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Aggressive Australian Shepherd

Hi John,
My daughter has an aggressive Australian Shepherd mix. He is a little over a year old. She brought him home from college in June and he has progressively gotten aggressive. He is a sweet dog-99 percent of the time–but lately without reason (other than a perceived quick movement -ie getting up from a chair–he snarls and shows his teeth and even looks like he would bite me (once) my husband (last night) and others that visit even though he appear to be fine for half the evening. It is sudden – random-aggressive behavior without provocation. There is a dog “wizard” here that uses an e collar who says he is acting aggressively out of fear. That he is timid and lacks confidence and can help my daughter straighten him out with $2300, hard work and dedication. Am hesitant but feeling helpless for an alternative. Please advise your thoughts.

Thank you so much.

Pam – Atlanta Georgia

Hi Pam,

There’s a lot going on and yet not a lot to go on here and I’m not even sure I understand what your question is to me. I’ll take a stab at it though in general terms.

I’m always a little leery when I meet someone that says they are a dog trainer but says they are an “e-collar trainer” or a clicker trainer, or a prong collar trainer or a gentle leader trainer or an all positive trainer etc and by that, they mean that is all they have to offer. It’s generally because that’s all they know and I know there is more to know.

For instance, I’ve found in the end that while they’re nice enough people, in the ability department the “all positive” trainers are almost always useless when it comes to teaching meaningfully practical companion dog skills in a timely manner useful to companion dog owners and when it comes to resolving serious behaviour problems like aggression they all too often recommend euthanasia.

I’m not suggesting that a trainer needs to be abusive though, I’m just saying no species on the planet has figured out a way to teach in an all positive way. That said, I once met an e-collar trainer that should have be charged with cruelty and although I like to behave myself I sort of regret not popping him in the nose for the abusive manner in which he used the e-collar. On the other hand, I know another trainer (one of many) that I wouldn’t have any reservations suggesting you talk to if you want to learn how an e-collar can be used without cruelty. Her name is Robin MacFarlane. Click on her name as I’ve added a link to her site. She has a lot of good information there. This fellow or gal may be just what you need but ask Robin if she’s heard of him or her or what you should expect from him or her.

I really don’t know any good trainers that pigeon hole themselves as one tool wonders. Tools serve a purpose and I don’t get too wound up about what a trainer is using just so long as they’re using it correctly and that means amongst other things, is it the right tool for the dog they’re working with but if they only have one tool, it’s like a carpenter that only owns a hammer. I don’t care how good he or she is with that hammer, everything is going to look like a nail to them and not all dogs and dog owners need nailing (or treats, or clickers, or prong collars etc.)

I can tell you that while I understand from your perspective you might think there is “no reason” and his behaviour is random and without provocation, there is always a reason and as a trainer before I worry about what leash or collar I might need I’m going to do everything I can to get to the bottom of why the dog is doing what it’s doing. If it’s fear and lack of confidence, I’m going to want to know what part of that is bad genetics, what part is tied into events that may have happened or not happened during the dog’s critical socialization period. Your dog is also at an age where it wouldn’t be unexpected that he might start asserting himself if he was raised in a way that might have him thinking he’s in more of a room mates situation rather than a parent/teacher child/student relationship. There are other possibilities as well that I’d want to cross off my list before I reach for a tool bag.

The more information I have the better I can tailor the behaviour modification approach. It’s good to learn as well because we can set more realistic goals. Some dogs are only going to be able to change so much and when we have dogs behaving this way (serious aggression) it’s better to be realistic as this sort of thing can get way out of hand once the dog turns 18 months of age.


– John Wade

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