Will My Dog Protect Me?

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A question I’m often asked by my clients is: Will my dog protect me?  My answer is often I don’t know it really depends on the dog, the situation and the bond between the owner and the dog.
I was walking my dog Yukon (husky/shep mix) who loves all other dogs on a trail in Redlands that is deemed as Leash Only for dogs.  On the trail we came head on with an owner with an off leash Doberman.  The Doberman spotted us and made a beeline for us.  The owner called his dog back but the dog did not retreat.  I had Yukon sit behind me as I have trained him to do and I went for my Spray Shield which is a citronella based spray that I have on me at all times for protection and when I have had to use it the spray has proven to be quite effective.  (I have this in stock for $10).  Unfortunately, I did not even have time to pull it out before the dog was upon us, and I quickly learned that this dog was not dog aggressive but people aggressive.  The dog lunged at me jaws snapping and Yukon bolted from in back of me and bit the Doberman on the snout.  The Doberman retreated to his owner.  If Yukon had not come to my aid I’m pretty sure I would have been spending the rest of the day in the ER, this dog was that aggressive.  I never imagined that Yukon would protect me.  I was very proud of my dog for sensing the danger and responding.  So to my clients all I can say is you never know what your dog will do when confronted with a dangerous situation.  Our dogs are amazing creatures and the more bonded to them that we are the more bonded to us they will be.

Fear in Dogs

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Fear is defined by Wikipedia as an emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding or freezing from traumatic events. Fear may occur in response to a specific stimulus happening in the present, or to a future situation, which is perceived as risk to health or life, status, power, security, or in the case of humans wealth or anything held valuable. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis.

Animals experience fear in the same ways that humans experience fear.  For example my youngest daughter is terrified of spiders.  She did not have this fear until she tried to pet a fake spider on Halloween night and it jumped out at her.  Now all spiders real or fake send her into a panic.  She has generalized the fear to all spiders both real and fake.  Our animals do the same things however just like humans they do not even have to have had a bad experience with the object of fear, all they need is to perceive it is a danger to them and they respond with fear.

When I first got Yukon he was terrified of leashes, people, and coming inside the house. Tashi was terrified of metal, metal stairways, metal gates, cage doors, etc.  I am working with another dog who is just a pup and has nad no negative experiences with people however he has started to growl at them and he sees them as a danger. Since a psychotherapy session would prove ineffective for all of these dogs we have no way of knowing whether they had a bad experience with these things or if they are generalizing from an experience to something similar. The facts is that these fears are real for these dogs so the only way to respond to these fears then is with compassion and positive training.  The old protocol was to flood people and animals with what scared them most.  The studies found that this was ineffective because our bodies then reach a point where we shut down completely or in the case of dogs they often turn on their fight mechanism and now you have a fearful highly aggressive dog that is facing euthanasia.

A fearful dog is delicate so when looking for a trainer be sure that they are not using flooding to treat fear.  Look for a trainer that uses positive methods and trains with compassion for your dogs fears because for your dog they are very real, and very scary.