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Understanding & Handling Dog Aggresion

A common sense approach...

by Barbara Sykes
Reviewed by Aileen Clarke

Description: Barbara Sykes' handles the very thorny subject of dog aggression with a common sense approach. She explains in plain English what aggression is, how to recognise it, how it develops and how to deal with it.

She uses case studies to illustrate her points, and readers follow the story of Craig, the Border Collie seen snarling on the front cover. Barbara took him on as a two-year-old dog that had learned to use aggression to achieve total dominance. She explains through the book how she removed him from his position of leadership through non-confrontational methods, and how she used training exercises to turn him into the happy, relaxed dog seen giving her a cuddle on the back cover.

Contents include:-

  • What is aggression?
  • Recognising aggression
  • How aggression develops
  • Dealing with aggression
  • Restoring confidence
  • Recognising your capabilities

Best Features: Barbara pulls no punches in describing dog aggression, and what is required to rehabilitate an aggressive dog, but her book is very positive as she shows that with the right approach most aggressive dogs can be re-educated. She is also realistic in realising that dogs that have learned to be aggressive will still need to be watched carefully once their rehabilitation is complete, as certain triggers could cause the dog to regress.

I particularly liked Barbara’s description of aggression as ‘indomitable spirit’, the thing that keeps the body going against all odds. In dogs most aggression occurs when they discover that their owners are not strong or able enough to protect them. They feel that they have to call on their own indomitable spirit in order to protect themselves, their family, and revert to the need to use aggression to ensure survival. One of the main points that runs through Barbara’s book is the need for the owner to show the dog that he or she is in charge of all situations, and is the one the dog should turn to in adverse circumstances.

Worst Features: Barbara’s book is extremely well written and readable, but if I were being really picky, I would suggest that a paragraph about the health of the dog should have been inserted in the chapter dealing with the causes of aggression.  This is mainly because I have a dog that has hip dysplasia, and when he is suffering with his arthritis he can appear very aggressive towards other dogs, as he does not want them bumping into him and hurting him any more. So I feel it is important not to overlook the obvious and look for physical as well as mental reasons for aggression.

Presentation: A well-presented book.

Value for Money: This book is a valuable resource to the owner of any dog, aggressive or otherwise, as it not only tells the owner how to rehabilitate an aggressive dog, but how to prevent the dog becoming aggressive in the first place. I would recommend it as essential reading for both dog owners and dog training instructors.

Comments: Some sections of the book really made me think. When I read the chapter about dealing with aggression Barbara advocates that the dog should do what it has been asked without the need for bribes in the form of treats or toys. My first reaction was to disagree with this statement, until I read it again, and saw what Barbara was getting at. Her argument is that treats or titbits used as rewards for work well done are acceptable. However, if the dog will only return to it’s owner when there is a treat or a game in the offing, then something has gone wrong with the basic training, and I agree with this wholeheartedly.

Barbara also states categorically that dogs should not be taught to play tuggy games as this stimulates aggression. Again, my first reaction was to disagree, as I feel that tugging games are a natural part of the dogs development. If a dog is shown how to play gentle tuggy games and to give the toy up on request then he has been taught the right way to behave. However, if he is never allowed to play tuggy games then finds himself involved in one, he will not know how to behave if he has not been allowed to experience this type of game.

Then I read the case study of Rory, a cross breed who had been rewarded with tuggy games first with toys, and then his lead as a reward when doing his agility training. When he and his owner came out of the competition ring, Rory would jump up, looking for his tuggy reward, and in the absence of a lead or a toy he would substitute his owners arm, and bite her. What a good reason for not playing tuggy games with a dog when training agility!

I really enjoy books like this that make you think, and that spark discussion. I could even say that this is a book that you can really get your teeth into, but I won’t!

Price: £9.99 + £2.00 postage (UK), £3.00 (Europe), £4.00 (rest of the world)

Overall rating: The book was really good. I've already read it twice. It covers so many areas and in such depth that it will be a regular reference to any dog owners (especially Border Collie owners) who want to know and understand their dog a lot better. A must buy. Purely personal 9/10.

To receive a signed copy of this book write direct to the author Barbara Sykes at:-

Mainline Border Collie Centre
Dept. AN
Golcar Farm, Spring Lane, Bingley, West Yorkshire BD16 3AU.
Email: sykes@bordercollies.co.uk
More info http://www.bordercollies.co.uk
Also available from all good bookshops or from the publisher:-
Crowood Press
The Stable Block, Crowood Lane, Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 2HR
Tel: 01672-520320

The Author
Barbara Sykes
has been associated with Border Collies all her life. Her own dogs are all working dogs and most of her line is related to Meg, with whom she gained bother National and International trialling status. She has always had an empathy with the breed and is passionate about maintaining the strong working instinct.

From her farm on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors, she owns and runs Mainline Border Collie Centre where she devotes her time not only to training sheepdogs and handlers but also in helping the companion owner to have a better understanding of their dog. She believes that although the Border Collie is not always employed in shepherding, owners can gain a close understanding of the breed if they learn more about the dog's working instincts.

Barbara produces a bi-monthly magazine Freedom of Spirit and has written one previous book with Thomas Longton for Crowood Press called Training the Sheep Dog .

The Reviewer
Aileen Clarke has five dogs and has competed successfully in Agility, Breed and Flyball. She has recently started her own business, Fellandale Dog Training.

At present she has over 60 people registered with her and the major part of her work is helping families deal with problems they are having with their dogs. She also does pet obedience classes, fun training, training walks and gives talks to clubs and groups about canine understanding and communication.  All the training is done through kindness and positive association, and she has many associates including a Tellington Touch practitioner. Her long-term aim is to set up a Canine Education Centre in County Durham.

If you would like to comment on this product or add your name to the Agilitynet list of reviewers,
email your name and details to Ellen Rocco at Agilitynet today.


Feedback

From Mandy Bainbridge
Excellent report by Aileen about the Dog Agression book!

One small point, Barbara Sykes has actually written four other books for Crowood Press including the sheepdog training book you mention, plus Understanding Border Collies, Understanding Your Dog and just published last week Dogs and Children. Prices and details are available on the our website if anyone wants to have a quick look. http://www.colliewobbles.org.uk. (04/04/02)

From Christine Wynne
Rory would jump up, looking for his tuggy reward, and in the absence of a lead or a toy he would substitute his owners arm, and bite her. What a good reason for not playing tuggy games with a dog when training agility!

This statement just shows the complete lack of understanding of basic control and training. Tuggy games and toys are not the problem; the problem is lack of basic training, no mysterious behavioral problem. Quite often dogs are excited and buzzing at the end of a round. Either reward or put the dog into a control position i.e sit or down. There endeth the supposed problem. Don't blame tuggy games for poor training.

Hope this feedback is acceptable, but really this is the danger with these books - the reviewer takes what said literally, appearing to ignore the wider picture. (07/04/02)