Doing the meet and greet well

2015-06-25 15:11
Often if dogs are introduced to each other correctly, play will ensue instead of aggression.

Often if dogs are introduced to each other correctly, play will ensue instead of aggression. (Supplied)

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ON numerous occasions, when consulted by owners regarding abnormal aggression, I am warned that their dog is going to fight with my pets. Quite often, however, after a period of anything from one to 15 minutes, all the dogs are enjoying a romp without any concerns.

Feeling anxious initially, owners are surprised when seeing that no attacks or fighting have occurred. If people have been traumatised by a situation involving dog aggression, it is understandable that they are nervous in the presence of other dogs. It is important to note that when introducing strange dogs to my pack, it is done in a very careful and controlled manner with respect to social skills. The strange dog’s coping abilities, based on instinctive plus adaptive knowledge, is a big factor in achieving these successful introductions.

In a few cases where the owners have fighting-dog histories, I have facilitated aggression-free introductions off the property, but was unable to achieve the same in the home. Just because the aggressor is a Labrador, for example, or the owner manages a few hundred people in the work place, does not mean that these are the desirable criteria. Breed, gender, critical imprinting history, breeder’s environment and any subsequent education, must also be considered. However, two of the biggest contributing factors to excessive attack and flee behaviour are the owner’s presence and state of mind.

If post-traumatic stress is present during behaviour reshaping sessions, people need to be desensitised. This does not take five minutes, but as owners see positive behaviour coming from their pets, they realise that communicating correctly with problem dogs is actually quite easy. New confidence is gradually gained as pets start to behave as required. The unpredictable outcomes stop as the household calms down.

There is one aspect of canine behaviour modification which is extremely disturbing. It is pet owners who have sought help and have been assured the problem will be sorted out. One of the worst ones I have dealt with was a pair of fighting male and female adult pit bull terriers from the North Coast area. Severe injuries were inflicted on both dogs and people trying to stop the violence. The owner approached five people in an attempt to resolve the problem and all failed. Within a week of my involvement, peace returned to the home. The main factor contributing to the aggression was the owner herself. When she started maintaining the pack as required, the dog’s mental needs were satisfied. After all the stress she had been through, I was amazed that the owner had persevered. Fortunately, she was strong-willed and managed stress very well.

Pet owners have told me many times how they sensed that a trainer was anxious and insecure, which firstly, did not inspire much confidence, and, secondly, the dogs would have been aware of this as well. That means the owner and trainer were nervous, which is not a recipe for success. Just like wolves, dogs are not designed to fight. Certain breeds have been produced to display excessive fighting tendencies, but there are countless families who have lived peacefully with such types. If the right person with the right dog does everything correctly, there will be no fighting.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted via his website at www.dogtorsteve.co.za Advice is dispensed only in face-to-face meetings with owners and their pets

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