The Dog Fighter: An Alternative

(Dog Sports Magazine 1/99)

Anyone wishing to contact John may do so at the following address:
Beyond Obedience K9 Training
15 Cliff Court
Succasunna, NJ 07876
(973) 927-7387
Copyright © 1999

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams

Before anyone becomes mislead about the title of this article, it is not about dog fighting. What we will examine is an alternative method to cure a problem commonly known as dog aggression. As any trainer can attest, this is one of the hardest problems to work with, especially for a protection dog. Protection dogs have to have that aggression, that fire, to be good at what they do. So the goal should be to redirect, to channel that aggression, while keeping the dog’s working ability high, and more importantly, not to break their spirit. We will examine methods and techniques to attain this goal, as well as advocating new methods into our training programs for the novice, as well as experienced trainer.

Although there have been many books and articles written on the topic of solving an aggression problem, none are directed at a protection trained dog. Most of the public are without a clue about dog aggression and its positive aspects. How many times have I asked a client, “what if I broke into your house and tried to kill your daughter? NOW is it okay for your dog to show aggression?” “Oh, that’s different,” is the usual response. Oh, “I respond,” well THAT’S what I’m talking about! This is the response of most people unfamiliar with dog training or protection dogs in general. Some trainers are of the school of thought, “hey, as long as he’s trained to protect my home and property, who cares if some of it “spills over” and he is dog aggressive.” I don’t think so. What if you’re out walking your dog, and a little girl appears walking hers across the street. If your dog gets loose and goes after the other dog, think its possible the girl could get nailed in the exchange? You better believe it. How bout if the little girl attempts to run away from your dog and gets hit by a car. Think you’re responsible. You bet. What’s going to happen if the police pull up and see 2 dogs fighting and a child in the middle of the fracas. Think they try a call off with a biscuit in their hand? Guess again. They usually shoot the dog that’s winning. In most cases of an APBT or a Rottweiler, they shoot them period. Still think its okay to have a dog fighter in your house?

The common method of curing or deprogramming your dog aggressive dog is a combination of the following:

1) Obedience training
2) Altered relationship with owner
3) Desensitization/role playing
We all know that obedience training is not a cure for any behavioral problem. The goal of this type of training program is to use many different types of dogs as distractions, and to get your dog aggressive dog to least ignore them. In the case of two dominant males, I would say the best you may get is them ignoring each other from a distance. What you don’t want to do is face them off mano a mano and correct the hell out of them with a prong collar for showing aggression. Oh, and keep the training OFF THEIR PROPERTY. I’ll explain why later.

Another aspect we must examine is the dog/owner relationship. Is the dog being rewarded in some way for being dog aggressive? If the owner does not correct the dog when this is taking place, the answer is yes. If the owner wants a macho type dog to intimidate what he or she can’t, well, this type of person wouldn’t be calling a professional trainer anyway, would they? In many cases I’ve worked, the owner “signals” the dog to show aggression by yanking on the leash at the mere sight of another dog. Although the owner/handler may be doing it for safety reasons, the dog is thinking, “mom’s scared, it must be that dog that made her that way, I’ll fix him!!!! What we should be doing is rewarding the dog at the sight of the dog(or whatever stimulus causes unwanted aggression),and removing those same rewards when the dog is out of sight. It’s role playing, and it works. Now the dog is thinking, “every time I see a dog I get a reward,” instead of getting corrected, hit or yelled at.

Now for the piece de resistance. I’ve never read this anywhere, so it must be my own. For the really hard dog, who refuses to ignore other animals or show any type of improvement in the previously mentioned methods, consider the following: If when training protection dogs to show aggression towards humans, the dog is taught to meet aggression with aggression, then why not let them show aggression towards a DOG that’s showing aggression towards him? Now I’m not saying let them go at it. Consider this scenario: Our dog aggressive pupil is sitting at owners side at heel, a passive dog is walked past him at around 50 feet for starters. Any aggression showed during this exercise is met with a strong correction. Walk past about 5 times just to get the idea firm in his mind. Then bring out a real loud barking dog that WILL go for him, and when he shows aggression this time he is PRAISED. Again go back to passive walk-bys with puppies or submissive dogs, then once in a while a hard dog. Phase out the dogs who want to fight and try to make the submissive one predominant. It’s worked on several dogs I’ve trained recently. And for those of you who don’t agree with rewarding a dog for being dog aggressive in CERTAIN situations, how bout this one: A mother and daughter are having lunch in the yard with their pet Rottweiler. A large stray dog gets into the yard and has his sights on the little girl. Starting to get the picture? The only difference is that while in human protection training, the dog is allowed to bite when the decoy grabs or threatens the handler. But we don’t want the little girl to get bit at all. So if the stray shows ANY forward movement towards her, our Rottie gets the green light. And remember this is on our dog’s property.

So whether it be training or “deprogramming” a dog, try to keep in mind that there are many techniques out there that you’ve never attempted or even heard of, that are not in any books. So don’t give up. Be innovative. Try to create new(?) techniques for your chosen area of expertise. Where do you find them? This one came to me during a training session when I had the dog fighter on a tie out doing a long down while walking dogs past her at a distance. During one walk-by, one of the “decoys” barked at our dog aggressive dog, and she responded in kind. When the owner corrected her I said, “Well that’s different if the dog is going after her.” That’s when the light bulb went off. And that’s when yours will go off. During a training session. So don’t theorize too much. Get out and train and these ideas will come to you. You are only limited by your own imagination.

“One can only see what one observes, and one observes only things which are already in the mind.” – Alphonse Bertillon