Dogs are highly sensitive to human voice, and can actually understand much more than we think.
This is part of the assessment of a neutered male pit bull, Scott. He can be reactive towards dogs.
For the assessment, I usually ask the owner to go inside a fenced area, close the gate and unleash the dog. With some dogs, and pit bulls are among them, I ask the owner to keep the dog on leash, to prevent bites and jumping of the fence.
Since Grisou, the border collie, is retired, I ask Puma to help me with the assessment. I know she doesn't like neutered males, and I honestly doubt that she can cope with him. She shows an increase in stress as soon as she sees him (1), she comes back to me, I wait to see if she is willing to move towards the fence, and when she walks, I follow her. She stops to urine mark (2), which is a good news (it means she is choosing a communication strategy). She walks focusing on the unfamiliar dog (3), and, as expected, she reacts, charging and attacking the male (5 - sorry, I've missed the 4).
She drops the ball, and tries to displace Scott from the fence (6). She fails, and goes back to fetch the ball (7). My impression is that she can't control the fence, and she tries to feel more confident through the possession (control) of the toy. She displays hackles, and the stance is frontal. He attacks her, trying to bite her. She reacts with fear, and retreats (8). She holds the position as he attacks again (9), and she clearly perceives the fence as a safe barrier (10) (during the interaction, she never went or stopped at the gate).
He doesn't de-escalate or change strategy, nor does he communicate with her. Puma bite-shakes the ball, most probably a sign of frustration (11). The whole interaction last for 15 minutes, at the end she starts to pay more attention to his owners (12), and to me - she is turning the right ear in my direction (13). At the very end she appears to have lost interest in a communication with him, she is also less aroused, more relaxed. Scott can redirect his attention to his owners, playing with them and moving away, and she comes to me as I call her (to prevent Scott from reacting again) (14).
- I am saying "good girl" to Puma, not to reinforce aggressiveness, but because she is thinking and using the distance, a toy and the communication instead of attacking.
- Scott gets the ball at the end of the interaction not to reinforce the aggression, nor to distract him. The ball/play and the distance from the fence (from Puma), are meant to help him recover from the stressful experience, leave a more positive/less negative emotional memory of the event, and teach the owners of to effectively use DBC (Distance, Belonging, Coping), and help Scott.
- Scott's reaction in my opinion is based on fear, and I suggest to increase his sense of safety, before anything else.
Alexa Capra 27 december 2020
If you help the dog and you reinforce the behavior, you are making the dog successful, and you are building a motivation to display that behavior in the future.