At first glance…

A recent case prompted me to write about diagnosing problems with our dogs.

I ask my clients to fill in a 14-page questionnaire and, in addition, if they have any aggressive issues a further, much shorter, form. This gives me a lot of information and allows me to think about what might be the issues relating to the pup in question.  By the time I visit a client at home, I have a general idea about what might be required.

Of course, this may be a good starting point, but my thoughts are not set in stone. Often when I visit a different picture may emerge. Recently I met a dog owner while walking in the woods with Clint (my rescued Lurcher).  Her dog was quite nervous and a bit ‘aggressive.’ After chatting with me for a while, her dog calmed down and socialised with Clint. She took my card and I left it at that.

Subsequently, I received my forms from this lady’s daughter, whose dog it was.  The forms suggested a picture of a fearful dog together with evidence of inter-dog, protective and food aggression. She wanted her dog to be able to get along with her partner’s dog, a larger, older Sheppard Cross. She painted a picture of her dog being aggressive with this dog and their last meeting ended in aggression from both of them.

In any behavioural consultation, it is important to always delve further. The devil lies in the detail. In this case, there was more to the story.

I wanted to understand how often this ‘inter-dog aggression’ happened and what were the circumstances. Actually, the answer here was once. These two dogs had been walking happily together with no issues. They had been sitting alongside each other taking treats from the client’s partner. The issue came when my client’s dog jumped up and put her paws on the knees of the partner. The other dog took exception to this and responded with aggression and an altercation ensued.

Now, this is a different issue from the one my forms had suggested. This, in my opinion, wasn’t inter-dog aggression. This was nothing more than a preventable misunderstanding. It is more likely that the partner’s dog was responding in a protective/possessive manner and had acted accordingly. This became a different, simple, issue to deal with. I advised my client on how to proceed.

The main point here is to understand the need to understand the ‘full’ picture. Resist the temptation to take advice from someone who is not in the possession of the ‘full’ picture. Failure to understand, fully what is going on can lead to the wrong ‘solution’ and further issues.