Aggression Training Part 4: the Comparison

January 06, 2019

Aggression Training Part 4: the Comparison

When contemplating the apparent controversy and conflict between different training methods, it was obvious that I would need the perspective from some folks that have experienced both (as I have not).

There were a select few people who volunteered to share their story with me, including Maya. (Follow her on instagram @mixandmutts) Here is her interview:

Tell me about your dog!

I actually own three dogs but the dog in question is Callie. Callie is 2 years old (3 in February) and she was adopted from our local shelter on October 29th 2016, she was 8 months old at the time. All that we were told about her breeding was that she was a hound mix, but a DNA test revealed that she was part Dalmatian, Collie, Boston Terrier, and Nova Scotia Duck Toller (and she weighs around 50 lbs).

We live in Ottawa, Ontario but her medical records go as far as into North Carolina. We don’t know anything about her past other than what medical records can give us (she was recently spayed and had a mass removed on her left hind knee prior to adoption), but we assume she had a rough 8 months before we found her.

She was quite fearful from the get go, very selective of the people she trusted (especially towards men) but loves children. We assume she was beaten and neglected by a man because of how she reacts to people lifting up sticks or even just holding them. She’ll feel threatened and bark/growl, and even nip if the person in question doesn’t listen to her warning and back off; thus was the case with our next door neighbour. For the two years that we’ve owned her she absolutely despised him, and only up until October of this year was he actually able to pet her

What made you seek out the advice of a trainer?

Since around September 2017, we had been housing a family friend’s dog (Meg, Yellow Labrador Retriever, 6 y/o, 65 lbs) on the weekends. Something came up where they couldn’t always provide a safe space for her and so she’d come over when she needed to. In July 2018, she officially became our dog. Now at this point, Callie and Meg had known each other for almost two years. They were lucky enough to be able to have that slow introduction that enabled them to feel very confident in sharing their resources with each other (space, people, toys, food, etc.) Two weeks after officially “adopting” Meg, we adopted Gucci. Gucci came from the same shelter as Callie and all we knew about her is that she came from Kentucky, was picked up as a stray not spayed and with a hernia. She also ended up having kennel cough (gave it to Meg as well). Gucci is said to be a puggle (all though she doesn’t look like one) and is estimated to be 1 y/o, she weighs around 30 lbs. 

Once Gucci came into the picture Callie was very aggressive towards her and there were a number of fights. Callie had never shown any aggression towards other dogs but actually showed having another dog present helped ease her anxiety. We contacted a trainer (the balanced obedience dog behaviourist) because we weren’t going to give up on either of the girls. When we take in a dog, we take them in for life. We promised the shelter that even after the seemingly perfect meet and greet, if the girls didn’t get along we would try with a trainer or even multiple, until it was deemed impossible to keep them together. Now, Callie and Gucci are the best of friends, they have the perfect energy levels for each other and can play respectfully together for hours on end. But nothing is ever this easy in our house.

Callie is a reactive dog, she’s quite emotionally unstable. Once she was taught that fighting Gucci is not acceptable, she still felt insecure with all the new dogs in the house (bringing two dogs in, in such a short amount of time was a big mistake on our part) and went on to attack Meg, who she had known and loved for years, because there was no big red X on Meg telling Callie to leave her alone. There were no problems with Callie and Meg or Gucci and Meg, so we didn’t focus on her. We had let down with the trainer as we thought everything was under control and then Callie started acting up towards Meg (who is the least dominant dog I’ve ever met). They ended up having one big fight on Halloween where Meg attacked Callie first, then Callie went after Meg and caused 6 puncture wounds in Meg’s neck. Thanks to Labradors having a lot of extra skin in that area, no major damage was done. Since then they’ve never been the same. Meg is on edge around Callie, and Callie’s always on edge around Meg. The way the fight started, none of them know exactly why they were fighting. (I have a detailed explanation of it on Instagram with pictures on a post with Meg in a tutu). We then contacted a new trainer who is 100% positive reinforcement based. 

Which training method did you start with, and why?

Ok so, with the first trainer, he’s a traditional training based behaviourist. A lot of his methods are based off of the Monks of Skete Mountain. His training style is based off of physical corrections (pop the leash, yelling/making big noises to distract if a fight seems to begin) and a lot of obedience training to reinforce the order of the pack (30 minutes long down stays twice a day, practicing commands like sit, down, stand, stay). 

Why did you switch methods?

The second trainer is positive reinforcement based. She’s big on creating a balanced partnership between dog and owner. So unlike the traditional “dog must obey human” it’s all about mutual respect. There’s no use of non reinforcement markers, just breaking down a desired behaviour and rewarding until it all builds up to the behaviour that’s being asked. She wants to create the least amount of possibilities for the dog to make a mistake so the experience remains positive.

In the end, what was your favourite method, and why?

The two training styles are 100% complete opposites, but I feel that both are necessary to Callie’s development. The traditional training was more the suppression of emotions while positive reinforcement is more allowing the dog to feel but teaching it better ways to deal with their emotions. While they are both the extreme of the other, I appreciate what they offer, and while I like the idea of positive reinforcement, it’s just not realistic, you need to say no to your dog. I like both methods but I also don’t like both methods, and honestly a balanced 1/2 traditional obedience and 1/2 positive reinforcement training style is my favourite. While we can’t seem to find that kind of trainer in our area, I’d have to say that out of the two I prefer the positive reinforcement style better. I like the aspect of building a relationship based off of mutual respect and understanding, and teaching us to understand the dogs language just as much as we’re teaching the dog to understand ours. Animals weren’t brought into the world for us, and we need to respect that. 

Is there a moment in your training so far that makes you super proud of you and your dog’s progress?

My proudest moment happened just last week on Sunday the 23rd. We began muzzle training Callie in October and I finally made the decision to have her wear it outside so that Callie and Meg could go out together off leash and I didn’t have to worry about anything happening. They loved to go out and explore together, and they lost that after the fight, they lost their trust in each other. But on that day I was finally able to see them again. Meg even tried to initiate play (much to Callie’s confusion). Following that time outside I can already see Meg’s confidence around Callie returning. For so long they no longer knew how to act around each other but that Sunday afternoon changed something. 

If you could give one piece of advice to other aggressive dog owners, what would it be?

The one piece of advice that I’d give to other aggressive (or reactive) dog owners is to never stop loving your dog. That’s what really kept me going. If you knew who they were before, you know who they’ll be after. Don’t give up on them, don’t stop, because once you do, they give up on themselves. 

Whats your dog's favourite treat, and if you were on a stranded island would you eat it?

Callie’s favourite treat is definitely those rolled up salmon skins. She goes crazy for fish! I guess I would eat it if I was stranded on an Island.


 I have to say that this was one of my favourite interview so far! Maya said it best here: 

"The one piece of advice that I’d give to other aggressive (or reactive) dog owners is to never stop loving your dog."

In the end thats what this is all about. Just because a dog might react or act aggressive to someone or some thing, does not mean they don't have the potential to be a good dog

The question is, are you willing to put in the effort to get them there?


Next up, part 5, another comparison story. 

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