Working with fear, aggression or reactivity
To train a fearful or aggressive animal the first thing you need to know is how to make them feel happy, and safe. It’s often obvious what they want, they want you to leave them alone, let go of them, stop touching them.
In any training we are going to ask the animal to do something, or allow us to do something. If we have built a foundation of trust and skills with them, the risk of scaring or upsetting them will be less, training is an interaction that changes from moment to moment. Sometimes we see big feelings in those moments. We know what that can lead to.
It’s common that the first behavior we need to teach an animal is to take the good stuff we offer them. This, like teaching any behavior, requires repetition. There’s good stuff and we give it to them. They learn to not only take it so we can use it as reinforcement, but they also learn to expect it from us. This, in those moments of big feelings can help. We can keep those big feelings and the behaviors we see from escalating.
Our responses can be nimble. Force free means we will not insist on continuing with our attempt to get them to do something or let us do something. We can revisit the request later. We ask nicely and take their answer seriously. ‘No thank you’ is enough. Not now. A response that doesn’t include harm to me, is an animal being polite. It would be rude of me to insist.
I’m the frisbee thrower, the cookie tosser, the ear scritcher, the affirmation provider, the shaper of skills. Someone has to be. Someone has to take on the role of trainer for our fearful dogs to learn to generalize their responses to new people, places and requests.
Whatever method of training you decide to use, first know what they want, and how they ask for it. Give it to them even before they ask. And definitely don’t make them be rude about it.