Nan Arthur, the first 2013 presenter in Animal Rescue Friends of Idyllwild’s new speaker series, has spent 20 years analyzing why animals act and respond as they do. She will talk about aggressive dogs at the 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6, event at Mt. Pawlytechnic Canine Education School, 23400 Highway 243, across from the Pine Cove Market.
“Most aggressions always begin in some kind of fear,” Arthur said. “Dogs use whatever tools they have in their tool box, the things that have worked for them in the past,” she noted. “With aggression, it’s about teaching them new tools, new patterns that can also work for them.”
Arthur explained that dogs communicate their fear or discomfort. “But the average person can’t see what the dog is trying to communicate. And they [the pets] become uncomfortable or worried if we, their humans, ignore the behaviors they are trying to communicate.”
Arthur, who had a successful career as a writer and photographer, said owning an Australian Shepherd started her down a career change path. She described doing everything wrong with the highly territorial breed, to the point where she needed more information.
“I started volunteering at animal shelters,” she remembered. “Eventually I was hired and began the education process of learning from others and observing animal behavior.” She remembered being angry with people who were impatient with or just not present enough with their pets to see what they were trying to communicate. “I learned there were other ways to handle not just the pet but the people. Now the people component is my favorite part — helping them to see that their dog is smart, discovering that by watching. It is so fascinating to watch how they [the pets] do what they do and handle their lives. It’s always about the consequence. And sometimes it’s a push for people to learn things they had not known about their animals.”
Arthur explained that by teaching dogs new behaviors that produce a better consequence makes them less agitated and nervous. “They learn new coping mechanisms instead of having their human always come to fix things.”
Training objectives begin with changing the ways the dog is currently managing herself. Then Arthur teaches them other behaviors to instill confidence that they are just as safe as aggressive behavior had made them feel. “The dog becomes so happy not to react,” she said. “The longer negative behavior goes on, the longer it will take to change that behavior.”
Training ultimately helps both the pet and the human feel calmer. “We do a lot of counseling with owners,” Arthur said. “We talk to them about having realistic expectations based on their pet’s histories.
As with humans, Arthur noted that teaching dogs is often about instilling that not all perceived threats are real. The key ingredient, she said, is eye contact with the animal when teaching the new behavior. “Sometimes it’s about giving up something to get something, but the eye contact between pet and owner is an important part of imprinting the learning.”
Arthur owns Whole Dog Training in San Diego and specializes in impulse control, aggression and fear behaviors. She became the first Certified Dog Behavior Consultant in San Diego. She is the author of “Chill Out Fido! How to Calm Your Dog.”