A trainer is interviewing a client who describes her dog as aggressive. It goes something like this:
“I don’t know,” the owner says, “he’s a really great dog, and he comes from a really good breeder. He’s absolutely fine when my husband walks in. He’s absolutely fine off leash at the park. He’s absolutely fine here at home. But, without this single exception. He goes absolutely crazy, lunging, barking, and growling if he sees a black and white dog wearing a green scarf, on our walks.”
The trainer says, “That is very, very strange indeed, please allow me to interview your dog.”
The trainer begins to interview the dog, Jed, and asks “How you feel about your owner?”
Jed then replies, “Oh! She’s absolutely wonderful; she’s very nice here at home. She comes from really good stock. She’s absolutely fine when I’m off leash at the park. But, without this single exception. She goes absolutely crazy when she sees a black and white dog wearing a green scarf while on our walks. She goes crazy pulling on my leash, jerks me hard on the collar, and becomes angry and shouts at me, ‘no, no, don’t bite’. I try my very best to back off and warn the approaching dog about her. I tell him to go back, she can’t be trusted, go back before she becomes even more aggressive you can’t trust her.”
What’s happened here is that there’s a constant tight leash cue which has come to mean to the dog that when a dog approaches the owner will tighten the leash and begin punishment. She jerks the dog and begins yelling ‘no, no, don’t bite you crazy dog’.
This is a case of negative classical conditioning. To fix this problem, we now need to turn to positive classical conditioning in order to change the dog’s attitude which will then influence his emotion from fearful to happy.