The Haarlem Hound Challenge

My favourite kinds of Haarlem dog-walkers are those who are unafraid to let their dogs be dogs. Roaming nature, following scents and socialising with other pooches is exactly what a dog walk should entail.

Many of us share our homes and lives with one or more canine companions. As dog owners, we probably class ourselves as ‘dog lovers’ who will happily make acquaintance with a new furry face and welcome the wet nose that invades our personal space. In theory, we should all be able to find common ground with the passion we hold for our pups. However, the more I work and train with ‘aggressive’ dogs the more I realise that ideology is far from the truth.

Whilst rehabilitating my own ‘underdog’ Nero, I can recall countless occasions where a ‘fellow’ dog owner would simply stand and stare at Nero wearing a disproving look. Some would shake their heads whilst muttering under their breath. Others would make negative comments, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes purely hurtful. They categorised Nero and me without a second thought. This only pushed and drove me more to prove all those superficial people wrong. Now, I’m proud to say I coach and help others to recondition and alter their dog’s behaviour.

Every time we visit Haarlem’s parks we encounter multiple friendly dogs. Nero’s positive experiences at the Haarlemmerhout progressed his socialisation skills without a doubt. The only way for him to master his irrational fear of other dogs was to be around them and learn to accept them. Allowing him to make his own decisions off leash whilst surrounded by dogs and looking to me for direction has given him the confidence to meet and greet many wagging tails in various environments.

It’s true, not every human can handle an aggressive dog. There’s not many who will come to accept the accusations that loving one brings. Not everyone will adopt an unwanted dog with behavioural issues from the shelter and offer the commitment that is required to change that dog’s life. I have so much respect for those individuals out there that do just that. You all deserve praise and recognition, not clouded judgement and negativity.

The stereotyping that surrounds certain breeds or behaviours is dangerous. It’s something that has become increasingly worse over the past few decades due to media propaganda and people taking on powerful breeds for their status and appearance as opposed to doing their research into which breed would suit their lifestyle. Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) laws and irresponsible owners are constantly adding to this unfair stigma which is injecting fear into society by the bucket load. It’s through working with various clients and dogs that I realised how much public negativity can delay the rehabilitation progress for that dog and potentially destroy any confidence that owner has worked so hard to build. Confidence is essential when training any dog, especially when working with aggression. If you have never owned a reactive dog, it may be hard for you to comprehend exactly what emotions you experience holding the other end of the leash. I doubt you could understand what a challenge behaviour modification can be or what damage an unfair, voiced opinion can do. It may be the case that the barking dog you saw across the street was out on the first walk after a traumatic experience. It could be the first day of adoption after the pound or part of a consistent training plan. My point is to try not to automatically judge the scenario and if you don’t have anything nice or constructive to say, don’t.

Instead, if you do see another owner working with a fearful dog and your dog is calm and social, perhaps offer your help as a distraction. I’m not saying offer your dog as a sacrifice to the aggressive dog that’s lunging and snarling. I’m suggesting do the opposite to the spectators that are so quick to confirm the implemented stereotype by looking down their noses. I’m so thankful to the kind people who I have come across that have observed a training session in a local park and understood what we were working towards. By giving a few minutes of their time and their dogs as practice distractions, they have assisted in helping another animal overcome an issue. That’s true compassion for dogs as a species.

Another stereotype that surrounds rehabilitating a dog is the muzzle. The public is so quick to assume the worst upon seeing a dog wearing one. But please take a split second to think about it. That individual is actively using the muzzle as a tool for control and management. Taking a dog’s ability to bite away means that an insecure dog can begin learning to socialise without the risk of harming another animal. Combined with desensitisation and counter-conditioning, it allows them to rely on their primary sense of smell and actively accept other dogs into their personal space. The majority of dogs you see wearing a muzzle will only be doing so temporarily till they have built enough confidence and social skills to be without. Perhaps ask the owner if you may approach and what stage of training they are currently at? Become part of someone else’s success story, I promise you will feel great for doing so.

As a dog lover, surely you could take the time to get to know the story and circumstances that surround an aggressive dog. Especially if you see them on a regular basis. If you’ve had a similar experience, share it with the owner! Offer words of encouragement or training ideas that may help prevent another dog being branded by their appearance. Every criticism you make without knowing the full extent of the situation may push an owner to the point of giving up. Never assume that by witnessing a dog displaying aggressive behaviour that you have the right to humiliate and criticise the owner or blame the breed. Open your mind to the possibility that you could help aid a dog to have a better future and take pride when you do so.

Go on, accept my Haarlem hounds challenge and tell me your experience via the Nero Dog Training Facebook page!