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Episode 313 - Yoshi’s Castle

“Far too often, people react to their dog’s aggression by isolation, thinking that everything will be fine if there’s no chance for an attack. Unfortunately, this is exactly wrong approach. It just makes the dog’s aggression worse through frustration and lack of socialization."


Q&A with Cesar

Isn’t it safer to keep an aggressive dog away from possible danger? If they can’t get to a strange dog, then they can’t attack it.

Actually, isolating a dog, especially an aggressive one, is the worst way to deal with the problem. It does nothing to teach the dog not to engage in the behavior, and can make an already aggressive dog more aggressive. I’ve seen it happen where a family starts with a dog that lunges at other dogs on the walk, keeps it isolated, and then I get called in because the dog is biting family members.
If the dog’s problem is just uncertainty, like Yoshi, then isolation can actually turn that dog aggressive out of frustration. Dogs want Pack Leaders and they want us to tell them what to do. Without clear instructions in the form of rules, boundaries, and limitations, they will begin to test the limits, and that includes trying to figure out who’s in charge. If it’s not the humans, then it will be the dog — and then not only do you have a dog that’s a prisoner in the apartment, so is the whole family. That’s no way for anyone, human or animal, to live.

What if you have two dogs in your pack that fight all the time? Shouldn’t they be kept separate in their own parts of the house so the fighting stops?

This is like the isolated dog problem on steroids. Unfortunately, separation is often the humans’ first reaction when two dogs in their pack fight, and it’s not only an overreaction, but exactly the wrong reaction. It may seem obvious that if the dogs can’t get to each other physically, they won’t fight. What people forget is that even if the dogs can’t get to each other, they can still smell each other and hear each other and sense each other’s energy.

This is why I said “on steroids.” If you break up two dogs that fought and keep them in different parts of the house, then you’ve suddenly created two separate territories, one for each dog — and with a hostile dog with their own territory right nearby. Each dog will become defensive of their own territory, even toward the humans in the pack, and will look for every opportunity to get back the other territory that they think should be theirs, too.

In these situations, one mistake by a human can lead to devastating results, because now if those two dogs wind up together, they will fight and they won’t want to stop. It only takes a second of not looking or a door not properly closed, and you’ve suddenly got a bloody battle in the kitchen. And remember — fighting dogs aren’t focused on who the human pack leaders are. This is how people get bitten by their own beloved pets and wind up in the emergency room. And which human pack members are more likely to make a mistake and accidentally let one dog loose on the other? The children — so this can be an extremely dangerous situation if you have kids in the house.

Does this mean that if there’s a fight in the pack, I have to give up one of my dogs? I could never really decide — and I couldn’t give up any of them.

The good news is that you shouldn’t have to give up any of your dogs after a fight. Dogs, especially pack mates, never fight for no reason. Your first job is to figure out what triggered the fight. Most likely it was for possession of something the dogs consider high value, like a treat, food, or space. When you’ve figured out what it was, then you have to claim that thing as your territory and create a boundary around it. Neither dog is allowed to come near that thing without your permission.
Then, you need to follow through on this strong Pack Leadership. The dogs need to learn that, in order to get something, just taking it is not acceptable. They have to get it from you — and they have to give it up to you when you ask as well. This applies to both dogs equally. You become the source so that there’s no point to either of them starting a fight. They aren’t going to fight you for that treat or space, and they know they aren’t going to get anything if they start to fight with each other.
A fight between two of our dogs can be a really scary thing, but it doesn’t mean that the dogs now hate each other forever. They forget the fight pretty quickly. We’re the ones who hold on. But if we learn to let go of the fear of that moment and, instead, teach our dogs to focus on us as the providers, then we can turn them into a team that will never have any reason to go into battle. That’s what a good Pack Leader does.

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TV: "Cesar 911" appears in the U.S.A. on Nat Geo WILD. Check local listings.

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