replays are great!), if I had been watching more closely, I might have picked up on what was going to happen and chosen not to pat Buck. However, most dogs when you call them over are happy to have this sort of interaction.
However, knowing what we do about Buck’s past, we need to look after him more than most dogs.
How does Buck feel after the snap?
The fact that Buck stays next to me after the incident and is so relaxed and happy says it all.
He likes me. He wants to hang out next to me; however, right now he doesn’t want to get too familiar, which is perfectly fine. By the end of the clip, he is relaxed in my presence, and he chooses to lie next to me.
In a way, he’s telling me that he’d like to slow the relationship down!
Overall, it’s a great result!
Stuck in the Past
It’s so easy to feel sorry for dear Buck; however, we need to move on from the past and not keep spoiling him because we think of him as ‘poor Buck’. This sort of thinking will leave him as poor Buck forever. Dogs have a very uncanny ability to sense energy and how we are feeling.
If we want to help him get over his aggression and fear, we must start visualising him as a confident boy. Then that’s what he’ll start to feel.
Do we need to tell him off for snapping?
No. Snapping is his way of saying back off. It’s how dogs communicate, so I would listen and learn from that.
If Buck had actually bitten me, then that’s different and yes, I would suggest that we should pop him into time-out to show him that what he did was unacceptable.
A short time-out is more powerful than telling him off verbally–a calm consistent consequence to his actions is what he needs. Not some verbal abuse that leaves everybody stressed.
Let’s remember Buck’s reaction wasn’t one that came out of meanness or aggression. He got nervous and possibly went a bit over the top when he asked me to stop.
In the words of one great horseman…
‘You have to let a horse (dog) make mistakes, they can’t be too scared to make mistakes.’ – Buck Brannaman
The Cause of Buck’s Problem
The socialization period of a puppy is usually classed as the period from 4 to 12 weeks of age.
This has a huge impact on what associations a puppy will make. So, if a dog has good experiences with humans, he will learn to trust them. However, if he doesn’t, then it’s likely that he won’t.
(Struggling with a puppy biting right now? Check out my Puppy Coach training program!)
Buck didn’t get the best start, and that is partly why he’s so fearful around humans.
The issue is also made worse when a dog like Buck feels he is responsible for protecting the pack and the home. This can put incredible stress on him as he may not feel like he’s cut out for the job, leaving him jumpy, fearful and potentially aggressive.
So, there’s a lot more work required to help Buck trust humans again.
How to Help a Dog Who Is Fearful of People
In order to help a dog that fears people, you must first gain his trust.
Here are some of the key things to bear in mind to helping a dog like this learn to trust again.
1. Provide fearful dogs with strong leadership. It’s important for Buck to know that you are in charge, that you are the protector, the defender of the property and decision maker. Once he understands this, he can switch off, relax and leave all that decision making to you when visitors come round.
2. Learn to reward calm energy. When your dog is barking or growling or very fearful, the best thing is to stay calm yourself. You want to avoid talking in a high voice saying things like ‘It’s okay Buck, it’s alright, nobody’s going to hurt you.’ This only adds fuel to the fire. If a dog is stressed, stay silent and move him away to a place where he can relax.
3. Set him up to win. Fearful dogs need a safe space where they can feel confident and relaxed. For that reason, it’s important to control the environment in which the dog is in. In Buck’s case, if a situation arises where there are lots of people, and young kids turning up, it’s best to move him into a back room where he is safe, and you get through without an incident until he is up to it.
4. Choose carefully the people that the dog meets. When you want a naturally fearful dog to meet a person, make sure that the person is a calm person. In fact, the best person is the one who is happy to come round and pretty much ignore the dog and then leave. Stay away from people who want to go over to him and get into his space. And yes, this usually includes some ‘dog lovers’!
5. Take it slowly. Fearful dogs, like Buck, need time, and there is no rush, so play it safe. Don’t put a dog in a stressful situation until you know he can handle it. Time is on your side…so use it to your advantage.
If you’re interested in learning more ways to work with dogs that have different types of aggression issues, I invite you to request more information about my Dog Trainer Academy program!
Get more info on the Dog Trainer Academy program.
If you’re not interested in becoming a dog trainer, but are still looking for easy, effective, and practical ways to get your dog to listen and respond when it matters most, I invite you to check out my program called The Dog Calming Dog.
Cheers for now, and look after your wonderful dog!
~Doggy Dan 🙂