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.


Dog training testimonial – Bernadette Brosky

Michigan Dog Training, Plymouth, Michigan, dog aggression, dog aggression rehab, dog aggression rehabilitationOn December 14, 2016 Bernadette Brosky and her dog Sunshine, a Border-Aussie mix completed four private training sessions at Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan with flying colors. Sunshine started training because she was afraid of other dogs and thus showed reactive aggressive behavior toward them. It was the only way she knew how to keep her self safe. Through behavior modification training (desensitization, socialization and obedience training), she learned new skills and that it was actually fun to play with other dogs.  Great job Sunshine and Bernadette!

Bernadette provided this wonderful testimonial: “Hi my name is Bernadette Brosky and this is Sunshine, a Border Aussie mix. We adopted her from a rescue, a year old. We don’t know herMichigan Dog Training, dog play, dog aggression, Plymouth, Michigan background but when she came to us she was very dog reactive aggressive and we turned to Michigan Dog Training. She has done a great job and she’s been playing with dogs and loves it. She’s going to kennel here at the end of the year and we are very pleased. So thanks!”

It’s a true pleasure and our passion to see the change in dogs so that they can experience a fulfilled life with their committed families.  Take a look at the video below to see how much fun Sunshine has playing with other dogs now. If you need help with your dog, please give us a call at 734-634-4152.


Burkey gives dog bite prevention tips to Detroit UPS Drivers



Michael Burkey and Kaboom

On September 2, 2015 Michael Burkey CEO and Dog Behaviorist at Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan gave Dog Bite Prevention Tips to 40 plus United Parcel Service (UPS) employees. The training was arranged by UPS employee Muhammad Ahmed and was held at their Detroit, Michigan hub location. Burkey gave a similar presentation at the Livonia UPS Hub last July.

Michigan Dog Training, Dog Bite Prevention, tips, United Parcel Service, UPS, Detroit, Plymouth, Michigan

(L) Muhammad Ahmed

As Burkey arrived at the Detroit hub, he noticed Ahmed had laid out some clues that a dog might be present for his drivers to be aware of such as a dog bowl, dog bone, dog sign and even fake dog doo. Some of the tips Burkey provided included how to recognize a dog’s stress relieving behaviors before a bite occurs and a wagging tail doesn’t mean it’s friendly but instead its aroused.  And, an aroused state can be a good thing such as a friendly greeting but it can also be a bad thing if it is stress induced. Ahmed 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 Ahmed on command.

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.

To learn more about the fallacy that a wagging tail means a dog is being friendly, see Burkey’s article, “What does a wagging tail mean?” written for the examiner.com.



German Shepherd becomes Canine Good Citizen

Michigan dog training, plymouth, Michigan, Canine Good Citizen, CGC

Savannah and Oliver meet another dog team

CGC, Canine good Citizen, Michigan Dog Training, Plymouth, Michigan

Oliver, CGC

On March 25, 2015 Oliver, a German Shepherd trained and handled by Savannah Patel of Dearborn, Michigan earned the Canine Good Citizen title. Oliver is a very high energy dog who wants to play with other dogs but wasn’t sure how.  Through private dog  training sessions at Michigan Dog Training, Oliver learned to approach other dogs calmly so that they could play together. Otherwise, some dogs would misinterpret his exploding energy for dog aggression.  When in fact, all he wants to do is meet and greet other dogs. Oliver and Starbuck, a resident MDT German Shepherd enjoyed their time together. Congratulations to Oliver and Savannah!

What it takes to be a MDT Certified Dog Trainer

Michigan Dog Training, Plymouth, Michigan

Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan has a structured and documented training program for it’s trainers as they develop their knowledge of dog training and handling skills. Most MDT trainers start out as an Assistant Dog Trainer, progress to Dog Trainer and then become a MDT Certified Dog Trainer to ensure they have the skills necessary to provide the ultimate training experience for clients and their dogs. The purpose of this blog post is to discuss what it takes to become a MDT Certified Dog Trainer.

A Certified Dog Trainer assists the Supervisor and CEO in the planning and execution of dog training programs, trains other dog trainers and conducts private training sessions with clients and/or teaches group classes in addition to the responsibilities they performed as a Dog Trainer. To become certified, they must have at least two years of prior experience as a dog trainer, receive training/mentoring with Michael Burkey, CEO of Michigan Dog Training,  pass written and practical exams and pass a formal interview. Through this process the successful candidate will demonstrate that they posses the following skills:

  • Knowledgeable of learning theory
  • Ability to teach a dog advanced obedience commands via hand and voice signals such as place, focused heeling, contact heeling, sit and down out of motion, return to heel position, agility obstacles and capping the drive exercises.
  • Knowledgeable and able to work with dog to dog and dog to human aggression cases.
  • Demonstrated ability to handle all dogs housed and trained at Michigan Dog Training facility
  • Ability to teach clients Novice and Intermediate levels tricks via the Kyra Sundance program
  • Knowledgeable and able to demonstrate Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and Advanced CGC testing requirements
  • Knowledgeable and able to demonstrate Novice Obedience and Novice Rally exercises
  • Knowledgeable of verbal markers
  • Service orientation
  • Time management
  • Judgment and decision making
  • Ability to work well with others
  • Attention to detail and be proactive

MDT employs experienced trainers and is committed to their on-going skill development which ultimately enhances the training experience for its clients and their dogs. You can trust MDT’s experience, professionalism, and integrity.

Testimonial – MDT helped us enjoy our 85lb puppy more than ever before!

Michigan Dog training, Plymouth, Michigan, feisty fido, group class, private dog training, dog aggression

Adorable Henry

Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan received a wonderful testimonial from Liz on MDT’s facebook page. She and her dog Henry first attended private training sessions and followed it up with a Feisty Fido group class to proof his new learned behaviors amongst other dogs. Here is what she had to say,

“Henry and I had 2 trainers before MDT and I literally left one class crying (at a different training facility) because I couldn’t control his barking and the trainer ignored us. Henry is a playful non-aggressive dog, but very reactive on leash (barking and lunging wanting to play). I did private classes at MDT and started using the remote collar. I learned how to control Henry and how to get him to calm down while on leash. I was concerned about the cost, but now I realize that it was worth every penny as we are hoping to have Henry in our family for many years. We started the Feisty Fido classes and the instructor actually used Henry as an example- wow- what a difference from leaving a class crying to actually loving how my dog behaves. Thanks Michael and MDT for helping us enjoy our 85 lb puppy more than ever before!…..Liz S.

Boy attacked by dog, saved by cat and the missing link no one is talking about


Recently a video went viral showing a cat that seemingly came out of nowhere to save Jeremy, a four year old boy from a vicious attack from the neighbor’s dog. The cat, named Tara is the family’s cat. Her striking defense of Jeremy reminds one of movies where the superhero is but a second away ready to save the day and fortunately Tara fulfilled that role.

Jeremy and Tara

Jeremy and Tara

If Tara hadn’t been there, this planned and well executed attack by the neighbor’s off leash and strong dog probably would have resulted in Jeremy being killed. His injuries that occurred in a split second were Level 4 (“one to four punctures from a single bite with at least one puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth…”) on the Dunbar Bite Scale (Dr. Ian Dunbar is an internationally known Veterinarian Behaviorist who is well known for his assessment of the severity of biting problems based on an objective evaluation of wound pathology). If it hadn’t been for Tara, the injuries surely would have been a level 5 (“Multiple-bite incident with at least two Level 4 bites or multiple-attack incident with at least one Level 4 bite in each”) or 6 (“victim dead) as the dog bore down on his bite and was dragging the child away from others (the mom and Tara).

Dr. Dunbar states, for a Level 4 bite, “The dog has insufficient bite inhibition and is very dangerous.  Prognosis is poor because of the difficulty and danger of trying to teach bite inhibition to an adult hard-biting dog and because absolute owner-compliance is rare. Only work with the dog in exceptional circumstances, e.g. the owner is a professional and has sworn 100% compliance.” I believe the dog’s true bite level, if Tara hadn’t intervened would have been a Level 5 or 6 bite.  In which case, Dr. Dunbar states, “The dog is extremely dangerous and mutilates.  The dog is simply not safe around people.  I recommend euthanasia because the quality of life is so poor for dogs that have to live out their lives in solitary confinement.”

As reported by Laura Liera, a Californian staff writer in her article, “Calls come in to adopt dog that attacked boy: shelter says”, “Calls have flooded the phones at the Bakersfield Animal Care Center from people wanting to adopt the dog stating they want to rehabilitate the dog.  Henry Johnson, the animal care director states, “I admire their animal compassion, but this dog attacked a child.  It’s a vicious animal. And the dog’s attitude has not changed since he’s been under quarantine. ” The dog is not being turned over to anyone and will be euthanized.  As a professional dog trainer and behaviorist at Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan who specializes in working with aggression cases; I am generally slow to recommend euthanasia as often times there are things one can do to modify the dog’s  behavior and teach owners how to better manage their dog’s behavior.  However, in some cases such as this one, the dog is too far gone to rehabilitate.  He has demonstrated his willingness to seek out, stalk and attack his human victims. Unfortunately, he poses too great of a risk to the community and euthanasia is the only responsible solution.

Jeremy wasn’t doing anything to taunt or entice the dog.  He was simply on his bike, in his driveway on the other side of a vehicle from the dog. The bite wasn’t’ in response to Jeremy doing something to the dog eliciting a fearful aggressive

dog bite, dog aggression, Michigan Dog Training

Jeremy’s bite injury

response nor was Jeremy even riding up and down the sidewalk eliciting a prey response. Instead, Jeremy was minding his own business and enjoying life as a four year old should on his own property. The dog stalked Jeremy seeing him on the other side of the vehicle. And, I use the word “stalked” because that is what he did. From the surveillance video, you can see the dog haunch his head and body down toward the ground, look under the vehicle to locate the child and thus determine the quickest and most effective way to get to Jeremy. And, this is the missing link of the story that no one seems to be talking about.  The dog not only attacked a child  but instead sought out the child and executed the totally unprovoked potentially deadly attack if it hadn’t been for the heroic act of Tara.

Owners having dog aggression issues can contact Michael Burkey at Michigan Dog Training to schedule an evaluation or call for an appointment at 734-634-4152.

Graduate of Michigan Dog Trainer Academy – Charles (Chan) Duckworth

dog trainer, dog training school, dog training academy, Michigan Dog Training

Chan and Demo

On February 1, 2014, Charles (Chan) Duckworth successfully earned a certificate as a Dog Trainer by completing an intensive “train the trainer ” dog training course with Michael Burkey, President and Dog Behaviorist at Michigan Dog Trainer Academy, a division of Michigan Dog Training Inc. (MDT) in Plymouth, Michigan.

Duckworth participated in private training and mentoring with Burkey and he observed group classes with his lead trainer, Wendy Bemis. Additionally, Duckworth participated  as a student with his German Shepherd puppy “Demo” in MDT’s puppy socialization and training course. Duckworth was schooled in:  Learning theory, behavioral consultations, dog aggression cases, pet and sport dog obedience, remote collar training, protection dog decoying, among others. Duckworth said his learning experience was very beneficial for him in becoming a dog trainer.

And, his training doesn’t stop there. He is going to continue his education at MDT during the next six months to earn a MDT “certification” as a dog trainer. Burkey commented, “Chan came to the program with some natural training skills and he is a very quick learner. He will be a great dog trainer due to his skills, passion, integrity, love for dogs and natural ability to connect well with others. I look forward to the second half of our mentoring and training program together.”

Georgia, Pit Bull goes from bait dog to playing off leash with another dog

Playing with dogs is fun now

Georgia, a Pit Bull was adopted and thus rescued by Nancy after having been used as a bait dog to teach other dogs to fight. Through Nancy, Georgia had a new beginning on life but she was fearful and therefore reactive toward other dogs.

Through private dog training sessions with Michael Burkey, a professional dog trainer and owner of Michigan Dog Trainer; Nancy learned how to train Georgia to be calmer around dogs using desensitization and habituation via food rewards and to respond to obedience commands via a remote collar training system.  The remote collar (some incorrectly refer to it as a shock collar) uses low level stimulation to interrupt a dog’s inappropriate behavior and to communicate to the dog what is the desired behavior.

Once Georgia learned to relax,  she started to show a willingness to play with other dogs. So she was introduced to Starbuck, a friendly German Shepherd.  At first she was a little nervous but quickly learned to relax and display behaviors meant to elicit play with another dog. Georgia and Starbuck had several successful online play sessions.

Then when Nancy went on a weekend trip, Georgia stayed with Michael and his dogs via the Home Away from Home program (HAH), a personalized home boarding program.

Georgia and Starbuck share a drink together

Over the weekend, she experienced several off leash play sessions with Starbuck as well as interaction with other dogs. In a message dated September 24, 2012, Nancy stated Georgia’s HAH weekend was the best weekend of her life as she developed her first friendship with another dog.

“That’s my GOOD GIRL!! She loves Starbuck, Kaboom and all the “kids” — best weekend of her life — thanks, Mike!”…….Nancy

Georgia’s progress is a result of owner commitment and love exhibited by Nancy.  We’re happy that we could be a part of her rehabilitation.  Great job Georgia and we welcome you back anytime!

Georgia does a run by of Starbuck eliciting a game of chase

Georgia elicits Starbuck to play with a “play bow”

Testimonial – “You were amazing….”

On August 5, 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Kelly McQueen, her son and her fiancé Bob in W. Bloomfield, Michigan. The purpose of the meeting was to show them how to introduce their two dogs to each other as they prepare for their wedding and living together. Reportedly, during an earlier encounter, Kelly’s dog Kiko was too rough with Brian’s dog Finn as well as with other dogs. Additionally, Finn becomes overly excited which can cause other dogs to become reactive.

We took a very systematic and safe approach to introducing the two dogs to each other and discussed signs of stress that may show if/when they need to be separated. At first, Kiko didn’t want to interact with Finn but half way through the session he started enticing Finn to chase him. Both dogs did many play bows toward each other and had a great time. It was also fun for the family and myself to watch them play together.

On August 6, 2012, Kellie sent the below public message to us about yesterday’s visit.

    “You were amazing yesterday in helping us bring Finn and Kiko together. We are very    excited for the next session next week! After 4 hours, we ended the playdate and Kiko didn’t move the rest of the day or night-couldn’t even lift his eyelids! 🙂 Thank you Mike!” ….Kellie McQueen
Its stories like this that make what we do at Michigan Dog Trainer  so very rewarding. In the next few sessions, we will work on exercises that focus on Finn learning to be calmer and more obedient as well as the two of them learning new skills that promote cooperation with each other.