Sunday, September 28, 2014


Today while spinning around the Internet I came across the following picture on colleague Jean Donaldson's blog. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Jean but respect her work.

Just wow.
Talk about nailing it. To be clear-this is not my photo. It is from Jean's blog for The Dog Training Academy and is by Simon Wooler, as noted above. The credit is all theirs.

But the underlying principal is a very strong one. Too often owners and others mistake a fearful reaction for dangerous aggression. They fail to recognize fear can lead to pushing a dog past its ability to handle fear, and too often results in a tragic circumstance for the dog and the human.

So I want to look at fear, aggression, and the way we regard them both for a few minutes here.

Lots of my cases involve bites by dogs. Some of them are so bad that the human dies. Often the dog also dies, for one reason or another. Those that survive are mostly labelled "Dangerous" and face sanctions and restrictions for life.

The fact that the dog bit a person in my cases is pretty much established (except in a few my regular readers know about: see Phineas in Missouri). Too often that is where the investigation, if there is one, stops. I have only rarely run into others that want to know "Why?". Why did the dog bite? Was the bite deliberate or an accident? What was the set of circumstance that led to the final outcome? What did the dog see or feel that led him to resort to a bite?

If a dog bites there is a reason for it. Dog's do not just "snap", unless they are critically mentally ill, just like humans. Or maybe even less often than humans. They tend to be saner that we are, overall, and usually more tolerant.

In my experience with bites and dangerous dogs I have to say that fear, in one form or another, is the largest contributor to bite behavior. We may dress it up by calling it "lack of socialization" or "situational anxiety", or worse "dominance", but the bottom line is that it is fear. The same fear that makes us uncomfortable walking down a dark street alone. The same fear that sends us running when a big spider is on the table. The same fear that keeps some off of airplanes, or off bridges, or out of elevators. Sometimes, like a fear of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with a bed sheet tied to your back (a behavior that many enjoy but not me: I want to ride in the plane ALL THE WAY to the landing spot) is solidly grounded. Or the fear that a reasonable person would have when bullets start flying around.

But dogs only have their own limited worldview and experience to work with, and don't seem to have quite all the higher cognitive powers we grant ourselves. They live through experience.

Dogs, unfortunately, don't always speak human. They speak dog. And what a human says may not be the same as what a dog understands.

Communication requires two things: transmission of a clear message, not overcome by noise, and reception of that message. Both the sender and the receiver have to share the same language so they both interpret the message the same way. There are also nuances in transmission that have to be carried through somehow. This is what gets us in trouble with texting some times; we are missing the vocal inflections and body language that clarify the message sent. Try changing the vocal stress on the simple phrase "What do you want me to do" Too much stress on the wrong word and we have gone from cooperation to sarcasm or incredulity.

This is worse with dogs. Dogs communicate clearly, but mostly with body language. Dogs can't text (yet). A dog that is fearful can't pick up their phone and tell  you what he feels. He/she has body language to revert to-their primary communication channel. If they are transmitting, but the other individual isn't receiving, or isn't paying attention, the communication attempt breaks down.

What do we do when we aren't getting through trying to communicate with someone? We tend to first try phrasing the message differently, and then often raise our voices.

Dogs go through this too. They try different postures. The growl. They bark. They retreat. And if these tries don't work, they raise their voices-they bite.

So back to fear. Bites are too often dogs that have tried to tell us, over and over, that they are afraid of something. We aren't listening. Something has them on edge. They are perceiving something as a possible threat. They want the scary thing to go away. They bite. Then we act like the dog "just snapped" and want to take massive action, dumping the dog or even killing it. We label the dog as "aggressive" and by that label we shrug off any responsibility for ourselves.

But labeling a dog "aggressive" doesn't solve anything. Aggression is not a disease to be cured, nor is it a genetically determined quality that is innately there. Aggression is simply one behavior strategy for a dog to manipulate its environment or to secure its safety. Fear creates a situation that the dog perceives as a threat to its safety.

In cases I am currently working fear is clearly the operative factor. Strangers (lately wearing police uniforms) enter a property for reasons often unrelated to the dog. The officer comes across the dog. The dog is a bit protective of his/her territory and tries to warn the intruder to back off. The intruder has a separate mission that must be completed and the dog does not understand. The intruder continues on and the dog becomes fearful of the intruder. The dog escalates signals and the intruder does not/can not back off. Perhaps at this point the officer is fearful himself and sees the dog's behavior as a threat, not a reaction to fear. If the officer has not been given the tools and training to deescalate the encounter, the next thing that happens in lead starts flying. The bullets usually kill the dog, although these encounters also result in the injury, and sometimes death, of humans. Sometimes that is even the death of another police officer. Or a child. Once lead starts flying everyone is at risk.

How do we make life safer for our families, ourselves, and our dogs? First, learn to look for the fear. Recognize it in your dog. The fear that lies under the bluffing and posturing. If the fear is showing in your dog, treat it. 

If you are likely to encounter fear in a dog that you have no control over, then learn to recognize and reduce the fear generated in your contact.  Learn what you can do to smooth the contact. Give the dog options if possible. Give the dog a way out. Give the dog room. Send signals that you don't want to fight and that you are not a threat. Use that big grey ting on top of your shoulders as your best tool. Sometimes the mission is more time critical, but don't let urgency or emergency get confused with convenience. 

Remember that fear is not rational. For a human we insist that a massive response must be reasonable and not based in particular, personal sensitivities. As a police officer I had to deal with people doing stupid things in high places, like trying to jump off buildings or who crashed cars at the top of tall bridges (the Florida equivalent of cliffs and mountains). The fact that I am still not quite comfy on high, exposed places made no difference. I had to do my job, even two hundred feet over a river looking down through a metal grate.

Civilians can choose to avoid personally scary things. Police and firefighters cannot-we have to carry on. So if we are afraid of something, dogs included, well...tough tomatoes. Get over it or find another job. The excuse that a police officer was "afraid for their lives" must be held to an objective standard, and as ready as I am to defend a police officer doing her job, too many cases are not reaching that standard. If you are in a position to encounter dogs, especially in stressful circumstances, it is incumbent on you to learn the difference between a reasonable threat and an unreasonable use of deadly force. The fear that a professional uses to justify action must be rational and reasonable.

Fear in humans is recognizable to us. So is fear in dogs. The signals are different in dogs so we must take responsibility to learn those signals. The photo above is so telling: the human is sending fear signals that we comprehend immediately. The dog, not so much. Yet the behavior shown is just as clear if we know what to look for. Start looking. Start thinking. Recognize the signals. Keep everyone safe. 

We recognize that fear in humans is widespread and manifests in different forms, from withdrawal from scary situations to overt bullying and puffed up behavior. Dogs suffer the same symptoms. Learn to see through the sturm und drang, the drama and bluffing. Don't let your dog's fear be mistaken for viciousness. It's not.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Interview with Drayton Michaels

Earlier this year I spent time in New Jersey courtesy of New Jersey Aid for Animals doing some training and evaluation. While in Red Bank I had the opportunity to chat with trainer Drayton Michaels about dogs, dog bites, training styles and how you shouldn't be a jerk by jerking your dog around. Grab a soft drink (or appropriate adult beverage) and sit with us a while. I will try not to be too boring, and Drayton promises he won't throw food.

Talking dogs with Drayton Michaels.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Miami area dog evaluation

I know. Two posts in as many days...what is wrong with me?

The reason for this post is to release the results of an evalaution I did in the Miami area just the other day. The dogs in question are up for transfer to Rescue and other venues and the people involved want me to release the results so that networking on these particular dogs can get rolling. They have been in place at a boarding facility for an extended time and really deserve a chance to get out into permanent homes.

So without further adeiu, let's get into the meat of this issue. I am posting the full text provided to the persons who brought me in. Dawn Hanna, a CPDT in the area, also administered a battery of SAFER tests to the same dogs. Her report will be available soon for those interested. IF you can help out with any of these guys please contact Debi Day on Facebook by PM, or you can email for info to There are also some YouTube videos available, so contact Debi if you want to see them.

 Dear Ms. Day:
On 30 June 2014, at your request I evaluated ten dogs at the Dog House boarding facility in Pompano, Florida. My evaluations were conducted in tandem with SAFER evaluations performed by Dawn Hanna. Following are my observations and recommendations.

Dog 1: Carl. Carl has suffered several minor injuries in recent disputes with other dogs according to the facility owner. Carl had a visible laceration to his lip that bled occasionally. Carl is a very energetic dog. When offered a treat he lunged strongly toward the treat item. He did accept the treat but did contact my hand while taking the treat, fully taking my hand into his mouth. He did not break skin but did make enough contact that a non-experienced person may interpret the contact as a bite or aggressive display.
Carl allowed full handling with no sensitivities. When presented with the loud noise/startle item he had limited reaction, and recovered normal behavior in less than 2 seconds. The second startle did not produce a significant reaction.
During the stranger approach he had neutral reactions to both “friendly” and “scary” strangers. He is neutral to human approach.
When Carl walked past a number of small dogs contained behind a solid fence he showed clear strong interest, responding to their barking and lunging with strong attempts to approach and engage. He was difficult to distract and remove. We continued and walked into the kennel area past barking dogs of various sizes and Carl was strongly attempting to make direct contact with most of the dogs. Carl was straining at the leash, lunging, and responding with barks and snarling. Carl bit at the fencing several times and was difficult to restrain. Carl could not be redirected into positive or neutral behavior.

Recommendation: Carl will require placement in a home with a very physically able caretaker. Carl will have to be heavily managed for dog-dog aggressive display and will require extensive desensitization for his dog-dog reactivity. Carl has a limited prognosis for recovery from that reactivity and may well require life-long management for safety. Carl did not redirect his dog-dog reactivity towards this handler and does not appear to exhibit any human focused aggression at this time.

Dog 2: Buster. Buster greeted me easily and confidently. Buster sits, both voluntarily and on command, and took treats gently. Buster showed no treat possessive behavior. Buster allowed me to fully handle him, but reacted to manipulation of his hips, particularly the left hip. Buster gave a single air snap at my hand when I grasped the loose flesh over that hip, and to a lesser extent showed sensitivity to manipulation of the right hip. Buster sat squarely though, with no indication of favoring either hip while sitting.
Buster showed a very strong startle reaction. He recovered from the first startle in about 5 seconds, and recovered in slightly less time (about 3 seconds) to the second startle. His reaction to the startle was to retreat and show wariness.
During the stranger interaction Buster was willing and eager to greet the friendly stranger. When approached by the scary stranger he took a position out in front of me, between me and the approaching figure. Buster did not bark or growl but showed forward, confident posture focused on the figure. Buster maintained the forward alert posture until the stranger retreated.
Buster was very calm walking through kennels despite the activity of the dogs surrounding. Buster did not return any aggressive display or engage the barking dogs at all.

Recommendation: Buster is an easy going, human accepting dog. Buster does show caution with the approach of a potentially threatening target, but that caution moderated and controlled. Buster was not allowed to engage the threatening target but was not retreating. Buster will possible show this protective behavior in a home environment, but his actions during the evaluation were reasonable and controlled. Buster should have Veterinary attention to the hips, and may require action. If no medical cause is found Buster should be gradually desensitized to hip contact and until that is done caretakers should be cautions around his hips.

Dog 3: Gia. Gia shows heavy, labored breathing which the facility owner states is due to a past tracheal injury. Gia greeted me easily. Gia did not sit but took the treat gently. Gia is very focused on positive human contact.
Gia responded to the startle but had a quick (<3 seconds) recovery time and showed no lasting apprehension.
Gia showed a completely neutral reaction to the approach of the friendly stranger. On approach by the scary stranger Gia went out in front of me to the end of the lead took a solid posture and barked several times but then followed up the barking with play solicitation behavior (play bow, energetically wagging tail, wriggling body).
Gia had a neutral reaction to walking past the kennel dogs and proceeded through the kennel in a steady walk.

Recommendation: Gia needs Veterinary attention to the respiratory issues. Gia’s labored breathing may be interpreted by unskilled or inexperienced persons as a low level growl, but there were no indications that the audible rumbling of her breathing was any more than a manifestation of the alleged injury. Gia is a confident and playful dog and has limited to no sensitivity to other dogs.

Dog 4: Prince. Prince greeted me easily, but does have a tendency to jump up. He took treats easily and gently but does not show a sit.

Prince allowed me to fully handle him, including his teeth, tail and paws.
Prince did startle but recovered both times very quickly (<2 seconds) with very little reaction to the second startle. He easily greeted the friendly stranger.
Prince did take a forward position towards the scary stranger, keeping between me and the approaching figure. He did not bark or lunge but was cautious and kept a solid stance.
Prince was reactive but selective in dog-dog interactions. He ignored most barking dogs in the kennel, but did react strongly to a few individuals, trying to actively engage and fight with them. He was difficult to disengage from those individual dogs. The dogs he engaged with were of varying sizes and types so there did not seem to be an observable common thread. These may have been dogs he has had prior history with, although the facility owner says not.

Recommendation: Prince is a friendly dog in need of some manners, but accepts human contact well. Prince’s caution to the scary stranger was reasonable and controlled. Prince does have clear dog-dog issues with particular dogs and will require careful and competent management. If a commonality can be identified over time then a specific desensitization program can be instituted, but unless that can be established then Prince will require close and competent management when in contact with other dogs.

Dog 5: Max. Max was brought out to me and greeted me immediately, head up, tail wagging, calm and relaxed. Max took treats immediately and gently and sat when requested. Max took treats willingly and with control. Max allowed full handling including paws, tail ears, and head/mouth.

Max responded with a strong startle when the noise source was initiated, but recovered very rapidly (<5 seconds) to a relaxed and calm posture. After the second startle stimulus he was more watchful, but still returned to a relaxed stance within 5 seconds.

Max’s response to the friendly stranger was very positive and welcoming. Max appeared to be somewhat frightened by the scary stranger and retreated behind my position cowering slightly.

Max was calm around the barking dogs, walking with relaxed posture and generally ignoring most of the others. Those dogs that Max did attend to he greeted with proper relaxed body position and appropriate greeting behavior.

Recommendation: Max appears to be a well-adjusted, human focused dog that readily socially interacts with people. Max reacts well around other dogs, even those exhibiting potentially threatening or aroused behavior. Max is highly likely to succeed in a permanent placement with owners accepting of a large, affectionate and stable dog.

Dog 6: King. King showed calm greeting skills-no jumping or inappropriate contact. King showed minimal response to the audible startle stimuli, and recovered very quickly (<2 seconds) from each occurrence. King allowed me to fully handle him and manipulate his paws, tail, head and mouth. King easily and gently took treats.

King observed the friendly stranger and showed willing, voluntary and positive approach behaviors. King’s reaction to the scary stranger was generally accepting, with only slight interest in the stranger’s erratic behavior.
King walked easily down the kennel of barking dogs, with minimal interest, more focused on my actions and accepting of the loud and disorganized behavior of the other dogs.

Recommendation: King is human focused and shows positive interaction skills. King shows no indication of dog-dog reactivity.

Dog 7: Indo. Indo had issues during the inside evaluation with Dawn Hanna (see her notes and report to obtain details). When I first encountered Indo he was indoors. There was a small amount of blood on the floor, apparently from a freshly engorged tick that he scratched off and was killed.

The inner surfaces of Indo’s ears were red and visibly inflamed. The conjunctiva (soft tissue) and the sclera (white portions) of both eyes were clearly red and inflamed. Indo should be seen by a Veterinarian at the earliest opportunity to address these health issues.

Indo greeted me easily, took treats readily and with a gentle mouth, and willingly rolled on his back voluntarily showing no reticence or signals of stress. Despite the apparent inflammation of his ears Indo allowed me to fully handle him, including examining his ears and checking his eyes closely. Indo took treats gently.

Indo showed a mild reaction to the audible startle stimulus, and recovered very quickly both times (<2 seconds).

Indo greeted the friendly stranger calmly giving appropriate engagement signals. Indo showed a clear intention to make positive contact with the stranger. When confronted with the scary stranger Indo took a position in front of me, between me and the stranger, but did not bark or growl. Indo simply stood watching the stranger.

Indo did not show any particular interest in the barking dogs as we walked the kennel.

Recommendation: Indo’s behavior must be evaluated as a composite of my observations and Dawn Hanna’s observations. My assessment is that Indo requires Veterinary attention for the ear and eye issues. His behavior regarding human contact was very positive. Indo further showed no dog-dog reactivity.

Dog 8: Goose. Goose greeted me easily and readily, showing appropriate controlled greeting behavior. Goose does have minor paw and lip injuries, so I did not manipulate that particular paw. Otherwise Goose allowed full, willing contact. Goose readily and gently took treats.
Goose showed a mild reaction to the audible startle and recovered quickly (<3 seconds) from each.

Goose showed positive greeting behavior toward the friendly stranger. Goose was neutral to the scary stranger.

While walking the kennel Goose was largely uninterested in the other barking dogs. To those dog in whom Goose showed interest his posture and approach was positive and appropriate.

Recommendation: Goose did not show any concerning behavior. Goose seems to willingly accept human contact, solicits that contact voluntarily, and shows neutral to accepting behavior towards other dogs with no observed reactivity.

Dog 9: Jethro. Jethro greeted me easily and positively. Jethro took treats well and allowed full handling, including ears, tail, paws and mouth.

Jethro showed minimal reaction to the audible startle, recovering quickly (<3 seconds).

Jethro greeted the friendly stranger appropriately, initiating positive contact. While waiting for the scary stranger Jethro pulled slightly against his collar and the weak plastic buckle released, allowing Jethro to be loose. Despite the ability to roam freely Jethro came quickly when I called him. He was easily placed back on the lead and walked quietly past the small dogs barking in the yard area adjacent to the testing area. Jethro was not tested in the kennel runs since the collar had failed and there was not another collar readily available.

Recommendation: Jethro showed very positive human interaction, even coming willingly when presented with the opportunity to range freely. Jethro did not show dog reactivity towards the small barking dogs adjacent to the test area.

Dog 10: Tiffany. Tiffany came out and greeted me fairly easily. She did not show any sensitivity to handling or contact and took the treats well.

Tiffany startled but recovered quickly (<5 seconds).

Tiffany’s collar completely failed and she did break free. Tiffany did not recall readily, but the two strangers (out of character) were able to quickly contain her, including one of the strangers who grabbed Tiffany around the neck and shoulders against a wall. Despite the sudden corralling in a corner by a complete stranger (no contact had been made yet) Tiffany was accepting and easily restrained. The test was terminated at that point.

Recommendation: Tiffany appears to be very human focused and willing to accept even sudden human contact under a potentially stressful situation.
SUMMARY: None of the dogs tested showed any clear aggressive behavior towards humans. The dogs noted above did show reactivity and sensitivity towards other dogs, and will have to be managed safely and given rehabilitative training.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to assist in the evaluation of these dogs.


James W. Crosby CBCC-KA
Behavior Consultant
Jacksonville, Florida

Full medical records for these dogs are available at request. Again, please contact Debi Day for further information. These guys could really use a hand.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Canine Wounded Heroes-out on the front lines.

In my last post I described the very positive experience I had at the Metropolitan Police Dog Training School and their very forward techniques. Further details on the experience had to wait due to my time disappearing very quickly under the weight of other appearances. Further, I had to respond to Miami and evaluate a group of dogs at rick, and THEN came to Nassau, The Bahamas, where we are facing a serious outbreak of canine distemper virus (more on both of these issues later).

So...the basis for our visit to the Met Dog School was a program set up by the hard working and dedicated people at Canine Wounded Heroes ( CWH collected donations, coordinated the visit, and arranged to have eighteen (18!) personalized bullet proof vests shipped and delivered to the Metropolitan London Police to protect their working dogs from gunshot and sharp weapon injury.

Canine Wounded Heroes was founded by Jodie Richers. Jodie, a tireless animal activist based in Atlanta, GA, founded Dogs on Death Row in 2007, followed by Cats on Death Row, Horses on Death Row, and Habitats for Dogs & Cats. Having worked in the nonprofit arena for many years as the director for One Child At A Time (an international aid and adoption organization), and also as a board member for Children's Charities of America, Jodie possesses a skill set ideal for leveraging dollars into the most efficient action possible to save the greatest number of dogs and cats.

Canine Wounded Heroes is dedicated to the protection of our working dogs, be they police, arson investigators, bomb-detection animals or military working dogs. They actively collect donations that are directly applied to their protection efforts, with only 1% of the donations applied to any administrative or official costs. Board Members such as Karen Talbot and Prince Lorenzo Borghese of Animal Aid USA serve as strict volunteers allowing the funds to go where they need-to the animals.

At the dog school I saw and handled the vests. They are truly state-of-the-art units. Fully fit, they have vastly improved shoulder articulation allowing the dogs to finally work freely while protected. They are modular, so they can be adapted to the situation at hand. They are lighter, better ventilated, and are equipped to handle everything from daily patrol to insertion by helicopter with the Special Unit. Since they are modular, these vests can be fit to a dog exiting a police vehicle in 8 seconds. This allows the dog to say cool and comfortable during normal travel, but deploy on a serious crime with full battle gear with no delay.

I have a personal soft spot for protecting police and working dogs. During my career as a Police Officer I was involved in a pursuit that ended in a shootout with an armed drug dealer. Our police dog, Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer K9 Titan, took a bullet that was certainly intended for a human officer. Despite the best efforts of our police Veterinarian, Dr. P.C. Hightman, Titan did not survive. Had Titan been wearing a vest he might have survived the encounter.

These vests will hopefully give the dogs of the Met Police the edge they need to safely do their jobs. They will be protected not only from bullets and sharp objects, but the ballistic material of the vests will also serve to dissipate the effects of blunt object impacts. I can't commend-and recommend-the efforts of Canine Wounded Heroes more strongly. Please consider donating to Canine Wounded Heroes at

Friday, May 30, 2014

Training with the London Met Police K9s and a new video interview online

I am sitting here in the beautiful Basingstoke countryside getting ready for England's first National Dog Bite Conference tomorrow with Victoria Stilwell. I have to first say that my meeting yesterday with the Metropolitan London Police K9 Training School officers was simply amazing. These officers are not only training some of the best police working dogs in the world, but they are doing it WITHOUT USING FORCE/FEAR/PAIN/AVERSIVE BASED TRAINING METHODS!  Victoria and I spoke with the head trainers and the head of their breeding program for over two hours about training methods and their philosophy on pairing a human/canine team. One of the most surprising methods they use is to pair a dog and handler together when the dog is 8 weeks old.  The dog and handler then grow up together, bond strongly, and form a lifelong working team. No partially- or pre-trained dogs here. They want to start with a blank slate, build what they consider to be a rock-solid foundation, and mold the dogs from the start to work as a true team with their handler.

Although these working dogs are eventually expected to face violent offenders if necessary, the training is very strongly positively based. No punishment here at the Met: as I have said before, a correction is simply bullying if it is not instructive. These guys understand behavior science, they understand that hanging, choking, and pinch/prong collars are abusive, and the Met simply forbids these tools. Instead, they show-teach-reinforce-proof-and reinforce again. They develop tight working dogs that are working out of the bond between them and the handler, not fear of repercussions. These are also dogs that can think on their feet and are not afraid to take on a novel challenge for fear of punishment.

I was so impressed. The quality of the dogs is very high since they are breeding carefully selected animals. All health testing is done-hips, eyes, elbows, and the breeding regulations the Met adheres to are tighter and more restrictive than The Kennel Club requires. These are truly magnificent animals.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the second of my video interviews with John DeBella from PhillyPetInfo is live online at PhillyPetInfo Police Encounters. Take a look. The trip to Pennsylvania and New Jersey was made possible by the great folks at New Jersey Aid For Animals.

To wrap this up have a look at me and Victoria standing outside the BBC Studios in London yesterday.

Friday, May 23, 2014

National Dog Bite Awareness Video

Catch my video series for National Dog Bite Prevention Week with John DeBella of WMKG Philadelphia and right here:

Friday, May 9, 2014


Please come join us in the US and the UK for some exciting dog bite events:

Canine Aggression & Case Investigation

Monday 16th June & Tuesday 17th June

Wood Green, The Animals Charity

Cambridgeshire  PE29 2NH

 Bite Scene Interpretation
 Court Case Preparation
 Case Breakdown
 Data & Evidence Gathering: Photos, interviews, records, reports etc.
 Canine Handling & Behavioural Rehabilitation
 Interactive Case Investigation & Court Proceedings
 ‘Select Committee’: Open discussion on canine legislation and public safety around dogs.

Cost for two days: £195

Presented by 

DogPsyche UK & Wood Green, The Animals Charity

To book go to:

Click on the ‘Jim Crosby’ tab and follow the instructions.

Contact email: