The Dogcharmer: She’s a menace

Is there hope for this loving family member who wants to eviscerate all strangers?

Doesn't this just look like a lawsuit waiting to happen? —Courtesy Tom Shelby

Hello Tom,
I could really use your expertise. I have an extremely fearful dog who is highly aggressive. Over the course of four years I’ve tried everything with her from training to Prozac, and nothing seems to work. She is loving to my husband and me, but a menace to everyone else.
Can I set up a consultation with you to see if there is anything we can do to help her and our quality of life? We call our dog “a lawsuit waiting to happen.” One trainer has said that she is incorrigible, and will always be unpredictable. But she is so loving with us, I keep hoping that is not the case. We love her and consider her a member of the family, but we are really at our wit’s end. Can you help?


Dear readers,
Once again I’m going to be politically incorrect here — I’m not an all-rewards trainer.

I met this dog a couple of weeks ago. I’ll call this dog LW (lawsuit waiting). Nancy (name changed to protect anonymity) told me that over the years, she spent quite a bit of money in hiring five different trainers, including the trainer who worked with then President Obama’s dog. To no avail. When guests came to Nancy’s house, LW was either locked in another room or constrained by a leash that Nancy held closely until everyone left. LW was muzzled the whole time, and the guests were given a list of do’s and don’ts to try to prevent enraging LW. They were told to try to avoid raising their voices, making sudden movements, moving about too quickly, etc.

Upon hearing this, I did manage to refrain from asking if the dog owned the house and paid the mortgage. When I asked what kind of corrections LW had received between the five trainers over the years, I was told ,”None.” “Never?” I asked. “Never.”

LW is a 20-pound mixed breed. When I entered the house and sat down at the dining room table, LW was behind a closed door wearing her muzzle and dragging a leash on her collar. The noises she made behind the closed door made it clear that she felt that she needed to kill the stranger in the house. I told Nancy to just open the door and say nothing as LW reacted to my presence. I’ve orchestrated this type of meeting with territorially aggressive 90-pound dogs many times over the years. In my experience, already being in the house when the dog enters the room, as opposed to crossing the threshold into the dog’s face eliminates 80 percent of most dogs’ territorial aggression.

All I can say here is, thank goodness this dog only weighed 20 pounds. I would have lost an awful lot of blood by the time I could get to the leash if not for the muzzle. She nailed me multiple times with the ferocity of a wolverine by the time I could pick up the leash to take control. Then, in between her leaps as high as my waist trying to bite me, I snapped the leash sharply while saying “Uh-uh,” at which point I think LW was totally shocked by the audacity of somebody actually causing her real discomfort for her aggression. The look on her face was almost comical — she seemed stunned, but it only lasted a couple of seconds before I read another attack coming. So I corrected the thought with another “Uh-uh” leash snap. The aggression drained out of her like the water in a sink when the plug is pulled.

I then stepped back the length of the leash and called her to come. She didn’t move, and gave me a look that said, “You’re kidding, right?” So I said, “LW, you can do it hard, or you can do it soft, but you’re going to do it!” and using the leash, I dragged her to me. When she arrived I offered her a piece of baloney through the basket muzzle, and to my surprise, she took it.

That’s not a frightened dog. A truly scared dog wouldn’t take filet mignon from the Square Rigger. After I called her to come several times, she realized that she might as well do it soft rather than hard, cooperate instead of being dragged, and although begrudgingly, she did come, sat, and took the treat. When I looked over at Nancy, her face was streaked with tears as she exhaled, “I can’t believe it!”

Moral of the story, for two-leggeds and four-leggeds: When doers engage in bad behaviors that result in unwanted, unpleasant consequences, bad behaviors can be extinguished.

The Dogcharmer


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