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

 

Stranger Danger – Helping Anxious Dogs Around Strangers

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.

Shirley MacLaine

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

“My dog is aggressive towards strangers.

“My dog is fearful.”

“My dog is skittish.”

I hear these phrases constantly.  Some dogs are goofy, fun-loving balls of affection who have never met a stranger.  Then we have dogs who have what I call a healthy sense of self-preservation.  My Orion used to be like that.

No, Orion wasn’t abused, which is a common misconception with dogs such as these.  As humans we try to rationalize and explain behavior.  It must have a cause!  Something precise that has caused our dogs to be wary of the world.

But the world doesn’t work like that.  For example, my daughter, River, is the most fun-loving, outgoing creature I have ever met.  She explained to the pizza delivery guy a few days ago that if he ever encountered a monster, she’d protect him.  She then gave him a hug.  River is the equivalent of a pittie:  the life of the party who thrives on any type of human interaction.

My son Eric is completely different.  He’s more circumspect.  He has wonderful social manners, but it takes him a long time to warm up to someone and feel comfortable.  He needs to feel out a situation before he participates in it.

Neither of my kids have been abused.  Both have been raised exactly the same way.  We accept that kids can have different personalities, but we don’t allow much wiggle room for our canine companions.  They have to be exuberant balls of fun, just desperate for human interaction, regardless of with whom, in order for the to be healthy, happy dogs.  But just as not all humans are of that caliber (I certainly am not), not all dogs need to fit into the one-size-fits-all mould of “dog behavior”.

Orion, who took a few weeks to warm up to my husband, now thoroughly enjoys any attention he can get from him.

Orion, who took a few weeks to warm up to my husband, now thoroughly enjoys any attention he can get from him.

 

Orion, for instance, is a lot more wary and aloof than a lot of dogs. As a matter of fact, when I first met Orion, he bit me.  Completely not his fault:  he didn’t know me, and I had thrust my hand inside his carrier to retrieve him, as he had gotten caught in the back of it somehow.  Any creature with a lick of sense (especially one weighing 5 lbs.) would do the same thing!  It doesn’t mean he’s damaged, it means he has an healthy sense of self-preservation.

Gradually I built up Orion’s trust in me.  I started by not yelling, kicking, hitting or otherwise abusing the dog.  Common sense, right?  The longer I went without kicking Orion, he figured the more likely it was that I wasn’t going to start.  But then we moved beyond that.  There’s a difference between a friend and a protector.  I was to become both.  I needed to Pilot Orion.  In other words, I needed to not only answer all of his tough questions (such as, “Is that person a threat?” and, “Should I be afraid?”), but I had to get him to trust me enough to forgo his own determination of a situation and accept my answer.

Teaching a new trick can help build trust.  You're working together as a team with a common goal: communication. Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Teaching a new trick can help build trust. You’re working together as a team with a common goal: communication.
Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Look at it like this:  What if I told you to sell everything you own and invest a certain stock?  Your reaction would probably be, Why on earth should I listen to you and do something so potentially catastrophic?! You’d be crazy to just listen to me regarding such a decision.  However, what if I started off with small suggestions, such as putting $5 towards something.  You take a look at my situation, which seems financially comfortable, and decide to take the $5 plunge.  That $5 turns into $10.  Your faith in my decisions is boosted.  I give you another suggestion, you take it, and make more money, or, at the very least, don’t lose any.  Pretty soon you’re actively looking to me for suggestions.

That’s how it works with dogs.  You have to give them a reason why your answers to their questions are better than what they can come up with.  That’s what Piloting is all about.  Now obviously you can answer their questions with force, and with pain and anger, but that’s losing the most important part of the Piloting equation:  trust.  So how do you get a dog to trust you? Easy! Put them in very simple situations that require only a very small leap of faith, and then gradually up the ante.

I recently boarded the world’s most adorable Labradoodle, Cody, in my home due to his owner’s injury and anticipated long convalescence.  How did I get him accustomed to me, and used to my answering his questions?  I started with agility. Teaching him to jump over a yardstick placed directly on the floor.  Then adding stimulation: placing one end on a soup can, raising it just a bit.  Then the next side is raised.  Pretty soon Cody is trusting me enough to go bounding back and forth across the “jump”.  If I had started out with the jump raised all the way…well, that’s a bit of a stretch.  He didn’t know me very well, and that’s an awful lot to ask of a dog.  But by adding gradual amounts of stimulation to the situation, raising it slowly, I was able to expand his level of comfort with my decisions until eventually he trusts my answers more than he trusts his own.  That is what Piloting is all about.

So how do we put this in play with regard to stranger danger?  Well, we need to start with the fact that it is okay that your dog is wary of strangers.  We aren’t trying to change who your dog fundamentally is.  But we can indeed broaden their horizons a bit.  Get your dog to trust your answers with the small things, like walking by the man on the other side of the street.  Answer their questions as you are walking, and make sure you are Pilot during the walk.  Don’t just drag your dog along past the stranger – that’s forcing them past a point, not answering their questions.  It may take a bit of mental fortitude on your part to make it past the first person, but if you are Pilot, take your time, and keep your patience, you will do it.  Remember, this is difficult for your dog: this is the first time you are Piloting them past a perceived danger.  It is a huge leap of faith on their part and should be treated as such.  Just because you realize that the other person isn’t a threat doesn’t mean they do.  But if you get them past the first person, answering their questions all the while, the second person is easier to get by, then the third, and so on.  Pretty soon your dog is looking for your answers rather than coming up with their own.

Orion is still wary of strangers.  I allow him to be.  Unless I don’t.  That’s the beauty of Piloting.  If you don’t abuse the position, you can ask your dog to do marvelous things.  Orion and I worked on his stranger danger, gradually upping the ante each time.  First he had to walk calmly by strangers, which is difficult when you barely reach someone’s ankles – no wonder everything looked like a threat!  (You try walking among a herd of elephants without being apprehensive, and then you’ll understand what a small dog can feel like on the sidewalk.)

Next we worked on strangers approaching. They would ask to pet my dog, and I would let them…in a very controlled way.  I would pick him up and present him rear first.  If Orion would ask a question, such as “Can I make them stop petting me?”, I would answer his question by very gently tapping him on the derriere with all five fingers, similar to the way one taps out an email on a computer:  no harder.  It’s not about pain, it’s about getting him to refocus on me and the answer I was giving him.

Trust is integral.  If I’m asking Orion to trust my judgment about someone, it’s up to me to keep him safe and make wise judgments.  So if the individual who wants to pet Orion seems very hyper or is giving off a lot of negative energy, my answer is no.  My first duty is to my dog, not to social graces.  It’s up to me to put Orion in situations where he can thrive, not situations that test his faith in me to beyond capacity.  I also don’t force Orion to take affection without a good reason.  I don’t make him be pet just for the sake of being pet. Affection has to be mutual.  My goal was to make sure he was acclimated to being touched by anyone, just in case circumstances arose where he needed to be (vet, boarding, etc.).  I still make him accept being pet, but only for one of two reasons: he truly wants to be pet by that person, or I need to work on his accepting touch to keep him from backsliding into not accepting touch from a human.

As Orion accepted being pet by strangers, he was always given a reward.  For Orion, food doesn’t do much, but calm gentle praise certainly did.  He wanted to know he was on the right track, and I most definitely assured him of it.  Answer his questions, give positive when he chooses to accept the answer.  Wash rinse repeat.

Orion is still wary of strangers, but rather than immediately cowering in fear or lashing out when someone decides to pet him, he takes a different approach now.  He looks at me.  He expects me to answer his questions.  Sometimes he has to accept that he will be pet, but since I’ve always protected him during the petting, he isn’t afraid anymore.  Now he’s the dog who will warm up to a stranger after a bit, and actually “ask” to be pet – something that I never thought would happen.

Orion and Cody.  It took a little Piloting to get Orion to accept my answers and Cody, namely that Cody wasn't a threat.

Orion and Cody. It took a little Piloting to get Orion to accept my answers and Cody, namely that Cody wasn’t a threat.

Orion has come a long way from that frightened little creature he once was.  Yes, I have put a lot of effort into Piloting him and answering his questions, but it’s always easier to be the one answering questions than the one who has to take a leap of faith.  That’s why I’ll always strive to be worthy of the Pilot position and never shake his faith through ego or vanity or putting him in situations that we haven’t worked towards yet.  I’ve earned his trust, and it’s up to me to make sure I don’t abuse it.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog training in Cleveland, Ohio