He's Never Done That Before
Heed the Warning Signals
Here we go again. I hear this every day.
"OMG, He's NEVER done that before!"
Friends -- there is a first time for everything. Dogs that bite, always have a first bite. Dogs that jump the fence always have a first time. Dog’s that growl over a bone… Dog’s that dislike a stranger…. Dogs that get reactive on their leash.... well you get the point.
The problem is most people are missing the dozens, perhaps hundreds of warnings and signals that suggest there is going to be a future problem. They are allowing warnings and signals to go unchecked and the problems get worse with every incident.
I get it. Many people don't know what they don't know. But there are SO many trainers trying to produce resources and share knowledge to educate the public and prevent these issues. We just need people to absorb it, share it, and for everyone with or around a dog to realize -- dogs are dogs! Living breathing creatures who cannot communicate with use with words -- but they do communicate volumes! You must learn to understand it.
Your dog is talking to you with every issue. These small, seemingly no big deal incidents compound. Daily. At a rate we wish our interest in the bank would start compounding.
Let me give you a couple of examples from real-life (and I'm paraphrasing)
Dog fight breaks out at the dog park (don't get me started on dog parks). Owner claims, he's never had a problem at the dog park before. Questioning continues and we find that the dog often gets overexcited at the dog park, his hackles go up and he races to the fence when a new dog comes in..... BUT.... he's fine with dogs he knows.
Um, isn't the dog park full of dogs you may not know? There are many warning indicators in the description above. Dog gets a ton of practice at this behavior (most likely insecure) until he meets a dog who doesn't take a liking to his approach.... it's a fight in the waiting.
But he didn't start it. He's never had a problem with any other dog....
Yea, he kind of did. He certainly was a contributing factor. His energy was off. And most likely he met another dog with an issue and the two were simply incompatible.
Another real-life example:
Dog bites the neighbor. The story went something like this:
Our dog doesn't really like strangers. When people come over we tell them to just ignore the dog. He really barks a lot. No, he doesn't ever really settle as long as they are here. So we move him outside or to another room.
We try to avoid people when we take our walks. I tried to let one neighbor greet him and he growled at her, but we thought it was because she had garden gloves on. We tried to greet another neighbor the other day and he growled again.
Our dog walker forgot he doesn't like strangers and let a neighbor pet him and he bit the neighbor!
"He's never bitten anyone before.... he's only ever growled at them"
My dog has a bit of a resource guarding problem. He growls if another dog approaches while he's eating. It usually works to have the other dog back off. But the other day, my niece was visiting and got too close to the food bowl and he snapped at her!
He's never had a problem with children or people before....
Or how about this one:
He's great everywhere we take him. People pet him, love on him, hug him. We never really have any issue. Yet when we take him for a walk in our neighborhood community, he gets very protective or he gets caught by surprise . He's bitten 3 people.....
No, we don't think he needs a muzzle.
Scenarios could go on and on and on..... often it does involve a significant incident. The final straw. Someone is injured.
Please don't see the little incidents only. Look at the pieces collectively. See the big picture. Growling. Fear. Insecurity. Snapping....among other behaviors are all warnings of a potential risk, and will not generally get better on their own.
More experience without proper protocols and foundation work, is often just more pressure for your dog. It's often just creating less trust in you as his advocate. Pressure compounds. Trust breaks down. Your dog will reach his limit of tolerance.
Look down the road at the future and know that each little incident is compounding to a bigger problem if you don't address it. Address them swiftly, early, and with non-negotiable consistency. If you address issues before they become big dramatic incidents, you'll probably never have the big incident.
If you aren't sure, do your homework. Ask questions. Learn more. Play it safe.
In the majority of cases, you simple need structure, leadership and some house-hold rules paired with obedience dog training. If you have an aggression problem or other behavioral issues you should consider seeking professional dog training for assistance.
Get to know your dog!
Take a look at a great graphic from Lili Chin on Learning to Read Body Language. And then call me when you see these signs and aren’t sure how to get your dogs out of situations that make him uncomfortable without over-reacting.