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Episode 311 - Hard Target


“Giving your dog affection at the wrong time is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a Pack Leader — it only reinforces unwanted behavior. If you really want to show your dog you care, you’ll give them discipline by creating rules, boundaries, and limitations first.”

 
 

Q&A with Cesar

How can I tell whether or not my dog’s aggression is due to a medical problem?

The key word here is “sudden.” If your dog suddenly becomes aggressive and there haven’t been any major changes in your household or pack dynamic, then it’s time to visit the vet to find out whether your dog is suffering any pain which may be causing him to lash out at people.
 
Dogs are experts at hiding pain. It’s a survival mechanism that was bred into them in their days in wild packs. Since a pack can turn on a member with weak energy — especially if it’s one of the leaders — the dog that can hide its pain and weakness survives. This is great for a dog in a pack. Not so great for a dog living with a family who has access to modern veterinary medicine.
 
As you probably noticed in the episode, as soon as Target had his rotten teeth removed, his behavior toward Kathy improved remarkably. Although the ultimate source of his aggression was fear, his pain was contributing a big part to that fear.
 

In the episode, Target always gave a warning by growling before biting, but my dog doesn’t growl before biting my husband. What should I watch for?

Dogs usually give a warning when they intend to bite, but not all of them growl or even show their teeth. The thing to watch for is tension. If the dog seems alert but stiff, with her head up and forward and her forelegs slightly bent, she’s telling you, “Back off right now.” She’ll probably also maintain eye contact with you and her upper lip may curl or tremble.
 
Another warning — although it’s a quick one — is when a dog that seems to be barking excitedly is retreating slightly. If a dog in this state suddenly rushes forward, he may be going for the bite.
 
 Some dogs will give no warning, so we have to always be cautious, especially with a strange dog or one that is nervous or fearful. This is why “no touch, no talk, no eye contact” is so important when meeting new dogs or working with anxious ones. In these cases, a sudden, unexpected touch by a human can lead to the dog snapping without warning.
 
The safest thing is to always remain calm and respect the dog’s space. And, when approaching a dog you don’t know well, ask yourself, “Would I do this if I met a wild wolf?” If the answer is “no,” then don’t do it!
 

My dog is energetic like Murphy, but due to a leg injury I can’t walk that far. Will a treadmill really work to drain her excess energy?

While the walk itself is the single best way to drain your dog’s energy and bond as a pack, you can use a treadmill to drain energy if circumstances demand it — like a leg injury, or weather that is too extreme. It should not become your permanent solution, though. If you’re going to be unable to walk your dog for more than a few weeks, you should be prepared to find a family member, friend, or neighbor who can take on the actual walking duties, or hire a professional dog-walker if necessary.
 
There are various ways a dog can get exercise. One is a treadmill, which provides a lot of physical exercise but not a lot of mental stimulation. Another is playtime, which can be structured (fetch, agility training, etc.) or unstructured (running around in the yard.) While both can provide exercise and mental stimulation, they can also actually increase your dog’s excitement level by focusing its energy on the equivalent of prey. This defeats the purpose of exercise.
 
 When the Pack Leader is in control, the walk combines a lot of physical exercise with focused mental stimulation. The dog moves forward with the human and it becomes a mission. In fact, it mimics the action of a pack on the hunt, so fulfills a dog’s needs on a very primal level. This is something that a treadmill or playtime can’t provide.
 
It also emphasizes the human’s position as Pack Leader as they direct the walk.
 

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