Dogs Bite: Solving Aggression From the Why

aggressive dog barking and showing teeth

Dogs Bite: Solving Aggression From the Why

Aggression is a popular topic in dog training because aggression problems are often the catalysts for client calls.  Many dog trainers claim the ability to solve aggressive tendencies once and for all. Many years ago, I believed I could do this for a client. Like many dog trainers, I worked with dogs who did things their owners considered aggressive. A lot of the time, the dog bit someone. Each time I address these issues, I think more deeply about them. When I started training dogs, I took a traditional approach to solving dog bites and aggression. The traditional approach is reactive, but I wanted a proactive one. I needed to know, “Why do dogs bite?”  That question led me to relationship-based training and a proactive approach to dealing with aggression. I intend to take you on a quick tour of ideas I explored along the way. 

So What is Traditional Training?

Traditional training relies on classical and operant conditioning as the way to solve behavioral problems like biting. Classical Conditioning is ringing a bell before making food available. The dog becomes conditioned to expect and prepare for food when they hear the bell. Operant conditioning is based on the dog’s behavior and your response to the dog’s behavior. You treat your dog when he sits after you ask him to sit. You give the treat to make it more likely for him to sit next time. Doing that is called positive reinforcement. You keep your treat if your dog does not sit when told to. Keeping the treat makes it less likely your dog won’t sit when you ask them to. Doing that is called Negative punishment.  When your alarm clock goes off in the morning, the sound stops when you wake up and push the button. The annoying sound makes you more likely to wake up and stop your alarm. Doing that is called Negative Reinforcement. When Grandma reached for the newspaper and swatted Lucky on the nose for stealing food from the table, she was doing that to make it less likely that he would steal from the table again. That is positive punishment; it does work, but it is not what I advise you to do if your dog steals your food. Traditional training uses this type of conditioning to teach dogs what to do and what not to do. When we focus on training this way, we have to wait for the dog to act so we can react by adding or subtracting something to make the action more or less likely to happen again. That makes it very reactive, and the cause of the behavior can go unaddressed. 

What is Relationship-Based Training?

Relationship-based training (RBT) is training for the dog and their owner. RBT is focused on creating the strongest, most honest bond between the owner and the dog. RBT starts with the owner of the dog. It encourages the owner to increase their awareness of their feelings and how their dog feels. It is not focused on behavior, and it does not focus on obedience, although both things and many more are important to a strong relationship. RBT uses classical and operant conditioning not to stop behavior but to communicate clearly. RBT teaches us to prevent as much as possible and react as little.  Dogs bite for a lot of reasons. RBT looks to remove the reason and, in doing so, prevent the behavior. Most of the time, this requires influencing a dog’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings. A dog feels nervous and will bite when nervous. When we teach that dog to be confident, it will not feel or be nervous and will not bite. The ultimate goal of RBT is to give the dogs what they need to live their best life. That means learning how to communicate to give and take information from your dog. How to structure your relationship so your dog knows it is important to listen to you and follow your lead. It means managing stress and teaching your dog how to overcome it healthily.  With a good, solid, honest relationship, effort, and understanding of why your dog does what they do, you can change your dog’s perception of and behavior in any situation. I encourage you to look at your dog’s problem or aggressive behaviors from the Why? When you find the why, work to change your dog’s response. That is the best way to end unwanted behavior.  If you need help applying this approach, contact Argos Dog Training; we offer various training classes and services! We can provide the level of support you need to succeed and more fully Enjoy Your Dog!!!