Catahoula Issues » Aggression  

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Below is an article that I wrote a few years ago for a newsletter. Its purpose was to help breeders understand the negative message we were sending in the description of our breed. I believe this may help a new buyer/owner to understand why they hear breeders and other owners make these erroneous references.

There's an old saying that says "let the buyer beware". I am trying to change that saying to become "Let the buyer be informed," therefore, I am posting that letter here for all to see. Hopefully it will help others understand that they must go that extra step to assure, and insure, that the pup they are getting involved with meets their expectations.

Newsletter Article

Lately I have been receiving inquiries concerning the temperament of some breeds. When I complete my explanation of the temperament that I try to breed for, I'm usually told, "Well, I was told that these breeds are aggressive dogs and cannot be trusted around children." I have asked them from whom they are hearing this comment, and some have given me the names of "registered" breeders. I cannot confirm that the breeders' names that I was given really made these comments, but I felt that it was time to address this issue.

A dog's temperament should be such that it does not show aggression toward any person. The Catahoula is known to be very wary of strangers and will bark a warning if they approach. Some Catahoulas, generally males, will demonstrate what has been interpreted as "dog aggression." Generally, this behavior is aimed at another male.

Most males want to be leaders and will try to take charge. This is not an aggressive trait. This is one male demonstrating his dominance over another male for territory and breeding rights. In other words, he is trying to be the leader. If you pay attention to the puppies in a litter, you will see this action taking place. One of them is trying to take charge of the litter. They will play together, but there is always one that assumes the leaders' role. This is true of the adults, as well as the puppies. As a breeder, you should be aware of this action. It is a direct connection to the "wolf." Wolves will pack for survival, but one of them is the leader. This doesn't mean that he won't be challenged, because he will. It is his duty to defend his leadership position or be pushed from the pack.

Let's take a look at the human side of this type of situation. We all have families that we love and care for. We attempt to give them the best that we can offer. If anyone or anything tries to interfere with that, we are quick to make it known that this is our family and we will defend it to whatever end may come. There are some of us who are a little more defensive than others, but we still try to protect them. Where is the difference in what the dog is doing?

Any dog that is allowed to choose its position in the pack, your family, will try to find its standing in the hierarchy. Since children are at eye level with the dog, it makes perfect sense to challenge the one that is on its level first, and proceed up the chain until it is in charge. It is your responsibility, as the leader, to make your dogs understand that their position is at the lower end of this pecking order. Family first, dog last.

I have questioned some of these breeders about their aggressive dogs. I have listened to the reasoning behind their statements. What I was told by the greater majority is that the dog works in an aggressive manner, and children should not be around when the dog is working. This makes more sense, and I would like to change the way we describe certain breed temperaments. It is better to say that a breed works aggressively, rather than say that it is aggressive. When you say a breed is aggressive, people get the impression that the breed cannot be trusted, but, when you say that it works aggressively, people get the impression that this is a dog that goes about its work seriously and can be trusted.

If you disagree with this, take a look at the American Pit Bull Terrier. I have been around them and have worked with them. I have trained one in Search and Rescue. This Pit Bull is around children, working very hard at its job, and is very successful. In spite of this, when people see him, they want to back away or ask "Does he bite?" In spite of the fact that this dog is very gentle, people only relate to the reputation of the breed. "Macho" attitudes have destroyed this breed's reputation.

Some breeders will tell inquirers that their breed is aggressive, simply because the breeder does not want to sell to those people. Stop weaseling, and just tell them that you are not comfortable selling them a dog.

I have collected "vicious" and aggressive dogs for the Sheriff's Department, and I want you to know that the majority of the dogs collected were unwanted, not vicious. We have collected some biting dogs, but most of these were dogs that were thrown out on a highway and left to fend for themselves. Their owners did not take the time to try understanding them.

There is a public outcry against vicious and aggressive dogs. In some countries, and in some states, the Pit Bull, Rottweiler, Argentine Dogo, American Staffordshire Terrier and others have been banned or have been required to wear muzzles whenever they are in public. All of these dogs are not bad dogs. There are a great many bad owners and bad breeders. This is what has caused the public to go against these dogs. Did the dogs get a bad rap? Yes, but it is almost impossible to change the situation after the reputations have been ruined. When our legislators realize that laws must be passed against certain types of owners and breeders, it will be a glorious day for dog owners everywhere.

There is legislation just waiting to stop us from the things we enjoy. It is time that we realize that we are in a minority. If you are a breeder and believe that the dogs you are raising are aggressive, I ask you to take a good look at your breeding program. Either you have made an error in your program, or you are pursuing an avenue that will bring disgrace to the breed. If you discover in your breeding that you have produced some aggressive dogs, don't breed those two to each other again. Don't sell them or give them away, because you don't want to have to deal with the problem. You made a decision to breed, now accept the responsibility that comes with that breeding.

It's time to start saying that your breed is an assertive dog that works aggressively, so that people can distinguish the difference, or we will not be far away from the day when we can no longer enjoy the breed we love.

Don Abney

Before purchasing any dog or puppy, ask questions concerning the temperament of the breeding pair, and expect truthful answers. No one can guarantee how a puppy will eventually turn out as an adult, but having information about the breeding pair may give you some insight. If you have an uneasy feeling about the dog you are examining, pass on buying the dog. There is no need for you or anyone to take a dog that they think can be "turned around", only to pass it off to someone else or place it in a shelter. If it is adopted, another individual has to deal with the problem that has now been compounded by tactics totally unknown to the new owners. Then when the new owners become frustrated and put the dog down or return it to the shelter, it is announced that this is a Breed Problem.

Most aggression problems stem from a lack of socialization and/or leadership on the part of the dog owner. If a dog is isolated for long periods of time and kept from socializing with people or other animals, it will show signs of aggression when it is finally allowed to socialize, especially if unsupervised. Some dogs will show signs of submission at first, only to lash out in defense of what it feels is a threat. Obedience training with socialization classes is a good start. There the cause of the problem can be determined and steps taken to correct that problem.

Some owners are not willing to take charge of their dog, and they allow the dog to do things that are undesirable. It is this lack of leadership that creates a good many of the problems. You must be willing to show your dog his rightful place in the pack(family), and you must have the courage to hold your ground. If you allow the dog to achieve his goal of moving up the ladder in the pecking order because of your lack of leadership, it's not the fault of the Breed or the individual dog that shows this aggression. It's your fault.

Every dog, including the little tea cup models, need a leader. You must be the leader, or your dog will assume the role. Then, when you decide you want that position back, you end up fighting with your dog and usually causing a greater problem. Take control of your dog from the beginning of ownership, and keep control. Be the leader your dog is looking for, and he will love you for it.

There are a number of ways to handle aggression problems, but you will not find them listed here. The reason for not listing them is that owners choose the one they like and not the one that is needed. If you are having an aggression problem, regardless of the age of the dog, contact a professional for advice. Too many novice trainers and some veterinarians offer advice that compound the problem. Remember, your veterinarian didn't study animal behavior as an in-depth study. It was only a part of the curriculum of studies in their path to becoming a veterinarian. Most veterinarians will refer their clients to trainers or behavioral experts, but there are a few who offer advice that end up getting someone bitten. In most cases, that someone is the owner or the veterinarian.

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