I saw a client today whose adopted Australian Sheppard’s litter mate was shot dead before her eyes. This must have been a completely traumatic experience for this dog. I can’t imagine how she processed it in her little Aussie brain but it couldn’t have been a neutral experience. Flash forward one year. She has a great life. Her and her half brother were rescued from that violent environment and are now living a wonderful life with a very caring man. However, she’s got one problem, one very big problem. She bites people.

Visiting with her and her owner today I recognize that this story is really no different than any other sad-to-happy rescue story. Her owner harbors pity for her regarding her past. And her loyalty and affection make it very hard for him to be firm with her. The one thing that will help this girl is the one thing of which no one ever thinks. She’s lacking a working relationship with her owner.

Through a working relationship, not one that is heavy on affection and privileges, but based in obedience training and boundaries, a fearful dog will gain confidence in herself and trust in her master. And with this confidence and trust she will begin to relax and observe the people in which he will put her in contact. People that exhibit different physical behaviors than people that are violent exhibit. But until their working relationship is established she will continue to use her reptilian brain, choosing fight over flight, every time she is confronted with a human being other than her owner.

Almost all issues with dogs are brought under control through a working relationship with their owner. Love and affection, in the way we humans dole it out, merely feeds into the problem. If you are struggling with your dog consider the nature of your relationship. Every dog and owner can benefit from a working relationship.