The Ladder of Aggression: What every dog guardian needs to know
Do you know the subtle signals that dogs give when they are stressed? Did you know that if you don’t help your dog, they can escalate? Here’s a great way to see how your dog’s behavior can escalate into aggression. Think of a ladder with many steps. Each step represents a behavior that dogs will display when they are becoming more and more anxious, stressed and fearful. If the dog continues to reach a maximum level of stress, aggression can result. Aggression is the top rung of the ladder. Since all dogs are individuals, every dog has a different way that he/she responds to stress, so we need to be aware of their individual behavior clues.
How a dog reacts to stress or a threat can be represented as a series of ascending steps on a ladder. These gestures are responses to an escalation of perceived threat only and are NOT expressions of a ‘submissive’ or ‘dominant’ state. The choice of strategy (whether to escalate to a bite or not) will depend on the circumstances (time, target, interactions, previous experience) and on the severity of any underlying physical disease. Pain frequently converts a ‘flight’ response to ‘fight’. – Ladder of Aggression by Kendal Shepherd
The behaviors on the lower rungs of the ladder (yawning, blinking, nose licking, turning head away, etc.) communicate in dog language, “I am feeling worried”, or “please calm down”. The behaviors on the higher rungs of the ladder (growling, air snapping, biting) mean “Stop! Leave me alone right now! Go Away!”
Understanding what dogs are trying to communicate when they are stressed is how we become Conscious Companions, and prevent our dogs from moving up the Ladder of Aggression. This included our felines, too!
I would like to share something else with you: A dog bite NEVER happens out of the blue. Let me repeat that; a dog bite never happens out of the blue.
Why is this important to know? Well, it means that all dog bites can be prevented ifwe learn to recognize the stressors and behaviors that a dog exhibits as they are becoming stressed. Dogs will display specific behaviors (listed above in the image) well before they lunge or bite.
Make no mistake about it; it’s our job, our role, and our responsibility as their guardians to learn these behaviors and recognize these stages. Prevention and safety begins with you! Setting ourselves up for success is how we do this.
Set yourself and your dog up for success! You Are Your Dog’s Advocate!
Avoid situations that you feel might upset your dog.
Avoid people, dogs, and places that have created any of these behaviors in your dog in the past (until you can find a qualified dog behaviorist to help you and your pup)!
National Dog Bite Prevention Week is here! This entire week is dedicated to educating people of all ages about how to becomes more Dog Aware, and increase the safety of kids and dogs. We are focusing on the facts, not on creating fear.
NOTE: There is a lot of information in this post. I recommend bookmarking this page, so you can read through it all when you have time, and so you can reference it when you need it later!
The Humane Society of the United States reports that 50% of children will be bitten by a dog before their 12th birthday. Children under the age of five are most likely to be bitten and most of these bites come from a dog that the child knows; the family dog or that of a relative or friend. Children are most likely to be bitten in the face as they are closer to a dog’s eye level making it easier for a dog to feel threatened by eye to eye contact. Children love to kiss and hug dogs, even though these expressions of affection do not translate well in the dog world. Fast movements can stimulate a dog’s prey drive and/or chase instinct. Higher pitched voices can sometimes startle a dog and make it fearful. A dog can be frustrated through rough play or by teasing and a child can inadvertently inflict pain with the pull of a tail or a poke in the eye. It is also hard for a child to read and understand a dog’s body language, therefore missing vital signals that can put them in harm’s way.
Here’s the Good News: We can change the statistics! And, the majority of dog bites, if not all, are preventable. That’s where YOU come in. It’s our duty as dog guardians, parents, educators, and family members to learn how to read dogs better, and teach children how to learn dog “language” and to teach children to respect a dog’s space. The graphic below from Doggone Safe shows us a few signals that dog display when they are stressed.
Researchers found that “Children from 4-7 years misinterpret dogs’ facial expressions.” They found that a full tooth display from a dog is not an effective way to teach a child to back away and leave them alone. Their research suggests that young children might be interpreting an offensive tooth display on a dog’s face as an expression of friendliness rather than a threat. Given that so many bites are to children, this is an important piece of information. ~ Dr. Patricia McConnell
1. Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses — Teach your kids not to hug or kiss a dog on the face. Hugging the family dog or other face-to-face contacts are common causes of bites to the face. Instead, teach kids to scratch the dog on the chest or the side of the neck.
2. Be a Tree if a strange dog approaches — Teach kids to stand still, like a tree. Trees are boring and the dog will eventually go away. This works for strange dogs, and any time the family dog gets too frisky or becomes aggressive.
3. Never tease a dog.
4. Never disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating, or protecting something.
5. Teach your kids to Speak Dog, and only interact only with happy dogs! Watch this short slideshow that shows you how to read dog body language, and other safety tips.
Familiar children were most commonly bitten in relation to food or resource guarding and “benign” interactions such as petting, hugging, bending over, or speaking to the dog.
Supervision means different things to different people. To some parents, supervision means just being home, to others it means watching out the window while the kids play with the dog outside while to others it means having hands on and being part of the interaction between the child and the dog. Many dog bites have happened to children while the parents were ‘supervising’. – Jennifer Shryock, Family Paws Parent Education
2. Know signals that dogs display. If you see these behaviors, intervene quickly (but calmly) and redirect the child or dog onto something positive. These behavior signals include:
licking – tongue flicking out or licking his own nose
3. Learn the Dog Behavior Continuum: We hear it all the time, “Kids and dogs should never be left unsupervised”. That’s great advice, but what else should we be doing?? Supervision only works when we know what to look for and when it’s time to intervene. We have to know when a dog is going from “Enjoyment to Tolerance, to Enough Already“and back again.
4. Don’t assume your dog is “good with kids”. All dogs have their breaking point. We all do. Even if your dog is great with kids and has never bitten before, why take a chance? Toddlers, babies, and dogs don’t need to physically interact!
5. Train your dog positively Never pin, shake, choke, hold the dog down, or roll the dog over to teach it a lesson. Dogs treated this way are likely to turn their aggression on other family members.
6. Involve older children with positively training your family dog (while supervising).
Actively Supervise! Supervise your dog around children at all times. If visiting children are bothering your dog (or other pets in the house), put the pets away safely, or send the children home. Be your child and your dog’s advocate. Parents and guardians must be responsible for their dog at all times, without exception, and especially around children. A child should NEVER be left unsupervised with any dog at any time and dog and child should only be together when a responsible adult can actively supervise. This keeps both children and dogs safe.
There’s no better time than now to educate each other about how each of us has the power to keep everyone happy and safe. This week is the perfect time to reflect on how we can ensure our canine companions, children, and others steer clear of unwanted and preventable circumstances. Education is the key to safety and well being for everyone in the home. Please share this to help educate others so we can all work together to keep dogs, kids, and families happy and harmonious 365 days a year!
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. ― Nelson Mandela
Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them. ― John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog
In our family, the evening walk with our dog is our “family time” together. It’s such a great time to bond with our dog, and it’s a great time for us to talk about our day with each other. Our dog gets to spend “happy time” with her people, and frankly, its the highlight of her day! If you are gone all day, I can promise you that the evening walk is your dog’s most exciting time of the day. They do look forward to it, and it’s the very least that we can do for them when they are stuck inside all day, waiting for their people to come home.
However, walks can be very stressful when we are not in sync. One of my biggest pet peeves (no pun intended) is when a dog pulls on a leash while we are walking together. It is incredibly frustrating, and it makes the walk very stressful. The walk ends up being cut short because it’s not enjoyable for anyone. This can also be dangerous for older people, or anyone with physical limitations. If a dog is pulling on the lead, you can literally be swept off your feet! (I know this for a fact.)
Here’s another problem: Dogs need to be walked once a day – at a minimum. Who wants to walk a dog that walks the person?! No one does. If walks are stressful, chaotic, or exhausting, you are probably going to be less likely to want to go on a walk with your canine companion. Avoiding walks because they are stressful is not a productive solution!
So what’s the solution? Teach your dog how to walk politely on a leash.
Dogs love to explore their outside world. Going on a walk is the most exciting (and most stimulating!) part of their doggie day, so their desire to rush ahead of you is very strong. It’s their nature to want to run ahead and seek out all of those incredible scents, sights, and sounds!
Unfortunately, we don’t make ideal walking partners for high energy dogs, since we only have two legs. A dog’s natural and comfortable walking pace is much faster than ours. When a dog has to put the breaks on their excitement by walking calmly by their person’s side, this is very hard for them, especially when the only thing our dog wants to do is RUN and EXPLORE! Our boring, slow human pace can drive them nuts, making them want to get further away from the person that’s holding them back.
Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not pull on the leash while being walked because they want to be pack leader, top dog, alpha, or dominant over their human. There is a much simpler explanation that does not give credence to the myth that dogs are on a quest for world domination! ~ V. Stilwell
Walking calmly next to a person while out and about on a walk, requires a great amount of impulse control. This is often very difficult for some dogs to practice. People often get frustrated and fed up, so they resort to punishment or tools that are downright dangerous.
Tools of the Old School Trade – What to AVOID
There are a variety of tools on the market today that claim to help with leash walking. Be Aware: Some of these methods are outdated and downright cruel.
Choke, prong and shock collars can irreversibly damage your dog. Learn why these collars cause hypothyroidism and other health problems:
FACT: Modern behavioral science has proven that forceful handling such as physical punishment, using choke chains, shock collars, and leash yanking is psychologically damaging for the dog.
I invite you to do a little test:
1. Open your hands with your thumbs touching each other. Place the thumbs at the base of the throat and with the fingers pointing back and surrounding the neck.
2. Now, take a deep breath, squeeze and pull back with all your force keeping your thumbs connected.
3. This is how many dogs feel when they are on the leash and collar and they are pulling.
If you are still keen to continue with this experiment, put a choke chain or pinch collar around your neck, attach it to a leash, and ask a friend to pull and jerk on it periodically. Welcome to the dog world!
Tips for Success, and What You Need to Consider First!
Before you begin, here are a few tips that you need to consider:
Reward: Do you know what motivates your dog? Is it verbal praise, toys, or treats? Once you know what their motivation is, you can use that as a tool for training. Find out what really excites your canine companion and what grabs their attention. If your boss at work gave you sauerkraut when you performed well, but your favorite treat is chocolate, you probably won’t perform well again. Make sure the reward is something that will be worth their effort.
Time Limit: Remember that you don’t need to spend a half hour doing a training session. 5 to 10 minutes is best. Do a training session with your dog two or three times a day. Keep it short! Keep it FUN!
Punishment is Outdated: Positive training is going to produce results faster and is going to last. It’s far better to have a dog do what is asked because he or she wants to do it rather than doing it because he or she is afraid of the consequences if they do not.
Set them up for success: Begin inside! Then you can move outside after both you and your dog have mastered indoors! You want to startin an environment where there are few/zero distractions. Once you have mastered that together you can move the sessions outside. When you go outside, follow the same guidelines: zero distractions, in a boring, small area. (ex backyard, no squirrels, people, or other dogs, etc.). Once you master small, boring spaces, progress to moderately exiting spaces. If that’s too much, take a few steps back, and make the environment less exciting. You want to set your dog up for success in an environment where you are way more exciting than anything else that’s happening. Then you can start to add in outside distractions.
TIP: You will both succeed more quickly if you find a way to tire your canine companion before a training session. Dogs pull, in part, because they’re full of excess energy. So unless you can expend that energy, he or she will find it hard to control themselves. Before training, play fetch in a hallway or your backyard, play a vigorous game of tug, Get crazy with a Flirt Pole, or let her play with her favorite doggie pal first!
High Note: Always end on a positive note (even if you did not see the results you wanted yet)! Ending it on a good note will help you both; your dog will want to do another session with you if she’s having fun, and you will too!
Behavior Bite: We add tension and stress when we pull back on the leash. Not only does pulling back on a dog’s leash prevent the dog from moving freely and naturally, but it creates tension in our dog. Most dogs will resist this pressure on their necks/shoulders (that you have created) and they will pull harder! Loosen up. It lightens the load on both you and your dog!
The videos below demonstrate easy and simple techniques that teach you how to teach your canine to walk politely on a leash. These methods are using positive, force-free techniques:
Victoria Stillwell demonstrates how to teach Loose Leash Training – INSIDE:
Once you have successfully mastered loose leash training inside, you can train again outside:
Positive reinforcement always triumphs over negative consequences.
Set them up for success.
Make it Fun!
Training Truth + Tips for Success: See Beyond The Surface.
Not everything is what it appears to be. Most dogs who lunge on leash are highly insecure. They may look vicious, but behind many frightening Fido faces are dogs that are are experiencing frustration or FEAR.
This is why it’s never recommended to punish a dog that lunges on the leash.
When we yank, hit, yell, or jerk on the leash of a dog that is *reacting*, we are adding fuel to the fire. We are making the situation worse, AND in the process, we are teaching the dog that they should be afraid of whatever it is they are barking, growling, or lunging at.
Our job as their guardian is to do the opposite: We want to teach the dog to focus on something else, and to change they way they FEEL about the perceived threat. Learn how to by clicking on the image below.