Behavior Modification Plan: The Long Term Solution for Dogs That Fight: Behavior Triage Series

March 31, 2022
Two green traffic signs with arrows on the ends sit on a pole. One sign says long term. The other points in the opposite direction and says short term.

Now that your dog fight emergency has been stabilized it’s time to talk long term solutions.

Two green traffic signs with arrows on the ends sit on a pole. One sign says long term. The other points in the opposite direction and says short term.

A behavior modification plan is that long term solution. Don’t worry, you’ll learn what that is shortly!.

This blog is part of my Dog Fight Behavior Triage Blog Series you can find the full listing of the posts in this series here. 

Before we begin I’ll be honest with you. There are no guarantees in behavior work.  For some of you, lifelong management, avoiding other dogs, wearing a muzzle in public etc. are going to need to be your dog’s new normal.

 

I know that’s hard to hear. Even if we do everything right, some dogs are just never going to be completely safe with other dogs.

Now don’t let that scare you off of training. There are many ways that training can increase safety and improve the quality of life for you and your dog. Even if that very real potential to fight with other dogs still remains.

There’s Hope for Dogs Who Fight!

Don’t mistake the lack of a guarantee with a lack of hope for your dog.

There are SO MANY effective and kind training techniques at our disposal. Not to mention constant continuing education that pushes dog trainers to use new skills to help people and their dogs with aggressive behavior. Programs like the Aggression in Dogs Master Course (I’m a graduate!) and the yearly Aggression in Dogs Conference just to a name a few.

A dog trainer can help you and your dog(s) by: 

  • Helping you recognize and understand body language so you can move your dog away BEFORE a fight.
  • Setting up your environment so that a dog fight is less likely.
  • Desensitization to other dogs so that you have more space before your dog is triggered.
  • Counterconditioning feared stimuli so that your dog FEELs differently about seeing  other dogs.
  • Protocols for helping dogs relax.
  • Training behaviors that give you tools to disengage your dog after seeing another dog.
  • Muzzle training and leash training to help you feel safe and able to control your dog out in public.
  • and more!

The foundation of helping a dog experiencing aggression involves working with an educated dog trainer to develop a behavior modification plan. This plan is going to take into account your dog, your family’s and the public’s needs to develop a solution that helps everyone.

Behavior Modification Plan Breakdown:

The Behavior Evaluation:

This is where your plan comes to be. Your trainer will gain a clearer picture of what needs to be done to help both the dog and you during this history taking and fact finding session. You will typically spend 75-90 minutes together talking about your dog and your goals.

The Behavior Modification Plan:

This is our game plan. It lays out how we are going to tackle your dog’s maladaptive behavior as a team.

Just as in sports, the game plan can change as we gain more information. We will work together to adjust your plan as needed.

Safety and Management Plan:

This is where we put out the behavioral fire. We make a plan that eliminates the option of practicing the unwanted behavior. In this case we’re talking dog fights but you can substitute any behavior problem. Sometimes these plans become permanent based on your needs, your dog’s needs, or training progress. If you want to learn more about management you can read the earlier post in this series here.

In this section of the behavior modification plan I answer questions like:

How are we going to keep you, your dog, and the general public safe? What management strategies can we use to keep the unwanted behavior from being practiced? Are there opportunities to use management that will help your dog make good choices practice desirable behavior? Do any of our safety  or management strategies require training?

Enrichment Plan:

No behavior modification plan is complete without a focus on meeting a dog’s needs. If we skipped this part and just focused on training we would miss the chance to make changes that can make BIG impacts on your dog’s behavior. In fact, meaningful time and effort in this category can drastically reduce the amount of training your dog needs. An animal who is well mentally and physically has less of those big feelings that lead to explosive issues like dog fights.

In this section of the behavior modification plan I consider questions like:

Where does your dog have needs deficits? How might these be contributing to the behavior you are seeing?  Will our management strategy impact how you meet dog needs? How can we meet your dog’s needs within your schedule? When can you commit to doing these things? If a need is difficult to meet due to behavior, how can we get creative to make it happen? Where can we try giving your dog choices? When do we re-evaluate this plan? How do we know if it needs to be adjusted?

Counterconditioning and Desensitization:

Trained skills are great, but we have to be mindful of helping your dog FEEL better too. It’s hard to change your dog’s behavioral response to seeing another dog if you don’t change your dog’s emotional response.

Let me put it this way. Let’s say you’re terrified of clowns. Knowing this, I put you in a room full of clowns and lock the door. You’re not going to be able to do math problems in that room. It wouldn’t be reasonable to ask that of you. But often this is exactly what we ask our dogs to do in the face of things that upset them.

So instead of locking you in a room full of clowns I would do something different. I would let you observe clowns from a distance where you could notice their presence without being distressed. Even if that distance was a football field away. Then over time, we could slowly move the clowns closer to you. Until the clowns weren’t a big deal, even nearby. That’s straight desensitization.

We could then combine this process with another to make it more effective. So every time you see a clown, at a distance where you’re not super concerned I’m just going to hand you a piece of candy. In this way I’m using counterconditioning to make you feel GOOD about clowns, not just aiming for neutrality and acceptance.

Once you start feeling better about clowns, I can finally ask you to do those math problems. It’s the same with your dog, they have to feel better before we are going to ask for trained skills in the presence of other dogs.

In this section of the behavior modification plan I answer/explore questions like: 

What are your dog’s triggers for the undesirable behavior? Which emotion(s) are driving your dog’s behavior? How do we change how your dog feels about the trigger? Where/How can we set up training setups for this issue that keep your dog under threshold. What are the steps we are going to take to work through this process?

Trained Skills:

Here we are, finally, the main thing you thought you were paying me for until you realized that’s it’s only a part of this whole behavior modification plan process. Don’t get me wrong, this section is important, and it’s incredibly rewarding, we just need those other pieces too.

Here you get to think about want you want your dog TO DO. That can actually be hard, often the answers I get are a long list of what you don’t want your dog to do. No worries though, I’m here to translate behaviors you don’t want into behaviors you do want, so you and your dog can navigate the situation more smoothly.

Sometimes the behaviors we want change as we go through the plan. Maybe something new came up or we’re finding that one behavior was sufficient to solve your problem instead of the multiple possibilities we had on the list.  Perhaps you’re busier than anticipated and we need to simplify later. Whatever the reason, we can always change this as our work goes on.

In this section of the behavior modification plan I account for things like:

What desirable behaviors can help us meet your behavior goals? Are there behaviors you didn’t ask for that can help your dog function better on a day to day basis? What behaviors can we teach to quickly help raise quality of life for you and your dog? How do we want to prioritize this list of behaviors? What are your dog training skills like? What are your time constraints for training homework? How can I maximize your solutions without overwhelming you?

Resources:

What does your trainer think you need for further learning right now? This might include handouts, a book, articles on the internet, videos, or even an online course.

All of these pieces come together to help start you on the path to a happier life with your dog!

How to Get a Behavior Modification Plan for YOUR Dog: 

A brown dog with flopped ears is wearing black glasses and seated at a table in front of a silver laptop. Text in the bottom left hand corner reads Behavior Modification Plan.

Now, before I make a shameless plug for my own dog training services I want to help you understand where to find a dog trainer who can help you with a behavior modification plan.

I want you to feel confident in considering your options and doing what is best for you and your dog. Let’s look at the top level of support and work our way down:

  • Veterinary Behaviorists:

    • A veterinarian that specializes in behavior. These veterinarians can prescribe medication and develop a plan for helping your dog. This training is often outsourced to their staff or trainers outside their organization.
  • Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBC) and Certified Canine Behavior Consultants Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA):

    • These dog trainers went the extra mile and became specialists. They got certified in the weird and complicated of the dog behavior world. Behavior consultants have proven their knowledge goes far beyond obedience training and they have the letters after their names to prove it.
    • Some dog behavior consultants focus on one type of behavior case, others are more generalized.
  • Dog Trainers:

    • This is where you have to be careful, you can find a dog trainer competent and knowledgeable in working behavior cases but you’re going to have to ask some questions. It’s not as simple because they haven’t been tested on it in depth.
    • Every dog trainer has their own interests, not every dog trainer is considering a certification in behavior or has an interest or experience in behavior.
    • Look for Dog Training Certifications like IAABC-ADT, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CPDT-KSA, CTC etc. first.
      • These show that a dog trainer has passed that certifying body’s test and that they have agreed to a professional code of ethics and continuing education. The dog training world is continually evolving, you want a dog trainer who stays current and changes alongside additional information.
    • I’ve given you an outline here of what you want to see when you work with a trainer on a dog aggression. You can also view the IAABC’s core competencies for animal behavior consultants. Use these as a guide for asking questions.
    • Ask what continuing education they have received on aggression in dogs.
    • Ask for a general outline of how they handle aggression cases.

In conclusion, you’re looking for a specific sort of canine professional when you have an issue that requires a behavior modification plan. As you’ve already seen in the behavior modification plan breakdown, simple obedience won’t fix the dog fights you’re experiencing. Honestly I care more that you get the right help than if you use my services.

Why Choose Wise Mind Canine when Dealing with Aggression: 

Shameless plug ahead my friends. If you don’t want to know how I handle these cases or what my education and experiences are I bid you adieu and hope you enjoyed this blog series!

Hi, my name is Katie Sipple IAABC-ADT, B.Sc. head trainer and owner of Wise Mind Canine LLC. I help people navigate their way through aggression in multi dog households. You could be one of them.

 

Notice I am NOT a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant at the time of this blog but I am actively working toward applying for that certification. The goal right now is to take the exam in 2023. My continuing education is focused on behavior, particularly aggression.

If you want to skip right to a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant you can find one here.

Here at Wise Mind Canine 75% of my business involves dogs who will fight with other dogs in their home. 

Dogs can and do come back from this problem. They CAN be reintegrated with their housemates and live harmoniously in your multi dog household. 

This topic is my passion. Because I’ve lived it. I’ve had the dog who could be helped and the dog who couldn’t. I know that hypervigilant feeling that comes with waiting for the next fight. I’ve made agonizing decisions to keep my dogs safe. I have felt helpless and afraid and exhausted in the face of dog aggression. Know that I have walked in your shoes.

Now I spend every day putting multi dog households back together again. My online course Multi Dog Households 101: Dog-Dog Introductions and Relationship Building was originally made for that early time period when a new dog had just been added to your home can help successfully reintegrate dogs and repair dog relationships gone wrong alongside behavior modification for aggression and resource guarding. 

Training at Wise Mind Canine Puts Kindness for Dogs and People at the Forefront:

You can expect patience, transparency, warmth, and a non judgmental stance.

I will always tell you if I think your case is beyond my capabilities and refer out if necessary. Whether that’s at first contact or partway through lessons.

We will work collaboratively to find the solution that works for you and your dog(s). Your needs matter here, it’s not all about your dog.

Modern training methods. Training that is positive, fun and kind for dogs and people.

The General Plan to Rehabilitate Cases of Intra Household Dog Aggression at Wise Mind Canine:

I like transparency. So this is what you can expect when we work together to end dog fights between dogs in your home. Here I’m going to mention my Multi Dog Households 101 online course. If you don’t know what that is you can learn more by clicking here.

  1. 75-90 Minute Behavior Evaluation
  2. Behavior Modification and Training Plan Customized for Your Dogs based on information gathered in the Behavior Evaluation
    1. Trainer’s Assessment of Your Dog
    2. Safety and Management Plan
    3. Enrichment Plan
    4. Counterconditioning and Desensitization Plan
    5. Trained Skills to be Taught
  3. Medical Evaluation (With Your Veterinarian)
  4. Utilize the MDH 101 Introduction Stage (1-20) Framework to Repair Your Dogs’ Relationships
  5. Use the 20 MDH 101 Lectures to Give You The Knowledge You Need to Confidently Create a THRIVING Multi Dog Household
  6. Teach Your Dogs Skills That Allow You to Manage Dog-Dog Interactions with Ease
  7. Reintegrate Your Dogs Using the MDH 101 Framework
  8. Wraparound support in and outside lessons.

The General Plan to Rehabilitate Cases of Aggression Toward Dogs Outside the Home at Wise Mind Canine:

This isn’t my focus, but the principles, methods, and client education align with the intrahousehold cases I take.

  1. 75-90 Minute Behavior Evaluation
  2. Behavior Modification and Training Plan Customized for Your Dogs based on information gathered in the Behavior Evaluation
    1. Trainers Assessment of Your Dog
    2. Safety and Management Plan
    3. Enrichment Plan
    4. Counterconditioning and Desensitization Plan
    5. Trained Skills to be Taught
  3. Medical Evaluation (With Your Veterinarian)
  4. Client education and virtual lessons.
  5. Wraparound support in and outside lessons.

 

Thank you for joining me for the Dog Fight Behavior Triage Blog Series, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions and sign up for the mailing list!

You can find my services linked below:

Your personal dogs are fighting with each other: MDH 101 Private Training Programs

Your dog is aggressive toward dogs outside the home: start with an Initial Consultation

 

 

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