This is a super old post that I did many years ago. It’s about the struggle we professional dog behaviorists have when it comes to working with clients and their aggressive dogs. There are blind spots, fear, and denial that come into play with dog aggression and it’s always stressful for owners, the dog, and the trainers involved in these cases.


Photo by Raphael Renter via Unsplash

Dog trainers dread getting a client that has a dog with serious aggression issues. When we get to the client the family is in turmoil over the dog’s behavior, most times someone’s been injured or threatened by the dog, and it’s a horrible situation for all involved. Most dog trainers feel we need to do everything possible to help these clients, it’s more or less our professional credo as well as our job.

What clients really don’t understand is once a dog has started down the aggression path it’s impossible to “turn back the clock” and “cure” the dog from doing such things ever again. Now, don’t get me wrong, aggression is not as simple as that last line and it’s super difficult to diagnose what’s going on much less train for and modify the behavior. But, the best most of my clients can hope for is to MANAGE what’s happening using training and behavior modification tools.

Working with these dogs is hard under the best of circumstances. It’s difficult for me and it’s infinitely more difficult for the clients who aren’t as schooled in dog behavior. Where we run into problems is with how the dog interacts with the family in daily life and how they will be forced to modify how they live with the dog in order to work on the problem. Change doesn’t come easy to people, but in dealing with these dogs they’re forced to modify their lifestyle and expectations on a daily, hourly, and minute basis with the dog.

My most successful clients have the mindset of, I love this dog and I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep him alive and keep everyone that comes into contact with him safe. Unless they maintain that as the core thought in their head when the dog is around there are going to be problems.

As a dog trainer, I struggle mightily trying to get my clients to comprehend the seriousness of what they are undertaking in these situations, but I’m not always successful. I always wonder what I can do to “help” them make the commitment to protecting their dog and family. Sometimes I just can’t get them to see the danger and even though I work with them on obedience and continue the training in hopes things will “click” for them I have little hope all will be well.

At the conference I attended this week someone asked Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, what he did when clients didn’t do what he told them. How did he handle people who refused to practice the behavior modification program he gave them. His exact words were “I leave”. I sat agog for a few minutes as he continued on but his point made sense. There are over 1 million dogs put down every year in the U.S. If we waste time on clients that don’t want to help their dog then we’ve potentially taken away the life of one out there that has an owner that will do the work to save it. Now that is a Powerful thought indeed.

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