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I Own an Aggressive Dog: My Journey as Both an Owner and Animal Trainer

Heart-beating, palms sweating… You can’t hear the person talking next to you because you are so zoned in on watching for your dog’s triggers.

It feels like a battlefield – but it’s just your neighborhood walk. This is not what you expected when you decided to get a dog.

Working to heal a dog who struggles with reactivity and aggression is difficult from a technical standpoint, for sure. And it’s just as challenging to own one.

As a behavior consultant or trainer, you have to manage many variables, many of which aren’t in your control. In other words, you are now responsible for making sure you give your client needed knowledge and resources, that they understand them, AND that they implement them according to protocol. But there is so much going on beneath the surface.

As an owner, you are hearing how complicated the whole situation is, how much time it could potentially take, how much money it is going to cost to work with a trainer, and how your hope for a “quick fix” is rapidly slipping away. You are starting to wonder if this whole positive reinforcement thing is really worth it. Ugh. And now you hate yourself for thinking that.

I’ve been on both sides. As an owner, I felt completely incompetent. I worked with well-known behaviorists and trainers who were very intelligent and well-respected but inadvertently made me feel like it was my fault that my dog was the way she was. And, if only I could gather the technical skills to handle the situation, then I wouldn’t be struggling so much.

It’s easy to sell people on the idea that this is simple. I know that because it was sold to me.

Here’s a neatly packaged little box with a bow on top. It will just take 10 consults. Once you get the head harness it will all be different. If only you follow this protocol, all will be fixed.

And the result? I felt like a complete failure when I was left with a dog who still had triggers for aggressive behavior.

What Owners with Reactive and Aggressive Dogs Should Know

What nobody told me as an owner of a dog with aggressive behavior:

You need to grieve

It is okay to be sad that you don’t have a Lassie.

Anger is normal

Of course you are upset! You feel like you lost something. And you did. You lost the hope of adventures with a care-free dog, and that was not something you signed up for.

You gained something incredible

I know it doesn’t feel like it most of the time, but trust me, this dog will make you think about things like you never have before. They will challenge your idea of love, surrender, acceptance, humility, and strength.

It is hard

No matter what protocol you follow, what plan you undertake, what books you read, what seminar you go to, how much training you put in… It will be painful. But it will also be joyful. You will oscillate between the two.

Find what you love about your dog

Nobody asked me this. For years, I was hell-bent on making my reactive dog be someone she wasn’t and do things that I felt like “real dogs” did. It wasn’t until I started paying attention to where she was happiest that I realized it was so different from where I was trying to take her.

It was then that I fully came to realize this process was as much about me as it was about her. Hello ego, societal expectations, and stranger’s comments. Man, these burned me badly. I would go to bed thinking about what the lady across the street said to me on a walk.

Find grace in all this

See what triggers YOU. Allow that to wash over you and be an opportunity for you to examine why that would cause you pain. It definitely does, but look at what your ego is bringing to the table: “I’ve had dogs my whole life,” “I’m a dog trainer,” “My mom was right. I do spoil her too much,” “Of course this happens to me.”

Training animals is a science, but there is soul (oh so much soul!) in every nook and cranny of the process. Believe it or not, you are exactly where you need to be.

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I am an animal trainer and owner of Bark and Soul. I have guided hundreds of people to new, empowered and educated relationships with their pets through my science-based and heart-centered approach. I earned my degree in Biological Psychology with an emphasis in Animal Behavior from UC Davis and worked in veterinary clinics, shelters, farms and sanctuaries before opening my own practice. My unique approach integrates the latest research in the fields of psychology and mindfulness studies.

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I Own an Aggressive Dog: My Journey as Both an Owner and Animal Trainer

Heart-beating, palms sweating… You can’t hear the person talking next to you because you are so zoned in on watching for your dog’s triggers.

It feels like a battlefield – but it’s just your neighborhood walk. This is not what you expected when you decided to get a dog.

Working to heal a dog who struggles with reactivity and aggression is difficult from a technical standpoint, for sure. And it’s just as challenging to own one.

As a behavior consultant or trainer, you have to manage many variables, many of which aren’t in your control. In other words, you are now responsible for making sure you give your client needed knowledge and resources, that they understand them, AND that they implement them according to protocol. But there is so much going on beneath the surface.

As an owner, you are hearing how complicated the whole situation is, how much time it could potentially take, how much money it is going to cost to work with a trainer, and how your hope for a “quick fix” is rapidly slipping away. You are starting to wonder if this whole positive reinforcement thing is really worth it. Ugh. And now you hate yourself for thinking that.

I’ve been on both sides. As an owner, I felt completely incompetent. I worked with well-known behaviorists and trainers who were very intelligent and well-respected but inadvertently made me feel like it was my fault that my dog was the way she was. And, if only I could gather the technical skills to handle the situation, then I wouldn’t be struggling so much.

It’s easy to sell people on the idea that this is simple. I know that because it was sold to me.

Here’s a neatly packaged little box with a bow on top. It will just take 10 consults. Once you get the head harness it will all be different. If only you follow this protocol, all will be fixed.

And the result? I felt like a complete failure when I was left with a dog who still had triggers for aggressive behavior.

What Owners with Reactive and Aggressive Dogs Should Know

What nobody told me as an owner of a dog with aggressive behavior:

You need to grieve

It is okay to be sad that you don’t have a Lassie.

Anger is normal

Of course you are upset! You feel like you lost something. And you did. You lost the hope of adventures with a care-free dog, and that was not something you signed up for.

You gained something incredible

I know it doesn’t feel like it most of the time, but trust me, this dog will make you think about things like you never have before. They will challenge your idea of love, surrender, acceptance, humility, and strength.

It is hard

No matter what protocol you follow, what plan you undertake, what books you read, what seminar you go to, how much training you put in… It will be painful. But it will also be joyful. You will oscillate between the two.

Find what you love about your dog

Nobody asked me this. For years, I was hell-bent on making my reactive dog be someone she wasn’t and do things that I felt like “real dogs” did. It wasn’t until I started paying attention to where she was happiest that I realized it was so different from where I was trying to take her.

It was then that I fully came to realize this process was as much about me as it was about her. Hello ego, societal expectations, and stranger’s comments. Man, these burned me badly. I would go to bed thinking about what the lady across the street said to me on a walk.

Find grace in all this

See what triggers YOU. Allow that to wash over you and be an opportunity for you to examine why that would cause you pain. It definitely does, but look at what your ego is bringing to the table: “I’ve had dogs my whole life,” “I’m a dog trainer,” “My mom was right. I do spoil her too much,” “Of course this happens to me.”

Training animals is a science, but there is soul (oh so much soul!) in every nook and cranny of the process. Believe it or not, you are exactly where you need to be.

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