The Human Toll From Dog-Dog Aggression

The July/August issue of the APDT Chronicle hits subscribers’ mailboxes the last week in June.  Our article “Safety and Ethics in Working with Dog-to-Dog Aggression Problems” will appear in that issue.  It is the first in a series the Chronicle will be running on intraspecific, or dog-dog aggression. 

We were on the receiving end of an attack on our dogs from a loose American bulldog in our neighborhood last summer.  We’ve written about this previously, but both our dogs were injured, Suzanne broke her hand attempting to stop the attack, and all of us were emotionally traumatized to the point we later sought counseling for anxiety reactions.  We were forced to file a civil lawsuit in order to recoup our expenses and damages.

We’ve found that dog-dog aggression problems are taken less seriously than aggression directed at people.  While many would argue that a person is more important than a dog (and before we get tons of nasty comments, we recognize some people would also vehemently disagree) based on our experience, the effect that dog-dog aggression has on the people involved is under recognized. 

Because we continue to maintain our same walking route in our neighborhood (it’s difficult to get to our little park any other way), we still relive the attack to some degree every day, as we pass the dog owner’s house and the yard where the attack occurred.  All but the smallest loose dog still causes us to tense up and we do not trust other dogs to come up and greet our dogs.  Interestingly, our reaction is confined to when we are with our dogs.  Given our profession we are thankful it hasn’t generalized to other situations!

Trainers and behavior consultants who work with these problems must remember that asking a client to allow their dog to approach another, in a controlled circumstance, is likely to trigger the sort of anxiety we continue to experience almost a year later.  Telling the owner in an accusatory way that their behavior could be affecting that of their dog is neither helpful nor kind, and reflects a lack of understanding of the effects of anxiety.

We needed to learn specific skills that are allowing us to manage our anxiety when we are out with our dogs and another dog approaches.  Expecting someone to do this through an act of will is not realistic.  And if a so called “training session” is NOT well controlled, it can result in terrible incidents that cause further emotional and physical trauma to both dogs and people.

That is the primary point of our Chronicle article.  If you are seeking help for this sort of problem or if you are a professional who works with them, dogs and people cannot be put further at risk during training or behavior modification.  Professionals MUST know their limits, and be able to recognize if they are not sufficiently experienced, knowledgeable and prepared to take on these problems.  There MUST for example be more than one set of safety system in place (e.g. muzzles, steel tethers you KNOW won’t fail) and the emotional and behavioral wellbeing of any dog being used as a “helper” to elicit the aggression from the “problem dog” cannot be compromised. 

To learn more about what we feel is required to be qualified to work with these sorts of problems, read our article in the July/August 2010 issue of the APDT Chronicle.  AND also look for our ad for our BehaviorEducationNetwork.  Join this weekend, before subscription rates increase!

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    Animal Behavior Associates, Inc.
    7900 W. Layton Ave. #905 Denver, CO 80123