Aggression from first principles
Most common thoughts about K9 aggression tend to label the aggression as fear, predatory or dominance based. This to me tends to put a finite view on what is being exhibited and invariably pre determines a course of action that the trainer will tend to follow to resolve the issues being displayed.
I have for the last few years been looking at K9 Aggression from a totally different perspective. It revolves around looking at the behaviour from first principles and determining a course of action that responds to what is actually taking place as opposed to a pre-determined view of what may be occurring.
Starting at the beginning, let’s look at the “behavioural” aspect of what is taking place. If behaviour is the way an organism responds to its environment, then surely the behaviour a dog gives in terms of aggression is in turn a direct response to its environment whether it is perceived or real.
If this assumption is correct then the next assumption must follow. If behaviour within a specific environment is based around adaptation, then surly the adaptation must be aimed at survival and hence aligned to instinct (assuming a normal dog without sensitized issues). Therefore the behaviour exhibited must be at least to the dog, be in its best interest to remain alive in whatever the situation or environment provides.
Following on, if the behaviour exhibited is aimed at survival or aligned to an instinct it is fair to assume that it is recallable. If we believe that all instincts are intended to maintain life and species then all must serve a direct purpose to avoid injury or death.
Let us look at predation, defense and dominance
Predation – intent is to chase and kill for food. The most dangerous time is potentially if and when the prey becomes a rival by turning against the predatory animal. At that stage the act of predation now becomes danger and is now a problem. It could easily become defensive.
Defense – intent is to stay unharmed. If the act or showing defensive behaviour is to scare away a threat then the point at which time the threat is not overcome is also now a problem.
Dominance – intent is to have the rights of status, mating etc. If the act of achieving or maintaining dominance is not achieved and the rival potentially has the upper hand then the point at which this occurs is also now a problem. Dominance can easily now become defense or avoidance.
In each one of these examples it is a clear parallel to observe that the behaviour leading up to the potentially aggressive event must be more appetitive to the dog than the following aggressive encounter. The behaviour isn’t necessarily appetitive, but appetitive by comparison. In this case we are not talking about a dog with prior experience in which responses have been impacted through training or circumstance, but more so from first experience and first principles.
With this assumption in mind, it is reasonable to determine the following.
The behaviour in the presence of another dog or prey animal is aimed at avoiding a potentially dangerous aggressive encounter. If this is the case it can be argued that the behaviour the dog gives is to obtain control in this environment to stop the situation escalating to the point of a physical aggressive encounter.
Ie “Behaviour aimed at avoiding an Aggressive Encounter”
If a trainer looks at the behaviour in this way, it becomes a totally different mind set for observation, in that we are not looking with a pre-determined idea of what “form” of aggression is on offer, but more what behaviour is being exhibited in order to not escalate the situation. You could say looking at the dog with a “glass half full as opposed to half empty” approach.
When training dogs with potentially aggressive issues we need to determine if we are trying to nullify the behaviour or enhance it depending on how we want the behaviour to develop.
In my training sessions I have found great success when training for abstinence for example to make the dog realize that exhibiting aggressive behavioural traits will not be a way to retain control in that environment, but rather will make the dog lose control. The more the old behaviour is displayed the less control the dog has in changing the environmental impact. The more the dog relinquishes the old behaviour, the faster the dog retains control. Minimal compulsion is used in this scenario.
If training for action on the other hand I have found that encouraging aggressive behavioural traits will reinforce its belief that aggressive behaviour enhances control in that environment, and conversely the less aggressive behaviour is exhibited the less control the dog has in changing the environmental impact. This is a fundamental part of sound working dog training.