The Weekly Q&A: Ask Way of Life™ Dog Training
Fear-Based Aggression

Fear Based Aggression

Q: I got your info from a common friend. I need help with my three-year-old cockapoo rescue. He has a lot of fear-based aggression and is highly reactive. I look forward to speaking with you.

A: Thank you for reaching out about your cockapoo rescue. It’s always great to hear from people who’ve been referred because they come already knowing that they won’t be hearing the usual response to behavioral issues.

What do I mean by that? Too often, we think it’s the dogs that are the problem and we are blind to the situation—the context that underlies the behavior of any living being, whether human or animal. We think that rescues are troubled and reactive because they are rescues, because of what they might have endured. We overlook what we did, thought, and felt toward that dog the moment we brought them home. I am no stranger to the pain and trauma prevalent in shelter and rescue dogs, but I also know the power of way of life. I want to restore a sense of empowerment to people who rescue dogs and help give them a better life.

No doubt, issues such as reactivity and fear-based aggression might appear to be part of the dog’s temperament. It can be difficult to see these issues for what they really are: a dog’s best effort to cope with their situation, or what we call “way of life.” Descriptions of behavior are a helpful starting point to help us wrap understand a situation, but then I quickly ask that we not only look past these labels but also trust in the power of a healthy way of life. Addressing way of life can make these issues fizzle out over time because they simply cannot thrive in a healthy environment, just as infections and viruses cannot make a home for themselves in a healthy body.

When I am just getting started with a dog, I give them time to decompress. I do this by keeping things simple and structured to restore the sense of safety that many rescued dogs have been lacking. I manage the environment and take the dog to quiet spaces where they won’t be worried or triggered by things. More importantly, I don’t judge them for reacting, because I know that with proper decompression, it is only a matter of time before this behavior starts to subside. 

I will leave you with a final thought regarding your dog’s breed. Cockapoos, crosses between cocker spaniels and poodles, have become quite popular in recent years. It’s easy to fall in love with their petite size and cute faces, but most people don’t understand that many of these “designer” breeds have a strong drive to work. In addition to his difficult past as a rescue, your cockapoo probably has drives that are not being channeled correctly. You will want to find a healthy outlet for these drives. In my book, The Way of Life Method, you will find recommendations on how to use exercise, training, and sport to challenge your dog’s drives and help channel his natural fire in healthy ways, lest he go looking for less acceptable ways to express himself. 

To purchase a copy of The Way of Life Method or stream the audiobook, go to our author page: