Each week Jonas Black- Heroly's top behavior modifcation specialist- fields questions from our Canine Club podcast listeners on all on things dog. He's got your back, and he sure as hell's got your dog's back.
Dog reactivity and fear aggression: Is it in the genes?
Reactivity- the state in which a dog reacts (fight-flight submission avoidance) regarding the entrances of unfamiliar stimuli inside any given environment
Fear aggression - behavior that’s exhibited by a canine resembling aggression but the root stems from a fearful state caused by an inability to properly deal with a stimulus
So this question is one that I've gotten into many, many arguments with people. I think that dogs are predominantly a product behaviorally of nurture and their environment.
However, that doesn't change the fact that humans can be predisposed to certain ailments regarding neurological firings or hormonal imbalances.
Therefore, it would be irresponsible to completely disregard the possibility of genetics playing into an undesirable behavior, right? This meaning the fear aggression, fear reactivity, or just the generally insecure dog. I do believe that nurture and environment can 100% override most of that if it [the behavior] were to be genetic.
The 3 staples to address genetic slips:
I say genetic behavior in the sense that it would be neuropathic or even a defect in the endocrine system. However, if the canine’s:
Then, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to training this balanced dog.
Nurturing by roofying your dog: Asking for a friend
I've worked with so many dogs with a variety of dispositions, and I’m a firm believer that nurture is the predominant force behind behavioral dispositions, significantly more than any type of genetics. Again, that doesn't necessarily mean that genetics can be completely ruled out in behavior.
On a bit of a different/related note, I am a firm believer that Xanax and Prozac are not necessary to treat your dog for behavioral tendencies. I truly believe that. We can address most cases with proper exercise, a good diet, and of course a balanced approach to canine living and canine ownership. We can achieve good dogs out of most dogs.
When is aggressive too aggressive?
All dogs can be rehabilitated from reactivity unless they are truly aggressive. I've only dealt with two of those dogs in my entire career, and I've been through a lot of dogs at this point either on a pro bono or on a professional level.
And the two dogs that I did deal with that were truly aggressive, they now live with a management protocol, safe and sound in their homes. So I am not convinced of nurture being the sole factor, I just believe that it is the predominant factor over genetics, and they're consistent.
My dog gets seizures. Is this why he’s weird?
Even if we break it down to the point of where a dog can be genetically prone to seizures, which can cause psychological damage based on nerve damage. All of those things are factors and variables that play into behavior, but they are not deemed a constant if that makes sense.
But my dog’s bred to be a Boss
Although genetics plays a part in behavior, that doesn't necessarily mean that the dog isn’t able to overcome a habit that manifests from that. I'm a firm believer that breeders that say they 'pass down disposition through genetics' is one of the most false claims that anybody can make, because the environment is going to take over the way that behavior is shaped and formed (not necessarily what breeder the dog is coming from).
If there is a lot of success coming from those breeders in regards to disposition, an ethical breeder will also vet the adopters. So with the vetting of the adopters, normally a good dog will come out of it.
Balanced diet and structured environment makes for Good Boys
So, yeah, genetics can absolutely play a part in fear aggression and reactivity in dogs, but not as big of a part in it as nurture in their lives.
Well, that's my two cents, and I'm sure that that just pissed a whole lot of people off, because so many trainers and behaviorists out there have claimed genetics to be the issue. You know what, they just don't know what they're talking about at the end of the day, and their skill set is very shallow.
There are professionals out here in the field with their boots on the ground every single day -not just me- who have the skill set to help you and to ultimately help your dog alleviate anxiety from the environment. That is what it boils down to. Out with Xanax. Out with Prozac, because dogs have survived for thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of years without the need for mood-altering medications.
As long as the environment is stable with good exercise, good diet, and a good sense of predictability (AKA structure in the environment), the canine will thrive with those three things.
Above: Jonas Black, Austin's number-one canine behavior modification specialist and premier smart a**
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