ADVICE: The Commonsense Dog

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I deal with hundreds of aggressive dogs each year. Some are easy fixes and some take a tremendous amount of work from the dog, the owners, and me.

When I work with serious cases, I tell people “Your dog may never be a social butterfly, and that’s okay.” Sometimes they are shocked to hear it, especially when they are putting so much work into the training. So, let’s change direction and look at the scenario from the viewpoint of the dog.

Let’s say I have a dog aggressive dog. It has been aggressive all of its life, been in multiple fights, and has shown fear in many situations. Is this a dog that can be helped? Yes. Is this a dog that will learn to love every dog it meets? Probably not.

If this dog, in this circumstance, is showing fear aggression, our job is to make the dog less fearful. We teach the dog that other dogs aren’t so bad. We teach the dog how to co-exist, to ask for space politely, to create space if necessary, to interact, and we do our best to make it enjoyable.

Just because we have taught this dog (that once had zero interest in being with other dogs) to co-exist and even approach other dogs without aggression, does not mean he will love approaching all dogs. And there is nothing wrong with that. We cannot force the dog to love the neighbor’s lab or the boss’s poodle. All we can do is teach the dog new life skills, eliminate the aggression, encourage them to join in, and wait for them to bloom in their own time.

Some people prefer to have a small circle of friends, and others want to be the life of the party. There is no right or wrong, but it would be unfair to force them to switch sides if that really didn’t fit their personality.

If your previously aggressive dog has learned to not be aggressive, has learned to co-exist, has learned to interact safely, and then CHOOSES to lie on its bed instead of engaging with the other dogs, let it. Your dog is at peace there. If we force the dog to interact, it stops being about what is best for the dog and starts being about what is best for ourselves.

Training is all about teaching trust. If a dog trusts us enough to lie down when there are strange dogs around, we’ve done an awesome job.

Our dogs are always talking. Are we listening?

Thank you again for the calls and emails. I love chatting with new folks. If you are struggling with your dog, feel free to email me at

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