The Most Aggressive Breed?

You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.  - Benjamin Hoff

Credit: Angelina Litvin

Credit: Angelina Litvin

I posted a photo on the Darwin Dogs Facebook page recently.  I found it excessively humorous.  What do you think?

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

So many veterinarians, vet techs, dog lovers, etc. responded with laughter and a knowing nod of their heads.  Some even countered with “Dachshunds”.  One idiot tried to claim that Pitbulls were on the top of that list.  As usual with anything I post on Facebook, I had a PM sent to me offering dissent:

I would like to ask that you take down and/or address this post. I really don’t find it fair to perpetuate stereotypes about any breed of dog, particularly as someone people look to for advice on these sorts of things.

At first blush,  it would appear that the author is correct.  But what they are confusing is three separate issues, or as I like to put it, Why I Have A Career Dog Training.  Because let’s face it, if it weren’t for these three issues, nobody would need help with their dog’s behaviors. So let’s tease this out:  are Chihuahuas inherently aggressive?

 

ISSUE 1:
YOU HAVE A PUREBRED, BUT UNDERESTIMATED BREED STANDARDS

The dissenter was annoyed that I was perpetuating  a stereotype of a breed standard.  But as I have stated many times, I’m not against breed profiling; I’m against inaccurate breed profiling.  Let’s face it, if I wanted a dog to herd cattle, I wouldn’t be looking at a poodle. If I wanted a dog to clean out all the vermin in my farm, I wouldn’t want a Staffie (honestly, most pitbulls would count them as their new friends).

dec15c

So obviously this is profiling breeds.  So is the fact that I will NEVER get another Shepherd mix from the shelter…

I love my Sparta so much, but I long to wear white clothes again without fur.  Or any clothes without fur. Or coffee without fur...or PB&J.

I currently own two Roomba vacuums in addition to my upright vac.

Of course you can state that how much a breed sheds is only a profile of their physical attributes, but let’s delve deeper.

- If I were to mention a dog that likes is obsessed with water, would you be able to come up with a breed off the top of your head? Maybe a Lab or a Golden.

- If I asked what dog is good at guarding flocks, Great Pyrenees immediately come to mind for me.

- What about dogs who tend to have a very high prey drive?  Jack Russells, and Irish Terriers immediately come to mind.

Now, does that mean all Labs love water?  No.  Only the vast majority.  Are they the only dog who likes water?  Obviously not.  But love of the water is what they were bred to have. Pyrenees were bred to be, according to the AKC:

“In nature, the Great Pyrenees is confident, gentle, and affectionate. While territorial and protective of his flock or family when necessary, his general demeanor is one of quiet composure, both patient and tolerant. He is strong willed, independent”

And while I have no use for the AKC due to their love of registering dogs, but disdain for actually stepping  up for animal welfare (**cough cough** PUPPY MILLS **cough cough), they do have a rather succinct description for each  breed’s general temperament.  And honestly, I’ve found most of these to be spot on. Side note:  I love that when describing Pyrenees, they used the word “independent” rather than “stubborn”.  I hate the word stubborn.

So when someone calls me and asks me for help with their Border Collie who is destroying everything in their house, I know to start by discussing Activity and Work.  Are you giving your Border Collie enough exercise to equal herding sheep for 8 hours a day? Are you using the right dog for the right job?  Didn’t think so. What kind of mind games are you giving to your Border Collie, the dogs I call the Hermione Grangers of the dog world?  None?  Well, there’s your problem.

So don’t get a Jack Russell if you enjoy squirrels in your yard.  Or do…just realize you will be spending a lot of time Piloting them (unless you enjoy the sound of squirrels screaming, you twisted monster).  Which leads me to the second, bigger reason why people need help with their dog’s behaviors.

ISSUE 2:
YOU TREAT YOUR DOG AS A BREED RATHER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL

Wait, didn’t I just state that breed standards are important?  Yes, they are.  Especially for purebred dogs that you didn’t get from a puppy mill (sorry, if you got your dog in “Amish Country” or from a pet store, it’s a puppy mill dog). Reputable breeders strive to maintain healthy breed standards.   But there are always outliers.  The Border Collie who is terrified of sheep.  The Lab who hates water (haven’t met one yet, though).  It’s like the kid whose parents are forcing him to major in medicine because he comes from a long line of doctors.  They failed to notice that the child has no brains in their fingers, and will therefore never make a great surgeon.  Plus the fact the poor kid faints at the sight of blood.  But no child of mine will be a writer!  Med school for you, boy!

This is a big reason why I love shelter dogs.  Most of the time they are Frankenmutts.  It’s exceptionally difficult to determine their breed(s) without DNA tests.  And even then, they tend to look like a Pollock painting of different breeds, with no single breed comprising more than 8% of said dog.

 

His owner stated:Boxer/pit/husky??? That's our best guess anyway. He is the #3leggedwonderdog. He runs agility with me and amazes everyone that meets him

His owner stated: Boxer/pit/husky??? That’s our best guess anyway. He is the #3leggedwonderdog. He runs agility with me and amazes everyone that meets him

ISSUE 3:
YOU AREN’T PILOTING  YOUR DOG ENOUGH

Your dog doesn't want to be Pilot.

Your dog doesn’t want to be Pilot.

Lack of Piloting is the huge issue my clients have.  What is Piloting?  Essentially answering your dog’s questions.  For example, my Sparta:

Sparta:  Can I kill our new cat?

Me: Um….no.

Ta-da!  I answer her question.  Now, the more you Pilot, the easier it gets.  When I first got our cat Echo many, many years ago, Sparta did want to kill him.  So I took things easy, and answered every single one of her questions.  Years later, they are kindred spirits and often hang out together.  But it took a while before I felt I had Piloted Sparta enough to start to trust (let alone anticipate) my answers.  Because that is the ultimate goal of Piloting:  to help them anticipate the answer.

About 3 years ago I brought in another kitten.  While I still had to Pilot Sparta around the newbie, it wasn’t nearly as arduous as when I got Echo.  Not only had Sparta and I been through the whole ordeal previously, but there was another three years worth of random questions I had answered for Sparta in between getting those two cats.  Can I eat out of the litter box?  No, Sparta.  Can I play rope toy roughly? Not right now, Sparta.  Is the postman a threat? No, Sparta.  Do  you want me to be calm when I see a squirrel in the yard?  Yes Sparta!  Nice job!

So each question I answer for her is “money” out of her Piloting Piggy Bank.  It goes into my Piloting Piggy Bank.  And remember, whoever has the most money wins.  Let’s also bear in mind what the definition of “anxiety” is:

Anxiety: noun
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

In other words, fear of the unknown…unanswered questions. Start Piloting your dog.  Most people don’t understand that their dogs need to have Piloting.  Or if they have an idea, they don’t understand how to tell their dog that the mailman isn’t going to kill them.  But if your dog actively shirks from new people, or they are inherently suspicious of other dogs, I don’t care what breed of dog they are, or what the breed standard says they should be: don’t force Wally the Golden Retriever to be a therapy dog just because a lot of therapy dogs are Golden Retrievers! Work with the dog you have, not the breed you bought.

Photo: Alice Dote

Photo: Alice Dote

Those are the three reasons why a dog owner parent may call me for help with their dogs behaviors.  So let’s apply that to the original issue:  that meme.

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

Why Chihuahuas? Why did so many people share this, and laugh and agree?  Because it’s true.  There were some of you who voted for Dachshunds, too…for the same reasons I’m about to write about below.

ISSUE 1:
YOU HAVE A PUREBRED, BUT UNDERESTIMATED BREED STANDARDS

What does the AKC have to say about Chihuahuas?

General Appearance: A graceful, alert, swift-moving compact little dog with saucy expression, and with terrier-like qualities of temperament.

Temperament: Alert, projecting the ‘terrier-like’ attitudes of self importance, confidence, selfreliance [sic]

Meaning, they won’t accept an answer from you Because You Said So. Remember, you need to have a good reason why your answer is better than theirs.  And “I’m The Human” doesn’t cut it.

ISSUE 2:
YOU TREAT YOUR DOG AS A BREED RATHER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL

Fifi is a Chihuahua.  Not a doll. Not the child you always wanted. She is a full grown dog.  Maybe she’s more frightened of loud noises than most Chihuahuas you’ve known.  Maybe she’s not as “terrier like” as the AKC describes Chihuahuas.  That shouldn’t matter.  You aren’t Piloting a breed standard.  You are Piloting Fifi.  Now do your job.  The job you have.  Not the job you want.  I never wanted a dog-reactive dog.  But Sparta has always had a lot of questions about other dogs.  Does that make her bad or aggressive?  No.  It means she has a question that as her Pilot, I’m accountable to answer.  And I do.

ISSUE 3:
YOU AREN’T PILOTING  YOUR DOG ENOUGH

As seen from the general breed standard description above, Chihuahuas don’t need your help.  Fortunately, though, like all dogs, they are logical.  If you have a better answer, they are more than willing to hear it and act upon it…if it seems logical to them.  The beauty of a dog is that they are able to change their minds based upon new information, just like  Facebook arguments no human ever.  So your Chihuahua, Fifi, is asking you if  you need to be protected from your 5 year old grandchild who just came over for a hug.

What you see:

What Fifi sees:

You didn’t answer Fifi’s question, namely, “Is Reagan/Demon Child going to kills us?”, and the absence of “no” is “yes”.  Therefore Fifi is protecting you.  Sure you yelled at Fifi. You ranted at Fifi.  But all you did was prove that you are not in control of yourself enough to answer anybody’s questions.  By default you asked Fifi to protect you, so she did.  Is Fifi aggressive?  Resoundingly no! Fifi merely handled the situation as appropriately as she could, based upon the information she was given.   Learn to Pilot your dog, so poor Fifi doesn’t have to be The Destroyer of Ankles. 

Learn the Piloting position.  If you have Fifi in a position to protect you, on your lap, facing said stranger, then she will protect you.  Don’t ask for protection via body language, because Fifi will indeed protect you.  And she’ll do a good job of it!

Less of this:

Please don't do The Pretzel.

Please don’t do The Pretzel.

More of this:

RuPaul knows: posture counts!

RuPaul knows: posture counts!

But *never* do this:

You look stupid, Riker.

True Piloting from a seated position.


So your posture is truly important, especially in a seated position with a dog on your lap. I have a friend who is a vet.  She introduced me to the term “Lap Shark”.  We all know them.  They aren’t exclusive to Chihuahuas by any means, but are almost entirely comprised of dogs who weigh less than 7 pounds who are always perched jauntily upon their owners laps.  Now, I love hanging with my dogs, and more often than not, that includes lap-time.  But there’s a difference between hanging out for cuddles and a dog who is staking a claim upon me, and letting others know that I’m their human.

Unfortunately, it seems as if Chihuahuas bear the brunt of this.  Are they aggressive by nature?  As a breed, no!  No more so than any other dog.  But if they don’t have answers to their questions about your/their safety, of course they are going to react!

So please, stop asking your dog to protect you!  I’ve never actually met a truly aggressive dog.  There is no such thing.  All there are is dogs who have never been Piloted for the situation they have been thrust in. Dogs who have accidentally asked to Pilot and protect.   A dog who is doing the best they can, and sometimes that means teeth.  Believe me, I’ve been bitten many times, but never by what I’d determine an “aggressive dog”.

If a dog tells you they are going to bite, they are going to bite. The beauty of dogs is that they never lie.  So when little Fifi is sitting on Grandma’s lap snarling, she is telling you that if you come closer, she will be forced to bite you. But since she’s such a small dog, nobody takes her seriously, and the human forces the issue.  Nobody would do this with a larger dog.  Poor Fifi is a victim of her size.

So the bottom line:  are Chihuahuas more likely to bite than other dogs?  Possibly.  I’ve been bit by more Chihuahuas than any other breed of dog.  I work with more Chihuahuas than I do Sharpeis or Borzois, simply because of the popularity of Chihuahuas. However, as far as dog breeds go, who is set up for failure more than any other dogs?  Arguably Chihuahuas.  The numbers alone are against them:  born in a puppy mill.  Sent to a home where they want The Perfect Little Dog, but aren’t willing to Pilot their little Fifi.  Treated like trinkets and dolls rather than capable, independent beings.  Not given activity, mental work.  Never given credit for having minds of their own. And worst of all, being asked to protect themselves from all forms of danger, most of it on an order of magnitude, 50 times their size!!!! So why are Chihuahuas No. 1 on that list? 

Because we put them there.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training In Cleveland, Ohio

 

Foundations – Learning to Pilot Your Dog

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

Edward Hoagland

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

There’s nothing I hate more than people punishing their dogs.  There is no point to it. Punishment is merely a method of retribution, and that concept would never occur to a dog.  Dog’s mostly live in the here and now.  They don’t dwell on what wrong has been done to them, or the need for retaliation.  Dog’s will address a misstep, and then move on.

Some people believe that dogs are mute - they aren’t.  They just happen to communicate in a way we sometimes overlook:  body language.  However, dogs ask questions all the time!  Usually when your dog does something “bad”, it’s because you didn’t answer their question.  ”Can I have that piece of steak on the table?”  ”Is that mailman gonna eat us?” You MUST answer their question.  Now, here’s the easy part:  dogs are binary creatures.  They ask “yes” and “no” questions.  They don’t have another option.  “Fido, wanna go for a walk?”  YesyesyesYES!  “OK Fido, where do you want to go?”  Blank stare.  *crickets chirping*   Fido can’t answer a questions that isn’t yes or no.

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Answer their questions before really bad things happen – photo Twigg Studios

Communication is the key.  Reward the behaviors you want with praise, treat or just a gentle pat on the head.  Answer “no” to the unsavory behaviors want using their form of communication: body language.

So let’s put it all together.

There are only 3 things your dog needs: Piloting, Activity and Work. Or, as we like to call it, the PAW method. Notice I did not say, coddling, kissing and affection. To work with your dog’s behavior, give your dog what they need: Piloting, Activity and Work.  After you have given your dog what they need, then you can give them what you want: love, affection, praise,…namely, the good stuff.

Love and affection:  the only reason you should have a dog.  Piloting, Activity and Work: how you manage your dog.   Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Love and affection: the only reason you should have a dog. Piloting, Activity and Work: how you manage your dog.
Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Piloting

Why do we call it Piloting?  Well, imagine you are on a plane.  It’s just you and the pilot, and all of a sudden the pilot suddenly becomes unconscious and you have to fly the plane.  How do you feel? Terrified? Anxious? Overwhelmed? That’s how your dog feels without a “pilot” of his own. The world is a scary place, and not everything makes sense to them.

Quit frankly, my dog is scared of her own farts, and most dogs (including yours) are still trying to figure out peanut butter

Quit frankly, my dog is scared of her own farts, and most dogs (including yours) are still trying to figure out peanut butter

So, let’s say the pilot wakes up while you’re still trying to fly the plane. What do you do? You’d probably let him fly the plane again right? Same thing with your pup. If you show that you can be Pilot, and that they can trust you, they will gladly hand over the controls and let you take care of them.

Piloting starts with confidence and body language. Make sure you are holding yourself in a tall and confident manner when answering questions for your dog. If you look confident, your dog will believe you are confident.  Women tend to sit and stand in an “S” shape. We tend to cross our arms and legs, which makes us seem less intimidating more nurturing. Men tend to sit and stand in a “T” shape. They take up lots of room and spread out. Make your body more of a “T” shape to help with your confident body language. Think of it as a uniform you are putting on when you need to Pilot your dog.  Make sure to stay calm as well. Adding tension and anger to the situation will not help. If you need to, step away for a few minutes. Then come back when you are calm and ready to interact with your dog.

Confident body language helps answer those questions your dog has been asking you constantly. Your pup is always asking you “yes” and “no” questions. Can I have this treat? Can I sit on the couch? Can I have some of your dinner? And more importantly: Is the person at the door a threat? Is that garbage can a threat? Is that other dog a threat?

The absence of “no” is “yes”. If you’re not answering your dog’s questions, then you are essentially telling them “yes”. (If you’ve ever raised teenagers, you know what I’m talking about.  “You never said I couldn’t!”)

Use your body language to answer these questions. If your dog is staring at a treat on the floor and then at you, he’s asking if he can have it. If you do not want your dog to have it yet, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him.  Imagine your dog is a lot taller, and you are trying to push him back from the treat using your stomach.  Remember, you are only answering one question, “Can I have the treat?”.  The body language you are using is telling him “no”.  As soon as he’s no longer engaged with the treat (i.e., staring at it or moving towards it),  remove your strong body language.  Take a step back.  He may ask the same question again immediately:  give him the same answer, (“no”) using your body language again, always removing your body language when he is no longer engaged with the treat, and adding it back when he does become engaged again.  Think of it as a giant game of Hot & Cold.

Now, if you want him to have the treat, just don’t say no. If you decide you want him to have it, you can just remove your body language from the situation.  You are no longer telling him “no”.   Remember, the absence of “no” is “yes”.

This is the same method you would use when answering the door. The question is “Is the person at the door a threat?”  Let your pup know that the answer is “no”, by making sure you are answering the door and not your dog. Pretend the door is the treat you had on the floor previously.  You are answering your dog’s question: “Need help with the door?”.  The answer is “no”.  Simply back them away from the door to give yourself some personal space (hint: you don’t need to back them up across the house, a few feet away from the door should do it!).  Now, nail them to that spot with your finger and your eyeballs (aka, the “Mom Look”), and back towards the door.  If they follow you, simply back them up again.  Wash, rinse, repeat, until you have a calmer situation to answer the door.

Calm can take a few tries.  Don't worry - you'll get there.

Calm can take a few tries. Don’t worry – you’ll get there.

The more you show your dog that you are capable of being in control and the Pilot, the more your dog will be able to relax and actually be a dog. He’ll look to you for guidance instead of feeling as though he needs to protect you and your family from every garbage can, dog and plastic bag in the neighborhood.

Activity

The second thing that is needed is Activity. Dogs, like wolves, need activity daily. Walking on a daily basis gives them their sense of roaming that they would get if they were in a wolf pack. Each day a wolf pack hikes miles to and from a hunt. Your pup has this same instinct. It’s important that they get activity every day, and the amount they often require is a lot more than you think.

Some ways to enhance your Activity time is to invest in a backpack for your pup. You can find them on Amazon and it’s a great way to make your dog feel like they have a “job”. Don’t place any more than 3% of their body weight (at max! – start very small) in the pack and make sure it’s something that won’t hurt them.  For example, water bottles tend to slap them in the ribs with every step.  I prefer bags of beans, rice or coffee grounds.

Although you’ll be going the same distance, it will feel a little longer to your pup, which is always a good thing!

Fetch and playtime outside and at a dog park are great additional ways to get in activity. But the walk is so very important because it gives you an opportunity to work on your Piloting and it helps them with their roaming instinct, even if it is just in your neighborhood.

Work

The third part of the PAW Method is Work. Your pup needs mental work daily. Think of it this way, if you drive the same route home every day it becomes monotonous and easy for you. However, if there is a ton of traffic on that same route, you’re a lot more tired when you get home because there was a lot more mental work that went into that drive home. Your pup needs to feel that mentally tired. Otherwise, they’re bored. And boredom leads to finding things to keep them busy. And that leads to your grandmother’s quilt being torn up.

Stress is a good thing.  I want them to have a lot of stress in their life, because when you eliminate that stress, you get confidence.  Think of the confidence boost you get when you complete a project, or finish a crossword.  Benevolent stress = self-confidence.

An easy way to get some mental work in for your pup is to use an enrichment feeder. Such as a Kong Wobbler or Busy Buddy Twist N Feed. These feeders make your dog think about how to get the food out as opposed to just waiting for you to poor it out of a bag, which is dull, boring and EASY. By making them work for their food, it adds some mental work into their day and doesn’t add anytime to yours as you are going to feed them anyways.

Other things you can do for some mental work are playing “find it” games. To start, show your dog a treat, then put it down on the other end of the room in plain sight. When you release your dog repeat the phrase “find it” over and over until they get to the treat and then praise like crazy. Then move on to hiding the treat so it’s behind something, repeat “find it” and praise again. Then move on to using one of their favorite toys.  This is a good way to get some more mental work in.

Remember, your dog is family.  Sometimes family really sucks.

Okay, hopefully not THIS bad

Okay, hopefully not THIS bad

…but we can’t expect our relationships with our pets to be all sunshine and lollipops.  Sometimes we need to answer questions.  Sometimes it feels like they will never be housebroken (the dog, not the family).  But that’s why we Pilot our dogs.  That’s why we set them up for success with plenty of Activity and Work.  To make those moments less and less frequent.  And no, your dog isn’t perfect (mine sure aren’t), but we work together perfectly, understanding each others’ flaws, and not just loving each other in spite of them, but embracing them as part of who they are.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio