Why are some dogs aggressive?

Why are some dogs aggressive?, dog aggression, aggressive dogs, Michael Burkey, Dog Behaviorist, Michigan Dog Training, Belgian Malinois

Michael Burkey and Radar

I’m often asked the question, “Why are some dogs aggressive?” People make up all kinds of reasons and will give it so many different labels such as leash aggression, stranger aggression, territorial aggression, barrier aggression, etc. However, it generally boils down to either fearful aggression or dominant aggression. In the labels listed above the reason for the aggression is fear of the inability to avoid and escape in the case of leash aggression, fear of the unknown such as with strangers, fear of people entering their territory (think of the yard as being a large crate in which they cannot escape from a stranger entering), etc. Dominant behavior is the willingness to display aggressive behavior to obtain or retain a resource such as food, toys, petting from a owner to ensure another dog doesn’t receive same. Dominant behavior is not walking ahead of you, stepping on your feet, jumping up on you, going out the doorway first, etc.  That’s simply the dog being a dog and wanting to be an opportunist. (Note, some aggression cases are due to physical pain or medical conditions which need to be evaluated by your veterinarian and/or have a discussion to determine if anti-anxiety medication would be beneficial to aid behavioral training).

Most aggression cases I work with are due to the dog being fearful. When we understand that, then it’s possible to come up with a management and treatment plan to desensitize the dog to fearful items, build their confidence and increase their reliability to obedience commands. If we simply, label a dog as being bad, then it’s a label and a character judgment without the willingness to see what is really troubling the dog and how to improve their situation.

So to answer the above question of “why”, one can look to whether the dog received proper socialization at a young age (generally before 16 weeks of age), are poor genetics part of the problem and/or was the dog exposed to bad experiences that taught him/her to be afraid of people, other dogs, etc. Even more important than – Why?, is the question of what do we do about it now? It would be nice if the dog could tell us why so we can understand why the dog feels the need to use aggression to keep itself safe or to obtain/retain resources. It would certainly make us feel better so we can understand and be empathic to the dog for our own personal needs. However, that question really isn’t too helpful to the dog nor does it answer the much more important question of how are we going to help the dog and everyone else remain safe?

Case in point is Radar, a Belgian Malinois who I am training and his owner via private lessons. He was adopted so the owner doesn’t know if Radar wasn’t socialized properly, has bad genetics and/or was exposed to frightening experiences when he was younger. He trusts her and her father but not strangers. In the first lesson, he continuously barked at me or avoided me. It was clear to see from his body posture and behavior that he was scared of being close to me. In the second lesson, he took treats from my hand hesitantly but discontinued the barking saying “stay away from me.” A caution note here, while I use food treats to desensitize Radar to me one has to be careful to watch for any change of body language. Sometimes people become over confident because they see the dog is willing to cease the aggressive display of behavior to obtain the food treats. So they think everything will be fine. However, if the person moves suddenly, leans toward or over the dog or even if the food runs out, the dog may remember that they were truly scared and react with aggressive behavior. So was the food desensitizing the dog to the person (the intended objective) or was it only acting as a temporary distraction?

In the third lesson, Radar continued to bark at me despite responding to my commands to sit or lay down. Since he was responding to my commands despite lots barking, I felt I would be able to walk with Radar and his owner. So we walked together for a bit with me gradually coming Why are some dogs aggressive, dog aggression, aggressive dogs, Michael Burkey, Dog Behaviorist, Michigan Dog Training, Plymouth, Michigancloser and closer to them as we walked in line with each other.  He kept his eye on me but ceased his barking. Often times I would start with a muzzle first but I believed Radar would walk with me and wouldn’t bite but may return to his barking repertoire. As his owner handed me the leash and gradually faded out of our proximity, Radar started to walk with me and didn’t bark. He showed some avoidance behavior at first but quickly responded to my commands to heel and come that were well-taught by his mom. This obedience knowledge aided in his ability to come closer to me. After walking on a loose leash for awhile, I sat down at a pause table (agility table) holding Radar’s leash in my hand. I was pleasantly surprised and honored that Radar immediately came to me eliciting petting from me. As I petted him, he leaned into me for comfort and support.  I had just made a new friend.

Another question I’m often asked is, “Why do you do what you do (train dogs)?” The answer is “to enhance the lives of dogs and humans so they can live in harmony together”, as is with my new friend Radar.  : )


To learn how Michael Burkey and the MDT Staff can help you and your dog, call us at 734-634-4152 or check out our website at:  Michigan Dog Training.


Shaping a dog behavior

Luring (showing the dog what to do such as follow a food hand around the cone) is quicker and easier to teach but shaping (where the dog believes he caused the reward to come from his action) is more strongly retained once the dog learns the desired behavior.

In this video I’m shaping Kaboom to go around the cone without any verbal command or hand signal. He is rewarded for going to the cone and each approximate intention to go closer and closer to eventually around the cone. Later once he understands the end result, I will name it “around” just as he completes the turn and later just before he goes around so it is then on verbal cue. To tell Kaboom he’s correct in doing a desired behavior, I normally would use a clicker (clicker training) to mark and release the approximations but it was too much to hold the camera, ball and food treats. So I substituted a tongue click for the clicker.

French Police K9 Hero, Diesel killed by ISIS

Belgian Malinois, Michigan Dog Training, Police K9, Police Canine, French Police K9, Diesel, Dog fights ISIS, Hero Police Dog Diesel killed by woman suicide bomber in Paris siegeIn the early morning of November 18, 2015, Diesel, a French Police K9 died as a hero during a police raid on a known terrorist hiding place. He was killed by a woman suicide bomber when French special forces raided an apartment building in Saint-Denis, France. Diesel was a 7 year old Belgian Malinois trained to detect explosives was apparently the first to be sent into the apartment to assess the level of danger.

Seven explosions occurred during the raid in addition to the suicide bomber. Seven arrests were made and at least four officers were wounded. The suicide bomber was believed to be the cousin and/or Jihadi bride of the ringleader, Abaaoud, of last Friday nights’ horrific terrorist attack in France.  Police believe he was in the apartment building prior to the raid. However, his fate is yet unknown. Diesel was a member of France’s RAID Unit, an anti-terrorist police unit. Read more and view pictures of Diesel.

Kaboom and Michigan Dog Training pay respect to Diesel, everyone who fight the evil ISIS and those families affected by the horrors of terrorism.

How to teach your puppy to pay attention to you

The foundation of all puppy and dog obedience is “Eye Attention” or in other words teaching your puppy to pay attention to you. That is the most important skill to teach your puppy.

Right now, you are your puppy’s everything so it’s simple to teach the eye game. However, later in his/her life, which is only a few weeks away as your pup’s confidence increases; it will become increasingly hard to gain and keep your pup’s attention when he/she learns there is a world outside of you. So teach the eye attention game now upon first getting your puppy or adult dog.  And, I mean right now….stop reading and go do it.  Oh my bad, it might help to have a guideline as to how its taught. So here you go, 7 steps to teaching your puppy or dog to pay attention to you.

Eye Attention

PURPOSE: To teach your dog to pay more attention to you. A dog that pays attention to you is less likely to miss obedience cues and is less likely to be distracted or afraid of it’s environment.

  1. Stand straight up smiling at your dog with a tasty dog treat held in front of your face. When your dog looks up at your face, mark the desired behavior by saying “yes”, “good”, or push the button of a clicker. Then reward your dog with the tasty treat.
  2. Do not put this exercise on cue by saying, “look at me”, “focus”, “watch”, etc. as you want your dog to eventually initiate this attention behavior. You shouldn’t have to remind your dog to pay attention to you. Instead, your dog should learn that offering this behavior results in positive things, whether that be treats, a ball, or praise.
  3. After you have practiced the above step for one or two days, hold the treat slightly out to your side and wait for your dog to look back at you. He or she will look at the treat but eventually he/she will look back at you. When your dog looks back at your face, mark the behavior and reward him/her with the tasty treat.
  4. If 60 seconds or more has gone by, say “nope” (saying nope instead of “no” makes it difficult for you to put negative intonation to the word as the dog is just confused and not being disobedient) and walk away from your dog. Your dog is likely to look at you and follow you due to your movement. When he/she does, mark the attentive behavior and reward.
  5. At first, a simple quick glance at your face results in a verbal mark and reward. As your dog becomes more experienced at eye attention, expect a longer stare at your face before marking and rewarding the behavior.
  6. As your dog becomes more proficient with longer stares trying changing the hand position of the distracting treat: A) held in the opposite hand out to the side, B) treats held in both hands that are held alongside your body in neutral positions so now your dog has to look past the hands instead of just away from your hands, C) treat is placed on a counter top so the food is off your person, etc.
  7. As a last challenge, position yourself in front of a mirror or looking out a window at night time so you can see your dog’s reflection. Mark and reward your dog’s attentive behavior even though you are not looking directly at your dog.

Teach eye attention to your puppy before joining our puppy classes and you’ll be way ahead of the mark. The first video showed you how to start it with a puppy. Below is a video of Michael and his dog Simone demonstrating what it looks like once it is taught. For more information check out our website at Michigan Dog Training located in Plymouth, Michigan or call us at 734-634-4152.

Its an old video as Michigan Dog Training used to be called Michael Burkey’s Canine Behavioral Training (but that was too long of a name). So it’s an older video and a great teaching video as well as good memories of my dog Simone, a Belgian Malinois who crossed over five years ago at the wise old age of 16.

Burkey gives UPS Dog Bite Prevention Tips

Michigan Dog Training, Michael Burkey, Dog Bite Prevetion tips, United Parcel Service, UPS, Belgian Malinois

Michael Burkey and Kaboom, Belgian Malinois

On July 8, 2015 Michael Burkey CEO and Dog Behaviorist at Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan gave Dog Bite Prevention Tips to 40 United Parcel Service (UPS) employees. The training was arranged by UPS employee Chris Taylor and was held at their Livonia, Michigan hub location. Some of the tips provided included:

  • How to recognize a dog’s stress relieving behaviors before the bite occurs
  • A wagging tail doesn’t mean it’s friendly but instead it’s aroused which could be good 
(excitement) or it could be bad (ready to bite)
  • Items to put between the dog and themselves that will either distract the dog or act as a 
  • Don’t run away from the dog as the dog will probably catch you and the prey behavior of 
the chase will ensure the dog will bite.
Warning signs to a dog bite

Taylor bravely put on a bite sleeve and received several bites from Burkey’s dog Kaboom, a Belgian Malinois. During the bite work demonstration, employees clearly saw that a wagging tail didn’t always mean friendliness as Kaboom wagged his tail while waiting to bite Taylor on command. Additionally, Burkey showed how easily Kaboom could pursue and over take a fleeing person. Thus, it’s not recommended to run from a dog. Instead, find something to place between yourself and the dog and stand like a tree giving no direct eye contact to the dog.

Dog bite prevention talks

To arrange safety talks for your employees or to schedule dog training for your dog, contact Michigan Dog Training at 734-634-4152.

Michigan Dog Training, Michael Burkey, UPS, United Parcel Service, dog bite prevention tips, Belgian Malinoisdog bite prevention tips, Michael Burkey, Michigan Dog Training, UPSdog bite prevention tips, Michael Burkey, Michigan Dog Training, Livonia UPS

There were 2 puppies now there are 3

Viktor a Vizsla puppy at Michigan Dog Training

Viktor and Ashley

Vizsla new puppy at Michigan Dog Training



It is puppy galore at Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan. As previously reported in “Puppy Training Gets Personal at MDT”, trainers Matthew Lamarand of Westland, Michigan and Erica Hensley of Canton, Michigan welcomed two puppies into their homes; Falkor, a Dutch Shepherd and Drogo, a Belgian Malinois. Now a third MDT trainer has followed suit, Ashaleena Williams of Canton, Michigan and her pup Viktor, a Vizsla. She plans to train him for obedience and dock diving. He seems a natural for many things as on his first day at MDT he surprised all of us by going up the puppy A-Frame (agility obstacle) on his own. So Ashley decided to work on his decent from the obstacle as pictured below. Nice job Ashley.  You’re off to a great start with Viktor!

Be sure to check out our puppy training classes. It’ll be a fun time to not only get your puppy trained but also to train alongside our dog trainers and their puppies. And, check out more pictures of Viktor on the Michigan Dog Training Facebook page.





Puppy training,  Michigan Dog Training

Viktor transverses the A-Frame

Puppy training at MDT gets personal

Michigan dog training, Plymouth, Michigan, puppy classes, Dutch Shepherd, Michigan Dog Trainers,Belgian Malinois

Erica Hensley with Drogo & Matthew Lamarand with Falkor

Puppy training at Michigan Dog Training (MDT) in Plymouth, Michigan just got personal. And, by that we mean three MDT trainers (Erica Hensley, Matthew Lamarand, and Ashley Williams) have been smitten with puppy love as they have become the proud parents of two puppies; Drogo, a Belgian Malinois and Falkor, a Dutch Shepherd.

Despite being two separate breeds and thus different litters, they are only a few days apart in age. So, the friendly competition between the trainers have already begun as to which puppy will earn it’s Puppy S.T.A.R. certificate, Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Title, Canine Good Citizen Advanced (CGCA) Title, Obedience and Rally titles and IPO Titles (formerly known as Schutzhund, a German Protection sport that involves Protection training, Obedience, and Tracking) first. In truth, the trainers are not only co-workers but also friends. They are very supportive of each other but a little friendly competition and riving is always fun. Plus, it helps motivate one to get out there and train their dog.

When trainers get new puppies they are reminded first hand of what our clients experience raising their own puppies. It makes it personal as they re-experience the trials and tribulations of potty training, crate training, properly socializing puppies to new environments and teaching puppies good manners the right way, the first time. If you have a puppy, contact us so your pup can have fun learning alongside Drogo and Falkor in our puppy classes. And because no one can never get tired of seeing puppy pictures please see the rest of the pics on the Michigan Dog Training Facebook page.

Michigan dog training, puppy classes, Dutch Shepher

Lamarand and Williams with Falkor

Belgian Malinois puppy, puppy classes, Erica Hensley, Michigan Dog Training

Hensley with Drogo


Kaboom; movie dog star at “Mr. What” premier

movie dog, Kaboom, Michigan Dog Training, Michael Burkey, dog movie star, Plymouth, Michigan, Dancing Deer Productions, Alan Maki, Shaun Maki

The cast of “Mr. What”


Michigan Dog Training, dog movie star, Kaboom

Shaun & Alan Maki with Kaboom

As reported earlier, Kaboom, a Belgian Malinois trained by Michael Burkey, Movie Dog Trainer for Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan was an invited guest at the premier showing of the movie they appeared in, entitled “Mr. What”. The Shaun Maki film was produced by Panting Deer Productions and Sun and Paw Films. The lead actor was Pastor Alan Maki. The move is about a man, “Mr. What” (shortened name of his long hard to pronounce legal name) who was sentenced to serve 22 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Upon release, he seeks redemption in the town of Tecumseh, Michigan through his ailing father, a young boy and a dog.

Kaboom played a misunderstood wandering dog and had four scenes in the film; 1. he appears on Mr. What’s porch unexpectedly, 2. he is seen running up a hill for about 50 yards, 3. he does a take down protection bite to defend Mr. What who was being assaulted, and at the end….well, I can’t spoil the end now can I?. Michael Burkey was the on set Animal Trainer as well as the stuntman taking the bite from Kaboom.  Annie Zhao Yang assisted Burkey with the animal scenes. Most of the summer scenes were shot in Tecumseh, Michigan with the winter scene in Canton, Michigan. Kaboom did a fabulous job as at the time the movie was filmed, he was only about 8 months old and had only three months of protection training under his belt. Additionally, he worked in extreme temperatures. In the summer time it was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit and in the winter it was only ten degrees. Kaboom is now 2 years old and was bred by Michael Ellis.

Besides having Kaboom appear in a movie which is a cool thing by itself; what I really found intriguing was the on spot problem solving required to get Kaboom to do the scenes the director wanted. When I showed up on set, I had about ten minutes or less to prepare Kaboom for each scene before the camera started rolling. It was like being given a puzzle to solve in ten minutes or less. And, Kaboom nailed the scenes with each take. As one who loves to problem solve, this was one of the most intriguing aspects of dog training I’ve experienced thus far.

After the filming was completed, it was time for the director to do his magic and thread all the scenes together to tell the story. And, I had to wait for about 16 months before seeing it at the premier. As I sat down to watch the film with Kaboom at my feet, I imagined this must be what movie actors feel like when they finally see the cast and crew’s work come together. You see famous actors on talk shows such as the Tonight Show and they say they haven’t yet seen the film. And of course no one believes them. But I do now. It was a long wait to see the finished product but it was well worth it.

The 90 minute movie is heart touching, comical and full of wonderful local talent (musicians, actors and real people such as local police, a waitress, etc.) The lead actor, Alan Maki gives a wonderful performance and he is the story writer, a song writer and the singer in the film. He is also the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Tecumseh. And, the boy named “Bo” in the film will steal your heart with his genuine spirit and acting talents.  I expect him to go far in the acting business. As with their previous movie, the “Sidewalk Singer“, “Mr. What” earned five out of five Dove Awards.

Edwin L. Carpenter of the Dove Foundation gave the following film review: “Mr. What” is a terrific movie named for the question Mattiesko Wupio gets every time he says his name: “What!?” He always replies, “Exactly!?” Mr. What spent the last 22 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, yet lives with the stigma of jail time as he re-enters society in tiny Tecumseh, Michigan….The movie reveals that miracles are never far away, especially when one is needed. Because of a blessing received by Mr. What, those around him with needs have them taken care of in miraculous ways. Alan Maki gives an inspiring performance as Mr. What. We are pleased to award the movie our Faith Friendly 12+ Seal. This movie has earned five Doves, our best rating. “Mr. What” is a film that will make you feel great and make you glad you watched it.”

It was a true pleasure working with the father / son team of Alan and Shaun Maki. They are true film professionals and much more than that. They really care about people and it readily comes across in  their interactions with others as well as through their movies. Their stories are about human experiences, including the difficulties we face. However, with “faith, hope, and love with love being the greatest of these,” we can overcome our struggles and be miracle workers for others.

Look for the film to come out on DVD in mid January, 2015. Its a great film for you and your family to experience together.

Dog movie star Kaboom featured in Michigan film, “Mr. What”

Mr. What, dog movie star, trick dog

“Mr. What”


As reported earlier, Kaboom a Belgian Malinois trained and handled by Michael Burkey, President of Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan has become a dog movie star.  He was bred by Michael Ellis of California.

Kaboom is featured in a new Michigan based film entitled, “Mr. What”. Kaboom was featured in several scenes.  He portrays a stray dog who protects and helps a wrongly convicted man readjust to living in a free society after having been imprisoned for 22 years. The film is now complete and received five out of five Dove awards by the Dove foundation for a high quality family movie that doesn’t contain sex, nudity, nor extreme violence.

The film’s premier will be held November 1, 2014 at 3:00 and 7:00pm at the Tecumseh Center for the Arts in Tecumseh, Michigan.  Shaun Maki is the director and Alan Maki is the lead actor  and writer of the film. Michael Burkey was the dog trainer on and off set.  Additionally, he appeared as a stunt double in the film. The premier is being held in Tecumseh because most of the movie was filmed in or near Tecumseh.

Edwin L. Carpenter, a Dove Foundation film critic states the film is “terrific!”.  He gave the following synopsis:  “Panting Deer

Michigan Dog Training, Mr. What movie

Kaboom on set

Productions and Sun and Paw Films present “Mr. What.” Mattiesko Wuopio, though innocent, has spent twenty-two years in prison. Upon apprehension of the real criminal, Mattiesko is released, only to find continued harassment everywhere he turns. He seeks redemption through his ailing father, a stray dog, and an endearing little boy.”

We’re highly excited about the soon to be released film. Its a heart warming story with a special dog who saves the day.  What could be better than that?! Plan to join us at the Premier on November 1st. Tickets aren’t yet on sale but when they do, they’ll go fast.  700 people came out to see Panting Deer’s premier of their earlier film, “Sidewalk Singer”, also a five out of five Dove awarded film.



Zorro the trickster earns Novice Trick Dog Title


Michigan Dog Training, Circus dog, trick dog, Belgian Malinois

Zorro, NTD

On June 25, 2014, Zorro, a 7 month old Belgian Malinois handled by Kiley Spade, Dog Trainer at Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan earned his Novice Trick Dog Title through Kyra Sundance’s “Do More With Your Dog” program.

The DMWYD program is taught by instructors at MDT.  To earn the Novice title, a dog has to demonstrate 15 tricks. To learn how your dog can also become a trick dog, contact Michigan Dog Training at 734-634-4152 or info.MichiganDogTraining.com.