A Conversation With Steve Diller – Aggression – Part 2


Biting Dogs – How cabling a dog to see how it bites can give clues to its aggressive behavior

Steve: On this whole aggression thing – I did a presentation at one of the annual meetings for The Society of North American Dog Trainers. It was called “An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Flesh.” At the time I was in a Schutzhund Club with Sue Sternberg and Rafael Robles and others. We would see all these dogs bred to be aggressive: Rotties, Shepherds, Dobermans, Schnauzers, Boxers, but we struggled to get them to bite. They didn’t want to bite. We wanted them to bite, were trying to make it fun to bite and these dogs were ‘I don’t think so.’ And in the meantime, you get pet owners who scream, ‘My dog bit me, I can’t stop him from biting me’ there’s so much aggression. So doing the bite work was an education. Trying to make the stimulation and being in control of the whole thing in the first place. If a dog’s going to bite you he certainly hopes you’re not in control. It says a little something about the Ed Frawley thing.  What’s the deal in general in the relationship between the pet owner and the biting dog? I don’t go out and see these cases much anymore, because I’m not going to be able to give them reliability, but I still might be willing in some cases to go cable a dog out and see how the dog bites. You get to a point with some cases where the owners are at their wits end – they’ve gone through all the management with the head halter, the deference program all the right stuff and they still have a biting dog.

So what’s the story? If you ask them they say “my counselor told me it’s fear aggression.” I hear that Bonnie just like it’s a drink of water. I guess we can say most acts of aggression have something to do with fear. But some of these dogs aren’t so scared when they’re ripping into you creating massive injury and multiple bite areas. Does the dog have a run option? It probably does but just doesn’t take it. So when you put him on a cable and take it to the dog and say “let’s dance” the dog says ‘uh, uh I’m not going to bite you.’ Well, why not? ‘Because you seem a little too much for me.’ I ask – how come the dog owner isn’t too much for you, the people who live with you every day? Some dogs will bark and show me their teeth, some will bite, and some will run, they will try to avoid it at all cost but they don’t avoid it in their home. But they avoid me if I’m there and I’m prepared for it. I can’t get them to bite. It’s a fascinating thing to see what kind of grip you’re going to get. Do you get a really happy biting dog, tail wagging, soft ears, hard grip – happy. Then there’s the defensive dog biting you with his front teeth, tail down, hackles up, growling, the dog looks like a porcupine on the end of the sleeve, then there’s the ones who won’t do it at all and they will eliminate rather than bite, yet in the home a lot of these dogs are willing to go there.

Bonnie: Will the results of the cabling test help a client’s understanding of their dog’s aggression?

Steve: If a dog comes flying out at me and takes a grip, I think it will. I’ll explain what I mean. I was going to see a Shepherd recently but they canceled since they decided to place the dog. The dog bit someone recently in a dog park, who just stretched their hand out to say hi and the dog leapt up and grabbed her. The dog was seen by a certified applied animal behaviorist and found to be fear aggressive. I tried to skirt around this case for a long time but the owner kept calling me. I told her she should do what the behaviorist told her to do. She now said they have a new bite event. I told her I would come out and test him put him on a cable and see what’s going on. If he comes flying out and grips, then you’ve got a dog that is going to do this – he’s not afraid, he’s willing to grab like that, and he needs to be trained like that. Somebody needs to get control of him. You can’t tell that dog necessarily never bite, never bite, he has to be told, “Here’s where you bite. Everywhere else – it’s not happening.” You have to be a different owner for that kind of dog. So in this scenario where the dog comes flying out and takes a grip, I would tell that owner if you’re not ready to work this dog in a working manner, this dog needs to go someplace where he can be worked appropriately. But if I find him to be nervous and he’s hiding, they have to stop taking him to the dog park; they need to be much tighter with him. But she wasn’t willing, she’s afraid for their liability, and I don’t blame her since it’s a 95 lb. dog.

Bonnie: Do you think it’s okay for a dog to bite someone who puts their hand out to say hello?

Steve: It’s very bad, awful, it’s inappropriate. So if he’s not a weak dog, he’s a bully. I know that’s not a very technical description but that’s how I would feel about him. He shouldn’t be in the dog park. This is a home owner with a back yard but she’s one of those people with the conception that the dog needs to be in the dog park which is wrong. I’m sure she was told. But you see what I mean about compliance. So a lot of these dogs could be very well managed under the right conditions, a lot of these biting dogs could do very well in the right environment. How do you get compliance? If the bottom line is that they have to have a reliable dog – bomb proof if you know what I mean – then if they’re making the call to me about bite events they don’t have that dog. How sad it is.

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The Silent Partner Speaks


It’s been almost ten years. Ten years since we started Dog Trainers’ Connection.
Some of you know me. Some of you don’t. My name is Joel Filderman and I have been a part of Dog Trainers’ Connection since the beginning.

I was the quiet person who was in the back of the room or the person who took your name when you walked into one of our workshops. I was the person who gave you coffee at one of our refreshment tables and I was the person who designed most of our original flyers.

Bonnie and I started Dog Trainers’ Connection as a means of getting trainers together because we (mainly Bonnie) realized there was a need for that. But over the last 9 years plus Dog Trainers’ Connection has become so much more.

We recently changed our slogan from Sit up and Learn to Uniting Trainers of All Beliefs. The reason was we realized that that had become our mission. We got trainers who couldn’t agree with each other on the “Correct” way to train a dog, brought them together in the same room and got them to talk and listen to each other in (for the most part) a calm and rational manner. We saw that for Dog Trainers’ Connection to truly work we would have to welcome everyone and let them have a voice. Not that we hadn’t done that before but by changing our slogan we were making that statement to the world.

There has been a divide for too long between different factions of the dog training world. Dog Trainers’ Connection is doing its best to close that gap and provide a means for all sides to communicate with each other.

Some of you may be saying “so what does this person know about dog training and why should I read what he has to say?” It’s true. I am not a dog trainer but I have been around them long enough to know that they, like everyone else can only get better by constantly learning and that the best way of doing that is by listening and talking with others.

You’ll be hearing my voice more often as Dog Trainers’ Connection goes forward because I have a lot to say. I will be writing this column for our upcoming blog and I will be a voice on our social media because I have been, as I always called myself, the silent partner of Dog Trainers’ Connection for a long time – and I’m finally speaking up.

Bonnie always ends her comments by saying “DTC you Later!”

I’m going to start a new Dog Trainers’ Connection sign off so you’ll know it’s me…


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A Conversation With Steve Diller – Aggression – Part 1


Aggression Cases, Biting Dogs and Owner Compliance

Bonnie: What are your thoughts on aggression in dogs and is biting always a bad thing?

Steve: There are so many cases so there are the dogs that are going to bite and contextually they’re going to bite at times they really shouldn’t be. That means there are times that biting is appropriate – such as self protection – I mean dogs bite. Often times they have some conflict and that’s how they work it out. It’s nothing unusual for them. They usually don’t harm one another too badly unless there’s a size differential, big dog little dog. But most of the time it’s a lot of noise and hair, but every now and then you see a dog terribly punctured really ripped up and you have to wonder how did it get to this. But if the dog is giving up in a fight scenario usually the bite wounds are on the rump, but if the bites are around the head, neck, chest forelegs then you’re talking about two dogs that are really fighting nobody’s giving up, that’s inter-dog.

But when it’s about people – just this week alone I’ve had more than two phone calls from people complaining that their dogs are growling and showing their teeth and when I asked them under what conditions would this happen, they said “when I go to grab the collar.” The collar grab is statistically the number one reason folks get bitten. Somehow folks don’t give up on that. So if they go to grab it and the dog growls rather than not do it again, they can’t seem to think their way through another way to gain control. So when I simply say to them, leave the leash on, don’t grab the collar, don’t yell at the dog and then try to grab the collar – you’re going to be bitten. They create defense and what are you going to do.

I’ve had a couple of dogs that are not reliable around children. They want reliability and I don’t blame them, if I had small children I’d want reliability too. The dog trainer answer often times is “don’t leave the kid alone with the dog” and that’s terrific advice. I don’t know about in your practice but I can tell you in the practice I have, I have tremendous trouble getting my clients to comply – I work and work and tell and tell them. But how many of them do not have the lead on the dog when I show up to a lesson, have not used their crate sufficiently, still yell at the dog like crazy, and don’t reward the dog enough. You can try to get compliance, I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s human nature, it’s very hard to get people to put in the right effort into raising their dog appropriately.

So now, if you take a case and the dog bites, and you go there with all good intention and you tell these people, “look you may have to separate out the dog, you may need a gate, a crate, a muzzle, you may change the time in which each are around the family living area, so when the kids are available the dog is not, when the dog is available the kids are napping or out playing, at school, you can fool around with that stuff, but if you want reliability then you got to get a canary because you can’t say for sure that whatever conditioning you’ve provided is going to give the dog the skills to walk away from a threat rather than bite its way through. We all want to do it but it’s not always possible.

Bonnie: Can you tell us about some of your aggression cases.

Steve: One case is a French Bulldog 6 ½ years old, and the guy had the dog since he was a puppy. The dog just bit the couple’s 22 month old girl in the hand. She fell on the dog and he bit her. Dogs will do that. They also have a 6 week old infant in the house now. The dog belonged to the husband before he met his wife. So it was these two guys together for a while, and then first comes the wife, then comes the daughter, now comes a little son, also a move. All kinds of things are going on that make this dog uncomfortable and as he gets older it seems that his ability to cope becomes less and less. Tough stuff. I told the couple that I’d be happy to come out and talk to them. The husband seems to be somewhat in denial that “his boy” would do something like this. I said “look if you can get past the idea that you’re going to get reliability, I can come out and teach him something like to run to his bed, teach him to do something that he can do successfully. Let’s see if we can get him to do that under many conditions, including, here comes the baby you send him to his bed. I’d be happy to do that – which is not fixing the aggression but it’s teaching the dog what it can do correctly.” It’s sort of like training an incompatible behavior.

I took an Akita aggression case for next week. The dog is snarling at the husband. I’ve seen at least 9 Akita cases in court in the past and I know the Akita can be a real damaging dog if it gets to it. I thought to myself, “I must be insane” but it sounds like the kind of case where I might be able to do some good – because they’re grabbing his collar, they’re getting angry at him, they’re making him defensive. He’s 1 year old and the owner said he’s been nothing but social and wonderful up until now. I’m hoping I can get to him and back him off a little bit because they’re going to create a real ugly event and I told her until I get there – stop!

Bonnie: Is it usual for Akitas to be dominant with their owners?

Steve: Not really, usually with the family Akitas are stellar – really good dogs, very devoted to the family. But I have a feeling that they’re treating him in a way that is scaring him. They’re making him feel that he has to do something that he probably really doesn’t want to do. She told me that he jumps up when people walk in because he wants to greet them. I said to her, “I hear you but in my own caseload I never had an Akita bite anybody below the waist. So even when the aggression starts with all fours on the ground, they come up and bite,” so in this dog’s case I really don’t like that he’s jumping up on visitors when they come in. Her perception of his “social behavior” could be wrong. The dog may be saying overall “don’t make me chew you because I will!” Part of the reason I don’t see too many aggression cases any more is because the consequences can be severe.

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Q&A from Steve Diller Aggression Webinar


Dog Trainer Questions from the Webinar “Still Looking for the One Solution to Aggression Problems?  Or is There Really Such a Thing.”

Trainer Question 1

Q:  I agree that the focus exercise is not a cure for aggression, however, what do you think of it as a venue for the dog learning self control?

A: In my opinion, one of the best lines in our dog training business is the line that states, any behavior that a dog chooses has more strength than a behavior elicited by the handler. In terms of the focus exercise, if the exercise is trained and reinforced by the handler as a means to distract the dog from looking elsewhere, then it may not have been the dogs idea to give “eyes” to the handler. When it’s not the dogs idea, then often times there is conflict, look at the handler or look at let’s say the other dog which may very well be a stronger impulse for the dog. If the dog learns to choose and not be prompted to focus in an effort to gain rewards, it may say something about actual self control. I personally love the focus exercise and used it to help control one of my Shepherds, but focus was never his idea, he did it to gain a bite reward in his schutzhund training and with it received fairly good scores in obedience despite strong distractions. Using it to try to lessen inter dog aggression makes no sense to me unless the dog can show muscle relaxation in the presence of other dogs.

If you would like to get in touch with Steve Diller contact him at www.stevediller.com

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Raw Food Diets


An interview with Bonnie Blumenfeld Holistic Animal Health Consultant

DTC: How did you get interested in nutrition and holistic care for animals?

Bonnie: I was a veterinary technician for many years, but about 15 years ago I saw that the health of our animals left something to be desired. I started doing my own research into nutrition and what was really in commercial dog foods, as well as how the food was made. At the time, trying to convince people to buy a premium brand dog food was a hard sell as most people weren’t interested or they didn’t see the importance of getting a better quality food. Several years later I had the opportunity to work in a holistic veterinary clinic, which complimented my personal belief in alternative care and also my passion for healthy diets for our animals.

I also want people to understand that I’m not taking the place of a vet but I can act as an adjunct to veterinary care. My opinions are based on my years of research and experience working with animals, but I’m not putting myself out there as a vet.

DTC: How does someone prepare a simple, balanced raw food diet?

Bonnie: This is what you need: 65% meat and 35% pureed or grated veggies and supplements. Grain is optional. You can do 5-10% grain. This will make the food go further, and grain can be a good source of some nutrition and some animals like it. But they absolutely do fine with no grain at all. The supplements that you must have if you are not supplementing with bones are a good quality multi-vitamin, essential fatty acid (you can alternate with fish oil and flax seed oil) and a calcium supplement. There are marine sources of calcium which I prefer over bone meal because of the possibility of Mad Cow and also because bones tend to concentrate chemicals and toxins. Of course there are a gazillion variations on this diet, but it can be that simple. You can generally prepare enough food for a week or two in one hour and put it in zip lock bags and throw it in the freezer and you’re done. It doesn’t have to be labor intensive. The meat should be fresh and you should always use safe handling practices for yourself as well as your animal for handling raw meat.

DTC: Please explain why adding bones to the diet makes a difference?

Bonnie: Many people use raw meaty bones as a component of their dogs’ diets, such as chicken and turkey necks, wings, backs or any whole part of a chicken. In addition to lots of live nutrients, the dogs are getting calcium. Therefore, if you’re feeding bones on a regular basis you can cut back on your calcium supplements. Do not ever feed bones that are cooked. They are brittle and can puncture intestines, etc. and they turn to cement in the gut.

DTC: Is the raw food diet healthy for all dogs?

Bonnie: No. But it is perfect for most dogs, but not all. There are some health conditions that preclude feeding a raw food diet.

DTC: If someone doesn’t want to feed raw meat to their animal, but still wants to give them a healthy diet, what do you recommend?

Bonnie: The next best thing would be a home prepared cooked diet with added supplements, as cooking destroys many nutrients and live enzymes.

If the person doesn’t want to do a total home prepared diet, some people feel more comfortable using a premium quality kibble as a base and adding real food to it, raw meat, cooked meat, vegetables, eggs, cottage cheese, plain unsweetened yogurt, whatever. Feeding variety in the diet, whether it’s raw, cooked or a combination with a commercial base is extremely important; both for interest to the animal and because you are covering the spectrum of all the different needed nutrients. If you are cooking healthy food for yourself, give them some of your food.

No matter what you’re feeding or not feeding, if you do nothing else but throw them some raw meat once in a while you’re going a long way towards improving their health.

DTC: Bonnie, what do you say to someone who has tried a raw food diet but their dog got diarrhea?

Bonnie: Sometimes loose stools can be a healthy sign of detoxification but there are safe and effective ways of transitioning your animals from a commercial diet to a home prepared diet.

DTC: What about the concern of dogs getting food poisoning from raw meat?

Bonnie: We are not carnivores. Dogs are carnivores. They have sharp teeth for ripping and strong muscular stomachs for digesting big chunks of meat and pieces of bone. They have a pH of 1, highly acidic to take care of Salmonella and E-coli that are a problem for us. They’ve got tons of digestive enzymes and a really short and quick intestinal tract to get the meat out before it putrefies. Whereas we have a long convoluted digestive tract to digest grains and veggies.

Sixty years ago most dogs didn’t eat from a bag. They ate people’s leftovers, bones, offal, guts and ligaments and they did fine. So one of the things I try to tell people is that it’s not scary or mystical to make the switch from a commercial diet to a raw food diet. Animals are much more adaptable than we give them credit for.

DTC: Can you advise someone who only wants to give their animals the best commercially made foods on the market?

Bonnie: When someone consults me, I teach them how to read and interpret a label so they can make decisions for themselves about the ingredients. Just as the saying goes, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll have food for a life time.” There are many good brands out there but even great foods aren’t right for every animal. Hopefully, I can do another interview for Dog Trainers’ Connection, and I’ll talk about label reading and what commercial brands I feel are the best ones out there. Also, we can go into supplements, the best brands and how to use them.

DTC: This is a two-part question. What modalities of holistic care do you feel are the most effective for animals, and do you think that holistic and allopathic veterinary care can work hand in hand?

Bonnie: The word out there is that Acupuncture and Homeopathy are the best alternative healing modalities. There are also a number of supportive modalities which are hugely helpful such as herbs, (both western and Traditional Chinese Medicine), flower essences, chiropractic, and NAET which is a non-invasive allergy elimination technique based on acupressure and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I definitely think that holistic and allopathic veterinary care can work hand in hand. I recommend that people find a good complimentary veterinarian (one that practices both allopathic and alternative medicine) and everyone should definitely do their own research as well.

DTC: Thanks very much Bonnie!

Visit Bonnie Blumenfeld’s website: www.headtotailhealth.com

Bonnie Blumenfeld, All rights reserved. Copyright 2007.

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