Tuesday, October 21, 2014

DOG AGGRESSION AND THE POLICE. Not the band silly....

Dogs and cops. Cops and dogs. Owners and agencies. They seem to be coming into conflict far too often these days.

Are dog shootings rising? Are there more threats to police officers, and are they valid? Is this conflict a long-standing one that is being broadcast more because of the power of social media, blogs, and the opportunity for everyone to be heard by a large Internet audience?

To understand the potential reasons for conflict here we have to first understand what we are talking about. In my classes we often talk about aggression. What is it? Why is it? What do we do about it?

This is information that all of us, police officers included, need to better grasp to understand how we can avoid needlessly escalated conflicts between dogs and people.

So let's first look at what aggression is-and isn't.

Aggression ISN'T: Meanness. Jealousy. Anger. A disease to be treated. A pestilence to be exterminated. Aggressive dogs are not evil, hateful, or natural killers.

Aggression is simply one behavior that a dog-or any organism-can use to change or manipulate it's environment. And behavior is just something that an organism does, an action. So aggression is nothing more than one possible thing that a dog can do to change the things around it.

This may sound pretty simple, but too many people miss this and assign aggression wider and deeper emotional baggage than it deserves.

Let's start with a simple case. An organism (we'll call it George) is happily bumbling through the forest. Suddenly something scary pops up. George doesn't know what it is but it's scary. So George's best response here to make sure he lives another day to make more little Georges is to RUN AWAY.

But George was not paying attention and he wound up right up against a BIG chunk of rock and has nowhere to run. The scary thing is between him and running room.

So George tries for a second to freeze and make believe he's not there, hoping the scary thing might not notice him. But George is purple and yellow striped with orange spots, so that's not gonna work.

So George has one option (other than, he fears, being eaten): Act as big and scary as he possibly can so the scary thing decides to run away and leave George alone.

So George acts "aggressive". He makes a lot of noise, shows whatever weapons he has at his disposal (like teeth, claws, a knife in his pocket...) and acts REALLY REALLY TOUGH. His body goes through some physical changes. His blood pressure goes up, his heart beats faster, his body systems change what they are doing to give him lots of energy to let him fight (or even better RUN AWAY if he gets the opening). Meanwhile inside he is really hoping that he doesn't have to prove any of this. After all, if you fight there is a really good chance that even if you win you will get hurt. And hurt is not fun. Hurt can make George incapable of making little Georges, which is the whole point of George's existence anyhow. Fighting isn't good.

There will be one of a few outcomes here. Either George gets seriously injured, killed, or eaten, OR George scares the scary thing back enough that he gets room to run away. Or the scary thing runs away. In either case, George goes one way and the scary thing goes another, and George lives to go home, tell his buddies the story, and make more little Georges. In technical terms, George's behavior has succeeded.

So what does this have to do with your dog? Your dog is George (minus the purple and yellow stripes with orange spots I hope). Your dog sees the world in similar basic terms to everything else out there. If you are scared you can either run away, freeze and hide, or fight. And if it comes to fighting, your best bet is to look REALLY SCARY so the other thing/dog/monster/person/scary thing figures you might be too scary to fight with and exercises it's own option to run away.

So that long explanation gives us a hint at what dogs want to achieve with an aggressive display (the fancy term for all the noise and bluster that they use to try and be scarier than the scary thing). They want to either get a scary thing to run away or get the chance to run away themselves. Or, as a last option, fight.

Now, what things make George, especially if he is your dog, even want to come across a scary thing? First off, he pretty much doesn't. George is going to be happy just dealing with Mrs. George and the little Georgettes-until they are too big to mooch off him anymore. George just has a few basic needs: food, water, shelter, security, access to Mrs. George. Basic survival needs. (We talked about this a bit two posts ago).

But George will take on scary things to insure that he has these basic needs. He will, in formal terms, protect his resources. He will defend himself against perceived threats. He will try to insure his own survival and the future production of more Georges.

When it comes to your dog and conflict with others, there are a lot of fancy terms and gradations that behaviorists, trainers, and others use to classify the types of aggression. Territorial aggression, "dominance" aggression, fear aggression; the list goes on depending on who is writing it. And there are, for treatment and analysis' sake, differences in the reasons for, and treatments for, the different types of aggressive displays. He will also occasionally have social disagreements with others of his ilk, but that is secondary to actual survival. All of this distills down, in simple, functional terms to this: the ultimate reason conflict happens is that your dog perceives something, or someone, as a threat to his or her safety or resources. Badda bing.

This we can understand. This is simple. Understanding this can make us, our dogs, and those who come into contact with either of us much safer.

Now let's put this into the context of our dog in contact with a police officer tying to do his job. The officer can basically come into contact with our dog in one of two manners; our dog is out running amok in the officer's world and brings attention to his presence, or the officer has to enter into our dog's world and brings attention to his presence. Either way our dog and the officer intersect. And the problem comes when that intersection causes conflict.

The first situation is easy to prevent: KEEP YOUR DOG HOME. The second takes some planning, but is doable.

Let's start with a common occurrence. A police officer is dispatched to your home because something has happened that you need to report. The officer's mission is to come over, get some information, and leave. He is not a threat to you, your dog, or the cookies in your cabinet. Your dog, though, wasn't given the memo. He is in the front yard and sees a strange person pull up, get out with funny clothes and stuff hanging all around his middle, and maybe even wearing a hat-which you never wear (you don't look good in hats-you don't have The Gift).

So George (minus the stripes and spots) sees the stranger open the gate. The stranger is coming into George's territory-the space within which George finds food, water, safety, and a comfy bed under which he hides his favorite toy. Since these things all mean lots to George, he is nervous that the stranger is coming to take one-or more-of them away. He may become anxious. He may even decide that the stranger is going to deprive him of something. So he runs out to check what the stranger is up to. He may even bark to warn the stranger that this is George's place and George is determined to keep all his stuff. Especially the toy under his bed.

The officer-the stranger-has choices. He can be aware of George's needs and the reason for his reactions and adjust his actions accordingly. An understanding officer who has been trained to be aware and compassionate will take a few seconds to interact with George in a positive manner. He will use his body position, his voice, and his overall actions to send a clear message to George: "I am not a threat to you. I am not going to take your food, shelter, or the toy you have under your comfy bed. I, in fact, might just add to the people who are your friends and just might have a cookie or a pet or a friendly word. We can be buddies."

George may or may not have had positive interactions with other strangers, but either way George will start to turn down his reaction. George is getting good messages from the officer. The officer is not approaching directly; he is not staring into George's eyes; he is not making sudden movements. In fact, the officer is sending neutral or even deescalation signals to George,and George begins to relax. At this point the officer has responded to George's signals, things are calming down, and everyone winds up able to continue their jobs. George has made sure his stuff is secure, the officer has taken his report, and at the end George gets to go back to his bed and snuggle with his favorite toy.

This contact is ideal, and it happens all over, every day, with all kinds of dogs and owners and officers and postmen and electric company workers and situations and homes and toys.

But sometimes it isn't George. It might be George's cousin Fred. Fred is not quite as accepting as George. Maybe Fred has had some bad experiences. Maybe Fred is just not as secure in his living space as George. Maybe Fred has a few issues. Either way, Fred isn't George. Fred is determined that the officer is a threat, so Fred takes things to a higher level. Fred puts on airs and makes himself look way scarier than he really is. He barks, growls, bares his teeth, and goes to fully scary mode. Fred isn't going to admit he would really rather be in Philadelphia. Is he dangerous? Is he vicious? Probably not unless you push him. He is lacking in coping skills and doesn't know better.

In this scenario the officer is aware and recognizes that Fred is a bigger problem. So the officer takes a really revolutionary step: he has dispatch call the homeowner and asks to have Fred put away. Sure, he could probably take time and make friends, but he has other things to do today. So on a good day the owner comes out, puts Fred up, and they take care of business.

But what happens if Fred's owner doesn't answer? Or even worse, what if the officer is there on, say, a silent alarm or a disturbance call and calling ahead isn't in the books?

A well trained officer has a backup plan. Pretty much every police officer out there today carries pepper spray, what is technically called Oleoresin Capsicum spray. Or OC. And if they don't carry it they bloody well should.

OC is EXTREMELY effective in dissuading dogs. A spray of about 2 to 3 seconds directly in the face will pretty much deter any dog from closing and engaging with a person. And yet, the OC spray does not do any long term damage and the dog is fine in about 30 or 45 minutes.

The trained and sensible officer uses this information and plans ahead. He puts the spray bottle in his weak hand (so he can still get his gun in case of a real bad guy). He watches Fred, uses the body language skills he has learned to tell Fred he really isn't so scary, and uses his head to employ the other avoidance skills that he has learned. Simple things like giving Fred room and keeping something between him and Fred. Using any opportunity to separate Fred by closing gates. Worst case, if Fred does come too close, the officer uses the non-lethal OC spray and sends Fred into a safe corner of the yard. No harm, no foul.  Fred still has his resources, the officer has done his job, and everyone goes home with no new holes.

This strategy even works if a situation is more rapidly developing. Say Officer Friendly has to arrest Fred's owner. Fred is likely to take umbrage. Officer Friendly is taking his person (his resources) away. Even though Fred's person may not be the finest in the neighborhood, Fred's person has at least fed and watered Fred to some extent. Access to crummy resources is always better than no access at all. So Fred gets excited. And the owner is excited too. We as police officers are taught that the best situation is one that is not excited, but sometime we don't have that choice. But the non-lethal option is still top on the table. If the officer sprays the dog AND the owner-such is life. They will both be fine.

If the situation keeps getting worse then the officer may have to resort to an impact weapon like a baton. Just like with a human target, the officer has the option to strike Fred and get him back. The officer has the unquestioned right to defend himself. However, we have to remember that the standard here is that the officer is restricted to using only the minimum force needed to accomplish the job and to protect himself.

Higher level situations are happily much rarer than the low-impact situation. Most situations never get to this point. Yet we still have to remember that Fred is only responding to the officer based on Fred's perceptions of the situation, not because he is inherently evil or mean or any of the other human categories we slap on him. Fred is acting....like a dog. Maybe a frightened dog, maybe a poorly socialized dog, maybe even an abused or mistreated dog, but a dog none the less. The violent or difficult person is a jerk. The dog is just a dog.

This is where process and practice seems to be breaking down. The officer has a job to do. Fred has his job to do. Fred only has a limited box of tools to use-his owner has not prepared him for calm and friendly interaction. And Fred is a dog. He can't go looking for classes and better tools on his own-his owner won't let him drive.

But the officer has never been provided training on just how to deal with Fred. I know myself that, to date, there is no training in the Police Academy on how to deal with dogs. Or cats, or horses, or other four legged creatures. Their training is crammed with stuff for dealing with two legged threats, but not four legs. And we have to remember that people in general have a vast array of experiences with animals in general and dogs in particular. They may have had bad experiences with dogs, just like Fred had bad experiences with people.

The average Joe may be able to make choices and take actions based on personal bad experiences, but as police officers CAN'T DO THAT. We are expected to be professionals. We are expected to be Superman. We are expected to disarm a crowd of hostile people with a glance. To arrest the worst of the bad guys with a stern talking to. To help little old ladies across the street and then get the cat out of the tree.

But we aren't currently being given the tools, a least with animals. We haven't been given the training. We are lost at sea when we run into a perceived threat from Fred, because we haven't been taught how Fred works. Or how to deal with Fred.

And a situation that should have been defused and deflected turns deadly. The poorly trained officer responds with needlessly excessive force and Fred (or even George) winds up shot.

Why? Some times the excuse is that the officer was "afraid". My answer to that: tough shit. There are lots of things that we as police have to face that are scary. As I have said before, I am not crazy about high, exposed places. Yet when my job takes me to the top of a building I have to just get over it. Big people with knives and guns are scary. But we have to deal with it. When we react based on fear that fear has to rise to the level that a well-trained, professional officer reasonably recognizes as a valid, imminent threat and that his or her only reasonable response was deadly force. Otherwise-use the tools and techniques you have been used to address the problem.

And that is where we have broken down. The tools and techniques have not been provided. Officers have not, typically, been trained to recognize the causes of aggressive displays by dogs, and have not been taught how to use the tools they already have to defuse the situations that arise. In fact, they are lacking in the training how to avoid those situations in the first place. How to use simple, low-tech, basic strategies to keep situations at a controlled level. Conflict resolution with humans is trained. Deescalation and control using less- and non-lethal tools is taught for human conflict. But we have failed to teach officers that similar, if not the same, tools and techniques work with dogs too.

What is the answer? It sounds trite and like a broken record, but training is the best answer. Training from the beginning, even before the officer hits the street the first day. Training in recognizing the basic reasons that a dog shows aggression. Some basic techniques that will help the officer keep the conflict at a low level, and a few reminders that the same tools and techniques they train and practice repeatedly with people with also work on dogs. Voice command (try yelling NO! SIT! at a threatening dog. Surprisingly often it works!). Body position and presence. Separation and control. Less- lethal force. Use the tools. And above all, USE THEIR HEADS.

And we as owners? We have responsibilities too. Let Law Enforcement know there are dogs on your property. Put up signs that say "Hi! A dog lives here! Bring cookies!" Keep your dogs contained on your property. Give your dogs an area where they can stay separate from people who approach your home legitimately. If you are expecting visitors, put your dogs up. Control them so they don't run out-so they can't run out-and surprise someone that is not properly trained. Ask to be allowed to put your dogs up if the visit is not expected. A reasonable officer should not only allow putting your dogs away, but should have the presence of mind to ask you to put your dogs away. And don't tell the officer "Oh, they don't bite". Of course they do-they are dogs. Put them away anyhow unless the officer expresses confidence that he or she can interact safely. And then still put the dogs away-accidents happen.

Above all, stress to your local police department that they need to give adequate training. They need to equip their officers to keep themselves and your dog safe. Remind them that the deployment of deadly force against a dog threatens everyone-the dog, the public, and the officer themselves. Officers have been killed by ricochets from bullets fired at dogs. So have citizens. And bystanders.

I support Police Officers. I am one. I also support dog owners. I'm one of those too. Help me help support both owners and officers. Let's work on reducing the needless loss of life. And the wasted time on the reams and reams of paperwork these situations create. Responsible manage your dogs while insisting on proper training for police. You can't expect people to do a job without the right tools. Insist that agencies provide the tools and then insist on their proper use.

End of rant for today.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


If you are expecting my promised post about police and aggression, please hang on to your hats. That will come Tuesday. Right now, though, I have to get on my soapbox for a few minutes to address an issue that just popped up.

A friend forwarded me a post that was on the Cesar's Way blog on October 17th. I'm not going to link to that post, but I will quote some sections here to try and correct a few misstatements that need to be answered quickly.

First off, please remember-I am not just talking out of by rear end here. I deal with LOTS of "red zone" dogs (and hate that term almost as much as I hate using fake mystical crap to qualify how a good dog trainer works), many of which would eat most trainers for lunch. In fact, they have eaten someone for lunch-they have killed a person. Dogs that Cesar has never met.

But I'm not interested in playing "my dogs are badder than yours". That is juvenile and the mark of someone you and your dog should RUN FROM.

Instead, let's look at a couple statements and the behavioral realities.

1) " A red zone dog is only interested in escalating the attack and nothing else." FALSE. A dog that is in the "red zone" is a dog that is responding to something it perceives as a threat. All any organism in full attack mode is interested in, unless it is trying to kill something to eat, is making a perceived threat go away.

If the organism is looking for space, then it is only looking to get space. If it is protecting resources, it is trying to secure the resources by driving the invader away. If it is protecting its young, same thing-drive the threat away. The organism only escalates as far as is minimally necessary. Any more is a waste of energy.

In a social dispute, the organism is only interested in using the minimum force needed to solve the social dispute. After all, if all (or most) social disputes ended in one animal wounded seriously or dead the species would die out. Dog-dog aggressive display is normal and is a form of ritualized combat designed to protect the survival of the breed, not to leave bodies in its wake.

To say that a dog exhibiting an aggressive display is only "interested" in escalating an attack is scientifically just wrong. Given another way out, a dog-or pretty much anything else-is only acting to achieve long term survival. The less energy expended, the less injury received, the less risk of death, the better.

2) "You cannot stop aggression with praise and cookies." First off, someone with a true understanding of what aggression is (hint: it's one of many behaviors. Period. Read Tuesday to find out more) would realize that aggression is not a disease to be stopped. Unwarranted aggression is an undesirable behavior pattern that needs to be redirected. Redirection can definitely be accomplished by using praise and cookies. I do it every day. Interrupt the unwanted behavior-before it becomes an avalanche-and redirect the behavior to an incompatible behavior. Reinforce (with praise, cookies, etc). Rinse and repeat. So yes you can.

3) "Remember: dogs want their pack leaders (human and canine) to tell them how to behave and what they can or cannot do." Mostly wrong. Dogs are hardwired for many behaviors, and are taught in the litter many more. Dogs just want to have their five needs met (see last week). To exist in a home environment dogs need to have boundaries set-but that has nothing to do with force. That involves showing a dog the behavior that is proper and reinforcing that behavior. You don't want the dog on the sofa? Don't beat him. Instead, call him off the sofa, tell him that "Off" is good, and reinforce him sitting quietly on the floor. Or on the chair, if that's what you want. Show and tell is so easy even kindergartners can do it.

4) "Where people get in trouble, though, is in using positive reinforcement without realizing it by showing a dog affection when it is not in a calm, submissive state." OK....point for mostly right. Lots of people unwittingly positively reinforce bad behavior. For an easy example: the person who comes to me with a small dog that is snapping and snarling in their arms as they pet it and say "Oh, Fluffy won't bite. She just does this" while petting Fluffy and telling her that she is a good girl.

Wrong. Fluffy is going to bite the stuffing out of anything or anyone that comes too close because the owner has positively reinforced the animal to display this behavior. So yes, here the inappropriate application of reinforcement has produced a problem-guess that shows just how effective positive reinforcement is. It has taken what should have been a social animal and created an animal that shows behavior counter to its own needs and drives. And yes, this produces an issue that I have to fix.

But the big gap in the above statement is that the dog is not in a "calm, submissive state." Get it straight folks: submission has NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. A dog can be in a calm, relaxed state without submission entering into the situation at all.  Submission is something that occurs in dog-dog social interaction. It is part of how dogs allocate resources and access to certain things. It is not the do-all and be-all that the male dominated, hierarchical society of early behavioral sciences insisted it was. Modern research show that canid groups are more democratic and less firmly stratified than we ever suspected. And ultimately - YOUR DOG DOESN'T THINK YOU ARE A DOG (again, see next post). Your dogs don't get together at night and discuss the issue "OK. When Dad shows some weakness, we take the fridge." This is nonsense that has been dispelled by responsible research. Time to put this "dominate your dog" garbage to bed once and for all.

So back to the post: poor or incorrect information scattered among facts is a really sneaky thing. Most  of the story sounds solid, so we buy the whole farm. But we have to use critical thinking skills and examine every piece. When one understands positive reinforcement and studies the basics of behavior it leads to realizing that positive, science based training is the way to go. It ain't magic, it ain't whispering, and anyone can do it. I recognize and value the contributions Cesar has made to the popularization of dog training. I applaud anyone's efforts that get people and their dogs engaged and spending high quality time together. I only wish that people would understand the value of positive, science based methods and would discard outdated methods based on fear, force, and misunderstanding.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

So why do we wonder when these things happen?

Just a quick blog post today. In Detroit there was a tragic and horrible attack on a man by what is described as a "pack" of dogs. The dogs involved apparently, according to the article, had escaped from home and were running at large. The dogs were described as malnourished.

So why are we surprised? We have the classic setup for disaster: lack of adequate nourishment and a group of dogs running at large. If we in this country could just get the idea of proper and humane care down we would be able to avoid so many of these incidents.

We need to address these cases by looking at what my British friends call the Five Freedoms or Five Needs. They are not rights, but expectations of the human caretakers. The Five Freedoms are:

1) The need to be provided a suitable environment.
2) The need to be provided a suitable (and sufficient) diet.
3) The need to be able to exhibit normal behavior patterns.
4) The need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals.
5) The need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury, and disease.

Pretty simple, eh? No worry about giving rights, or legislating owner vs guardian. Just insisting that humans be responsible for providing the things that animals need to be healthy and properly cared for.

I will bet that the Detroit case reveals several of these needs were not up to speed. And it all comes down to a failure of the human. I hope that responsibility can be properly placed on the human who had a duty to care for these animals.

My sympathy and best wishes go out to the victim Steve and his family, and I hope that he can recover to best level that medicine can provide.

Article link here: Detroit man attacked by pack of dogs.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A DOG DIED TODAY. Because of a trainer.

Or trainers. I can't clearly put this in any one person's lap.

Let's back up and see where we are. First off, I am not going to identify the trainer(s), the dog, or the family. My purpose is not to belittle or attack anyone. Instead I want this to be a learning experience for other trainers and a warning to owners.

The dog was.....let's call it (not as a thing "it", but as a "I'm not telling you any more details 'it'") Stat-as in short for the statistic he/she/her/him/it became. Stat was a dog rescued from a municipal animal control facility by a foster family. Stat was initially a friendly, accepting dog. Needed a bit of socialization, but a generally good dog that needed a home and a few manners.

Stat was with the foster family for a bit, then on to what should have been Stat's forever home. Sadly, about 8 months later, there was a serious change in the new family's situation and Stat came back to the fosters. Stat was a little bit put off, but then settled back in to the foster home.

Stat was an exuberant dog that the fosters felt needed a bit of structure, a few manners, to make Stat more permanently adoptable. So they looked online, searched the area, and found what looked like a reputable trainer. There was a cool website. There were testimonials. There were nice pictures. There was a list of things the person(s) involved had done that sounded good. There were no certifications, but the owners never knew there were such things for dog trainers.

So they called and sent Stat off for "residential training". The stay was supposed to be two weeks. The trainer called, and two weeks turned into two months to "fix some issues" that had come up.

The follow up instructions were essentially "here is your dog, here is an electronic collar. If Stat misbehaves just use the collar. If Stat gives you any problem, turn the collar up."

The fosters told me that the first thing they notice when Stat came home was the dead look. Stat's eyes just didn't seem to sparkle any more. Stat was more responsive and minded well, but something wasn't right. Stat wasn't as much fun.

Stat still gave them a few problems. Now Stat had become visibly reactive to dogs, animals, and humans. Stat barked and lunged. Sit and down were fine, but walks were becoming an ordeal. The wife, a small framed woman, was concerned she couldn't hold Stat if something "went wrong".

So they called in other trainers. A total of five, including the first one. And their answer was always "if there are any problems, just turn up the collar." All five were full on e-collar trainers, and not one of them proposed any other possible solution.

The family began blaming themselves. Stat was an absolute love in the house with them, but if anyone entered the house or even came into the yard Stat became more and more visibly agitated. Walking became an impossibility due to the reactivity and increasingly aggressive displays. One day the male foster parent was walking Stat when a person passed in the other direction. The man had placed Stat on his right as the oncomer passed to the left for security, but Stat lunged across the foster and tried to bite the passerby, nicking him slightly.

At this point the fosters called a friend who runs a local rescue. They were looking for professional help that could solve their problems,not make them worse. The rescue person had them call straight away.

I was in Texas on three different cases. I spoke to them, told them I would try and help, and arranged to meet them when I got back. The three Texas cases bled into a case in New York city, but today I finally connected and met Stat.

I started by discussing the issues with the fosters out in the front yard. In order to try and not make Stat anxious with a strange person in the house (something they identified as particularly an issue-they had not been able to have company in some time) Stat came out to meet me. I kept my body position neutral, angled, voice soft, not meeting eyes. I let Stat come and close the distance between us. I extended a closed hand out to sniff, with a tiny piece of treat between two knuckles so Stat could sniff and get a reward. And he bit me. Hard. In the hand. Full engagement, top and bottom, with moderate force.

And that was just the first bite. Four more times Stat bit me. All except the one to the pants leg from behind were full Level 4 bites, full engagement, not as much strength as possible but definitely not holding much back.

No, I am not in the hospital. Remember how I have preached about protective gear? Today it was the difference between a rough day and a crisis. Kevlar gloves, a Kevlar sleeve, and the Kevlar combo pants that I developed with a manufacturer (more on that later...for now we return to Stat.).

Every time Stat engaged I saw the warnings but they were subtle and fast. Zero to ninety in less than a second. Each time I was relatively neutral, not challenging, and trying to make friends. And every time, right after the bite, Stat sat there chattering teeth and drooling.

Stat was afraid. Mortally afraid. Not cowering, but sitting and chattering, waiting for the hammer to drop and for pain to arrive.

The fosters and I talked quite a long while. The fosters were dedicated, but were out of their depth. Stat was great with them, but was terrified of others, and instead of reverting to the fly part of fight or fly, Stat had learned that there was no fly option. Stat had been treated with aversive methods so often in the past where anyone could be a threat at any time. Threats never had a consistent look to Stat-they were anyone not the fosters. A passing pedestrian. A friendly stranger. Next possibly a child with no awareness-or no manners.

The fosters and I had a long, hard talk. I kept trying to softly make contact. Stat would take treats easily, confidently, sitting looking like the world's most friendly dog. And then suddenly the storm hit and there was a strong, dedicated bite. Again.

Stat was clearly dangerous. Stat had lost the ability to cope without violence-or had that ability purged under fire. Stat had been taken from a personable dog that just needed a bit of guidance to a dog into whom violence had been burned. I am usually very slow to recommend death as an option for a dog with even severe behavior problems, but in this case it was up front and center.

After talking over all the options the fosters decided, and I concurred, that Stat was a danger with a limited prognosis of recovery. Stat had been broken. The only reasonable option was to put Stat down. The fosters contacted the local Vet and Stat was taken by the people Stat trusted and could safely interact with to the Vet's office to be escorted on to another life. At least this procedure was done gently, respectfully, and every measure was taken so that Stat did not die in fear.

Could Stat have been saved? In a perfect world, I would give a solid--maybe. Stat had been mistreated enough that extensive behavior work over a long period of time would have been required.  The rehabilitator in Stat's case would have had to be truly skilled, patient, and willing to risk injury on a daily basis for an unknown period of time. With no guarantee of success, or of even moderation of the problem biting.

Could Stat have gone to a sanctuary somewhere? Maybe. Given funds, resources, and a proper place with room. Stat still would have had to be isolated, kept in a kennel, limited in contact with others, maybe forever. I don't see that as a positive quality of life for a social creature that deserves a permanent loving home. (To give an example, I have personally seen one such facility where a dog was kept for years. The dog was truly dangerous, had no chance of recovery, and the keepers had to maintain the dog in a kennel with absolutely no direct human or dog contact. They drugged the dog every three months so they could clean the large kennel run, wash the dog, trim its nails, and give it any needed medications. Otherwise they could only shove food and water under the kennel bars. That is NOT the way I think a dog should live.).

Can I absolutely state that any one of the previous five trainers caused this? No, I can't point a clear finger. All five were force/aversive based trainers. Obviously none of them were the right trainer. None of them seem to have understood the principles of using scientifically valid methods. I am not going to share who they were. That is not my place.

I will warn owners of a couple concerns. When picking a trainer make sure that they are willing to discuss their training methods and give you clear reasons why they choose a particular tool, especially if it is even remotely aversive. A trainer should not have any "secret techniques" or things that they cannot or will not do in front of you. They should have more than a single set of tools in their toolbox of training techniques. If their answer to problems is just "Turn it Up" then RUN. The other direction. And above all, if they do anything that makes you remotely uncomfortable, find someone else.


I mention above that Stat bit me hard several times. That happens sometimes, and I am never happy about it. Most often it shows that I have messed up. Bite scars are not medals of honor.

That is why I use protective gear. Folks have asked me what I use, so here is the current kit.

The first part of my arsenal is a pair of pants that Andrew Kater and the folks at ACES (Animal Care Equipment and Services) developed for me. They are a mix of Kevlar and magic (or some other fabric, I'm not sure which) that go on over your regular pants and look for all the world like a pair of rain pants. They aren't scary or look like a bite suit for training protection dogs. They have an elastic waist with built in belt and zips to get over your boots. They even have pockets.

Here they are:
Obviously the 4 legged model is cuter.

Now here is a look at the bite to my leg that would have been a serious Level 4 had the pants not taken the punishment: 

As you can see there was only a little abrasion and minor scratching through the pants, but no puncture. You feel all the pressure since they are not padded. The bite hurts, but the teeth don't come through. I am not saying that these will stop everything and anything, but they certainly do work. They come in a couple sizes and are comfortable to wear. They are no where near as hot or bulky as a full set of bite gear. And you would NOT want to use these for protection dog training as they are NOT designed for that. But for protection while training or evaluating dogs in comfort and safety, I'm happy. 

The pants can be ordered from www.animal-care.com, Animal Care Equipment and Services. They are $98.50 a pair. They don't seem to have been added to the online catalog yet, but just call and speak to Chama Gomez at 1-800-338-2237 ext 101. Ask her for my pants. Unworn. 

In the above photo I am also wearing the Kevlar lined leather gloves that ACES sells. This model is called the Humaniac Deluxe Duty Gloves. They are tight (which I want so I can manipulate dog, lead, and tools) and are thin enough that you can feel what you are doing. They are $45.00 a pair and come in sizes. My fairly big hands take a large.

The sleeve you can see poking out from under my jacket above are made by BiteBuster and can be purchased from their website at bitebuster.com or through ACES. They fit over your hands and forearms, with a double layer over the palm of your hand giving even more protection-and a thumb loop so they can't pull back and leave your wrist exposed. They are called the Armadillo Arm Sleeves and run between $25 and $30 depending on size.

And disclosure: neither of these fine folks have paid me for this. They did give me samples to work with because I won't support something that doesn't work for me personally.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Today while spinning around the Internet I came across the following picture on colleague Jean Donaldson's blog. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Jean but respect her work.

Just wow.
Talk about nailing it. To be clear-this is not my photo. It is from Jean's blog for The Dog Training Academy and is by Simon Wooler, as noted above. The credit is all theirs.

But the underlying principal is a very strong one. Too often owners and others mistake a fearful reaction for dangerous aggression. They fail to recognize fear can lead to pushing a dog past its ability to handle fear, and too often results in a tragic circumstance for the dog and the human.

So I want to look at fear, aggression, and the way we regard them both for a few minutes here.

Lots of my cases involve bites by dogs. Some of them are so bad that the human dies. Often the dog also dies, for one reason or another. Those that survive are mostly labelled "Dangerous" and face sanctions and restrictions for life.

The fact that the dog bit a person in my cases is pretty much established (except in a few my regular readers know about: see Phineas in Missouri). Too often that is where the investigation, if there is one, stops. I have only rarely run into others that want to know "Why?". Why did the dog bite? Was the bite deliberate or an accident? What was the set of circumstance that led to the final outcome? What did the dog see or feel that led him to resort to a bite?

If a dog bites there is a reason for it. Dog's do not just "snap", unless they are critically mentally ill, just like humans. Or maybe even less often than humans. They tend to be saner that we are, overall, and usually more tolerant.

In my experience with bites and dangerous dogs I have to say that fear, in one form or another, is the largest contributor to bite behavior. We may dress it up by calling it "lack of socialization" or "situational anxiety", or worse "dominance", but the bottom line is that it is fear. The same fear that makes us uncomfortable walking down a dark street alone. The same fear that sends us running when a big spider is on the table. The same fear that keeps some off of airplanes, or off bridges, or out of elevators. Sometimes, like a fear of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with a bed sheet tied to your back (a behavior that many enjoy but not me: I want to ride in the plane ALL THE WAY to the landing spot) is solidly grounded. Or the fear that a reasonable person would have when bullets start flying around.

But dogs only have their own limited worldview and experience to work with, and don't seem to have quite all the higher cognitive powers we grant ourselves. They live through experience.

Dogs, unfortunately, don't always speak human. They speak dog. And what a human says may not be the same as what a dog understands.

Communication requires two things: transmission of a clear message, not overcome by noise, and reception of that message. Both the sender and the receiver have to share the same language so they both interpret the message the same way. There are also nuances in transmission that have to be carried through somehow. This is what gets us in trouble with texting some times; we are missing the vocal inflections and body language that clarify the message sent. Try changing the vocal stress on the simple phrase "What do you want me to do" Too much stress on the wrong word and we have gone from cooperation to sarcasm or incredulity.

This is worse with dogs. Dogs communicate clearly, but mostly with body language. Dogs can't text (yet). A dog that is fearful can't pick up their phone and tell  you what he feels. He/she has body language to revert to-their primary communication channel. If they are transmitting, but the other individual isn't receiving, or isn't paying attention, the communication attempt breaks down.

What do we do when we aren't getting through trying to communicate with someone? We tend to first try phrasing the message differently, and then often raise our voices.

Dogs go through this too. They try different postures. The growl. They bark. They retreat. And if these tries don't work, they raise their voices-they bite.

So back to fear. Bites are too often dogs that have tried to tell us, over and over, that they are afraid of something. We aren't listening. Something has them on edge. They are perceiving something as a possible threat. They want the scary thing to go away. They bite. Then we act like the dog "just snapped" and want to take massive action, dumping the dog or even killing it. We label the dog as "aggressive" and by that label we shrug off any responsibility for ourselves.

But labeling a dog "aggressive" doesn't solve anything. Aggression is not a disease to be cured, nor is it a genetically determined quality that is innately there. Aggression is simply one behavior strategy for a dog to manipulate its environment or to secure its safety. Fear creates a situation that the dog perceives as a threat to its safety.

In cases I am currently working fear is clearly the operative factor. Strangers (lately wearing police uniforms) enter a property for reasons often unrelated to the dog. The officer comes across the dog. The dog is a bit protective of his/her territory and tries to warn the intruder to back off. The intruder has a separate mission that must be completed and the dog does not understand. The intruder continues on and the dog becomes fearful of the intruder. The dog escalates signals and the intruder does not/can not back off. Perhaps at this point the officer is fearful himself and sees the dog's behavior as a threat, not a reaction to fear. If the officer has not been given the tools and training to deescalate the encounter, the next thing that happens in lead starts flying. The bullets usually kill the dog, although these encounters also result in the injury, and sometimes death, of humans. Sometimes that is even the death of another police officer. Or a child. Once lead starts flying everyone is at risk.

How do we make life safer for our families, ourselves, and our dogs? First, learn to look for the fear. Recognize it in your dog. The fear that lies under the bluffing and posturing. If the fear is showing in your dog, treat it. 

If you are likely to encounter fear in a dog that you have no control over, then learn to recognize and reduce the fear generated in your contact.  Learn what you can do to smooth the contact. Give the dog options if possible. Give the dog a way out. Give the dog room. Send signals that you don't want to fight and that you are not a threat. Use that big grey ting on top of your shoulders as your best tool. Sometimes the mission is more time critical, but don't let urgency or emergency get confused with convenience. 

Remember that fear is not rational. For a human we insist that a massive response must be reasonable and not based in particular, personal sensitivities. As a police officer I had to deal with people doing stupid things in high places, like trying to jump off buildings or who crashed cars at the top of tall bridges (the Florida equivalent of cliffs and mountains). The fact that I am still not quite comfy on high, exposed places made no difference. I had to do my job, even two hundred feet over a river looking down through a metal grate.

Civilians can choose to avoid personally scary things. Police and firefighters cannot-we have to carry on. So if we are afraid of something, dogs included, well...tough tomatoes. Get over it or find another job. The excuse that a police officer was "afraid for their lives" must be held to an objective standard, and as ready as I am to defend a police officer doing her job, too many cases are not reaching that standard. If you are in a position to encounter dogs, especially in stressful circumstances, it is incumbent on you to learn the difference between a reasonable threat and an unreasonable use of deadly force. The fear that a professional uses to justify action must be rational and reasonable.

Fear in humans is recognizable to us. So is fear in dogs. The signals are different in dogs so we must take responsibility to learn those signals. The photo above is so telling: the human is sending fear signals that we comprehend immediately. The dog, not so much. Yet the behavior shown is just as clear if we know what to look for. Start looking. Start thinking. Recognize the signals. Keep everyone safe. 

We recognize that fear in humans is widespread and manifests in different forms, from withdrawal from scary situations to overt bullying and puffed up behavior. Dogs suffer the same symptoms. Learn to see through the sturm und drang, the drama and bluffing. Don't let your dog's fear be mistaken for viciousness. It's not.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Interview with Drayton Michaels

Earlier this year I spent time in New Jersey courtesy of New Jersey Aid for Animals doing some training and evaluation. While in Red Bank I had the opportunity to chat with trainer Drayton Michaels about dogs, dog bites, training styles and how you shouldn't be a jerk by jerking your dog around. Grab a soft drink (or appropriate adult beverage) and sit with us a while. I will try not to be too boring, and Drayton promises he won't throw food.

Talking dogs with Drayton Michaels.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Miami area dog evaluation

I know. Two posts in as many days...what is wrong with me?

The reason for this post is to release the results of an evalaution I did in the Miami area just the other day. The dogs in question are up for transfer to Rescue and other venues and the people involved want me to release the results so that networking on these particular dogs can get rolling. They have been in place at a boarding facility for an extended time and really deserve a chance to get out into permanent homes.

So without further adeiu, let's get into the meat of this issue. I am posting the full text provided to the persons who brought me in. Dawn Hanna, a CPDT in the area, also administered a battery of SAFER tests to the same dogs. Her report will be available soon for those interested. IF you can help out with any of these guys please contact Debi Day on Facebook by PM, or you can email for info to debi@thenokillnation.org. There are also some YouTube videos available, so contact Debi if you want to see them.

 Dear Ms. Day:
On 30 June 2014, at your request I evaluated ten dogs at the Dog House boarding facility in Pompano, Florida. My evaluations were conducted in tandem with SAFER evaluations performed by Dawn Hanna. Following are my observations and recommendations.

Dog 1: Carl. Carl has suffered several minor injuries in recent disputes with other dogs according to the facility owner. Carl had a visible laceration to his lip that bled occasionally. Carl is a very energetic dog. When offered a treat he lunged strongly toward the treat item. He did accept the treat but did contact my hand while taking the treat, fully taking my hand into his mouth. He did not break skin but did make enough contact that a non-experienced person may interpret the contact as a bite or aggressive display.
Carl allowed full handling with no sensitivities. When presented with the loud noise/startle item he had limited reaction, and recovered normal behavior in less than 2 seconds. The second startle did not produce a significant reaction.
During the stranger approach he had neutral reactions to both “friendly” and “scary” strangers. He is neutral to human approach.
When Carl walked past a number of small dogs contained behind a solid fence he showed clear strong interest, responding to their barking and lunging with strong attempts to approach and engage. He was difficult to distract and remove. We continued and walked into the kennel area past barking dogs of various sizes and Carl was strongly attempting to make direct contact with most of the dogs. Carl was straining at the leash, lunging, and responding with barks and snarling. Carl bit at the fencing several times and was difficult to restrain. Carl could not be redirected into positive or neutral behavior.

Recommendation: Carl will require placement in a home with a very physically able caretaker. Carl will have to be heavily managed for dog-dog aggressive display and will require extensive desensitization for his dog-dog reactivity. Carl has a limited prognosis for recovery from that reactivity and may well require life-long management for safety. Carl did not redirect his dog-dog reactivity towards this handler and does not appear to exhibit any human focused aggression at this time.

Dog 2: Buster. Buster greeted me easily and confidently. Buster sits, both voluntarily and on command, and took treats gently. Buster showed no treat possessive behavior. Buster allowed me to fully handle him, but reacted to manipulation of his hips, particularly the left hip. Buster gave a single air snap at my hand when I grasped the loose flesh over that hip, and to a lesser extent showed sensitivity to manipulation of the right hip. Buster sat squarely though, with no indication of favoring either hip while sitting.
Buster showed a very strong startle reaction. He recovered from the first startle in about 5 seconds, and recovered in slightly less time (about 3 seconds) to the second startle. His reaction to the startle was to retreat and show wariness.
During the stranger interaction Buster was willing and eager to greet the friendly stranger. When approached by the scary stranger he took a position out in front of me, between me and the approaching figure. Buster did not bark or growl but showed forward, confident posture focused on the figure. Buster maintained the forward alert posture until the stranger retreated.
Buster was very calm walking through kennels despite the activity of the dogs surrounding. Buster did not return any aggressive display or engage the barking dogs at all.

Recommendation: Buster is an easy going, human accepting dog. Buster does show caution with the approach of a potentially threatening target, but that caution moderated and controlled. Buster was not allowed to engage the threatening target but was not retreating. Buster will possible show this protective behavior in a home environment, but his actions during the evaluation were reasonable and controlled. Buster should have Veterinary attention to the hips, and may require action. If no medical cause is found Buster should be gradually desensitized to hip contact and until that is done caretakers should be cautions around his hips.

Dog 3: Gia. Gia shows heavy, labored breathing which the facility owner states is due to a past tracheal injury. Gia greeted me easily. Gia did not sit but took the treat gently. Gia is very focused on positive human contact.
Gia responded to the startle but had a quick (<3 seconds) recovery time and showed no lasting apprehension.
Gia showed a completely neutral reaction to the approach of the friendly stranger. On approach by the scary stranger Gia went out in front of me to the end of the lead took a solid posture and barked several times but then followed up the barking with play solicitation behavior (play bow, energetically wagging tail, wriggling body).
Gia had a neutral reaction to walking past the kennel dogs and proceeded through the kennel in a steady walk.

Recommendation: Gia needs Veterinary attention to the respiratory issues. Gia’s labored breathing may be interpreted by unskilled or inexperienced persons as a low level growl, but there were no indications that the audible rumbling of her breathing was any more than a manifestation of the alleged injury. Gia is a confident and playful dog and has limited to no sensitivity to other dogs.

Dog 4: Prince. Prince greeted me easily, but does have a tendency to jump up. He took treats easily and gently but does not show a sit.

Prince allowed me to fully handle him, including his teeth, tail and paws.
Prince did startle but recovered both times very quickly (<2 seconds) with very little reaction to the second startle. He easily greeted the friendly stranger.
Prince did take a forward position towards the scary stranger, keeping between me and the approaching figure. He did not bark or lunge but was cautious and kept a solid stance.
Prince was reactive but selective in dog-dog interactions. He ignored most barking dogs in the kennel, but did react strongly to a few individuals, trying to actively engage and fight with them. He was difficult to disengage from those individual dogs. The dogs he engaged with were of varying sizes and types so there did not seem to be an observable common thread. These may have been dogs he has had prior history with, although the facility owner says not.

Recommendation: Prince is a friendly dog in need of some manners, but accepts human contact well. Prince’s caution to the scary stranger was reasonable and controlled. Prince does have clear dog-dog issues with particular dogs and will require careful and competent management. If a commonality can be identified over time then a specific desensitization program can be instituted, but unless that can be established then Prince will require close and competent management when in contact with other dogs.

Dog 5: Max. Max was brought out to me and greeted me immediately, head up, tail wagging, calm and relaxed. Max took treats immediately and gently and sat when requested. Max took treats willingly and with control. Max allowed full handling including paws, tail ears, and head/mouth.

Max responded with a strong startle when the noise source was initiated, but recovered very rapidly (<5 seconds) to a relaxed and calm posture. After the second startle stimulus he was more watchful, but still returned to a relaxed stance within 5 seconds.

Max’s response to the friendly stranger was very positive and welcoming. Max appeared to be somewhat frightened by the scary stranger and retreated behind my position cowering slightly.

Max was calm around the barking dogs, walking with relaxed posture and generally ignoring most of the others. Those dogs that Max did attend to he greeted with proper relaxed body position and appropriate greeting behavior.

Recommendation: Max appears to be a well-adjusted, human focused dog that readily socially interacts with people. Max reacts well around other dogs, even those exhibiting potentially threatening or aroused behavior. Max is highly likely to succeed in a permanent placement with owners accepting of a large, affectionate and stable dog.

Dog 6: King. King showed calm greeting skills-no jumping or inappropriate contact. King showed minimal response to the audible startle stimuli, and recovered very quickly (<2 seconds) from each occurrence. King allowed me to fully handle him and manipulate his paws, tail, head and mouth. King easily and gently took treats.

King observed the friendly stranger and showed willing, voluntary and positive approach behaviors. King’s reaction to the scary stranger was generally accepting, with only slight interest in the stranger’s erratic behavior.
King walked easily down the kennel of barking dogs, with minimal interest, more focused on my actions and accepting of the loud and disorganized behavior of the other dogs.

Recommendation: King is human focused and shows positive interaction skills. King shows no indication of dog-dog reactivity.

Dog 7: Indo. Indo had issues during the inside evaluation with Dawn Hanna (see her notes and report to obtain details). When I first encountered Indo he was indoors. There was a small amount of blood on the floor, apparently from a freshly engorged tick that he scratched off and was killed.

The inner surfaces of Indo’s ears were red and visibly inflamed. The conjunctiva (soft tissue) and the sclera (white portions) of both eyes were clearly red and inflamed. Indo should be seen by a Veterinarian at the earliest opportunity to address these health issues.

Indo greeted me easily, took treats readily and with a gentle mouth, and willingly rolled on his back voluntarily showing no reticence or signals of stress. Despite the apparent inflammation of his ears Indo allowed me to fully handle him, including examining his ears and checking his eyes closely. Indo took treats gently.

Indo showed a mild reaction to the audible startle stimulus, and recovered very quickly both times (<2 seconds).

Indo greeted the friendly stranger calmly giving appropriate engagement signals. Indo showed a clear intention to make positive contact with the stranger. When confronted with the scary stranger Indo took a position in front of me, between me and the stranger, but did not bark or growl. Indo simply stood watching the stranger.

Indo did not show any particular interest in the barking dogs as we walked the kennel.

Recommendation: Indo’s behavior must be evaluated as a composite of my observations and Dawn Hanna’s observations. My assessment is that Indo requires Veterinary attention for the ear and eye issues. His behavior regarding human contact was very positive. Indo further showed no dog-dog reactivity.

Dog 8: Goose. Goose greeted me easily and readily, showing appropriate controlled greeting behavior. Goose does have minor paw and lip injuries, so I did not manipulate that particular paw. Otherwise Goose allowed full, willing contact. Goose readily and gently took treats.
Goose showed a mild reaction to the audible startle and recovered quickly (<3 seconds) from each.

Goose showed positive greeting behavior toward the friendly stranger. Goose was neutral to the scary stranger.

While walking the kennel Goose was largely uninterested in the other barking dogs. To those dog in whom Goose showed interest his posture and approach was positive and appropriate.

Recommendation: Goose did not show any concerning behavior. Goose seems to willingly accept human contact, solicits that contact voluntarily, and shows neutral to accepting behavior towards other dogs with no observed reactivity.

Dog 9: Jethro. Jethro greeted me easily and positively. Jethro took treats well and allowed full handling, including ears, tail, paws and mouth.

Jethro showed minimal reaction to the audible startle, recovering quickly (<3 seconds).

Jethro greeted the friendly stranger appropriately, initiating positive contact. While waiting for the scary stranger Jethro pulled slightly against his collar and the weak plastic buckle released, allowing Jethro to be loose. Despite the ability to roam freely Jethro came quickly when I called him. He was easily placed back on the lead and walked quietly past the small dogs barking in the yard area adjacent to the testing area. Jethro was not tested in the kennel runs since the collar had failed and there was not another collar readily available.

Recommendation: Jethro showed very positive human interaction, even coming willingly when presented with the opportunity to range freely. Jethro did not show dog reactivity towards the small barking dogs adjacent to the test area.

Dog 10: Tiffany. Tiffany came out and greeted me fairly easily. She did not show any sensitivity to handling or contact and took the treats well.

Tiffany startled but recovered quickly (<5 seconds).

Tiffany’s collar completely failed and she did break free. Tiffany did not recall readily, but the two strangers (out of character) were able to quickly contain her, including one of the strangers who grabbed Tiffany around the neck and shoulders against a wall. Despite the sudden corralling in a corner by a complete stranger (no contact had been made yet) Tiffany was accepting and easily restrained. The test was terminated at that point.

Recommendation: Tiffany appears to be very human focused and willing to accept even sudden human contact under a potentially stressful situation.
SUMMARY: None of the dogs tested showed any clear aggressive behavior towards humans. The dogs noted above did show reactivity and sensitivity towards other dogs, and will have to be managed safely and given rehabilitative training.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to assist in the evaluation of these dogs.


James W. Crosby CBCC-KA
Behavior Consultant
Jacksonville, Florida

Full medical records for these dogs are available at request. Again, please contact Debi Day for further information. These guys could really use a hand.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Canine Wounded Heroes-out on the front lines.

In my last post I described the very positive experience I had at the Metropolitan Police Dog Training School and their very forward techniques. Further details on the experience had to wait due to my time disappearing very quickly under the weight of other appearances. Further, I had to respond to Miami and evaluate a group of dogs at rick, and THEN came to Nassau, The Bahamas, where we are facing a serious outbreak of canine distemper virus (more on both of these issues later).

So...the basis for our visit to the Met Dog School was a program set up by the hard working and dedicated people at Canine Wounded Heroes (http://www.caninewoundedheroes.org). CWH collected donations, coordinated the visit, and arranged to have eighteen (18!) personalized bullet proof vests shipped and delivered to the Metropolitan London Police to protect their working dogs from gunshot and sharp weapon injury.

Canine Wounded Heroes was founded by Jodie Richers. Jodie, a tireless animal activist based in Atlanta, GA, founded Dogs on Death Row in 2007, followed by Cats on Death Row, Horses on Death Row, and Habitats for Dogs & Cats. Having worked in the nonprofit arena for many years as the director for One Child At A Time (an international aid and adoption organization), and also as a board member for Children's Charities of America, Jodie possesses a skill set ideal for leveraging dollars into the most efficient action possible to save the greatest number of dogs and cats.

Canine Wounded Heroes is dedicated to the protection of our working dogs, be they police, arson investigators, bomb-detection animals or military working dogs. They actively collect donations that are directly applied to their protection efforts, with only 1% of the donations applied to any administrative or official costs. Board Members such as Karen Talbot and Prince Lorenzo Borghese of Animal Aid USA serve as strict volunteers allowing the funds to go where they need-to the animals.

At the dog school I saw and handled the vests. They are truly state-of-the-art units. Fully fit, they have vastly improved shoulder articulation allowing the dogs to finally work freely while protected. They are modular, so they can be adapted to the situation at hand. They are lighter, better ventilated, and are equipped to handle everything from daily patrol to insertion by helicopter with the Special Unit. Since they are modular, these vests can be fit to a dog exiting a police vehicle in 8 seconds. This allows the dog to say cool and comfortable during normal travel, but deploy on a serious crime with full battle gear with no delay.

I have a personal soft spot for protecting police and working dogs. During my career as a Police Officer I was involved in a pursuit that ended in a shootout with an armed drug dealer. Our police dog, Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer K9 Titan, took a bullet that was certainly intended for a human officer. Despite the best efforts of our police Veterinarian, Dr. P.C. Hightman, Titan did not survive. Had Titan been wearing a vest he might have survived the encounter.

These vests will hopefully give the dogs of the Met Police the edge they need to safely do their jobs. They will be protected not only from bullets and sharp objects, but the ballistic material of the vests will also serve to dissipate the effects of blunt object impacts. I can't commend-and recommend-the efforts of Canine Wounded Heroes more strongly. Please consider donating to Canine Wounded Heroes at https://www.charity-pay.com/d/donation.asp?CID=68

Friday, May 30, 2014

Training with the London Met Police K9s and a new video interview online

I am sitting here in the beautiful Basingstoke countryside getting ready for England's first National Dog Bite Conference tomorrow with Victoria Stilwell. I have to first say that my meeting yesterday with the Metropolitan London Police K9 Training School officers was simply amazing. These officers are not only training some of the best police working dogs in the world, but they are doing it WITHOUT USING FORCE/FEAR/PAIN/AVERSIVE BASED TRAINING METHODS!  Victoria and I spoke with the head trainers and the head of their breeding program for over two hours about training methods and their philosophy on pairing a human/canine team. One of the most surprising methods they use is to pair a dog and handler together when the dog is 8 weeks old.  The dog and handler then grow up together, bond strongly, and form a lifelong working team. No partially- or pre-trained dogs here. They want to start with a blank slate, build what they consider to be a rock-solid foundation, and mold the dogs from the start to work as a true team with their handler.

Although these working dogs are eventually expected to face violent offenders if necessary, the training is very strongly positively based. No punishment here at the Met: as I have said before, a correction is simply bullying if it is not instructive. These guys understand behavior science, they understand that hanging, choking, and pinch/prong collars are abusive, and the Met simply forbids these tools. Instead, they show-teach-reinforce-proof-and reinforce again. They develop tight working dogs that are working out of the bond between them and the handler, not fear of repercussions. These are also dogs that can think on their feet and are not afraid to take on a novel challenge for fear of punishment.

I was so impressed. The quality of the dogs is very high since they are breeding carefully selected animals. All health testing is done-hips, eyes, elbows, and the breeding regulations the Met adheres to are tighter and more restrictive than The Kennel Club requires. These are truly magnificent animals.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the second of my video interviews with John DeBella from PhillyPetInfo is live online at PhillyPetInfo Police Encounters. Take a look. The trip to Pennsylvania and New Jersey was made possible by the great folks at New Jersey Aid For Animals.

To wrap this up have a look at me and Victoria standing outside the BBC Studios in London yesterday.

Friday, May 23, 2014

National Dog Bite Awareness Video

Catch my video series for National Dog Bite Prevention Week with John DeBella of WMKG Philadelphia and PhillyPetInfo.com right here: http://www.phillypetinfo.com/2014/05/the-biting-truth-on-dog-bites/

Friday, May 9, 2014


Please come join us in the US and the UK for some exciting dog bite events:

Canine Aggression & Case Investigation

Monday 16th June & Tuesday 17th June

Wood Green, The Animals Charity

Cambridgeshire  PE29 2NH

 Bite Scene Interpretation
 Court Case Preparation
 Case Breakdown
 Data & Evidence Gathering: Photos, interviews, records, reports etc.
 Canine Handling & Behavioural Rehabilitation
 Interactive Case Investigation & Court Proceedings
 ‘Select Committee’: Open discussion on canine legislation and public safety around dogs.

Cost for two days: £195

Presented by 

DogPsyche UK & Wood Green, The Animals Charity

To book go to:   www.dogpsyche.co.uk

Click on the ‘Jim Crosby’ tab and follow the instructions.

Contact email: dogpsyche@yahoo.co.uk

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Upcoming schedule of seminars and appearences: WARNING-CONTAINS ME

For the many people who have asked for my schedule of appearences for the next couple of months, here it is. Brace yourselves!
April 24, 25: Alfred College, Alfred (Rochester) New York-the 24th is for LEOs, "Investigation of Animal Attacks for Law Enforcement", the 25th is "Dealing with Aggressive Animal Behavior: Training for Animal Care Personnel" Contact by email for registration at ccet@alfredstate.edu
May 13-20: New Jersey with New Jersey Aid for Animals. Seminars on several days, including one on May 18 for the public and a couple radio/media visits. Also appearence with Camp Bow Wow for their bite safety kids program. Contact Kathy McGuire for details of individual sessions and times.
May 21st: Augusta, Georgia. Join me and my friend and colleague Attorney Claudine Wilkins as we contribute to the EMSc Day Conference at Georgia Regents University. We will be speaking about dog law, dog bite prevention, and strategies for First Responders to guard their and their patients' safety when dealing with dog encounters.
May 30-31: Victoria Stilwell and I , with a few of the best trainers in the world, present our National Bite Prevention Conference just outside London, England. This is a public event and all are welcome to attend. Check with the Victoria Stilwell Positively website for more information or look here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/national-dog-bite-prevention-behaviour-conference-tickets-10757874091
June 16-17: Dog Attack and Bite Investigation Seminar at Wood Green Animal Sanctuary, Cambridgeshire, England. Link here: Jim Crosby 2014 Seminar Update

Please, if you are nearby (or want an excuse to travel!) come on and join us.  The events in New Jersey will be supporting the efforts of New Jersey Aid for Animals. The Seminar at Wood Green supports the rescue and sheltering work of the Wood Green Animal Sanctuary. The Dog Bite Prevention Conference supports the Victoria Stilwell Positively Foundation and Victoria's extensive work to improve owner and child safety around pet dogs and her work to promote positive based training methods. 

I hope to make these very informative and also entertaining seminars, despite the fact that some of the subjects are very serious. Those aimed at Animal Care personnel will be more technical on the behavioral side. Those for Law Enforcement will address more enforcement and invetigative issues. The Bite Prevention Conference is dedicated to education and information aimed at reducing the needless negative interactions between humans and our canine companions that happen each year, with information linking welfare and training issues to these incidents.

So come on out. Meet with me, my friends, and other interested professionals and doggie folks and hopefully you will take home a few ideas on how to improve your relationship with you furry friends.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

DANGER! Or: the worst can happen to any of us.

Before Christmas I got a text from a trainer friend that grabbed my undivided attention: he had just left the Emergency Room with multiple punctures and sutures in both his arm and his neck. A large German Shepherd he was working with had "gone off" and attacked him. He was shaken, upset, sore, and above all worried that he had just cost this dog his life. He knew that after inflicting these extensive injuries the dog would most likely be killed.

Two days later he messaged me. The message was "Thankful to be alive but not handling this well. They are going to euthanize the dog. Physically I will heal, but emotionally I am torn up." The dog had been destroyed.

The next day he came over. We sat out in the carport and in between emotional flashbacks and tears he told me the story.

His call had come in a few days before. A local owner had been referred to him for an "aggressive" dog. My friend (for ease of reference we will call him "Joe"-not his name) is an experienced trainer, and has worked with many difficult dogs, so he listened. The owner, an elderly lady, explained that she had been told to call him by a Veterinary Behaviorist (who we will call VB) because they had heard that he was capable. The dog, a seven year old German Shepherd, was showing troubling behavior towards the owner and others. The behaviorist had been out and met the dog but did not observe any problems.

Joe was excited at the prospect of being referred by a high level professional. After all, recognition by a professional colleague as competent is always a big deal. Joe took the client's information and called the Vet. They spoke for some time about the dog and the Vet's observations. The Vet had been at the home for two hours and had not seen any of the problem behaviors the owner had complained about. No blatant aggression, no guarding issues, no hazard flags waving. This sounded like a pretty routine case, more a matter of reactivity than open aggression. The general plan was to make friends with the dog, find the specific behavior triggers, establish some routines and progressive desensitization protocols to reduce the dog's reactivity-another regular day at work.

So Joe made his appointment and went to work. He called and talked with the owner, a slight older woman. She explained that the dog was her husband's. He had wanted a German Shepherd for much of his life, and was rapidly dying. To ease his last days they had found a dog for adoption on Craigslist. The dog was presented as a mature 7 year old male with no problems. The original owners had the dog since puppy hood but were moving and could not take the dog with them.*

The husband met the dog and fell in love with this beautiful male. They went home thinking that this companion would make the man's last days more comfortable.

The dog appeared to love the man. He was a little touchy around other people, she said, but the man and his wife were more focused on the man's deteriorating condition. After the dog had been in the home about two months the man died. It was three weeks after the man's death that the woman contacted VB and Joe.

Through her grief the woman explained that the dog had shown aggressive displays towards other people while with her husband, and even some "difficult" reactions towards her husband, but the behaviour had become worse. She was torn between keeping a dog that was too big for her to handle and difficult towards others and the alternative of letting go of something that was, at least for a while, part of her late husband. She was not actually afraid of the dog, but she was becoming less comfortable, which is why she sought help. Her feelings towards the dog were colored by the association with her late husband, so she was motivated to do what she could to keep the dog.

Joe arrived at the house and spoke to the woman for a few minutes. Joe was seated in the living room when the client offered to have him meet the dog. Instead of bringing the dog in safely on lead the dog cam bounding in, straight for Joe. The dog placed his large head right in Joe's lap. Unsure of the dog's intentions, Joe did not touch the dog but spoke calmly to him "Good dog, good boy". Joe had a large amount of treats in his hands, and began feeding the treats to the dog, telling him "Good boy, easy dog". So far, thought Joe, so good.

Joe had been told that the dog had been kept on a prong collar. When Joe looked at the dog's collar he also saw that the dog was simultaneously on an electronic fence collar. The client explained that the previous owners told them the dog had been on both a prong collar and an electronic collar since puppy hood. They said that the prong was the only way to control the dog on leash, and that the electronic fence was the way to keep him in the yard.

Joe is a trainer who is dedicated to only using positive methods to train. In his mind his first priority was to get the prong collar off the dog, immediately followed by removing the electronic collar. Joe had not yet even touched the dog other than to give him treats. Joe decided the best way to "make friends" was to go from seated in a chair to sitting on the floor, at face level with the dog, to make himself seem less potentially threatening.

This succeeded momentarily. The dog allowed Joe to quickly reach towards his collars, even though he was tense. Joe, after two tries, got the electronic collar free, madly feeding the dog treats. Joe was still on the floor, with the dog right in his face. The woman seemed to be unable to direct the dog by voice, and Joe was determined to get the prong collar off.

Joe reached for the prong collar and the situation immediately changed. The dog "roared" (as Joe described it later) and engulfed the side of Joe's face and neck in his mouth. Thankfully for all involved the dog honestly showed substantial control of his powerful jaws-he did not rip Joe's face off. His upper teeth connected with Joe's left eyebrow and corner of his eye, while the dog's lower teeth engaged Joe's neck and the side of his lower jaw. Joe drew back and got his left arm up when the dog reengaged, grabbing Joe's forearm and latching down.

The dog's owner, meanwhile, began screaming. At less than the dog's weight she was physically not able to pull the dog off, and even though she did wade in to try and help she was unable to disengage the dog. Joe managed to grab the dog's collar and could somewhat control the action, but he was bleeding, still on the ground, and rapidly getting tired. He told me that he was afraid of the dog getting him again and afraid of the dog engaging the owner since she clearly could not fight the dog off or absorb the kind of punishment that he could.

Joe finally gained his feet and managed to shove the dog into another room. The owner screamed "he can open the door" and that was enough. Joe wisely headed for the street, with the front door between him and the dog, bringing the owner out with him.

Standing in the street a neighbor saw them both and brought Joe a towel with which to staunch the blood. After a few deep breaths he assessed his condition and found that he had been fortunate: the face and neck injuries were relatively minor (no pieces hanging off) and the arm bite was deep but of limited scope. Deep punctures and unquestioned deep bruises but nothing torn or substantially slashed. During the bite he had the presence of mind not to pull away as the dog grasped him, so there were no withdrawal tears.

Animal Control was called but never responded. After waiting for an hour Joe decided that the Emergency Room was calling his name and, after the owner assured him repeatedly that she could control the dog until she got him to her regular Vet's office, Joe left. At the hospital he texted me, which brings us back to the beginning of this story.

Joe was terribly shaken by this incident, even a few days later. He kept repeating that the dog's first rush was faster than he could have responded to, even in the best of situation, and he dwelt on what he called the "roar" of the dog as he closed on Joe's face. Joe said he had never heard such a terrible sound come from a dog. He had been waking at night, shaking and sweating, with that roar in his ears.

Joe explained that he had called VB the day after this incident and explained what happened. Several phone conversations and emails ensued, and the matters discussed will remain between the two of them as there are always two sides to any issue. One salient factor that caught my attention was that VB explained that they never laid hands on the dog: all of the "evaluation" was conducted by watching the owner interact with the dog. Not once did VB touch, handle, or directly interact with this problem dog. VB allegedly told Joe "It's not my job".

Before we move on to a detailed analysis of the incident, I want to mention one thing: when I evaluate a dog, especially to try and develop a treatment plan, I absolutely must lay hands on the dog to get what I feel is a valid evaluation. This is not some ego trip or contest to say "Oh, I can handle anything-I'm a badass!". No. Not even close. My feeling is that I can not adequately evaluate what a dog's triggers might be, where his/her sensitivities might be, and whether the problem lies in the dog or the owner, without directly interacting with the dog.

This takes time. I have to develop a relationship of trust-even fleeting-and cooperation to see where the dog's problems might lie. How much time does this take? As much time as it takes.

Why do I insist on this? Let me use a human example. A good physician never just looks at tests-they meet the patient, make a connection (despite the volume of patients corporate health care systems require doctors to see) and usually, even for a few minutes, lay hands on the patient. Maybe this laying on of hands dates back to times of superstition and magic, but it is still part of our human makeup. We touch each other to get to know each other. Our touch can transmit-and receive-threats, trust, compassion, love, violence. Feeling a dog react and relax or tense under my touch is essential to search for problems. Some professionals extend this need for touch with systems such as T-Touch. I am not trained in that discipline but I definitely value the input of direct interaction with a dog.

This is the long way of getting to the point that I feel direct interaction is essential to proper diagnosis and evaluation of a dog. In methods such as the SAFER test there is direct interaction with the animal. Even in the evaluations I have conducted with dogs that have killed people I try my best to directly handle and interact with the dog. Again, not to prove that I can, but to see what the dog can tell me by its behavior.

Now, back to this incident. We can all now, I am sure, see a series of mistakes. Joe also sees them and, as a result, has asked me specifically to share my observations with the rest of you to let us all see just how easy it is to get in trouble.

First, Joe was surprised by the dog while he was sitting down. This has happened to all of us. We tell the clients to have the dog secured when we get to the home-and how many times do the dogs run up barking and greet us at the door, bouncing between wanting so meet and eat the new guy. Sitting places us in a state of limited mobility and brings us much too close to the business end of the dog to start.

Secondly, Joe tried to defuse the situation by making himself less threatening by going to the floor. Bad move. This makes mobility even harder, and exponentially increases the level of threat the dog can present. Down is not good. Down is exposed, vulnerable, dangerous.

I understand why he did this. He was trying to make the best of a situation where the dog was already in his space-and face. Joe was focused on getting the collars off the dog. Being so focused on the collars Joe lost sight of safety and the body cues the dog was sending. A better plan would have been to disregard the collars for the moment, instead waiting to establish a safer physical position and then building connection and trust with the dog. Joe would have been better served by having the owner retreat with the dog, even if to another room, to let Joe get to his feet. I might have even, at that point, had the owner remove the dog and then had us reintroduced outside the home, in relatively neutral territory, with me securely on my feet. In the street the dog would not have seen me as an invader into his home but as a relatively neutral figure to check out.

Once Joe was on the floor with the dog in his face he pushed too much too fast by grabbing for the collars. We have all seen that many dogs have sensitivity to reaching for a collar. Dr. Ian Dunbar recognizes this issue and in his puppy socialization training stresses the absolute need to acclimate pups to reaching for the collar. His plan: reach for the collar, pup gets treat. Touch collar, pup gets two treats. Grab collar and we go the full payout of three treats. Thus we build a dog that looks forward to having his leash and collar put on-good things are coming!

Here there were warnings that the dog might have collar sensitivity. The owner explained that the dog had been habitually on the prong and electronic collars for his whole life. The aversive association with collars in general, and people reaching for the collars, would of course be likely to establish a negative reaction to someone reaching in to grab, or even kindly remove, the collars. This case would have had me approaching the collar slowly, in stages, with reinforcement for accepting contact.

One other lack that too many of us do not consider is the matter of protective gear. I always wear Kevlar/Spectra bite-resistant gloves when first dealing with a new dog. I have learned the hard way that not wearing these gloves has resulted in a couple nasty bite. All my fault I must add-and I would not have been hurt if I had worn them. This lesson goes back to my police officer days of wearing a bullet proof vest. I thankfully never needed it, but it was there just the same. With this dog I would have also worn my full length snake-proof bite chaps. They are heavy and hot, but I am on my feet and wearing them I can be bitten by a very large dog with no effect other than some minor bruising. I am not looking to be bitten mind you; but better safe than missing pieces. I am currently working with the manufacturer of the gloves to develop both sleeves and leggings for trainers that are lighter, cooler, and less restrictive than a bite suit or the heavy leggings I use now, but more on that in the future. Bottom line: if a dog has aggression problems, use protective gear. Too many dogs I deal with are one bite away from a Dangerous designation or death. Some have already killed. It is not about ego. It is about risking a dog's life if you make a mistake.

To sum this up, Joe was kind of doomed here. Although VB shared all of the information they had, according to what I was told they never placed the dog in a situation wherein the dog actually displayed the problem behavior-contact with a stranger. The owner was physically unable to assist when things went bad. Joe made some poor choices out of his desire to help and remove the aversive collars from the dog without making a connection first. The placement of this dog with an elderly couple that had limited physical ability, with possible knowledge that this dog was powerful and had potential behavior issues fed into the storm.

This post is not to criticize Joe or anyone else. We all have our styles and habits. Joe asked me to share this case to help educate other trainers and professionals about just how quickly things can tumble out of control. We can use our experience too minimize the danger, but there is always a risk. And remember-not everyone wants to, or needs to, address serious aggression issues. Too often I have seen people that, after training for a relatively short time, think they are equipped to handle such clients. And they may get away with it for a long time. But again, dealing with aggression cases is not a contest. No one cares if you deal with the hard cases or spend your time house training puppies; you are contributing to the health and welfare of dogs and owners in a positive and constructive way, no matter where you draw the line. There have been a couple dogs I refused to interact with-they were obviously too dangerous. I had nothing to prove by getting hurt.

Be safe. Be smart. Plan ahead. Look for cues and warnings. And wear your bullet proof undies.

*We hear this excuse all of the time. If you have had a dog for seven years, unless a lot of things (loss of job, terminal illness, military being sent to a country that won't take your dog, etc.) there is a simple answer; if your new home won't allow the dog, DON'T MOVE THERE. Usually we find that it is simple laziness. Oh, and by the way-your child didn't suddenly become "allergic" to a dog you have had for seven years. That is the oldest and lamest excuse in the book. What if your dog "became allergic" to your new kid? Dump the kid on Craigslist? Sorry. Rant over.