23 April 2011

My dog is fear-aggressive

"My dog is fear-aggressive" is a phrase that I hear a lot from dog owners.  The truth is, ‘fear-aggression’ does not exist.  It cannot exist.  Fear has an inhibitory influence over aggression.  Fear makes you want to run away and hide, not stand your ground and fight.  Fear and aggression arise along different pathways in the brain and simply cannot occur simultaneously.  That’s not to say that fear and aggression cannot be displayed in quick succession, they can, but when this occurs the behaviour is usually pathological in nature – abnormal or irrational.

Because fear and aggression cannot arise simultaneously, a dog is either fearful OR aggressive – there can be no motivational contradiction.  True contradictory behaviour or ‘conflicting signals’ is uncommon in dogs and specifically occurs when a dog is stuck between conflicting drives or emotions, simultaneously displaying behaviours from each.  For example, a snarling dog that has its ears raised but its tail between its legs is displaying true, contradictory behaviour.  A snarling dog that is cowering with flattened ears, is not.  Neither dog is displaying ‘fear-aggression’ though.  A dog cannot signal fear and aggression at the same time.  ‘Fear-aggression’ is not a contradiction – it’s an impossibility.


Then let me try and explain …

4 April 2011

Happy 3rd Gotcha Day Tilly!

It was 3 years ago today that I collected Tilly from the LRRSE transport van as it arrived from Ireland at Green Lane Kennels, near Chessington.  Until that point I had only a blurry photo and brief description to go on - she had looked nervous in the photo, but in reality, nervous didn't even come close.  She had been described by the Irish rescuers as being 'good with people', which I quickly came to realise was because she was absolutely terrified and if she had nowhere to run, she locked down into freeze mode instead.  After retrieving her from underneath the LRRSE transport van where she had bolted the second she was brought out, I got her into my van as quickly as possible, all the while wondering what on earth I was about to take on.  After a non-stop, noisy, overnight journey from Ireland with a dozen other dogs, she was clearly frightened and exhausted, and promptly hid herself in the blankets in the peace and quite of the travel crate.  At that point I knew that if she had a chance of being rehomed at all, it could only be with someone who had the knowledge and patience to rehabilitate her.  She clearly wasn't 'as described' but it was too late to change my mind.  I handed over my £150.  She was coming home with me.

She had been seized as an abuse/neglect case, and when I finally got her home, the physical evidence was all too clear.  She'd already been in Irish rescue for three weeks prior to being transported to England, but she was still a bag of bones and had that terrible smell of neglect and stress about her.  She had no hair on her ears, muzzle or neck, some nasty (but healing) rips in her ears, her tail had been docked to no more than an inch or so, she had a front top tooth missing and a broken canine, two cigarette burn scars on the back of her neck, what little fur she had was coarse and dull, and I had been told that she'd had puppies about 12 weeks previously.  She had been estimated by the Irish rescue to be between one and two years old.

Her physical recovery was fairly quick, but psychologically, it's been a long and challenging road for her.  In three years she has overcome so much, so many fears, and has taught me more about working with fears and phobias than I ever thought possible.  There will always be places that I will not be able to take her to, simply because it would cause her too much stress, but that's okay.  And she still has the occasional moment when fear takes over, but only if we come across something that sparks a memory for her.  On the whole, she does just fine now, and knowing what her limits are enables me to keep on working to ensure that any experiences she has are always positive as she continues to learn that the world is okay, that people are okay, that life is fun, and that she no longer has anything to fear. 

The following film is my tribute to her, to mark her 3rd Gotcha Day, and to celebrate in pictures and videos just how fabulous she is ...