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Case Study: Attack – The Best Form of Defense?

Just look at this dog! Isn’t she wonderful? Billie is a four-year-old Aylestone bulldog and her guardians have had her for six weeks. Previous to this she had been used as a breeding bitch and ended up in a shelter, so she probably didn’t have a very good life. She certainly has a good life now.

Scared – attack may be the best form of defense
Attack the best form of defense
© Theo Stewart

Billie is a sweet-natured dog, although maybe a little worried about things. She is a dream at home, but out on walks she is reactive to other dogs. She seems to be scared of them.|

Billie has injuries on her legs which look very much like she’s been attacked or bullied by other dogs in her earlier life, so it’s no wonder she’s wary. Dogs that are scared, trapped on leash in particular, may take the approach that attack is the best form of defense.

In Billie’s case, she may also be picking up on the anxiety of her lady guardian. Her previous rescue dog had escaped out the front and attacked another dog, injuring him badly, and the lady witnessed this. Understandably, she’s not relaxed with Billie around other dogs and this message is sure to be passing down the leash. She is almost expecting him to attack or be attacked.

To start with, the walking equipment they use could be better. If more robust, it would help them to feel more confident. It would also help Billie to feel more comfortable.

Fallout from poor advice

With their previous dog, the owners contacted a trainer whose ‘methods’ included terrorizing a ‘disobedient’ dog, who advocated things like throwing chains on the floor in front of the already scared and reactive dog (something Billie’s people don’t do), and the use of ‘correction’ or spraying  the dog with water when she is not ‘behaving’. This has all made the situation far worse. If a dog is afraid, no amount of bullying will cure the fear. If it seems to work, then it is because the dog is so fearful she is exhibiting a global suppression of behavior and has shut down.

Owners can be so desperate for help that they put their trust in ‘professionals’, but they may be unaware of the differences in training methods and philosophies. “Unfortunately, the pet training industry is entirely unregulated, meaning that anyone can say they are a trainer or behavior consultant. As a result, those who call themselves dog trainers, or even “dog whisperers,” may still be utilizing punitive methods, such as disc throwing, loud correctional “no’s” and, in some cases, more extreme tools such as shock collars, choke chains and prong collars. All of these are, sadly, still at large. They are training tools that, by design, have one purpose: to reduce or stop behavior through pain and fear. This, as opposed to a constructional approach where operant behaviors are built, and problematic emotional reactions are changed via positive reinforcement and counter conditioning protocols… pet owners may not always understand the various training methods available to them, and the fallout and unintended consequences of making the wrong choice.” – Pet Professional Guild, 2016. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a quick fix. As someone once said, ‘quick fixes usually become unstuck’.

At present, when poor Billie reacts to another dog, she will be feeling the tension of her nervous owner down the leash while she’s ‘corrected’. This will be uncomfortable on her neck, indeed it may hurt, plus she will be told NO and may be sprayed with water. No wonder she is increasingly believing that other dogs mean trouble – because they do! Attack them and they may go away. With positive, reward-based and understanding methods, and the help of an educated, force-free trainer, however, Billie’s owners can now turn things around for their beautiful dog.


Pet Professional Guild. (2016). Open Letter to Veterinarians on Referrals to Training and Behavior Professionals. Available at:

NB: For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are inaccurate, outdated, aversive or not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here to find a force-free Pet Professional Guild trainer/behavior consultant in North America. Click here to find a force-free Pet Professional Guild trainer/behavior consultant in the British Isles and Europe.



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