"The ABC's of Dog Language"

Questions to the author, Anders Hallgren:

Question: I understand from your book that dogs bark for many reasons, and I most certainly liked your story about the dog barking at the door, feeling the support from its owner who – without realizing it – actually made its aggression worse. But there is an old saying to the effect of this: dogs that bark don’t bite. How does this fit into the picture? Maybe it isn’t true at all?

Answer: Dogs that are truly aggressive or out on hunting, attempting to kill, do not bark. Barking is most often associated with frustration, for instance in connection with guarding the home territory. But if you have a sudden change in the circumstances, such as a door being opened, or an intruder coming just too close, the frustration can trigger aggression – and the dog will bite. Hence, the old saying is not completely wrong, but it isn’t totally true either.


Question: Regarding the greeting training you suggest for shy dogs (or "signal sensitive dogs", as you prefer to call them): can you use the method also to cure fear-biters?

Answer: Absolutely! The only problem is to get somebody to help you! The method is being used extensively by Human Dog Leadership Inc. in British Columbia, Canada; they have incorporated this greeting training in their basic obedience program and they have obtained a whole range of positive results with it – and not yet one single accident with dog bites.


Question: I have been playing wrestling games on a daily basis with my dog the last 5 years. I have never felt any problems with him getting stressed, right on the contrary, if I did not do it for a few days, he starts to show all kinds of irritable behavior, such as extortion barking, chewing on furniture, running after his tail, etc. It appears to me that the stress goes up when I don’t play with him. How does that fit with your recommendation not to play fighting games with your dog?

Answer: The biggest problem with play-fighting is that most inexperienced people let it go out of control – with no way for themselves to stop what they started – and that is for sure not healthy for the dog, and certainly not for the relationship between the dog and the owner either. But, as mentioned in the book, a short well-controlled fighting game, for instance used as reward in training, is only a healthy release of energy. However, if it becomes the only real interaction you have with the dog, then it will make the dog very frustrated that you take that activity away all together. You might want to try to balance the mental stimulation you give your dog a little bit more in direction of focussing on more peaceful ways of using brain energy.


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