Aggressive Dog and Core Exercises

This dog is highly aggressive and was somehow rescued from a sketchy neighborhood in New Jersey. After riding for several hours in a car to be transferred to a foster, he bit the transport driver severely in the shoulder when she was getting him out of the car, unfortunately causing nerve damage. He becomes highly attached to his caregiver, but will not tolerate outsiders. In fact, this attachment, which I call “addiction-to-owner syndrome” insulates him from being social with outsiders. I also suspect he has been trained on a bite suit as he leaps towards the shoulders and sustains the bite trying to bring the person to the ground unlike the typical addicted-to-owner dog that is satisfied with the relief from a few quick bites, as painful as they might be, however if it were a dog-on-dog situation, it would just have resulted in a crimping and shaking of a thick wad of fur and loose hide, not too much damage between dogs unless things escalate from there, but with a person that’s a bad bite. I think he’s been trained because were he just to have become rank through the normal course of puppy mismanagement, there would be much more fear in his aggressive behavior.  There are two videos below. The first one is to trigger him. I’ve placed him in an isolation kennel by the wood shed and asked Jeff to approach. The key in my training is to not to have to control a dog, I want to change a dog’s emotional impressions of triggers so that he can be in control of himself. I want him to be able to get himself out of the turbulent swirl of instinctual sensations that trigger his denied-rage mechanism. Then I will cement this capacity to self-regulate, to be able to move from a state of intense frenzy to a calm supple state, into heel, sit, down responses to “commands” so that in the obedience work there isn’t a fundamental state of conflict that has simply been buried under a mountain of training and which sooner or later will break down and which is also contingent on the presence of the handler and how much force they can bring to bear. In other words, I want my commands to piggy back onto the internal commands he gives himself when he chooses to be sensual rather than succumbing to the sensations of static.

In my view it is impossible to train such a dog using just positive methods as the most positive drive is to bite and I suspect Willie has been imprinted in a particularly manic style of bite work as a young pup. Let me simply say that the initial transfer from foster owner to me, and then being able to get ahold of him again each morning during the first week, was an interesting challenge because he had me typed and zeroed in as “stranger-on-the-horizon, i.e. a large, dangerous; but vulnerable prey animal. I deal with a lot of intense dogs, but each of those mornings was a particularly heart stopping exercise in nitroglycerin management.

On the plus side Willie is a whole male. And he’s glommed onto his foster owner who has a fenced in yard and a set apart zone for him in the house, but I’m only working with him on the stipulation he stay where he is, or be placed with a knowledgable working dog person who’d be committed to continuing his civilizing process. He’d make a good police dog but these days the police can’t take him on because he has a bite history and that presents a liability issue. Too bad because in the old days my father and I would go to pounds where such a dog was quarantined for the mandatory period before euthanasia, and two years after that initial lassoing the dog would be the featured guest at a Boy Scout awards night with his Police handler, then to be mobbed by the kids after dessert. But those days of police dog career nabbing bad guys as pathway to canine emotional rehab are no longer possible.

Willie has also been hit as on occasion he displays some hand shyness. Once I did get bitten in the hand after he chewed his way up the lead faster than I could out maneuver him but, speaking to his strong nature, most of the time when I move my hand fast near his eyes, even though it’s in a moment of conflict, he just winces and shrugs it off.

The most encouraging thing about the first video is that he began to oscillate between fixation on the eyes of the stranger, and a noticeably softened body manner and facial expression, and this allowed him to want the food being offered by me but he was still too tight to focus on eating it to the exclusion of all else. But just a little bit, hunger is starting to get stronger than balance and this indicates to me that he will be amenable to a sensual input from a stranger when I take him out of the kennel.


However, note that in the kennel he cannot perform a speak-on-command and then struggles to get it out when on/lead and I’m there to prompt him. His manic barking and surging to the stranger at the gate is too strong and we can see him sneak a few glances to the kennel gate where he has experienced the most intense surge of emotional acceleration and he wants to get back to that surge.

In the second video I engage him in some core exercises, barking–pushing–rub-a-dub, and then we see him on his own initiate social contact with the stranger. Finally once the dog feels grounded with a rub-a-dub, I ask the stranger to provoke him by jumping at him. I was very happy to see that this didn’t knock him off balance. Now we only need a few hundred more strangers willing to play guinea pig while I ramp up the intensity of the core exercises, and we’re done. So come to Vermont and meet Willie for yourself. (or save a trip and send donations to his foster Godmother, Virginia, inquire within.)

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Published May 21, 2015 by Kevin Behan
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15 responses to “Aggressive Dog and Core Exercises”

  1. rip says:

    I love that dog — just from the video. I’d take him home in a heartbeat. Good work.

  2. Ben says:

    If my dog is weary of people who enters my house (low growls, nervous body language) should I push with him when they enter? I believe I remember reading in the past that you shouldn’t energize your dog inside the home.

  3. Julie Forlizzo says:

    I would like to send Virginia a donation, but how do I do that? Also, as I do sometimes, send your work over to my FB, if that’s okay?

  4. Tyler peters says:

    I’d love to make a trip back down and guinea pig for you! Interesting case! I remember you mentioning this while we were there.

  5. Angelique McAlpine says:

    Love these videos Kevin, and your very clear explanations. If I find myself traveling a bit south I will let you know. How long do you think Willie will be with you?

  6. Virginia Philo, Willie's Foster Mom says:

    Willie has a fundraising site for anyone who would like to contribute. All money raised goes to Kevin so that Willie can continue working with him. Thanks for caring, and Dog Bless!

  7. Julie Forlizzo says:

    I’m trying to use my credit card, but it won’t go through.

  8. John says:

    Love that , that’s the sort of hands on practical demonstration I can really get my head around

    Sometimes when it’s just written down it loses the character and the emotional outpouring of the individuals involved, the soothing tones and the physical look and expression of the dog,
    Thanks Kevin

  9. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, to become the emotional ground, do a push, then up on a box to stay, then at some point you want to do a rub-a-dub and allow the dog to learn a sensuality to strangers rather than the static load/overload.

  10. Great work Kevin,
    love that he is very clear about his emotions and “as usualy” your timing is awesome.

  11. Ariel Goettinger says:

    Hi Kevin,

    How’s the work going with Willie? I loved what you said here because it seems like a clear and essential sequence of events, but i’d like to understand how to do this with more examples please. “The key in my training is to not to have to control a dog, I want to change a dog’s emotional impressions of triggers so that he can be in control of himself. I want him to be able to get himself out of the turbulent swirl of instinctual sensations that trigger his denied-rage mechanism. Then I will cement this capacity to self-regulate, to be able to move from a state of intense frenzy to a calm supple state, into heel, sit, down responses to “commands”. What do you mean for the dog to be able to “move from a state of intense frenzy to a calm supple state”? Do you mean you hope to transform the dog so he does not get into “states of intense frenzy” anymore at all? OR do you mean you can provide a pathway for him, if/when he does? Can you speak more about “how” you would accomplish what you state in the first quote i listed? I have seen you trigger a dog as you move towards it and then soften it with gentle touch and i figure with A LOT OF REPETITION of that, the dog would start to change his emotional impressions of triggers. I have been attempting to do what you speak of in the quote, but am clearly missing some key element in the sequence because i have not yet accomplished a calm supple state in the face of my dogs triggers. I have helped to take the edge off, but she still seems wired to be attracted to other dogs in an over-energized, over-stimulated, aggressive state. She is looking at the other dog for then ping/pong factor and if the other dog sends ping back to her ping vs. a pong, she wants to tackle that dog. I wonder if i need to get her to relive her trigger in a more intense way, by exposing her to many a dog (much repetition) or working her with a dog or two that she is triggered by in A MORE REGULAR AND SPECIFIC setting where i can give her an outlet (posting/hockey stick/rope) to release her stuck energy and also soften her to touch from the hockey stick. Mostly i work with her on things with just me as the trigger and then we will go out on a walk and she will still get triggered by other dogs. I have been wondering about the value of repetition with triggering her with other dogs while working with her with the cores and the posting. Thank you!

  12. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Ariel, I’m glad you bring all this up, bc my dog has a history of pinning other dogs down. No breaking of the skin, just a lot of noise and contact. So a couple years ago I decided to use as much NDT as possible, sort of trying it out on Rocky, experimenting, so to speak. In quiet areas, we did a lot of push, speak, collecting, down, and heeling, with yummy treats of course. We kept the environment free from distractions until I could feel him one with me. So we gradually graduated to a semi-busy neighborhood, and the vigilant dog that he is, he spotted doggies long before I did, perked up ears, stiff body, eyes wide open. I would immediately start with a few of the core exercises off the main road, until the other dog passed by and was long down the street. Even if we passed a house with a barking dog inside or in the back yard, his whining would start, so I went into the heel, and picked up my pace, with a treat above his head. Long to short, now, two years later, when he sees another dog, he immediately looks up at me and off we go with the 5 Cs. And tons of “Good Boy” talk. Maybe I should have worked more on triggering the intensity.

  13. Kevin Behan says:

    The point of the five core exercises is to give the dog a feeling of flow so that he will have an answer available to him when triggered and he goes into manic/intensity-emotional-rigor-mortis-overload mode. Additionally when the dog is good at the core exercises, the handler becomes much safer when finally, one has to directly access and attract the dog’s DIS, which is at the root of the syndrome. So in regards to Willy, when he was really good at the core, I posted him up and had strangers approach. Then I would attract the intensity with my rope toy and give him a bite, then get him into barking, then get pushing and ultimately rub-a-dub. Next I would take him off post, go to stranger and repeat. Eventually I would have stranger provoke dog, give bite, do an Out, ask for a bark, and ultimately a belly rub. Next I would have a stranger jump at him, threaten, and then I would ask for a soft mouth, (I should add mawing is something I had been doing all along and whenever it was safe to do so in the above exercises) Also, I would set up a box challenge with stranger approaching without my being near to help him and it was between him and the stranger. With your Bella, you need to have a dog trigger her when posted and go through those gears. Next, you have to shift her vigilance to dog on horizon to boogey man on horizon who is part of your team and then that person can run her through the core exercises. She should be looking for “Kato” rather than dogs. One must attract the energy that the stimulus or situation engenders in order to heal it. Until one has that energy softened, one must realize that everything they’re doing is reinforcing the old pattern.

  14. b... says:

    Thanks for the detailed explanation.

    “Also, I would set up a box challenge with stranger approaching without my being near to help him and it was between him and the stranger.”

    What was the desired response from the dog here? And would they be tethered or double yoked on the box?

  15. Kevin Behan says:

    Willy would start to get sharp and yes I had him double lined so that I could pull him off the box (while backside) and then the stranger would ask him to speak and initiate the collapse into social. Once they were engaged and Willy was supple to the touch, we’d repeat with the stranger getting more and more belligerent.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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