Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Agression and small dogs.

I seem to be going through a run of helping people that have small dogs with aggression. From a practitioners point of view there is less risk than dealing with a large dog such as a Labrador or German Shepherd say, but the behaviour remains as serious none the less.

Aggression to people invokes the Dangerous Dogs Act, and many people are either blissfully unaware or (often both) have not been reported for their dog's behaviour...yet.

Small dogs 'get away' with such behaviour for far longer as people may even see it as amusing at first until a child is involved, or the risk has become so great the owner is compelled to act.

People are often surprised at my fees for dealing with such behaviour as it can run into the hundreds. What needs to be considered however is the sheer amount of time that we will need to spend together to get to the bottom of the issue/s and to set up new practices to calmly guide the dog away from its previous unwanted behaviour. I also offer life time support via phone, email or face to face if the client chooses to pay for such ongoing support.

It's fair to say that changing aggressive behaviour is a long term commitment that needs management as much as behavioural modification. Management (or a lack of it) can often be the catalyst for such behaviours becoming installed and then practiced by a dog. My dogs are free from behavioural problems, but this is in the main due to my management, rather than many hours spent training them.

Small dogs share many more privileges with the owner than many big dogs simply as a result of their size. Smaller dogs can slip onto your lap no problem. Many are perfectly agile and can take up a small space on the owners bed or pillow. Nothing wrong with dogs on beds per se, but as with all things rules and expectations need to be set for a balanced life together. Some owners allow smaller dogs to get away with behaviour that would not be allowed in a bigger dog. This may be issue like jumping up, not recalling smartly or begging for food to offer a few examples.

These additional privileges can lead to a sense of over protection towards the owner (I saw this only last week and had a bitten shoe from a Dachshund as a result!). This element of over protection is in my view the most common. The owner may fail to understand how important it is to lead every dog regardless of size to allow the dog to relax and be at ease in its own skin. We should parent dogs, and make efforts to let the dog know it is the 'child' and we are the 'parent'. I am keen to point out that this can be done in a subtle, calm manner free from aggressive handling, shouting, eating before the dog (you may be pleased to stop that?) or relating to your dog as if it were a wolf.

There is no profound punch line to this article, other than to consider the way you relate to your own small (or not so small) dog and to think about the way you conduct your relationship.

I'm just leaving the office to see a small aggressive dog that hates visitors to the house. Wish me luck.

Nick Jones MCFBA
Dog behaviourist

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