My life with an aggressive dog!

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You can read the second part of this article here.

Gunia was adopted when she was around 5 or 6 months old. She was my perfect pit-bull type dog. Even her color matched the one of my dreams about perfect a pitbull.
From the very beginning she was shy and insecure towards dogs and strangers.
I had made many mistakes while raising her (but who does not) and with my current knowledge I definitely would have changed many things.
I can not say why she is/ was/ became aggressive. Her early life (it was not paradise as she ended up on the street), genes, certain events in her life, an early sterilization. I have no idea and never will.
The only thing I am sure is that she is the dog that taught me a great deal about the dog’s world and I’m forever grateful. This post will not be behavioral advice nor any advice. It will be a simple description how life is with dog like Gunia and what can we do to make it better.

So, what does life with an aggressive dog look like? Normal and very peaceful. To tell you the truth, more peaceful than a life with a non aggressive dog.

CALMNESS
One key to success when dealing with aggression is to remain calm. If I am calm and peaceful there is a much greater chance that Gunia will stay that way. If I react nervously when noticing a stranger on a horizon I can be sure that Gunia will pay attention to to him and stay alert. Her aggression is deeply related to fear. She may not handle it, if I added more stress to it. Calmness allows us to rationally asses our current situation and helps us to make the best decisions; and this is crucial with aggressive dogs.

Calmness and ACCEPTATION
Accept this is how our dog is. Gunia has aggression issues. I know it and I love her. I also know that she will never be a super social dog, greeting every stranger encountered on a street. No running around in a dog pack for her (although with dog packs we should be careful even with dogs without problems). I will not take her to crowded places with dogs or people. She will not compete. She will not greet guests at home freely. I know all of this and I accept it. I accept that she is a unique individual. She has the right to have her own preferences, She does not have to like everything and everyone. She does not have to like other dogs and people. The moment I understood and accepted it our life together became easier and more comfortable.
When another dog is approaching us, I know that for Gunia’s comfort I have to step off the road to give her space. I could be obstinate and persistently draw her attention away from the oncoming dog or force her to tolerate him. But what for? It is enough for her to step aside for a few seconds. It makes her feel secure, observe the stranger and she can get used to the passing dog.
I will not let the stranger pet her. Because she doesn’t like it and it is a huge discomfort for her. I could also try to put a muzzle on her and force her to withstand the pressure. But by doing so I would deeply harm my dog’s trust in me and place her in a situation where she feels endangered. Gunia will not attend dogtrekking with dozens of other dogs. Even though I enjoy dog trips. If for some reason I will go to a dog trekking competition I will have to wait more than an hour until others have taken off and follow them at the very end. I will not pass the finish line. I will take a shortcut to the car to avoid crowded places. Because that makes Gunia feel more comfortable. Yes, I could put her muzzle on and keep her on a short leash so she can walk next to the other dogs. After 3 km of barking she would get over it. She would give up. But I see no reason to do this. Dogs can like or dislike things we do. They have the full right to do so. I accept Gunia the way she is. All of the above mentioned situations are not problems for me. This is simply our life with Gunia. It will not be different.

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Calmness, acceptation and ROUTINE
Routine is helpful with a fearful dog. Gunia has her meal, walk and training time. A predictable world significantly lowers stress levels in her life. It is gravely important to her. She does not have to face overwhelming challenges every day.
Although, I add tiny, surprising elements to her daily routine. Just enough to get used to unusual changes and to be able to deal with it.


Calmness, acceptation, routine and TRUST
Mutual. Gunia has to trust me. She has to because I understand her, I respect her and I accept her. I trust her. I know her threshold, her boundaries, her preferences and strategies for dealing with problems. I know there are things I can not do with her.

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Calmness, acceptation, routine, trust and UNDERSTANDING
Aggressive behaviors are natural for dogs, we have to understand that. Canis familiaris would have become extinct if dogs had not evolved aggressive behaviors. It is absolutely normal to use aggressive behaviors. Unfortunately many people do not understand this. We want nice dogs, dogs who are not barking, not growling. We want them to stop being dogs. A dog has to obey, calmly walk on the leash, listen to the commands and make no problems. We tend to forget that dogs are animals. Even if we do not like it, some behaviors are normal and not unusual. We domesticated dogs but they were never meant to be humans. Our dogs will be grateful if we can clearly communicate what is good or bad. Mutual understanding is crucial. If a certain situation is too difficult for Gunia and she is overwhelmed I can not be mad at her, shout or “correct” her. I can learn from this experience.
A while ago Gunia had a tendency to transfer her aggression, in other ways, if she was unable to attack, she bit what was closest to her, usually me. She was not acting intentionally. It was her only strategy to deal with problems. Her emotions were not under control.
Now she has learned new tactics how to cope with fear which she can use instead of attacking. She has not bitten me for over a year now.


Calmness, acceptation, routine, trust, understanding and REALISTIC APPROACH
I will not take my dog to a dog park or walk with other dogs if I know she will not handle it well. Even if I truly care about this walk with friends (then I can go alone) this will not change how my dog feels about it. She will not handle it.
I know Gunia is not good with other bitches. She can stand them from 10 meters, so I will not risk a dangerous situation with a friend’s dog just to take a nice picture. I will not provoke Gunia. I have to look realistically at a situation and carefully asses it.

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Calmness, acceptation, routine, trust, understanding, realism and RESPECT
Respect your dogs. Their choices. I do not take my dog to the stable if he is afraid of horses. It doesn’t mean I will not work with him to reduce the fear. But I will do this gradually and slowly. Without losing his trust. I often see people who are under the influence of others and when in the company of others start to behave irrationally and unusually towards their own dogs. This constantly happens during seminars. For example, we know our dog is not feeling safe when crated close to passing dogs. But we are attending a seminar and everyone places theirs crates in a corridor. We put our dog in a situation he will not handle under the influence of others. Because we feel ashamed in front of other participants or maybe because a trainer says not to bother, the dog will finally stop barking. This is a perfect way to lose our dog’s trust. Do not feel awkward because you do things differently. You know your dog and you are the one he trusts the most. Do not risk ruing your relationship on the spur of the moment.


Calmness, acceptation, routine, trust, understanding, realism, respect and ACTIVITY
Physical activity is very important for Gunia. Everyday walks allow her to explore and relax. Mantrailing was extremely helpful with dealing with fear of people. Now, a person hiding in the forest or in the bushes is a great friend whose life she saves and she gets rewarded with food :)

I would have never had access to this part of dog’s mind if not for Gunia and her issues. Thanks to her I have a much better relationship with the whole G TEAM. Our current life is quiet and predictable. We know how to rely on each other. She forgives my mistakes and I forgive her. I don’t expect her to be different. I don’t need to.

 

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  • Melissa Sage

    Thank you so much for writing this, I have a dog who is very similar to Gunia (physically as well, they could be siblings!) and we have recently had some issues with aggression towards house mates. Thank you for your tone, and for emphasizing understanding and patience with her. I have decided to work through her issues as best we can, and I appreciate the encouragement posts like this provide.

    • I am really happy that my post was encouraging for you! Sometimes changes take time. With Gunia it took almost two years for her to trust me and it took me a while to understand and accept her. But after you do that everything will change :)
      I keep my fingers crossed for your dog and your work together. Do you have her picture?

      • Melissa Sage

        Panda isn’t aggressive with people, but recently she attacked my other dog, and it seems like she has decided she isn’t going to live peacefully with the small animals in the house anymore. It’s been difficult, but I can’t imagine life without her, so we are doing our best to keep everyone safe and home. I got her from a rescue at about 22 months old, so I don’t know what her past held…she lived with my other animals for 10 months before she attacked the little dog, it was awful.

        Thank you again for your post, I have shared it as well, your words really hit home for me. :)

        • She is beautiful and they seriously be register ;)
          I know it can be difficult, we also had our up and downs. Many downs actually… She is lucky to have you and I think with patience and time you will work this through! Let me know how it goes in future!

  • eednic

    My dog also has aggression issues and I have just learned over time how to make life more comfortable for her. She is absolutely the canine love of my life, and I would do anything for her! :) I very much enjoyed reading your post and can relate to all of it.

    • Thank you! It so great to hear from so many people that they love and understand their dogs no matter what! I didn’t expected this post to be a story of so many! It means we are evolving as dog owners :) and it’s so good!

  • Haizum74

    Hi, I also thing that people need to understand the difference between a dog literally attacking another dog and two dogs falling out.
    I was in the park with my Staffordshire and a friends boxer came along, they usually get on but this time the boxer ended up jumping on my dog and she ended up on her back on the floor.

    Now, remaining calm at any time that two dogs are having a disagreement is critical in not causing more issues. I pulled the boxer off and my dog got up, shook herself and got on with what she was doing, no injuries, no bleeding, just a lot of slobber on her. It was then I realised that it wasn’t a dog attacking another it was a squabble and nothing more. To some people it would have looked very aggressive.

    • I think that understanding dog’s communication is the most important than you will know if it is a threatening situation or just a minor discomfort.

  • Melissa Holland McMahon

    Very, pretty good looking dog. Smart article, love it.

  • rainstorms

    This post has inspired me so much, because I’m basically at the end of my rope with my dog. I try really hard with her, and she just bites me when I try to take things that could harm her from her, and she still eats random food off the ground sometimes, acts kind of aggressive towards cats when she gets treats or food like they’re going to steal it. But the way you objectively made this post, without blaming the dog, or being mad at her, if she took her aggression out on you when you were around other dogs. It is helping me to realize that maybe I can live with this dog. She’s jack russell/chihuahua, when days are good they are so good, and I have so much hope in her. She can be extremely loving to me. I do love her, it just becomes a lot when I’m trying to save her, and she doesn’t see it that way. I got mad when she bit me really hard today, and wouldn’t let her be around me. This article is giving me patience, hope, and sustenance, in my dog & I’s relationship. I have to think about her feelings, and behavioral patterns too. It’s teamwork. And respect for another living animal.

    • Thank you and I’m happy I could help even in just tiny way. I keep my fingers crossed for you and your dog! I hope you will work this through and find a way to leave happily together!

  • Vaccinosis and Chronic Disease – Charles Loops, DVM

    http://www.charlesloopsdvm.com/articles/vaccinosis

    … the miasm of Vaccinosis. … Other examples of vaccinosis cases are aggressive behavior problems following rabies vaccinations. Aggression and …

  • Chef David Edelstein

    Dog Aggression? Slap a stamp on his head and mail to us here in Denver, CO.
    Its all we do… no basic obedience training, no potty training… just aggression, anti-social, fearful, human aggressive, former fighting dogs, former bait dogs, long term tethered/ institutionalized dogs, over-bred females turned vicious and dogs needing guidance in how to be a dog again after the human hands of abuse and neglect.

    Good article, but… in the current world where we promote adoption (vs buying a dog from a breeder or backyard breeder on craigslist, etc): We look less at the dog’s appearance and more at the level of help they need.
    Fun fact: most dog that appear to be on the bottom rung… we adopt, feed, address medical issues, address behavioral issues, etc and… before you know it: A beautiful / camera ready dog emerges.

    Im not only a dog trainer, but a dog owner as well: 5 in fact. All come HORRIFIC backgrounds, All have been torn down and rebuilt, All now train other dogs non-aggression, social ability, confidence, tolerance, and how to live out their lives in peace.

    Team Pit-a-Full
    Denver, CO

  • Woodsfanatic

    Awesome insight. I had a fear aggressive dog awhile back. It was a life lesson I needed at the time. Even though I didnt want it. Everything happens for a reason. I needed to learn boundaries with people. I think she came into my life to teach me this as I had to deal with respecting her boundaries.

  • Sandi

    Redheads are dangerous too, but people are still your friend and let you out in public. Just some food for thought on stereotyping. I hope you get training for your negativity.

    • Michael Modes

      Raising legitimate concerns and questions is not negativity, stifling them is snotty arrogance.

      Sandi, check your own need to lash out at someone sincere with fashionable psychobabble.

  • RWood

    I like a lot of what you say here, but I disagree about the non muzzling. „I could also try to put a muzzle on her and force her to withstand the pressure. But by doing so I would deeply harm my dog’s trust in me and place her in a situation where she feels endangered.” Using a muzzle shouldn’t be like that at all. You never just use a muzzle when there are stressful instances arising- you use one when it’s calm and quiet so they get used to it. They don’t feel the limitations of it- the owner does and as a result the owner is a lot calmer knowing that if they have to be in a stressful situation that they can handle it. Sometimes there is too much anthropomorphism of what we think are animals are thinking. My reactive border collie waits to put his muzzle on before we go into parks and other places and he’s as happy as can be. And so am I knowing that we and others are safer. You will always have to work on trust with a nervous or aggressive dog- using a tool like a muzzle works on your bond in a positive way, not a negative one.

    • Of course I agree. I think you understood it wrongly. I think muzzle is a great and necessary tool. I just gave an example that it can not be used to force our dog to do something. Because we know that when he is wearing muzzle he is not capable of biting. So I use muzzle, but I don’t use it to put my dog under the pressure.

  • sassymouthy

    I too have a dog who is Fear aggressive. He is a GSD and when I adopted him he was like this. You summed it up perfectly. I love him and he doesn’t have to like everyone and every situation. I work around him and his feelings. Not always easy, and at times very frustrating. But it’s what’s best for both of us. Luckily I do have a sweet, calm, loving, pittie and so he has 1 canine friend. Thanks for the article!

  • Peter Goerne

    Great story

  • Michael Modes

    My pit mix has the opposite problem of trusting everyone, I have to watch out for her.

    Good to hear the opposite perspective.

  • Tela Submucosa

    a very honest article. thanks for your words. my dog (an am.staff mix breed) has quite the same issues we have to deal with. but we also tried to accept a lot of things. this now is much more stress-free for everyone of us. our dog also has the emotion-controlling problems. when my partner, or i arrive home, she attacks mostly things in the garden (for example the garden hose or the trash can) but sometimes she bites one of us. you wrote that you learned her now tactics. could you share them with me? i’d love to know, how to help her and us in this situations.. dzenkuje bardo!

    • It is hard to give advice via internet :) but what we did with the transferring aggression was channeling it to the toy. I take a toy (one I can use for tugging game) for every walk. So if Gunia wants to bite something she has a toy next to her face :). When she has learned that she is even entourage to catch it we tried to make it more fun. She than quickly forgot it was aggressive behavior that let to catching a toy because she was having so much fun with us. Now toy is a emotion channeling tool for her. She knows she can let go of her bad emotions playing with me. So any time your dogs tries to bite you (in a situation you wrote as an example try to offer him a toy, it has to be quick, and have the best playtime in your life :))

      The other thing was to make a leash her safe space. So I don’t allow anyone to invade her space when she is on a leash. From the moment I have her on a leash she knows I am responsible for dealing with all scary things in the world. When she is on a leash no dog can sniff her, come close to her. Not even the one she knows and likes. When she is meeting her dog or human friends I unleash her before she can say hi.

      We also work on obedience, mantrialing (that was super helpful) and emotion control technics.
      We work on things she is scared of, like horses for example. It took us almost a year to show her horses are nice. Once a week we have started to go to the field with horses and simple observe them from a huge distance, slowly we started to reduce it. But it was very slow process. It was not like; this week 50 meters next week 40 metres away from the horses. So be patient, try to show your dog that you are not crossing his threshold each time you work with him. show him what are good choices and that you support him when he is trying hard to fight his fears.
      Now I can do obedience training being 5 metres away from the horse. :)

      I know these are very general tips but maybe they can help :)

  • Tess Clayton

    You truly are a wonderful dog owner. If only there were more like you. No one is perfect, we all have issues and it is the same with dogs. You can force him/her to accept your ways, which will create more stress (for both of you), or you accept his/her issues and work around them. The latter creates harmony and trust. We, as humans, must learn to have patients with animals, especially in the case with adopted dogs where they have had bad experiences with people who have been impatient and cruel. Give them time, patience, love, security and consistency and they will flourish, as this beautiful girl, Gunia has.

  • Beth Ann Tedder

    How old is Gunia now

  • Suchery Robin

    Be careful gurl….🙏

  • Irene Richer

    Extreme wisdom here.

  • Cynthia Stevenson

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I have a dog who is leash aggressive….if on the leash in a new situation or a dog approaches she gets aggressive so I have to be careful too. Knowing others see life from the perspective of their dog helps. I do too–I try but I occasionally fail.

    • Thank you! Do you have a picture of your dog? He is lucky he is with you!

      • Cynthia Stevenson

        My camera is not able to post pics…at this time. Echo (yep she will bark at her own echo or her shadow) is a 3 yr old girl we think she is some kind of bird dog crossed with a beagle.

  • Julia Hancock

    Your story is so wonderful to read as I have an aggression issue with my 11 year old basset hound which is very rare for the breed. Is there any way to contact you privately to see what your advice may be on some things? If not I will post here. Thank you!! 😊

  • Diana Gomes

    thank you, it was very confortering reading this article and becaming aware that fear issues are more common than i thought it were. our dog has some issues and we are doing everthing we can to help him and to provide him a happy living. i can relate with some situations you wrote about. the thing that most hurts it’s see that in some moments he’s not able to completely trust us, but we will not give up. thank you, again, and we wish both a very fortunate and peaceful life!

    • Diana Gomes

      this is Lemmy :)

      • Thank you!
        Lemmy is really cute, he is lucky to have you. If you not give up, some day he will trust you completely. Thank you for sharing your story and Lemmy picture

  • carol

    She’s so pretty!

  • Tia Lawson

    You just described my life with my rescued pit Sasha. I adopted your practices long ago. Sasha is who she is, and I love her the way she is. We walk early in the mornings while no one is out. We take to the streets instead of sidewalks to avoid other dogs. She trusts me, and that trust will not be broken. Thank you for sharing this story. I just feels better knowing I am not in this alone and that I am doing what is right.