Dog Trainers, Claire Lawrence shares an exert from her new book ‘3 Steps to Silence‘ on her experience of how good dogs can turn bad.
Titon was never a minute’s bother, but after a serious fight with three other dogs, his behavior changed. I wanted to talk to you today about a dog I once owned who went from perfect to problematic.
Surely, I should be telling you the opposite though, right? Most people want to turn their problematic dog around into a perfect one. Though I don’t want to confuse. I do want to tell you about my first experience with a barking dog. one who was as perfect, as perfect could be. By my standards anyway.
The truth is a barking dog can occur at any time of life. So, if you’re reading this and have got a quiet dog, that’s excellent to hear, but please be aware things could change in this department, just like it did for me.
After one of the adventures, we were returning to the farm on which I had upgraded myself to a caravan situated with- in the Peak District, Derbyshire.
After two hours of exploring with ma boy, we were walking back down the yard, towards the farm. Ahead of me, I could see an off-lead dog, which I didn’t really think much about. I glanced down at the now almost 60kg hunk of black and tan fluff, walking calmly by my side.
I turned my attention back to where the off-lead dog was roaming, I then saw two more dogs appear from behind one of the caravans. I couldn’t see an owner.
Anyway, as we passed through the farm gate, I noticed Titon’s expression change. I wasn’t clued up on canine body language back then, but I still had a strong gut feeling. The type you get when you know something is wrong.
Just how true are your gut feelings?
From the way Titon had rearranged himself and with what happened next. Mine was on point. I was always very trusting of Titon’s instincts, especially. He had never let me down, in telling me *this* person wasn’t to be trusted. Credit due to the lad too, because he always turned out to be correct.
I took my eyes off Tidge, turned myself after closing the gate, and saw all three of these dogs charging towards us. Full speed ahead, like a plane bolting down the runway, ready for taking off. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it wasn’t going to be good.
The dog leading the charge was like a collie cross. Black, white and tan, of medium size and he, had this scruffy looking fluffy patch on the top of his head. I had seen the dog around before but never encountered him while I was walking with big T.
Closer they came, and I could see the pearly white teeth begin to appear. Even I knew now, this dog was coming for a fight.
Titon had never been involved in a fight before. Heck, he’d never even experienced this type of confrontation with another dog. He was as placid as could be. How would he cope? What would he do? Were they going to massacre him?
To name but a few thoughts, racing through my mind.
In times of the previous confrontation from other dogs, such as a growl or a dog being unsure of the meet. Titon would simply turn and walk away. There wasn’t an option for this, today though.
I had tried to re-open the gate to get back through, but I wouldn’t have done it in time. The dogs were virtually on top of us.
Launching himself into the air, only a few feet away now, the collie made his move. Titon intercepted the flying dog, and they began to fight. It was all happening so quickly. I must say, I was somewhat amazed at his skill set in keeping the collie at bay.
Shortly after, the other two dogs arrived at the scene and activated their input into the brawl. All be it with a third of the intent, the collie was conveying. I watched in disbelief as Titon kept all three of the dogs at bay. Not even one of them could touch and keep hold of him.
Walking on all fours, brown bears have an approximate height of 3.5 feet, (just over 1 metre) and they can reach heights of 6-7 feet when standing on their hind legs. I am roughly 5ft 5. Titon exceeded my height level when he placed his paws upon my shoulders for a hug. He loved a good hug, did the Tidge.
If you’ve ever watched David Attenborough’s programs, then a bear fighting is precisely how I can explain this scenario to you.
I continued to watch on in amazement as his head twisted and turned with incredible precision, fending off each one the dogs. Putting them to the floor, before returning to strike the next opponent in the contest.
The time came, where the other two dogs became hesitant of returning for another attack. I can’t blame them. Titon really was making mincemeat of their attempts. Considering his size, he was quick, agile, and precise. The departure of the two four-legged bystanders, now meant Titon could focus specifically on the collie.
His jaws impounded and encompassed the neck region. I imagined the force of each of his bites would be like a sled hammer with teeth. Resulting in some severe damage if he had wanted to.
Thankfully and preferably, he opted to only hold the collie dog in place on the floor. Occasionally there was a wriggle and more of an attempt to free himself from the chops.
In total, this fight was probably only a few minutes long. I can tell you now, it felt like an eternity. Logical thoughts entered my brain, and I realised sooner or later, I was going to have to do something about this. What could I do? What should I do?
I was hesitant at putting my hands in to split them up.
From the way, things were going. Titon was doing a pretty good job of sorting it out himself. His weight and positioning in this fight were his most valuable tool. This dog wasn’t getting out of the hold, Titon had on him. Rather like how a wrestler encircles his opponent’s head with one arm.
Eventually, there was what seemed like a window of opportunity to split the dogs up. The owner had now appeared, understandably worrying to high heaven. And the other dogs removed from the scene.
My concerns were heightened every second Titon had a hold of the neck. What would he do next? I had never seen him behave in this manner before. I wasn’t even aware of his capabilities in a situation like this.
Then the thought came to my mind, and an alarming feeling of dread and despair took over me. ‘What if he bites down harder? What if he kills this dog…?’
With an over-reactive owner, me now in a heightened state of shock at my dog’s behaviour, what I witnessed next, panicked me even more.
‘I wouldn’t do that!’ I called out.’ But it was too late.
Knowing what I know now, Titon had viewed this man as another attack. At the time, my feelings of shock, concern, responsibilities closely followed by doubt on his fighting intentions, greatly intensified. I now had an even bigger problem to contend with.
While attempting to find the collar to hold and split up the dogs, Titon had spun his head around and snapped at the collie’s owner. We soon found out how severe this snap had been.
Dogs do something called re-direction. Basically, they are so in the moment of fighting or emotional state, they lash out at anything and everything around them. Some call it the red zone, I call it as ‘he viewed the contact, as another attack’
By performing this snap and redirecting on to the man, Titon had caught his left wedding ring finger and taken the limb clean off, right down to the second knuckle.
I don’t think anyone had fully comprehended what had just happened until the man held his hand up in the air towards his face, where we all saw the remnants of the missing finger.
He lowered, then held his injured hand with the other just in front of his chest. Watching on as the blood continued to pour down his arms, from the wound. He attempted to mutter out some words, but it had already tipped him over the edge. His attempt to speak failed him, and before I knew it, he had fainted and fallen to the floor.
I felt like I was at the door to hell. I watched on as they helped the guy, before turning towards the remaining people watching the dog fight and looking at me with disgust and concern. There was no way anyone else was going to help me with these dogs after what had just happened.
A continuous statement ran through my mind. ‘What the hell do I do?’
I knew this was on my shoulders, I had to at least try to break up this ordeal. After seeing what I 110% believed to be my perfect and problem-free pooch, do something so severe and out of character, I had no idea how Titon would respond next.
To say I had a good relationship and bond with Titon was an understatement. We were so close, and I always told myself he would never harm or let any harm come to me from anyone. I was confident I could walk anywhere and everywhere with him, at any time of the day. With him by my side, I was always safe.
Though witnessing what I had just seen bought over a seriously black cloud of hesitation and doubt on what I knew I needed to do.
The importance of having a good relationship with your barking dog will become more apparent as we go through the book. It really is an essential element to have, especially with a fearful dog. This bond turned out to be the saving grace for me on this day. I went in.
As I began to approach, I slowly assessed the whole situation and contemplated the best course of action to take. I watched on as Titon was holding the dog firmly in place by the neck. His eyes fixed like a sniper, laser-focused on the target and ready to fire. I eyeballed at the dog on the floor and could see he was struggling to breathe. Yet for some unknown reason, I remained completely calm.
Calm or struck down with intense fear, I’m not 100 per- cent sure. But I wasn’t panicking in a flutter or screaming like a wimpy girl who’d just seen a spider…
I inhaled and exhaled deep breaths, putting one foot in front of the other until I was yards away from the jaws of my dog. One thing you will learn from my teaching is how remaining calm is a vital component to master with barking dogs. On this occasion, it wasn’t intentional, but over the years the calmer I have stayed, the better the outcome has been. The first lesson of the book for you.
I hesitantly knelt in the square patch of grass on the campsite we were in, popping back up in reflex reactions when I thought a strike my way was coming.
‘Okay pal, that’ll do now.’
I uttered these words with no idea what-so-ever as to how they would be met. I was close enough for Titon to hear me, yet not too close in case he lashed out and turned on to me. I watched as his eyes slowly moved to the side where I was positioned.
If you’ve never noticed the wind currents flowing through the woodlands and trees, it is naturally soothing. Like a song towards those who pay attention to and hear it. Titon’s intake of breath resembled this powerful passion the gusts have, as they rearrange the autumn fallen leaves and summer seeds being blown around settling in their place to plant and grow.
As he exhaled with a huff of sheer power, I nodded at him before moving a little closer. His eyes were locked on mine, and I mimicked his breathing. I lifted my left hand before making an advance towards him and slipping my fingers underneath his collar.
‘Come on now, that’ll do pal. Release. Good boy’
Almost instantly my words had an immediate effect, and he let go. This is called trust.
Unfortunately, although my requests and words of reassurance had released his jaws from the other dog’s neck, it didn’t stop the collie dog coming back for another pop at him. Before I had a chance to block a second scrap, the two were fighting once again.
When the opportunity came around again, I repeated the same process which had worked before. This time and understandably, Titon was more hesitant in letting go. I continued reassuring him and this time roped in a second pair of hands to take hold of the collie.
Titon clearly trusted me enough to let go again, and the fight was over.
I immediately put him in the back of my car, which was situated a few feet away from where the chaos had been happening. No sooner had I put him the boot of my teeny tiny Citroen AX car, I looked up to see a police car entering the campsite. This was the last thing I wanted, but after explaining what had happened and the injured guy not wanting to press charges, Titon was safe.
This was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience for me. I had never been in any trouble before, and I didn’t intend on getting in any, but it heightens the fact that these situations can and often do happen.
Though it wasn’t over for us yet. In fact, this was merely the beginning.
My perfect boys behaviour took a real turn for the worse following this fight and I soon found myself on the reactive dog training road.
Weighing in at 60kg, lunging, barking and given half a chance biting behaviours were incredibly hard to deal with. I was completely taken aback by his behaviour when it first happened, and truth be told I had no idea how to stop it.
I tried and followed all of the wrong advice. I corrected him, told him off and even used a foot correction I once saw on the TV to interrupt his barking. When he stopped barking and slowly turned his head around towards me, staring intently into my eyes, even though I couldn’t properly read canine behaviour, that look was enough for me to never do that again.
If he could talk, he would have been telling me exactly the same. And he could have easily turned on and beaten me to the ground. There was no contest there.
I wasn’t comfortable doing the corrections either, I knew that somewhere out there, there had to be a better way. It turns out there was, and I started my journey into reward-based training. I could see improvements in Titon’s behaviour almost instantly.
When I found out Titon was acting this way through fear, I soon changed my own behaviour to start helping and supporting him. Which over the years was successful in rectifying the barking problem.
Don’t take for granted your dog’s good behaviour because dog’s, like us, are learning all of the time. If they learn to be scared of something, they could choose one of three options.
‘’Crikey that was scary, I must become submissive in that situation again.’’
‘’Ah heck, no big. Let’s just crack on with the day and forget about it.’’
Or the big one. ‘’I’m never going to let that thing hurt or scare me again. Cue barking defensive behaviour. ‘’
That last option is one you don’t want either. Trust me, it’s one heck of a training road and you won’t fix that barking over night or by using ‘’quick fixes’’ like vibration collars, water sprays or rattle bottles.
Be supportive of your dog’s fearful barking. Take the time to really find out why they are barking. It could be fear, or it could be a whole host of other barks. It isn’t one bark fits them all and it isn’t guaranteed your perfect pooch will always be the perfect pooch.
Claire Lawrence (ADTI, SAC DIP) is a fully qualified Approved Dog Training Instructor in the Peak District. To find out more about Claire’s work and her book ‘3 Steps to Silence’, you can visit https://3sts.co.uk/