We want to share Beau’s story in an attempt to help other dog owners who are struggling with their dog. We believe that the relationship you develop with your dog is where it begins and ends. We’ve omitted many details of his story, but even at a high level, Beau’s story is a great reminder of how contextual dogs are and how important your relationship is with your dog.
Where to begin… Beau is a dog we’ve had in the BDB family for almost a year now. He started out boarding with us as a puppy. He was cute and playful and fun. He did great socially and learned to walk in a pack on a loose leash the very first weekend we had him. We knew early on that he was very smart and responsive to proper training and solid human leadership.
When he hit the 6-9 month-old mark (as is the case with most dogs during this phase) he started to be unsure about new environmental stimuli – choosing “flight” when unfamiliar events/objects presented themselves – things like: new people, water drains, large vehicles, trash cans, brush piles, etc. Fairly early on we realized that his responses were more dramatic than most dogs at that point in development and made the assumption that his humans were (in an attempt to console him) nurturing that state, so we started warning the owner that he would need training and that he could turn into a difficult dog for an average, busy family to handle – especially if they didn’t gain more dog behavior/dog psychology knowledge. His “flight” response could easily turn to “fight” if it wasn’t addressed properly and if he continued to be “consoled” when in a fearful state.
Fast forward to when Beau was 9-10 months-old. As predicted, his fear-based “flight response” turned into fear-based “fight response”. He became more vocal and appeared to his owner to become aggressive. This is obviously very troubling for any owner. We all want our dogs to be well-behaved, especially around our family and friends.
As is so common in this business, one day we got “the text” – “Beau tried to bite someone! He is scared of and aggressive towards strangers!”
While we knew the potential was there (as it is in all dogs), we had never actually seen that behavior from him in all of the time that we had spent with him. So our read was – if he does not trust his handler to control the environment and advocate for him in a way that keeps him safe and comfortable, he will definitely do what most any dog will do when scared – protect himself. But we wanted to be sure, so we did an in-home visit while construction workers were working on the family’s home. Beau had already been aggressive towards the workers. Within seconds of arriving we could see that Beau was very insecure and unsure how to behave in his own home and his owner was very nervous and unsure how to address the situation. So, naturally, he was on guard.
With a little bit of work we were able to have him around all of the workers and remain in a calm state – the same workers that he had barked at, growled at, and snapped at prior to our arrival. We also had him in the backyard sitting on the patio as strangers strolled by on the walking path just on the other side of the rot iron fence (normally he charged the fence barking ferociously – which he did do the moment we let him into the backyard. It took a couple of repetitions of space-based corrections followed by clear direction of what we wanted him to do and he obliged).
The family decided to send Beau to us for boot camp. We spent three weeks with him and after our basic behavioral training, we were able to do everything you’d ever want to do with a dog. He was fantastic with other dogs, people, new places, in the home, and in public. He’s even one of my wife’s favorite dogs to walk on her evening walk and she is far from a dog trainer. He is that pleasant.
At the go-home session we walked him calmly around the owner’s neighborhood and had him walk right past geese, ducks, and dogs that he normally reacted to. We also had the family handle him in an outdoor mall setting and inside a pet store. We had strangers approach. He did great – no reactivity (although he did get uncomfortable when one stranger invaded his intimate space). We spent significant time reiterating the importance of understanding dog behavior/dog psychology and how to properly lead and communicate with a dog. And we gave specific instructions on how the daily structure should look in order to keep Beau in a calm, follower state-of-mind.
As is customary, we checked in on how Beau was doing a few days after he had gone home. The owner responded, “He’s just so aggressive towards strangers.”
We got him back for boarding a couple of days later. While we had him back for boarding, we wanted to see the aggressive behavior. So we did zero training touch-up with him, and we immediately took him into a very new, public place. Below is a video of that outing. We took him to Neiman Marcus at North Park Mall and some other public places here in Dallas. All of the clips are “first takes”. We didn’t prep anyone or let them practice. We simply walked him around and allowed him to interact with strangers.
Watch the video below and ask yourself – how does Beau feel? How do the handlers appear to feel?
You may have noticed there are little moments where you can see Beau is uncertain, but the calm, confident leadership that surrounds him keeps him moving forward and engaged in the activities rather than moving away, growling, barking, or biting.
The point of sharing his story is this: Do you ever wonder why your trainer or maybe another family member gets your dog to behave the way you wish you could? Or why your dog gives his best behavior to someone other than you? The reason why can be found in a single word: relationship.
Your dog gives you behaviors based on how he/she views the information you give them and how they view you as a leader. Are you capable of giving your dog reliable, consistent, and clear information? Does your dog feel you provide adequate direction and protection?
Accountability is another important component to any good relationship. Why do we do more work when our boss is in the office or run faster when the coach is watching? Because we’ll be held accountable.
The dogs we train truly trust us and desire to be around us because we hold them accountable for their choices and we clearly tell them what’s good and what’s bad. It’s an easier life for them.
We cannot transfer our relationship with a dog to the owner. Dogs are contextual beings and know whose information they can trust and whose they can’t.
We can teach owners exactly how we built the relationship we have with their dog. We can give owners all of the knowledge, steps, tools, and techniques – but, ultimately, the owners have to do the work. It’s that simple.