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Episode 312 - Duk Duk and Cover

“A fearfully aggressive dog with a timid owner creates a vicious cycle. The lack of leadership makes the dog more fearful; more aggression makes the owner more terrified. The cycle can be broken — but it takes the human stepping into a leadership position to do it.”


Q&A with Cesar

I’ve seen other fearfully aggressive dogs on your shows that seemed to take forever to rehabilitate, but with Duk Duk it felt like you gave him back to his owner after a couple of days and he’s going to be fine. Why the big difference?

This is a great episode for demonstrating something I say all the time — the problem isn’t the dog, it’s the human. Duk Duk was able to calm down and give up his fearful aggression so quickly because his humans did exactly what I taught them they needed to do and created a safe space with their pack leadership in which Duk Duk could learn to relax.
If you’ll notice, Phoebe and her parents never make excuses or try to tell me a story explaining why the dog is the problem, not them. They do explain that he was abused as a puppy, but they don’t hold onto the dog’s past. Another big difference is that Phoebe never responded to my instructions with, “I can’t do that.” When I told her she was going to put the leash on Duk Duk for the first time while he wasn’t wearing a muzzle, she just did it.
The dog can sense the difference. Of course, he had to learn to trust a human first, and then to trust himself, which is where I came in. But once I’d taught him to make those associations, like “being touched equals calm,” and, “the leash isn’t going to hurt you,” I was able to get Duk Duk to make the same associations with his humans.
Remember: I rehabilitate dogs. I train people. But I can only rehabilitate dogs if the people are willing to be trained. Phoebe and her parents Cecilia and Kenneth took to the training immediately, which is why their dog improved so quickly.

I feel like I can’t even let my dog off-leash in the house, yet you were able to have Phoebe let Duk Duk off-leash in a public place and nothing bad happened. How did that work?

Ideally, people and their dogs are connected by an “invisible leash” that doesn’t require any collar or material or physical connection at all. This leash is created through mutual trust. Your dog trusts your leadership to provide protection and direction, while you trust your dog to behave and stay with you.

When the Pack Leader moves forward with intent, the pack follows. They may drop back for a moment to sniff something interesting, but they aren’t going to let the leader get away from them. Of course, I wouldn’t have asked Phoebe to do that if we weren’t in a dog-friendly walk in the city, or if she and Duk Duk weren’t both showing calm energy — but it was important to show her that she could trust Duk Duk, just as it was important for him to learn to trust her.

How much do you think that Duk Duk’s injuries as a puppy effected his behavior and aggression?

There’s obviously a connection between Duk Duk missing an eye and his fearful aggression, but the good news is that it’s not something the dog holds onto in the same way that a human would. If a human had been abused as a child and lost an eye, they would probably have trust issues for life, even after a lot of therapy, as well as have resentment toward the kind of person who injured them — for example, all authority figures.
While the dog makes an association, it’s a lot more general: “Don’t trust people.” But the dog doesn’t tie it to specifics. Duk Duk was operating on an instinctual feeling. “If a person touches me, they might hurt me.” But the narrative in the dog’s mind isn’t “This kind of person will damage my eye.” Because the feeling of fear is general, it’s a lot easier to replace it by creating positive associations.
The challenge is to make the feeling in the dog’s mind go from “If a person touches me, they might hurt me” to “That person touched me while I was calm, and everything is okay.” This should eventually become “When people touch me, it calms me down.” Since dogs live in the moment, our energy goes a long way toward creating that new safe space and making memories of the past fade away.

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TV: "Cesar 911" appears in the U.S.A. on Nat Geo WILD. Check local listings.

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