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3.8 out of 5 stars
Understanding and Handling Dog Aggression
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2003
This slim volume is packed with simple and practical information - some of it wasn't new - but it was put together in a way that really crystallised some of the thoughts I already had about dogs and problem behaviour. I can't understand Lisa Lohreys' gripe, I found it well written and wish I had read it sooner. Having had a problem dog, and a rescued dog at that, I feel I could have done more to rehabilitate a very disturbed animal. Unfortunately, it arrived too late. Regets aside, it still has a lot to offer - she really can "think dog" - and if you are willing to try you can do it too. Prevention is better than cure, but if you have an aggressive dog, this book will give you a good chance of re-training him/her, and save not just the dog's life but maybe a childs too.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2002
Rarely does a book contain valuable information from the first to the last page but this one, as with all Barbara Sykes' books, has valuable information on every page. Well written and easy to understand it deals with the problems of aggression and cannot fail to give confidence to the owners who are struggling to deal with aggressive dogs.
I am amazed that Lisa Lohrey struggled with this book but feel that as a qualified reader of many books she has maybe never dealt with aggression, other than through extensive reading. As a trainer and behaviourist of many years I commend her other choices but have found none to contain the simple and easy to understand training methods that are explained in this little book.
I have found this to be a valuable source of information and would strongly recommend it to others, as it not only helps to understand an aggressive dog it also gives the reader encouragement and confidence to tackle the problem, a point often overlooked by other authors.
There is no miracle cure for aggression but this book gives hope and a will to try and resolve the problem in a sensible and down to earth way.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 31 May 2006
This book has been an absolute life saver for both me and my dog, he has a few problems with other dogs and this book helped me to see why and how to slowly but surely turn those problems around and to take propper control of my dog and he is so much happier for it. Thankyou Barbara

I hole heartedly reccomend this book
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This book tells you that you should not play games of tug with your dog or anything that involves them using their teeth, because it encourages aggression. It relies on the misguided myth from studying wolves from different packs forced to live as one pack because otherwise there would be no fight for ranking. A true free roaming wild wolf pack does have a ranking system, but the Alphas are the parents and the pack are their offspring from the last 2-3 years. The pack dynamic works by each litter of cubs looking up to the previous litter for guidance, all the way up to the Alpha pair, their parents. There is no need for domination because submission is freely offered out of respect for their elders. This book also tells handlers that dogs should not be given rewards for good behaviour because they should want to do it out of respect for their pack leader! Why would a free thinking sentient being want to do anything if there's nothing of value in it for them! As an enlightened trainer and behaviourist I recommend rewarding your dog intensively to start with, slowly putting the treats on a variable, like gambling, sometimes you get on end sometimes you don't, and just occasionally you get a jackpot! Believe me, dogs would much rather work for something of high value to them than an overblown ego who foolishly believes that dogs should want to please their pack leader! DO NOT BUY unless you want to run the risk of making your dogs life miserable and boring!
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2005
Excellent book. Bought this over a year ago but warrented a return to review. This is my Bible as a practicing proffessional dog psychologist. I combine many training methods in my work with aggressive dogs and have found none more effective than the methods used in this book. A kind, effective approach. I have reccommended this book to many of my customers. Well written. Barbara Sykes is a true expert in dog aggression. Trust this book and enjoy the peace it will bring to your dog. There are many reformed characters thanks to this sharing of expertise.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 2010
I agree with what Lisa said. I didn't find this book useful. The author quotes no scientific evidence to back up her pretty sweeping statements, especially about supposedly "dominant" dogs and pack structure. Far too simplistic in places, for example underneath the photo of a dalmation trotting ahead of his owners she says "this dog is in danger of promoting himself". Or is it just a dog enjoying a run ? Are foxhounds and search dogs "in danger of promoting themselves" ? I think a lot of what she calls disobedience and "making it's own decisions" (dominant in her view)is a dog that does not understand what is being asked of it, having seen many inconsistent and unclear owners trying to train their dog and assuming it understands English. When it doesn't, it is then "disobedient and dominant". Imagine having a teacher who not only doesn't speak your language but is of a different species.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2013
Utter nonsense. Full of old fashioned, out of date and factually incorrect "pack leader" and "dominance" type jargon. With ridiculous statements such as "the fun part of training for a dog is pleasing you" and "a dog using its teeth on a ball in practicing dominance" this book is a recepie for disaster and should be avoided at all costs.

There are far more up to date, factually correct books such as Brenda Aloffs "Aggression in Dogs" or "Behaviour Problems in Small Animals" by Bowen & Heath that do not offer potentially dangerous advice.

If you have read this book, please disregard everything you read and relax, your dog is not sitting at home devising a cunning plan to over throw you, dominate you, control you, take over your house or take over the world........contrary to what Barbara Sykes would have you believe!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 April 2013
I have read this through once and will read it through again so that all the info is fully in my brain. It has been extremely interesting and very helpful with my rescue dog. He was on death row because he had bitten the owners. They said he was dominant aggressive and he wasn't he is nervous aggressive, he is going to take time and as much info as I can get. Thank you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2013
Handling dog aggression.
Excellent well written with easy to refer to no nonsense approach. Many practical exercises to put in to practice. Highly recommended read for all dog owners with or without an aggressive dog. Excellent.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2012
The book, Understanding and dealing with dog aggression, is an introduction into canine aggression and its causes. Its author, Barbara Sykes, is a highly experienced dog trainer and registered behaviourist and also one of the UK's top shepherdesses, winning many trials. She has a specialisation in border collies and has also written books regarding the training and handling of that particular breed.
The book has several different elements to its structure; on the one hand it gives details of what aggressive behaviour is and its reasons, signs given off by dogs and reasons for these signs and an insight into how aggressive behaviour develops. It provides an overview of Sykes' own training theory and how to develop it and handle aggressive dogs .In each chapter there are details of her own experience with an aggressive dog called Craig which she rescued after the dog had bitten its previous owners. Finally there are case histories from Sykes on dealings with problem dogs and the solutions that were found for the aggressive behaviours.
The book is written in a way that makes it very easy for any reader to understand and no real background knowledge of any kind regarding dog behaviours and training is required. There are no real scientific or technical details in the book that may confuse or put off the reader. The book serves as a real confidence boost to the owner who may be suffering from the stress of owning and dealing with an aggressive dog. The end of each chapter has a summary of all the previous information in that chapter and this is helpful for the reader to again briefly recap on the points realised or is an easy reference when returning to the book. Throughout the book there are photographs of dogs and people which serve to assist the reader in identifying different situations and body language used by both dog and human and also displays basic handling techniques.
Overall the book is a wonderful way to ease into the subject of canine aggression. It gives the reader an insight into the thoughts of the author and a sound understanding of the author's view of how to deal with the aggressive dog. Each chapter flows easily into the next. Chapter one begins with an explanation of aggression and makes comparisons between human aggression and also how dealing with it compares to raising children. It also covers the topic of aggression and the destruction of toys. Chapter 2 goes on to the factors related to recognising aggression, reading the dog's body language and how humans can give off the wrong signals and lists three types of aggression, dominant, nervous and protective. Chapter 3 explains how aggression develops and how owner behaviour, toys and play and diet can influence the behaviour. Chapter 4 covers dealing with aggression and Sykes sets out her rules and some techniques for dealing with aggressive dogs, such as basic obedience, where the dog should walk, and when and whether to chastise the dog. Chapter 5 is called restoring confidence and deals initially with the nervous dog and puppy socialisation. It moves on to the case histories and then comes back to dominant aggression and puppies. The end of the chapter deals with the owner and goes some way to empower the owner to retake control of the dog and begin to train and restore their confidence. The final chapter deals with the owner and their own capabilities and how they should proceed at their own pace and within their own judgment. It also gives advice regarding children and training and how the dog views the child. Finally there is the concluding section of Craig's progress
Throughout the book Sykes makes constant reference to "pack leadership" and that the owner should act as a "pack leader" and ensure that the dogs know that they are subordinate to the human. This is the basis of most of her references to her training technique and much of the psychology of the behaviour is explained using this one maxim.
For me this is where the book fails. "Dogs are instinctively pack animals, so in their natural world they would have the support and safety around them and a strong pack leader to guide them" Sykes writes. However much research has been carried out into dog behaviour and it is proven that dogs rarely, if ever, form packs. It is a myth that has been carried over from the studies carried out on wolves by David L. Mech back in the 1970s when he used the term alpha to explain the hierarchy system within a captive wolf pack. In fact, contrary to popular belief, dogs around the world do not (or only rarely) exhibit pack behaviour. Dogs hardly need a social organisation to feed on discarded chicken bones and mango skin. For dogs, other dogs are no help when it comes to feeding themselves or feeding pups Coppinger 2001. David Mech went on to try and resolve the incorrect use of the term alpha pairs in wolf packs which led to the pack leader maxim being adopted to describe the dog's view of their relationship with humans. Given this natural history of wolf packs, there is no more reason to refer to the parent wolves as alphas than there would be to refer to the parents of a human family as the "alpha" pair. Thus we now refer to these animals as the male breeder and female breeder and as the breeding pair or simply the parents. Mech 2008.
This pack leader explanation continues through the entire book. For instance when referring to a dog pulling on the lead, Sykes writes, when the handler pulls the dog back, the desired reaction of making the dog understand that is must not pull is reversed. For while the handler is pulling the dog back the dog is pulling forwards and thus any words it hears, such as heel are associated not with being pulled back to heel but with pulling the handler forwards. This is good advice but then Sykes goes on to say, Subliminally the dog is learning that heel means pull, this in turn condones the dog making decisions and telling the handler what to do and promotes it to pack leader. I think a more beneficial explanation could be found in the basic science of classical and operant conditioning. The dog has learnt to pull forward, not because the dog thinks he is in charge but rather that the dog has been conditioned to do so.
If the basics of classical and operant conditioning and the Premack Principle (the theory that a likely behaviour can be used to reinforce and reward an unlikely behaviour) had been explained, I think this would then lead the reader on a more thought provoking journey in not only understanding their dog's aggression problem but resolving it through careful training. For instance, there is a part which refers to the subject dog Craig and Sykes writes about the first days of the dog being homed with her. She states that she isolates the dog in a kennel for three days and the only contact is with her and she does not make any eye contact or "reverence". Then she takes the dog out and if he walks in front of her she returns the dog to the kennel and isolates him again. She repeats this exercise until the dog learns not to walk in front and states that this is due to her asserting her leadership over the dog and the dog understanding from its pack mentality that she was in charge. There is clearly much operant conditioning in this regime. There is the initial isolation which serves as a punishment to a dog who would naturally desire freedom and contact. Then Sykes takes the dog out and as soon as the dog walks ahead the dog is returned to the kennel and isolated again. Here we have positive punishment - the isolation in the kennel -, and negative reward - the cessation of the walk and contact. This is repeated until the dog stays behind Sykes and the dog is then allowed to continue with the walk. This behaviour is rewarded with positive reward - the continuing walk and contact -, and negative punishment - the dog is not isolated again. These I think are better explanations for the process.
Sykes then goes on to write I accept that many owners use titbits and toys as rewards for a dog doing as it has been told. In my opinion if bribes have to be used to ensure good manners then there is something wrong. For me this is a real problem in that Sykes is anthropomorphising the dog's behaviour problem as being like a child lacking manners. This is not a great way to illustrate to a reader the relationship between themselves and their dog. If the reader is beginning to think that the dog's behaviour is something personal, this will just frustrate the owner if the dog continues to misbehave and could lead them to using inappropriate or forceful methods. So far, I have mainly discussed how dogs learn based on things they like to do - eating, playing, getting praise from their owners. Dogs must have learned in this way ever since they were domesticated, and indeed the most modern training methods are largely based on setting up associations between rewards and things the owner wants the dog to do. However, as we have seen, dogs also learn from avoiding things they do not like. Until recently this was the main principle behind the craft of dog training, which was largely based on selective application of physical punishment. Bradshaw 2011. Also the reference to "titbits and toys" does not do justice to the neuroscientific research into the effects of reward training for reducing aggression in dogs. Dopamine levels for example are of major importance in dealing with a fearful or aggressive dog and clicker training has been proven to affect the dog's neural functions. However clicker training normally relies heavily on food being used as the primary reinforcer. I am not the only clicker trainer being drawn toward new development in neuroscience....One candidate for involvement is the brain chemical dopamine. Perhaps our little click affects the brain chemistry not only in a way that words do not but, more important, in ways that the basic primary reinforcers such as food treats do not. Pryor 2009.
Sykes at no time advocates the use of punishment in training. Remember, no confrontation with an aggressive dog; all it will do is frighten a nervous dog and antagonise a dominant one. However sometimes I find her a little vague and she seems to leave it to the reader's discretion as to whether physical punishment is appropriate: A handler should always know how best to deal with his own dog and quite often a young insubordinate pack member will accept such a minor physical contact (scruffing) as a way of admonishment ... if the down command is operational then it is easy to put the dog on the floor, but it is rarely as easy to keep it there when it is striving to prove its importance. So lay the dog down and place your foot on the lead close to its collar, keep the hand loop of the lead in your hand and ignore the dog. If it is struggling then tell it "no"; when it is still and quiet give it a "good dog". Again for me this is telling owners to force their aggressive dog to cope with situations that are beyond the dog's capability at that time. The dog is beyond its threshold and there is a good chance the dog will bite the owner.
There are many other examples of the way the book either subtly or accidently puts the owner into a position of possible forceful actions with their already aggressive dog with such sentences as: if it was a rescue (dog) then it probably arrived on your doorstep looking peaceful and within a week had begun to order you around ... Do not wait until you dog tells you that it is going to be aggressive: you must tell it that you will not tolerate this behaviour ... now go back to your dog, put on his lead, take him into the room and tell him to lie down by your side. Do not negotiate, do not point to the floor and do not wait to see whether he wants to listen. Never push a dog that is aggressive towards you, if you think you are going to lose the battle about lying down the tell him to stand. You can do this by holding the lead and making sure that he is not allowed to move ... He is not worth the argument and you must not let him think he is, he must be told to go to his bed and stay there until such time as he is prepared to listen to you and behave with respect in your house. All these statements in my opinion may give the reader a feeling that they cannot allow the dog room to make mistakes and perhaps the reader may become aggressive or forceful in their dealings with the dog. Sykes says never push a dog that is aggressive .... Does she mean that it is okay to use physical force to push a dog that is not aggressive? Does this lead the reader to think it is okay to use force on the dog as long as there are no signs of aggression? Are they able to make that judgement? However, the big question is, should we be forcing dogs physically whether they are aggressive or not? I don't think so.
James O'Heare wrote in many of the less veiled or euphemistic formulations of the Nothing in life is free or leadership protocols, owners are encouraged to perform behaviour that would intimidate or dominate the dog. It has been my experience that, even in the better formulations of the plans or programs, owners commonly misconstrue them. The term leadership means something different to everyone, and often the meaning is not conducive to proper training. The whole notion of leadership, dominance or NILIF tends to imply an adversarial relationship, even when we try to convince owners that that is not what it means. By setting up a paradigm in the owner's mind that someone should be leader, we imply that someone else should not be, and it can simply sow the seeds of an adversarial relationship that can cause damage to the relationship between owner and dog. My preference is to simply focus on behaviour, avoiding any talk of dominance and even leadership and NILIF. They are not necessary and they can lead to misunderstandings. Clients should be advised to take every opportunity they can to train the dog, using the principles of positive reinforcement for desirable behaviours and preventing reinforcement of unwanted behaviours. People who impose a power struggle view on their relationship will see exactly what they impose; this is a no win scenario. Simply train the dog. O'Heare 2007.
I do not think I would recommend this book due to the negatives I have outlined above. This is a shame as there are positives in the book but most are undermined with the "pack leader" explanations. I would like to see an updated version written with current understanding and research in dog behaviour and a more scientific aspect included explaining behaviour modification techniques. It has been helpful to me as I have been able to read and use the knowledge I have gained over the time I have been studying to understand how the methods described really work through operant and classical conditioning.
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