Dog on the Couch

2016-11-17 06:02

I HAVE an adorable Rottie puppy of eight weeks but am concerned with her early display of aggression. I have been trying to dry her paws when she comes inside from playing on the wet lawn. I have been tapping her on the nose, but she seems to be getting worse. I love her to bits, but I am terrified that she might grow into an aggressive adult. What should I do?

Fran Simons

Hi Fran,

Your concerns are well-founded. Aggression in such a powerful breed would be a very serious concern. However, with early socialisation and proper gentle but firm and consistent training Rottweilers can generally make loyal and devoted pets. It is essential to desensitise any puppy to being touched, handled and examined. Punishing a dog for growling can be dangerous for many reasons.

Punishing a dog for growling (in your case, by tapping on the nose) can be dangerous because instead of associating the punishment with the problem behaviour the dog might mistakenly attribute it to the action that preceded the punishment, in your case to the paws being dried. In your scenario the outcome of such a mistake would likely be not only self-defeating but obviously very dangerous.

Growling is a response to a feeling of insecurity or a perceived threat in a particular situation. In communication between dogs the response to this would be a signal of reassurance from the other dog that she or he can be trusted. This would be communicated by calming signals (see Calming Signals, In the event of an aggressive display or a punishing retaliation, depending on the force exhibited and other variables, the dog will learn to dispense with the warning and deliver a bite, or might start cringing and weeing.

Owners often mistake this cringing fear behaviour as a submissive acceptance of the owner’s dominant role, but it is really a sign of learned helplessness. There is a danger that repressed aggression, which can result from uninformed aversive training methods, might manifest later in a more violent response as the dogs perception of threats is interpreted as if her survival is at stake. .

The solution is to establish coping methods and use impulse-control exercises to build trust and communication skills between the two species. Consistent punishment-free training can ingrain new compatible behaviours and develop a strong bond of trust and respect.

An early start, when the puppy’s brain is like a lump of plasticine ready for moulding is the easiest and most effective route. Dogs and other species learn quickly and retain strong memories, whether good or bad. What is crucial is that this moulding is correctly done.

If your dog is taught that you are predictably trustworthy, she will feel at ease. If she trusts you she’ll feel safe and not need to warn you to stay out of her personal safety zone.

Before ending I must add that Rottie’s have a tendency to “grumble” when petted.

This is in the manner of a cat purring, however it is important that the body language and circumstances inform you if this is the case or not. Some new owners may back-off when experiencing this, and the Rottie may learn that a grumbly growl allows them to have their way.

I cannot reiterate enough how important early socialising and consistent force-free training is, especially for powerful breeds.

I am appreciative of your desire to understand and curb undesirable behaviour in its infancy.

All the best, Susan Henderson (accredited animal behaviour consultant)


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