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Understanding Your Dog’s Defense Drive

When you begin training your dog to obey basic commands, it’s necessary to understand that her instinctive defense drive may become a training obstacle.

Your dog acts and reacts instinctively, especially if she feels afraid or threatened; these are “fight or flight” instincts, exactly as people experience. You’ll notice this tendency when she’s a puppy, especially around mealtimes and when interacting with other dogs.

Here is a list of fight and flight behaviors:

Fight behaviors include:

  • Unwillingness to be petted or groomed
  • Hackling from the shoulders forward
  • Growling at people & other dogs when their space is violated
  • Guarding food, toys or territory
  • Putting her head over another dog’s shoulder to show dominance
  • Standing her ground, refusing to move

Flight behaviors include:

  • Showing a general lack of confidence
  • Dislike of being touched by strangers
  • Flattening her body with her tail tucked when meeting people or other dogs (submission)
  • Hackling that runs the full length of her body and tail, not only on her neck and shoulders
  • Hiding, running away from new situations
  • Submissive urination when greeted by her owner and strangers

Your dog’s defense drive will have an effect on her response to training. If she has a high fight response, she may be over-protective of you and your family, especially children. Your babysitter won’t like this! If she has a high flight response, she may be timid about learning new tasks. A therapy dog with submissive urination isn’t going to be very popular among hospital patients and staff!

To train your dog properly, watch her carefully to determine under which drive she operates - fight or flight - and then you can “out-train” her instincts. Your fight-oriented dog will be response to the “down” “sit” and “go lie down” commands that interrupt their defensiveness. Your flight-oriented dog should be greatly praised and rewarded for responding to training commands, thus building her self-confidence.

To train your dog, know your dog!

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