Looking Beyond the Obvious…

dog eye

The APBC 21st Birthday Seminar advance publicity video which showed Emmet’s aggression towards another dog could be read in a number of ways. On a basic level it could have been superficially dismissed as a case of “frustration aggression”, or even "excitement" at seeing another dog, but closer inspection revealed the complexity of the underlying emotional aspect of the behaviour.

Full assessment is essential
The importance of not taking such observations at face value was pointed out to delegates attending the APBC presentation. Additional information was presented, showing how complex emotional states can combine to cause problems for owners. Emmet's emotional response seemed to be going through fear, into frustration bordering on anger, back to frustrated play and even anxiety when the ‘feared’ stimulus was leaving!
Proper assessment showed mixed reactions
Emmet is a mildly fearful dog that has developed a coping strategy of using aggression towards another dog. This is probably initiated by a lack of social experience and maintained by the dogs that defer. He is confident in his use of this strategy, particularly at the distance beyond which social contact is possible. He is happy so long as he can exert that control. However, if Emmet is brought into close contact with a dog that does not defer, he will damage them in his efforts to try to exert control.
Miss the signs and the consequences could be dire
This is the kind of dog that an owner would describe as “unpredictable” because the dog’s reaction is dependent upon the other dog.  A dog that is “OK with some dogs, but with others he just piles straight in…”.  How dangerous is that?  How important that the assessment is right?  Emotions are rarely as simple as just “fear” or “frustration”. They evolve and revolve continually and it is important that all the emotional aspects of Emmet’s aggressive response are dealt with, rather than superficially dismissing him as “cheerfully wagging his tail”.
The APBC continues to lead the profession in pet behaviour counselling and will be organising workshops later in the year on the proliferation of fighting breed dogs, common feline problems and the trials of living in a multi-species household. Details will be available shortly, but if you’d like to pre-register your interest you can contact us at info [at] apbc [dot] org [dot] uk

Mat has a first class Masters degree in Animal Behaviour and has trained animals for feature films and commercials www.petbehavioursorted.com

David has a postgraduate diploma in companion animal behaviour counselling and twenty six years experience of police dog training. For more information visit his website at www.dogsecrets.co.uk