Part of my tactical presentations to police and military personnel worldwide is the exploration of human behavior responses and recognizing the motivation behind the behavior to devise a better and more effective response in return.
One aspect that follows closely in the dog world is called, “Psycho-Physiological Response to Threat Stress” which most of us only know as “Fight or Flight”. Those are only two of four possible responses to threat stress – the other two are Posturing/Avoidance and Acceptance/Submission.
Humans and dogs are both part of the Animal Kingdom, so our responses will be very similar with one major difference and this difference can have either a fatal outcome or a successful one. The difference is in how we read the behaviors. Since we are talking about dogs, we’ll keep it simple.
Dogs react to a perceived threat in a certain order and it almost always follows this order: Fight or Flight, Avoidance, Submission. Humans, not so much. Humans can get stuck in one response over and over until it proves fatal to them (or the other combatant). However, since dogs are really motivated by balance they do strive to get there but they first have to drain the anxious energy that they are experiencing. Anxiety without a release leads to dominance, and dominance leads to aggression.
When we are able to get our dogs state of mind to the avoidance stage (avoidance, not flight) then we are much closer to the submissive stage, which is where the dog finds peace and balance. Strong, calm and assertive pack leaders leading the dog into this area of thought are necessary to achieve this state of mind. As pack leaders, we should remember that the dog is a mirror into our own behaviors and state of mind: if we are nervous, the dog will be anxious. If we are fearful, the dog will be dominant. Any state of mind other than calm/assertive is a sign of weakness and in the primal dog world, weakness is dealt with by expelling the weak state or killing it. In the domestic dog world, they believe that they must take on the leadership role because to them there is no one there to be the leader so it must be them! That is where you find aggression, and is much more difficult to regain without a strong pack leader.
That is why it is easier to regain leadership status when we can remove the source of weakness. Many times, this means removing the owners temporarily to be able to put the dog back into the follower mode. The pack leader needs to be patient and calmer than the dog is aggressive and if you want to be a strong pack leader, you must become an expert at reading dog body language because this will tell you what state of mind the dog has.
Want to know the biggest problem with humans? They misread a dog’s body language and assign it human meaning then they act according to this misinformation. Which can get you or someone else seriously hurt (“The dog is happy – see how he wags his tail?” Aggressive dogs – police canines, for example – wag their tails the entire time they’re ripping a suspect to shreds, because it is exciting to them and you may even see sexual excitement in that same dog. That does not mean he wants to date the suspect!).
Remember to learn to read a dog, and if you’re not sure ask someone who truly knows! Or, stay tuned to this blog where we’ll be exploring that subject in the near future!