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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