Canine Disarming: What The.... Heck??

  dog aggression and grinding down canine teeth

So I'm sure you're envisioning a program where we give dog biscuits to dogs in exchange for their AK-47s and the like. Well, that's not the case here. Canine disarming is about cutting down the canine teeth of a biting dog so he can't do (as much) damage.
Now, you may think this is a great solution! The dog is not as much of a liability, which is always a concern when someone owns a dog that bites. However, it makes the owner more complacent about the dog's behavior, allowing him to have access to situations he shouldn't. This in actuality has been a big part of the ongoing problem. Although he may not be able to do damage, it still isn't nice for the people being forced to endure this dog's wrath regardless of his size.

So, this is in regards to a story I read about a small dog that bites. The problem was supposedly "solved" by having his canine teeth cut down. Actually, the problem isn't solved, he just can't cause any puncture wounds when he does bite, which makes a lawsuit less likely. But believe me, being bitten by the incisors is no walk in the park. So the concern is about money and a lawsuit, not so much the well-being of the dog since his behavior is still there, and it is based upon some underlying anxiety which will now not be dealt with.

I do want to commend the dog's owner for a couple of things. First, it's nice she was able to find a way to mitigate any injuries the dog could cause, as well as for sticking with the dog instead of euthanizing him, though she admits at one point trying to find another home for him. Of course, there are plenty of homes out there just dying to have a dog that bites! (that would be sarcasm) And she tried multiple methods to change the dog's behavior, which may have made it worse. However, a resource that wasn't mentioned was a visit to an actual behaviorist, not just someone passing themselves off as one. I am referring to a Veterinary Behaviorist who may have deemed the use of pharmacological drugs to be in order for this dog. I am also surprised that the vet who did the "disarming" didn't suggest that a visit to a Vet Behaviorist might be preferable to mutilating his teeth.

Using multiple different methods to change a dog's behavior is not a great thing. When dealing with a behavior issue you can't expect a change overnight, especially for a problem that has been ongoing for years. It could take a long time to undo the reinforcement history a dog has. Meaning, if a dog has been heavily reinforced for months or years doing a particular behavior, any training program needs to go on for months, if not years in order to change that behavior. We all know how difficult it is to break a bad habit; this is what it's like for a dog as well.

Any training protocol, as long as it's not making the problem worse, needs to be worked for quite a while before moving to the next training "fad". It sounds to me like the training for this poor dog jumped all over the map. He's only 6 years old, yet at least 5 different methods have been used. Imagine the dog's confusion and frustration level! In addition, many of the methods used were designed to suppress his behavior, not retrain him and change his underlying emotional response to these situations. The owner was on the right track with desensitization/counterconditioning, but if it wasn't done correctly or done for long enough (remember the reinforcement history thing?) then nothing would change. Also, if during the DS/CC process he was allowed, even one time, to practice the bad behavior, the training is for naught. Pepper spray and cans filled with rocks only serve to give the dog more reason to hate strangers coming to visit. Strangers predict being sprayed with pepper spray and having cans with rocks shaken at him. But at least the electronic shock collar idea was dumped.

Though she mentions they have an electronic fence, she doesn't say how many, if any, trainers told her that is exacerbating the problem. When a dog is allowed to see outside where people are walking or moving around, then they bark and the person goes away, which they all do eventually, the dog is rewarded for chasing that person away. Dogs bark to increase distance; to tell someone "go away, go away". Each time that dog was allowed to be in his yard and bark at someone who eventually went away, he was reinforced for chasing that person away! What is the definition of reinforce? It means to make stronger, right? It means that the barking and driving away behavior became so strong that when someone *dared* to ignore his warning of "go away" and actually stepped onto his property he had enough confidence in his previously reinforced behavior to actually bite.

The story was very predictable in the progression of this dog's problems, from the various training methods applied, to the lack of management, to the outcome. But what amazed me about it was the end. How even now, after all this time, the dog is being allowed to practice this bad behavior because he is "safe" and can't harm anyone, not physically anyway. But imagine you are the person this dog is charging at barking & growling. Would you care if the dog's canine's have been removed? Plus the mixed messages this dog is getting are astonishing as well as saddening. I truly feel for this dog and the state of confusion he lives in.