I’ve had dogs for many parts of my life. I thought I knew how to handle dogs. I’d never trained them really, but in Oklahoma, people weren’t very thoughtful when it came to dogs. At least, I say this because dogs usually ran around free or were chained in the front yard. I thought that’s how you did it.
Having lived 20 or more years later and moved to San Francisco where I live with my wife and children, I have a different picture now. In this city, there is serious dog etiquette in place. People like to interact with dogs, and I mean other people’s dogs. When I grew up in Oklahoma, I learned quickly to stay away from dogs you don’t know. I’ve been bitten a few times. There were some houses you couldn’t bicycle in front of, unless you were planning on sprinting. Here in San Francisco, it’s dog central and the dogs are managed pretty tightly.
It was about 3 years ago when we got “Frida”. She looks pretty cute with my kids here in this picture. When I first saw her in front of Best In Show, a local pet supply store, she was tied up away from the other dogs. I guess that made her stand out, but I didn’t know she was tied up away for a specific reason. I got a sign quite soon. We started filling out the paperwork and another dog came by and she lunged and bit the pooch. The handler put her on the ground and said “No!”. She said, “Oh yeah, she’s got fear aggression.” This was about as clear of a sign as you could get. I guess we were caught in the romantics of rescue and we took Frida home.
She was extremely submissive to everyone who came to greet her. She was so frightened, she would urinate. We would tell her, “It’s OK Frida. You don’t have to be afraid. This is Jerry.” I suppose we felt better for saying it, but she continued to urinate when petted by strangers. She would also lunge at dogs. I’d put her on the ground and say, “No!” She still did it. I began to avoid other people with dogs.
Since we lived about two blocks from a dog park where there’s a big dog owner crowd that very social, I kept trying. One man said, “Just let her off her leash and the dogs will sort it out.” This was her behavior.
Dog comes within her range. She gets flat to ground. Other dog notices it’s being stalked. She begins to move like a cheetah, slowly walking with belly close to ground and then, BOOM! She sprints and attacks the other dog. It’s quick. It’s over. Then, they play. “Ah, see?” says the man. So, this is how we did it. Walked to the park hoping we didn’t come close to other dogs and then let her do her flat-as-a-badger stalk-like-a-cheetah thing. This went OK, until an owner complained that my dog was aggressive. I was surprised and offended. I thought I had been told how to do it and this person was just too sensitive. However, as Frida continued this behavior, the other owners began to ask me to put her on a leash. Looking back, no kidding!
To make matters worse, a neighbor’s kid pulled her ear. She then started growling at him. We took a two week vacation somewhere along this line and when we came back, she was down right vicious and could no longer be tied in front of the coffee shop. She tried to attack people!
I contacted multiple people on how to handle aggressive dogs. No one returned my calls! Except for one lady and, eager to learn, I attended her class. Her whole shtick was how to avoid other dogs. She taught us to run away as a game. That was it! Just run away. I thought that was a load of crap. Desperate, we considered putting the dog down. We didn’t like the idea. We rescued her. What kind of rescuers are we if we put her down? I walked her early in the morning and late in the evenings. What was interesting was that we had a dog walker. And, this dog walker would put Frida in the back of a truck with about 6 other dogs and drive her to a big open space area 2 days a week. Frida was no problem there.
One night, I had just walked Frida, and was flipping through the channels. I saw this guy holding a pit bull down while it screamed. Jeez, I thought this guy was like the Croc Hunter or something. I watched the rest of the show. It was all about handling dogs and it was called the Dog Whisperer. I started to watch other episodes. This guy could fix aggressive dogs. I started taking notes.
It was Exercise, Discipline, and Affection, in that order. You have to not think of them as a human. You have to be the dominate one. You have to be the pack leader. You have to let the dog know that you are the confident leader and to let them know when they are out of line. You need to tell the dog like a mother dog would tell them. And, above all, NEVER LET THEM WALK IN FRONT OF YOU! This explicitly tells the dog that they are the leader. They are leading and making the decisions if they are in front of you. In other words, “master the walk”.
He talked about stopping the behavior before it escalates. I listened to every word he said and I began to use it. I would walk with Frida and I found I knew her signs. I just didn’t know what to do when I recognized them. However, I knew now. I got a chain collar and got a 6 foot leash. I learned to put the collar up high around the neck. Have you ever seen the dog with the chain collar that pulls with all it’s might? Check where that collar is. It’s probably way down the neck.
Whenever Frida would start to flatten her ears and make for the attack, I would give her a quick tug on the leash to me and accompany it with a “SHH!” sound. Early on, it didn’t work at first. I had to tug hard and be quick with the sound. There were times that I had to poker her with my fingers and use the “SHH!” sound. I continued to watch the show and made corrections where necessary. I got my wife to stop being led around by Frida.
I also learned how to break her fear with things. This is the coolest thing I have seen with regard to dogs. On New Year’s Eve, I had a family dinner over at an Uncle’s house. My cousin has a big fluffy husky, just the kind of dog to make Frida attack. I took Frida in the back yard and as soon as she saw this big husky, she tried to turn around and run. I gave her the “SHH!” sound and made her come to me. I put her in a sit/stay and the other dog came over. Frida practically screamed as she lunged at the husky. I grabbed her and put her on the ground, which is ALL DOGS natural submissive state. I forced her into submission. She fought. She growled. She bit and snarled and screamed and people asked me to stop! I held her there. The husky was perfect…running and barking around her making her even more nervous. Every time she made a bark, a growl, a bite, or whatever I gave her the finger poke in the neck with the “SHH!” and gradually over about 5 to 10 minutes, she relaxed. She got to where she relaxed completely. She laid there while I got up and walked away. She stayed in submission while the husky kept on circling her. I said, “OK.” and she leapt up and I kid you not, they played all night! I have 10 witnesses.
Cesar Milan, Thank YOU! I know how to handle aggressive dogs now. I am totally the pack leader of my dog. And the craziest thing is she is so relaxed now. She’s not “cured” in that the behavior still exists and I correct it, but over time it’s so much less than what it was. Often, she doesn’t even look at another dog when we are walking. She knows it’s not OK. She goes to the bathroom on command. I’m even training her to do dog agility tricks now. I’ve learned how to train dogs and it’s pretty cool.
I don’t think I need an expert on this one, just thought I’d post for others to learn from.