Fearful dogs are not something most people know anything about, really, but they are A Thing. If an dog has been aggressive in it’s life, the likelihood is that it was caused by fear. There are two types of aggression, by the way, sustained aggression – when a dog attacks someone, or something (a sheep, another dog) and the aggression is…….sustained. Think people who get attacked by a dog and have chunks ripped out of them, and the attack has gone on for a quite a period of time. Fearful aggression is another thing altogether. When a dog barks at you – even a yappy one – that’s usually fear (watch the stance – if the dog has planted it’s back feet and is leaning towards you, that’s definitely fear). If you get nipped by a dog, or a dog turns it’s head to nip you, that’s fear. Not dominance, not nastiness, just fear.
How do I know all this? Those of you who know me know that Ruby is fear aggressive. It’s why she bit someone all those months ago. It’s why she wears a muzzle. She’s classified as menacing, but really, she’s just very afraid. What made her fearful? Dogs, like humans, are born with a temperament. When external factors come into play, this can exacerbate the fearful temperament, and we believe that is what happened for Ruby. She was likely born with a fearful temperament, and the street-wandering as a young pup, and the being taken home by people who likely abused her, all of that adds up to a dog who’s wary of some people, and who’ve I’ve had to train to be relaxed around most people. It’s taken a very long time, but we’re getting there.
Now. As a consequence of biting someone – and she’s not made a habit of it, she’s not a slavering beastie – she is classified menacing. That simply means that she is required to wear a muzzle in public for the rest of her life. That’s not a problem, but I have noticed that she’s pretty much the only muzzled dog out and about. I’ve never seen another, so I understand that people really have no idea about what to do around a dog like Ruby.
Luckily, I’m here to tell you. You may never meet a muzzled dog, but you will most certainly, at some point, meet a fearful one. And for the sake of expediency, just take it as read that all the things you don’t do with a fearful dog, you don’t do with a muzzled one either. The ones that bark at you, or growl, big or small, there is just one thing you can do to make them feel safer. Fearful dogs need space. Don’t walk towards them if they’re barking at you. Just stop where you are, and turn around. Fearful dogs find people walking too close to them, or running towards them, pretty frightening. So just don’t.
And don’t ever put your hand in any dog’s face if it’s barking/growling at you. Barking and growling is them warning you off – they’re telling you you’re scary to them, and they’re making a big noise to get you to go away. So if you’re walking up to a dog that’s growling under it’s breath, or in fact, isn’t making any signs it’s happy to see you (look for wagging tails, or tails that are level to the body, not up or right down), do not in any circumstances put your hand in front of it’s face. It’s a dog. It can smell you from a mile away. Stand still, or turn side on and don’t look at the dog. If you’re in someone’s home, and the dog is barking at you, sit down, and just do not acknowledge. Do not speak to a fearful dog. Your acknowledging it requires it to acknowledge you, and it won’t want to. At all. So ignoring is good. No standing over the dog, no touching it, nothing like that. Fearful dogs like to take their time to get to know you. (Much like humans, but more vilified). If you’re seated, it means they can sniff you. Actually, the smartest thing you can do with a dog that’s telling you you’re scary is crouch. I know that goes against all instinct, but think about it. If you crouch, side on to the dog, not looking at it, not talking to it, you’re just there. It can have a smell, ascertain you’re okay, job done. I do this with people who want to meet Ruby all the time, and it works brilliantly. (It’s also extremely safe because 1) she’s supervised, and onleash 2) she’s muzzled). It doesn’t take very long, and it guarantees her loyalty to you. I wouldn’t suggest you do this with just any old fearful dog – ask their person first, if you want to meet the dog, and they seem unsure of you. And never do it in their home. I take Ruby off the property – somewhere that they don’t regard as being their place is much better for them to meet strange people.
Which brings us to the other thing you can do if you’re around a fearful/muzzled dog. Ask questions. Just ask. I’m always really happy if someone asks – but hardly anyone does. Why is she in a muzzle? People just never ask. They don’t know, they’ve never seen a dog with a muzzle on in everyday life, and yet. I find that curious, but that’s just me.
I hope this has given you some insight. There aren’t too many of us with fearful aggressive dogs that are open about this stuff, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask me. Please. I’m waiting.