Now, everyone knows that I am not against using corrections in training. However, I have tried to also convey that there are times when corrections should never be used. Fear is one of those times. If you don't know the root of a behavior, either get some help or find a way to deal with the behavior that doesn't involve a punishment.
Here's today's scenario...
Dog who has previously been described as "fearful" is on leash lunging and barking. Past information has been that this dog will ignore people she doesn't know, unless they try to put her, and then she will snarl and attempt to nip them. However, if you ignore her, she will ignore you. Having dealt with evaluating a number of fearful dogs in the past, I tell the owner to let the dog off leash. In the past, even very fearful dogs who charge will either bump or nip and then go away if I don't react or will stand just out of reach and make a big threatening show. I've been "muzzle punched" by a couple of dogs, but again, without a reaction from me they retreat to mom/dad because mom/dad is safe.
So, dog is let off leash and charges. I don't move, don't make eye contact, keep neutral body posture. Dog nips three or four times - hand, arm, upper arm. I don't react in any way. Dog proceeds to jump up and bite my hair, then the back of my arm, then my back (couple inch long bruise left through down vest) and back of right leg (hand sized bruise, broken skin, blood, through brand new jeans.) Owner collects dog. I tell her to put the dog away, where the dog continues to bark, lunge and claw at crate.
I tell the owner that in my opinion, this is extremely dangerous behavior, as the "forward fear" is far past just a threat display - the dog escalated the behavior when I didn't react, instead of retreating or even remaining the same. I am not the "think of the children" type, but there are four kids in this home as well, with a constant parade of kids in and out of the home.
Later on, I speak to her on the phone and ask when the "only snaps if you try to pet her" escalated to what I experienced. Of course, the answer is "this is the first time that ever happened." Well, my first thought is bullllll shiiiiiiiit, but I continue the conversation to look for more information.
She explains that the dog has never been off leash around anyone she didn't know. And that she can completely control the dog when it is on leash. In fact, the very first time that she met the dog, the dog muzzle punched her and then stared her down. And she took the leash, tweaked it (her words), and told her to knock it off. Bingo. Two months of corrections to shut down fear based behaviors when meeting a new person... and when the dog was finally off leash and allowed to do what she wanted to do - well, what she wanted to do very much was hurt me.
I was also told how the foster home from the rescue used to give her treats when she acted like that around new people. (Which, of course, is what you should do in this case) But the current owner just pops her collar and "makes her behave." Well, that gives me the answer of why the dog didn't go back to mom for safety when the big scarey stranger wasn't afraid of her - because mom isn't safe either!
I went into a looooong explanation of exactly why you counter-condition for fear based behaviors, and why correcting the dog only shuts the behaviors down. But, of course, when the dog can finally act out what it wants to do, that lucky person gets all the benefit of all of those fears. Tonight, that lucky person was me (frankly, I thank God it was me, and not some random person who could have been very badly hurt.)
It's important to note that I specifically told the owner two months ago to take the prong collar off the dog and learn about clicker training. There is a time and place for corrections, a six month old, resource guarding, fear aggressive dog is not that time or place.
Honestly, my gut reaction after the "nips" turned to "bites" was to grab her and make her stop. However, there were two children in the room, I hadn't asked permission to train the dog (and infact had told the owner to unclip the leash), and I have to go back to work tomorrow and though I would have ended up "winning" that battle, I also would have ended up injured quite likely badly.
The ugliest part of this whole thing, and what I really, really hope she heard was that the dog escalated her behavior with no reaction at all from me. Normally, when someone is bit repeatedly (and she had intent, just didn't have good aim, but was quickly getting better at it, and the last one to my hamstring hurt) they don't stand there and not move. They yell, run, hit, kick... something. I didn't move or make a sound, and she got worse. The likely hood of that happening with another person or with a kid is about nil - and though it's possible that screaming would have scared her, it's much more likely in my opinion that it would have brought out even more.
So, what's the moral of the story here?
If you don't know the root of a behavior, don't use force to try to "make it go away," because it won't. Yes, I believe that some behaviors can be "fixed" with corrections (or without, it's up to the owner) but when rooted in fear? No. Because above all else, you should be the "safe zone" for your dog - and when the dog is already afraid and you add to that fear, it's not going to look to you for help. And that spells disaster.
(Just as an FYI, dog in question is a 8 month old GSD.)
Inside me is a thin woman trying to get out. I usually shut the bitch up with a martini.