Unless I’m working with puppies on basic obedience I am generally called to help my clients find ways to reduce problem behaviors in their dogs that are fear based responses.
It may be barking at the front door when guests arrive, barking/lunging at other dogs on leash, or stopping nipping and biting behavior when interacting with their dog.
At some point in all these situations, the problem behavior wasn’t this bad or didn’t exist. The owners just didn’t pick up on the less common signs of concern/fearfulness that their dog was displaying. When all the subtle cues their dogs tried to offer were either ignored or punished, their dog advanced their behavior up what is called a ladder of aggression.
In the diagram listed below, you can see the commonly ignored signs of fear and stress in the green and yellow arrows.
In many cases, the only reason for a snap or a bite is because we ignored or didn’t allow the dog to get space or remove itself from the situation. This is why leash aggression is so common. The fearful dog who is taken out every day for walks but who is fearful understands the consequence of the leash. It communicated a limit of how far the dog can get from a negative stimulus. Essentially saying you really can’t leave. That is the case if we ignore all the ways your dog was saying they were uncomfortable in the first place. Before the growling, lunging and biting the owners missed the yawning, looking away, tucked tail/ears, raised paws, frontal lip licking and stiffening up.
If we honored our pets earlier requests for distance and assurance the behavior might not have escalated.
Here is an image of some of the signals that your fearful dog might have offered.
I promise that if you pay close attention to your dog trying to either get distance or diffuse a perceived stressful situation by offering communication as pictured here, future aggressive behaviors will be far less likely to appear.
Remember, behavior does not happen without consequences. Aggression is never the first choice. When we ignore/punish (consequence) small communicative behaviors like stress yawning, lip licking, raised paws, hypervigilance, trying to get distance, and even growling, we are asking our pets to try another way, or another rung up the ladder of aggression.
Here is an additional short video that will hopefully help you recognize some common calming/displacement signals from your dog or other dogs you come across.
Be well and wag tail.
All Paws Essentials/OC Canine Coaching