Understanding Dog Aggression & How to Fix It
The Root Cause:
As a severe problem behavior specialist, I have been in a unique position to meet and observe thousands of dogs who have been previously labeled as “aggressive” with no hope. Many dog owners and pet professionals assume a dog is acting aggressive because they are simply angry or scared as a human would and the reaction they display is a conscious emotional choice they are making. In reality, the majority of dogs who act aggressively are doing so because of sensory processing issues.
Dogs by nature are very sensitive to their surroundings. They are constantly taking in information and processing it / responding to it. Most dogs who are socialized properly as puppies become neutralized to these potential people, places, and other animals they encounter as adults without issue. However, some dogs are wired differently. They are operating on a higher level of sensitivity which can make even the most every day of situations overwhelming to them regardless of prior exposure.
Granted, a lack of socialization can cause a similar insecure response but I have seen many puppies who were socialized while making an over-stimulated association to what they were socialized to (people, dogs, environments) that led to their aggression as an adult. As I mentioned earlier, this is not a conscious choice though. Certain dogs have difficulty with sensory processing and are taking in stimuli at an overwhelmingly rapid and intense rate because it is difficult for them to “filter” life the way average dogs do.
The external problem of aggression is simply a symptom stemming from the dog’s insecure way of trying to cope with the extreme discontentment they are feeling from the sensory processing struggles they are having. Based on the countless intakes I perform on dogs who’ve had prior training I have learned that many professionals are yet to understand the sensory component causing aggression in dogs. Once this root cause is addressed properly, however, a dog will begin to process the information they receive in a different and positive way instantly!
I Can Relate:
I feel the main reason I relate to dogs differently and understand the often overlooked sensory component of dog aggression is because I am on the autism spectrum. Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects each person differently with one of its constants being difficulty with sensory processing. People with autism also have an unfiltered way of navigating their surroundings similar to the experience of dogs who “take it all in” causing the overwhelming feeling of sensory overload which can lead to great anxiety or “meltdowns” in humans and an aggressive or avoidance response in dogs.
For someone like me, it may be a certain type of sound, light, or the inability to filter out conversations in a crowded restaurant. For dogs, it can be something as minimal as the constant movement and daily activities going on around them to something intense like your neighbor’s barking dog you pass every time you go on a walk.
Although I do not bark or bite, I find myself struggling to process all that is going on around me at times too. I can easily become anxious and stressed if I do not apply the sensory organization (meditative) techniques and understandings I have taught myself to help keep my sensory processing “filtered”. These are very similar to what I teach my clients and their dogs to help overcome their sensory problems too.
Meditation for Dogs:
Unfortunately, the word meditation conjures up many hippy visions and can be intimidating or even silly to some. The way I explain meditation is that it is simply aerobic exercise for the mind. At the level our dogs need, it is teaching them consistently how to think about and process one thought to replace the situations when they are thinking about ten things! Like exercise, the more you practice the more stamina you have for everyday activities.
In terms of the mind, dog meditation teaches our dogs to have the stamina of a sensory filter to help them calmly navigate any and all of life’s interactions they may have been too stimulating previously. The actual techniques used to guide your dog’s mind to this place of Doggie-Zen is based on pressure points and focus building through basic commands which I hope will get to explain in detail in future articles. But even something as simple as getting your dog to focus on a “Sit” or “Down” command (without constant treats or corrections) for a length of time in a particular mental state can achieve the calm, single pointed equipoise of a Tibetan monk!
This will gradually open your dog’s mind to even being willing to “let go” of their everyday anxieties including situations which previously would trigger an aggressive response. At first, it will be brief and require your constant guidance. However, after consistent effort, your dog will both begin to replace previous over stimulated associations with new calmer ones. Affording your dog the ability to now feel secure and learn from this new filtered way of navigating their lives via our guidance.
Brett Endes (The Dog Savant) is a Los Angeles-based dog trainer and behavior expert who has 22 years experience working with severe problem behavior and rescue dogs. Brett is a graduate of the State University of New York and is the owner of Ican! K9, a state of the art training, boarding, and aqua therapy facility in L.A. He is known for his unique personality and effective style of dog communication he has developed by his years of work as an applied canine behavior expert. Brett lives in Los Angeles with his daughter Skylar and their Rottweiler Boo. To learn more about Brett visit www.dogtrainingla.com. Please forward all inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.