I was over in Hollywood last week finishing a Dog Guard Out of Sight Fencing® installation for a new client and his Belgian Malinois, Pepper. She was a very intelligent dog and quickly understood that she shouldn’t cross the perimeter markers and leave my client’s property. She rapidly accepted that “staying at home” was the best thing she could do. My client was very pleased with the great results and then told me a story about one of his friends with a dog with “similar wandering characteristics” as “old” Pepper. His friend was worried about trying an underground dog fence because he thought his dog was very aggressive and would want to attack people and dogs he saw from the front yard. He said this because his dog always jumped, barked, and lunged whenever they were on a walk. His dog always jumped on everyone coming into the house and would growl if some people got too close to him.
Many people look at dogs that lunge, jump, growl, and bark as aggressive dogs. Yes, these can be canine characteristics that can help to identify aggressive dogs; but they are not automatic labels for aggressive or dangerous dogs.
If we think about it for a moment, the physical actions my client’s friend mentioned are really based on heightened adrenaline causing dominance related canine activity. What we need to focus on is to identify the underlying sentiment within the dog and to make the appropriate decision based on that.
After working with more than 3,500 dogs over the last eleven years, 95% of the above observations come from overly excited dogs while only about 5% of the above observations come from truly aggressive dogs. The good news is the overwhelming majority of these adrenalized actions will not create a dangerous (and sometimes very painful) situation. The bad news is that there are still 5% of those times where things can turn very bad very quickly. The important thing is to be able to identify the delineation.
First, let’s look at the general signs of a jumping, lunging, barking, growling dog that is not dangerous.
Many dogs are just naturally playful. If you have them on a leash and they lung or bark at other dogs, but their tail is wagging, they are probably just excited. If you can quickly give them a tug on the leash and get them to continue their walk, you should be fine. Also, if they don’t “go nuts” when they see every dog in the neighborhood, they are probably just excited over specific “play buddies” and should be fine.
Dogs can be dominant and still be perfectly safe and socialized. Jumping on guests is often a simple sign of dominance and demand for attention. Although bothersome and probably unwanted, it is not necessarily a sign of danger. A few training techniques to draw the dog’s attention back to the owner can quickly resolve this annoying and sometimes frightening habit.
Some dogs are naturally more territorial than others. When a dog gives you a slight growl when you approach is not a sign that the dog is about to attack you. It is the dog’s way of respectfully telling you that you have come far enough. If you continue to encroach on his space after this communication, he may lunge and nip. But, that is because he already gave you a non-threatening warning. The best action you can take in this instance is to listen to the dog and stand your ground. You can be perfectly safe by just staying “out of his space”.
Now, what are the signs that we need to look for in order to determine if an adrenalized dog could be dangerous?
If your dog darts out of the front door the moment you start a walk and exerts 100% of his energy towards other dogs, that focus and adrenaline is normally more than happy play. If he is constantly pulling, on the search for animals and people, that could be a problem.
If he jumps on your guests in a horizontal fashon meaning to knock them down while growling, that is a dangerous dog. If he goes after everyone the moment he sees them, that is a problem. Also, if he routinely runs completely across the room or the yard to jump on someone that is not encouraging him or focused on him, that is a warning sign.
If the dog comes up to people and starts to growl, that is a warning sign. He is actively engaging and escalating the situation.
What about other warning signs?
If the dog is growling and showing his teeth, that is not a good sign. If the dog’s tail is between his legs and/or his hackles on his back are up, you are probably entering a dangerous situation. If the dog is slowly pacing back and forth and giving you glancing stares, this is not a good condition. If the dog has backed into a corner, this is not a good indication.
Whenever a dog becomes over adrenalized, the best action is to be still, calm, and tall. This is sending a message of non-threatening resolution to the dog. It is telling him “I mean you no harm and I will simply continue on my way”. This body language is a natural de-escalation in the dog’s eyes.
There is a very large difference in how you deal with aggressive dogs and excited dogs. It is always best to err on the side of caution if you have any question as to the dog’s disposition. Please contact us if you have any dog training and dog fence questions by clicking on Dog Fence Training Help. We also have many more dog safety and training topics at Best Out of Sight Fence Trainers Hollywood South Florida. For the last eleven years Robin and I have been training dogs and their owners in South Florida. We have calculated that over 3,500 dogs and their owners have gone through our training program. If you would like to learn more about us and our dog training, please visit Home Dog Training Hollywood South Florida.