Recently, we asked on our facebook page if anyone had a specific behavioral or training question. We received some great questions. Lesley M’s chosen question was, “Why does my dog growl and bite at her sister when she sees another dog?”
Your Dog’s Mind When He Passes His Threshold
When a dog becomes fixated on a stimulus, such as another dog on the side of the street, his mind cannot think clearly until that trigger is out of sight, or reach. You might see it in his body. He becomes incredibly tense and focused, like a ticking time bomb. He no longer listens or even hears you. And if he can’t get to what is bothering him, the slightest touch from you (and sometimes even your presence), or another family pet within reach, can be on the receiving end of that pent up tension and frustration. The dog sometimes redirects this in the form of aggression towards a handler, or in this case another family dog.
What Your Dog Isn’t Thinking
Unfortunately, our human brains are bewilderedly thinking, can’t my dog see that that is her sibling, or MY arm he’s biting?! The answer is, no, not at that point. Your dog’s adrenaline and stress responses are off the charts and the best thing you could possibly do is remove him from the situation as safely and quickly as you can.
What Training Can Do
The goal of training a dog like this is that we slowly desensitize the dog, while rewarding calm and casual behaviors. The dog gets what he wants, which may be more space away from his trigger initially, or a high value treat, or toy while learning alternative behaviors that we want. Ultimately, this also involves a more positive association with the stimulus that once triggered aggression. Example of a goal: casually walking by another dog while out on walks.
Effective training cannot happen when a dog is past its personal threshold, or breaking point. That should be called “damage control.” Physical corrections are also ineffective. Physical corrections before and particularly AFTER the dog responds in a way that we do not want (lunging, barking, biting) simply says, “Yes, keep that up, that object IS harmful and worth your reaction.” It may at first stop the dog, suppress the negative reaction, or at worst make the dog even more reactive. It simply does not allow the dog to see this trigger object in a new light, but continually reinforces his bad behavior.
If you have questions, or need help, please contact us.
Written By: Laura Neiheisel