Friday, November 25, 2011

The Chosen One

There are understandable feelings of honor and pride attached to being the person that a timid dog decides to trust. This also applies to being the person allowed to safely interact with a dog who is normally aggressive toward those outside of his or her comfort zone. As a child, I never thought twice about these things. I was fearless (read: ignorant) around dogs who only liked "their" people but still managed to never once get bitten. I also had a knack for knowing when to run back into the house for a treat to offer a dog who wasn't too sure about human beings but was very much into the idea of a full stomach. There was even one time when, after simply petting a big fluffy stray, the dog decided instantly that we belonged together for life. He spent the entire day following me around or napping at my feet until I went home and my dad chased him away (which was not an easy task as the chow's mind had clearly been made up that I was his person and as far as I was concerned, the feeling was mutual). 

Our foster dog, Luvins, immediately
decided that Matt was her best friend.

Some people and some dogs just mesh, there's no denying that.  There are even people who typically don't have a hard time making friends with a shy or timid dog they've never met before. My significant other, Matthew, happens to be one of those people. Dogs tend to favor him above others pretty much instantly. Part of this could be that he's a calm person and was more into cats before I (and Cricket) came along. This means that he doesn't go out of his way to show affection to a dog he doesn't know, and so I guess to many canines that makes him less intimidating and more inviting. His mother confirmed that being a dog person is pretty much in his genes; there's no escaping it sometimes.

That said, it is very important to also embrace a very healthy level of awareness and respect. Despite being approachable to most dogs, Matt is not the type of person who is going to march up to an aggressive one with the assumption that they can be fast friends. Unfortunately, I have seen many people get hurt and many dogs put into bad situations by people who do just that. Sometimes they possess the mentality that literally all dogs like them or sometimes it's just a matter of them being familiar with a certain type or breed of dog and believing that they will all react the same way. Regardless of the reason, people who generalize dogs this way have a habit of producing a very tense type of situation. They will often disregard very real warnings from the owner of the dog, a qualified trainer, or even the dog itself. This means that they will often get bitten or lunged at.

Sometimes even trainers make this mistake. Just the other day I saw one on TV approach a dog who was known to show fear-based aggression toward strangers. Because he seemed calm from a distance, she thought it would be safe to approach and extend a treat from her hand. By not thinking the situation through, she really put herself and the dog in a very bad position. You see, the dog was on a leash so as far as he knew, there was nowhere to run. And even though he was comfortable taking the treat for a second, he quickly realized what was happening and panicked. Unfortunately, his realization hit him while he was in the middle of taking the food from the trainer's hand. I watched the screen nervously as his body turned tense and the trainer got badly bitten. Honestly, I would bet that this trainer noticed the tension that came right before the bite but what was she to do at that point? Jerking her hand away was probably more likely to get her bitten than continuing to extend the treat, though neither was a great option. Her lack of foresight caused the dog to feel backed into a corner and then left her with no safe way out of the confrontation. The better choice would have been to gently toss treats to the ground and remain nonchalant so that the nervous/anxious dog had plenty of time to make a decision based completely on trust rather than panic and impulse. That said, I'm sure that we've all made similar mistakes. I once made a bad judgment call when desensitizing a Schnauzer to having his feet touched. We were making so much progress that I allowed the session of treating him for allowing foot touches to go on a bit to long and as a result, got nipped.

Dogs bite for less obvious reasons too. In one of my classes I had a dog that became overstimulated very easily and when this happened while he was on the leash, he would release that pent up energy as a bite to his owner's ankle. The concept behind his reason for biting was the same as when you see two dogs in a crate biting each other because they can't break out and partake of all the excitement going on around them. All of that energy has to go somewhere and dogs like this have trouble controlling their impulses.

Patient people make for very happy dogs.
It is unfortunate that in instances like this, everyone is automatically looking for the magic answer. Sometimes they're looking for a magic person who can step in and wave a magic wand that transforms a hyperactive, reactive, or fearful dog into a calm, confident canine. Sometimes it's just a magic technique that they want to be able to use to gain instant control in otherwise out-of-control situations. In many cases, they are at their wit's end but just want to enjoy the pet that they've brought into their home. What they don't want to accept is that it takes time. What they don't want to believe in are methods that require some effort but actually take work. I've said this before and I will say it again: Patience comes from knowing that something is going to work. When people don't believe in or support what you are doing, then they quickly lose patience and look elsewhere. Instant gratification is the human way. It's too bad that for us trainers, we can't always fast forward to a sneak preview of what's to come.

I have literally stood up and demonstrated to people how to safely handle dogs like this. I've taken the leash, pulled out the appropriate treats, taught some incompatible behaviors (those that the dog cannot do while acting aggressively) and waltzed the dog around a room tail wagging; no harm to myself or anyone else. The result? Completely dismissed. I've even watched as someone else who thought they could handle the dog better stepped in, disregarded all previous instruction, and got bitten.  (Big trainer fail on my part there; more intervention was definitely called for in that situation.) Even though the methods I used to handle the dog safely and with ease were never actually practiced by others, they were set aside without a second thought. Other trainers will quickly attest to this same issue, I'm certain. When we're dealing with a dog who responds quickly, we're compared to The Dog Whisperer or Victoria Stilwell. When faced with an issue that is going to take more time and patience to address, we sometimes hear the phrase "What I need right now is The Dog Whisperer!" or "I wish I could get that lady from It's Me or the Dog!" They don't realize that in the case of the latter, the methods are the same and it would still take time. People are in love with the idea that there can be instantaneous results. Those who show real dedication and stick with positive methods however, do see the results that they hope for. Those who give up also end up giving the dog up. That's what you don't get to see on TV.

With fearful dogs, I have demonstrated that a slow and predictable approach results in a more stable and calm response than flooding the dog with the object of its anxiety. Still, some people will dismiss this as sub-par training or worse, no training at all. It is this type of mentality that creates irreparably fearful, aggressive dogs and this will only change when people take the time to stop focusing so much on the symptoms and begin to focus on the source of the problem. Yes, you want the growling or biting to stop and the shock collar does the job quickly but what have you done about the fact that your dog was afraid of you (or someone/something else)? What will you do when your dog finally hits the next level of fear, and thus, the next level of aggression? While you've found a way to force him to suppress his signs of fear, you've also given him even more reason to be afraid.

It takes very little skill level or effort to bully a dog around but when you attack a problem from a psychological level you have to expect to do some real work and real training. This work is going to happen over a period of time. It will not satisfy that part of you that desires instant control over another creature. It will not immediately wow your friends and family or turn you into a super star. Real training tackles behavioral issues at their core to create a dog who is mentally, emotionally, and physically sound. While many of us do possess a natural talent with animals, not a single one of us was ever gifted with a magic training wand that can instantly correct any and every problem. Choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars most certainly do not count.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why I'm Thankful and Why I'm Here.

Every chapter of my life has included a dog, thank God. No chapter has been easy and to some extent, I feel like I've spent too much of the past 30 years doing nothing but clawing my way out of the trenches put in my path. At the same time, I've always had a best friend to guide me from darkness to light, and those best friends have always had four legs. From time to time a close human friend has stepped in and made life much brighter, but my canine companions have never voluntarily walked away. I am eternally grateful to them all; the ones I "owned," the ones I fostered, and the ones who belonged to other people but just happened to be around at the right time to provide a lost little girl with some much-needed comfort.

I am forever grateful to the many dogs I've had the pleasure of working with as a trainer. They have never ceased to amaze me in their intelligence and often their ability to bounce back from some of the most troubled pasts.

The truth is, I see a piece of myself in all the dogs I live and work with. I know what it's like to be afraid of what's coming next. I know what it's like to lose everything and want nothing more than to be back at home; or even to have no idea where that home is, was, or might eventually be. I know very well that deep-seeded, debilitating fears cannot be conquered in just a day and that force, screaming, abandonment and abuse take time to recover from. While dogs approach life in different (better) ways than humans, we are alike in our ability to feel pain, fear, anxiety, and in my opinion, grief. Dogs just have a much better handle on that feeling called "Joy." Sometimes I wonder if they evolved with such an inherently happy nature and resilience as a direct result of living beside us; their more complicated counterparts in life. We should be thankful that dogs are so generous when sharing all of that love and joy.

I am thankful for the opportunity to share my experiences, stories, and thoughts with others on this blog. While I have been writing about animals for a decade now, it has taken me almost that long to realize that it is a very vital part of who I am. Teaching and learning are important to me and they also go hand in hand; you share what you know, open yourself up to others, and learn even more from their responses. Even criticism, when constructive, goes a very long way.

Four more reasons for me to be thankful:
Matthew, Luvins (new foster dog), Obi-Wan and Cricket
I believe that education is ultimately the answer to our pet overpopulation crisis as well as many other problems facing our animals today. To be blunt, ignorance is the root of most evil. People fear what they do not know. And they can't avoid mistakes if they've never been taught a better way. Why would you ever spay and neuter if you didn't know the benefits? Why would you even bother adopting an animal from a shelter if you thought that all shelter dogs had problems? How are we to stop backyard breeders and puppy mills if only a small number of us realize the full scope of the problem?

We can't change everyone, but we can give everyone a fair chance at knowing the facts, the science, the psychology, and even the different moral dilemmas surrounding animal care and training.That is why I am here and why I will continue to work hard to share what I've learned and continue to learn.

Thank you to everyone who stops by to read the blog, watch the videos, or weigh in on the latest topics. You keep me on my toes and give me plenty to think about. Keep up the great work and have a fantastic holiday with your families- humans and pets alike.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Her Highness, His Majesty; the Small Dog

In a previous post, I wrote about the misconceptions surrounding bully breeds or "hard" dogs. Today, I really want to tackle yet another stereotype that often leads to serious issues for dog owners and lovers; the one that follows our tiny dogs everywhere they go. This one is for the powder puffs, princesses, and Napoleon Bonapartes of the small dog world.

Loucee and the agility set her grandma made!
One of my absolute favorite breeds is the chihuahua and it is very hard for me to make that statement in public without at least one person reacting as if I myself dropped to the ground and bit their ankle. Chihuahuas are just one of those breeds that get a very bad rap for being nervous, temperamental, and unduly aggressive. Most people have not met a well-rounded, well-socialized chihuahua, but I assure you that they exist! In fact, when socialized and raised properly, chihuahuas can perform amazing tasks. A great example of this truth is a young chihuahua that I have worked with for the past few years named Loucee. Her repertoire of tricks and commands is impressive to say the least and Loucee even loves agility as well as therapy work. I've yet to meet another dog (of any breed or mix!) who shows as high a level of concentration when being worked with. She does hate to become bored and tires of repeating the same task over and over (as do I) but when she knows that something new is being taught she really gives her full attention until the behavior is mastered. This has led to some amazing work, such as training with flash cards and the concept of "reading."

While Loucee is a little star and a very unique pup, it is not a complete miracle that she's accomplished so much. The largest factor in her success has been a family of people completely devoted to her training and socialization. From a very young age, Loucee has gone out and about with them, being exposed to many different people and situations. While she often does this from the comfort of her stroller, we also put an emphasis on getting her out to walk amongst the public so that she did not become possessive of that space or too afraid to leave it.

If you are having issues with a smaller dog or want to prevent them, please read on for some tips on how to handle some of the most common "small dog" behavioral issues.

Possessiveness: This is a huge one. Some small dog breeds do have a tendency to become possessive or otherwise attached to just one person (or certain items), so this can be a major problem for other people in the household. It is very important to train cues such as "off" so that you can communicate to your dog to remove itself from furniture or a lap in the instant that its behavior becomes inappropriate. Only well-mannered pooches get to share the furniture or your lap. The person of choice may have to spend some time quickly but gently picking the dog up and placing it back on the floor at every instance of bad behavior, but with practice this usually does the trick.

Insecurity plays a major role when it comes to a possessive dog. It is imperative that you teach your dog appropriate ways to achieve what it wants, whether that be its favorite bone or cuddle time on your lap. If the dog knows no other way to acquire what it wants, it will resort to the growling and snapping behavior that worked before. Put special emphasis on teaching your dog to "release" its favorite items in exchange for a high-value treat. Put NO emphasis on trying to boss an insecure dog around. While it may not seem this way, your dog is very aware that you possess more physical strength. Like a small child, it will still throw a tantrum and become unruly if you've never taught it that this doesn't work or that there are much better ways to earn a reward. Routine is your best friend; train your dog with plenty of rewards (especially those that involve its favorite things) and it will forget all about more inappropriate ways of obtaining them.

Biting Guests: Small dogs can be snappy little animals! Again, this is commonly due to improper socialization and/or a general sense of insecurity. Older dogs who need socialization can greatly benefit from a group training class with an experienced trainer who uses ONLY positive reinforcement. (Beware those that claim to do this but still rely on other methods such as leash jerks or choke chains). Every interaction with people needs to be a very positive one so if the doorbell transforms your dog into a tiny version of Cujo, you have a lot of work cut out for you. Try to limit the amount of time that your dog is in "crazy" mode by calmly and quickly putting her in a comfortable place such as a crate or other room as soon as you know a guest has arrived. Even better, if you know you're going to have visitors ahead of time, put your dog away beforehand so that you can greet them in peace. Once your dog settles down and everyone is calmly seated, you can allow it to come into the room. Have your guests toss some favorite treats to the floor where your dog can see them but make sure that no one floods your pet with attention or makes too much eye contact. Nervous dogs become more nervous when the attention is placed on them. A nonchalant and calm approach is absolutely critical. If you have a dog that is far too aggressive for even this to happen safely, you will need an in-person evaluation by a qualified trainer or behaviorist who uses 100% positive methods. The last thing you want to do is bully an insecure dog into a level of fear that it cannot recover from.

Barking: Some breeds are more "barky" than others and sometimes there isn't a whole lot that you can do it about it. However, you can definitely make improvements with some work. The proper approach greatly depends on the reason for your dog's barking. If this is primarily a problem when you have guests over, see the above paragraph on biting as this should help bring the barking to a minimum as well. If you have a dog who barks at every tiny outside sound or sight, the problem will be a little more difficult to cure. I would recommend an extreme focus on socialization and training that will build confidence. Barking is another one of those problem behaviors that often appears to be the result of an overly confident dog when reality is the exact opposite. A dog in a constant state of fear/anxiety is one that will be set off at the slightest "foreign" sound or cause for alarm. Get your dog out and about more and work hard on rewarding him for quiet and calm behavior. Click and treat for appropriate responses to new things as often as you can. If your dog has no reason to be alarmed by new things, he will stop sounding the alarm as well. This is an issue that really requires you to get at the root of the problem (anxiety/insecurity) rather than putting a band-aid on the symptom (barking). A group training class could also benefit in this scenario.

While I know that these behaviors can eventually become infuriating, it is also extremely important that you not use the "Napoleon complex" excuse to avoid real training. There is no quick fix if your dog has already been inadvertently taught or encouraged to behave obnoxiously. The easiest way to handle these issues is to prevent them in the first place. From an early age, dogs of all sizes need socialization and small dogs need to specifically experience socialization that does not involve being held or coddled the entire time. Smaller dogs need all the training that a larger dog does so that you can effectively communicate ways for it to achieve what it wants before it ever resorts to nervous growling, biting, or barking. Their smaller size (and awareness of vulnerability) makes them far more likely to progress to displaying aggressive behaviors when they feel threatened. Small dogs should go on walks frequently and be exposed to positive experiences throughout their entire lives just like any other dog, so that they can be happy, healthy, and comfortable. 

All of that said, there is no reason that you shouldn't still pamper your little princess or otherwise spoil your pup rotten. Dress them up in cute clothes, buy them adorable tiny toys (while laughing at all of us out here with bigger dogs who can't find an indestructible dog toy to save our lives) and take them wherever you go. Portable pups are often an amazing convenience and make absolutely fantastic companions as long as you remember to incorporate consistent socialization and training! Your dog, vet, family, and groomer will all thank you for taking the time to nurture a well-adjusted, well-mannered, and even stylish pet.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Shelter Workers are Not Broken

All of the animals pictured in this post are from the Daviess County Animal Shelter. If you are interested in one (or the many others that they have available) please contact them via email at: or call 270-685-8275. You may also visit their Petfinder page by following this link.

I have always been under the impression that you should stand up for what you believe in. Unfortunately, that seems to be rare around here and it tends to make people shy away from you. No one wants to rock the boat even for the greater good and then some of the people who do make waves tend to do so inappropriately and for their own glory/entertainment (which makes it harder for those of us who actually have a point to be heard). I'm not afraid to make waves but I do try to present myself in the most civil manner possible in hopes that my message stays clear. I am open minded and understanding. Being a dog trainer (having to work with people just as often as dogs) has taught me that most people do not want to cause harm; they just lack the education on proper methods or ideals. Being a human being has taught me that it is very difficult to find acceptance unless you're willing to compromise at least a few feelings and beliefs here and there. I am unwilling to do this and while it has led to some opposition, I can say that I've been able to help a very significant number of people with their pets over the years. My goal has always been to help animals and I firmly believe that the best way to accomplish this is to educate others. Somewhere within me there is an Educator Muscle that I am forced to flex when faced with certain types of situations where I see a false belief perpetuated. This is especially true when that false belief is also harmful.

Not long ago, as I was browsing the Facebook page of a local no-kill facility, I ran across a comment from a gentleman who stated that he was at first going to support our local shelter but didn't believe in their policies because they are not a no-kill facility. He decided to support the no-kill facility instead. The last part made sense to me completely. If you prefer to support a rescue or shelter with a no-kill policy, I can understand and respect that decision completely. After all, they need support to keep going and it would be nice to have lots of no kill facilities to take some of the pressure off of our county/city run shelters. However, when someone makes that type of decision based on a belief that the "kill shelter" has some control over their "kill policy" my Educator Muscle stars spazzing out. In response to this gentleman I explained that he was doing a great thing in supporting the no-kill facility and that both facilities were doing their very best; no one wants to see an animal euthanized or without a home. I explained that the problem both types of facilities face is exactly the same: irresponsible breeding. I advised that this was the reason both types of places must exist. Apparently, I stepped on someone's toes. My comment was immediately deleted by a member of the no-kill group and I was banned from posting/commenting ever again. As a person who has spent a large amount of my spare time volunteering with, raising money for, and generally supporting this group, I was obviously upset.

What I had hoped to share with my comment, and what I want to share here, is that most kill shelter staff/volunteers (and certainly the ones in my town of Owensboro, KY) want the same thing that other animal lovers want. Their desire is for all animals to make it out of there alive. They want all of them to have a home forever. They want you to get your pets spayed and neutered and vetted when necessary. Our shelter workers and volunteers do not want to euthanize ("put down") your pet. Unfortunately, they do not have the luxury of turning your animal away at the door. Because they are operated by the county, they have to take your pet. Even though the county does not pay for your injured cat to be treated at the vet or for your senior dog's much needed medications, they have to take your pet. And even when you drop off your perfectly healthy (previously happy) dog, you've pushed some other poor animal closer to death's door because the shelter has to take your pet. Being funded by a city or county does not mean that a shelter has an endless amount of space or other resources.

There is a pattern here. People drop their dogs/cats/bunnies/etc. off at a kill shelter knowing that the end could be euthanasia. Our shelter workers labor tirelessly trying to get some other person's animal to safety in order to avoid such a sad end. When the shelter becomes too full, time runs out, and no one adopts this animal, a shelter worker is there to say goodbye in the place of the owner who should have been. Somehow in all of this tragedy, that shelter worker and the facility itself are labeled as the "bad" guys? As far as I'm concerned, these are the people who take the fall for those who aren't caring, responsible or able enough to do it themselves. Shelter staff and volunteers do not have the luxury of turning your pet away and telling you that there is a waiting list. They can't adjust the number of animals they take in based on the resources they have available the way other types of facilities can. They must adjust the number of animals at hand to accommodate a community of people too busy, impatient, or heartless to accept and manage the responsibility of their own pet.

Yes, there are sometimes legitimate reasons for a person to part ways with an animal. I just wish that more people took on the responsibility of finding that animal a home themselves if need be. And if for some reason you find yourself having to make use of the kill shelter because the no-kills are full and you don't have time to find safety for your own pet yourself, try not to pass judgment in the future. In fact, be grateful that someone was there to do all the leg work for you. Someone was there to say goodbye to your pet in the event that no one wanted to adopt him. Do not say "I couldn't do that job, I could never kill an animal" without understanding the full magnitude of the situation. To me, this statement has always implied that it takes an especially heartless person to work or volunteer at a kill shelter when that is absolutely not the case. Real love and dedication for animals is exemplified by these people who sacrifice their own feelings of sadness and anger to fight for the lives of our pets in our community.They do have a very difficult job and deserve to be acknowledged, defended, and supported rather than looked down upon. All rescues and shelters have a niche in this country and quite frankly, they all need each other. They all need us. I hope that some day things change in my own community so that false beliefs are dispelled and people like myself are respected for trying to support anyone who attempts to do right by our animals. We should all be in this together.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How do you train a "hard" dog?

One of the many canine-related misconceptions that I wish I could obliterate in one fell swoop is this: There are hard dogs and there are soft dogs. These terms are often used to imply that with one type of dog (the soft ones), you can get away with gentler training methods while with the other type (hard dogs) you must use a different and harsher set of rules.

Have you ever wondered how animal trainers manage to convince massive marine mammals to perform? Here's a hint: They don't make prong collars in "Killer Whale" sizes. The same ideals that I share in this blog and practice on a daily basis with my own pets (positive reinforcement, operant conditioning/clicker training) are used to train animals of all species, sizes, and propensities to eat you. It annoys me to no end when I read a fly-by-night trainer announce that positive methods are nothing but bribery or an ever-growing fad. They preach about their outdated methods and ideals that I could have explained even as a very young child. You know, the same things we picked up from the Discovery Channel's documentaries about wolves in the wild? Things that we know much more about in present time than we did back then. Outdated information that in part, has led both us and the bully breeds to the dismal place where we find ourselves today.

This is about as intimidating as he ever looks...
When it comes to dogs, why are we so quick to assume that bigger, "badder" breeds must be treated more harshly? Is it simply because we can? Does it make some people feel better about themselves to see fear in the eyes of a doberman, pit bull or rottweiler? I honestly think that with some individuals, that is incredibly true. After all, the media is constantly fueling this line of thinking even if that isn't their intention. You see a small-statured person on TV amongst a gang of big, beefy pit bulls and assume that he (the human) must be one tough little guy. The image of the "hard dog" is so incredibly instilled into our minds that our focus almost immediately goes away from the actual dogs (their body language, their outward signs of communication, especially when those signs are scary) and toward respecting the human being who manages to work with (or in some cases just wrestle) them. Somewhere in the back of our minds we naturally think that it takes a special or "brave" person to train or work with a bully breed.

One factor that only helps contribute to this mentality is the difficulty in raising many of these types of dogs. Not because they are more aggressive but because they are often higher energy than other dogs! On top of that, their larger size makes it harder to rein that energy in and prevent, for example, being knocked over in a slobbery fit of happiness (which must be absolutely terrifying, I'm sure...). In fact, "it can knock you/your children over" is a popular excuse for going straight to harsher training methods without second thought to anything else. With some people it's almost as if they can't wait for their pit bull puppy to grow into his 394 lb., six-inch-thick metal prong collar so that they can really show him who rules the roost. (Afterward, they must promptly parade him around the neighborhood to show everyone else who rules the roost as well.)

Buck, a very sweet bully.
Some of you are probably thinking of the many, many "dangerous" breeds that you see on TV or read about in the newspaper; dogs that have exhibited the most violent and aggressive of behavior. How do you "positively train" a dog out of that?  It must first be acknowledged that most of those dogs were created by the very mentality I have described in this post thus far. I would have to say that without the twisted images perpetuated by our peers and the media, the problems facing "bully breeds" would not be problems today. The fact is, if these images of bully breeds as dangerous fighting dogs were removed from our minds forever, we would have fewer pitties, dobies, and rotties in the situations they are in today. Imagine if there was no stigma attached to owning one of these dogs. What if, all of a sudden, they had the same standing as a poodle in the eyes of the public? There would be no more reason to put heavy chains on their necks or parade them around as trophies (or worse, actually subject them to fighting). There would be no reason to give high praise to someone who manages to bully one into submission rather than train it the way you train any other animal, be it squirrel or Siberian tiger. The fear in the hearts of the public would be erased with the result being the elimination of so much fear-induced abuse and persecution. The fear in the hearts of these dogs would no longer exist to lead to aggressive behavior.

I stand firm by the notion that you cannot permanently or adequately fix fear by way of terror. You can make yourself scary enough to the dog to temporarily stifle the signs but that is not a cure. The actual answer to full on aggressive and dangerous behavior greatly depends on the dog, its background, genetics and often other aspects of the situation. It is unfortunately neither quick nor easy and sometimes, especially once a dog has been driven too far or when genetics are heavily at play (even when it comes genetics, they can work against you with any breed), it may not even be possible.

The often-unnoticed exchange that happens between human and dog before a bite happens is almost always very similar to this:
  • Human does something that causes fear in the dog (such as yelling, or cornering the dog; anything that makes the dog feel that it is in danger - and this can greatly depend on the dog's background and past experiences-).
  • Dog cowers ("I'm afraid.")
  • Human doesn't stop, redirect the behavior, or otherwise acknowledge any signal the dog is giving.
  • Dog growls ("I'm really afraid and don't know how to make this experience stop, but hopefully this will work.")
  • Human gets ticked off at this show of defiance or dominance and continues, believing that backing down will make the dog think that he is the boss instead of the human.
  • Dog shows teeth ("I am terrified, there is nowhere for me to run, and if need be I will fight back to prevent being hurt by you.")
  • Human doesn't stop, human gets bitten, dog gets in major trouble.
The above example applies to ANY breed of dog. It is also a very generic example and takes a surprisingly large number of forms. For instance, the human can be two years old and merely pulling the dog's tail. That same dog may not be experienced with children or may just be very fearful when they move a certain way which causes it to defend itself with a bite. Another variable to keep in mind is that your dog might react aggressively when it does have room to run away because, in the past, it has been chased down until backed into a corner. It is not uncommon for an aggressive dog to go straight to biting a person when it has learned that cowering, growling, and showing its teeth never works and still leads to being painfully abused. Aggressive dogs must be handled with an understanding of the reasons behind their behavior (which vary). They must be taught using proper methods to communicate appropriately and without signs of aggression. If you have an aggressive dog, please consult a trainer with a solid background of positive reinforcement. Do not assume that only someone using "hard methods" can help you. Sadly, there are many dog trainers out there who claim to specialize in bully breeds and aggression when all they know are the fear-based techniques that they've seen on TV. Smoke and mirrors techniques will not fix this type of behavior and will eventually contribute to the problem. This doesn't matter if your dog is a pit bull or a yorkie.

My point is: There is no such thing as a hard dog or a soft dog and certainly NO reason to believe that you have to be more rough with one than you do another. There are dogs that are afraid, dogs that incite some subconscious fear in us, dogs that have not been properly trained/socialized, and dogs that have not been properly cared for. All dogs require a very consistent owner who possesses the power of clear communication and they need to have this before irreparable damage is done.