Good-bye to Bravo

February 22, 2008


Some of you know Bravo from training classes over the past several years. Some of you know her from watching the Constructional Aggression Treatment DVDs. She is the brindle Greyhound that worked as a decoy. She was the fine dog this column was named for.

This week Bravo was trying to get up from her bed and her leg suddenly sustained a spiral fracture, a break that should have taken a lot of force to cause. She spent a night with our vet before we opted to see a veterinary surgeon. I spent quite a bit of time sitting on the floor with her yesterday late afternoon, just talking and stroking her ears, her favorite thing.

It turned out that Bravo had bone cancer (osteosarcoma). This is a leading cause of death in Greyhounds. Because she has had a series of health problems lately and it was estimated that with amputation we could probably expect another 4 months with her, we decided that we could give her a gift of freedom from pain.

My 20-year-old son, Jesse, and I went to the surgeon’s office and spent some time with her today although she was sedated. We were with her when she was helped to go. It was a peaceful end.

Bravo came to us at Christmas of 2001, a terrified, overwhelmed, severely underweight Greyhound with very little experience of the world. She suffered from separation anxiety until my husband decided to just not lock her up when we left the house. After that she did just fine.

On her first day in our home, a cold winter day, she took a drink from my water garden, then walked forward and found herself in 2 feet of water and no understanding of how to get out. She learned how to get in and out of the water garden after that, and on warm days laying in the pond was one of her favorite ways to cool off.

A few days later we approached a Papillion and her owner on a walk and Bravo crawled inside my coat and wrapped herself around and between my legs. She was terrified of the small dog. Our cat, Mouse figured out that he could torment her by walking behind her. She was afraid of him too.

But those early frightened days didn’t last. Bravo soon discovered TTouch and became a big fan of attention from humans. The first time she saw children was at the vet’s office. Two tiny tots looked in the window. She went to them and looked them up and down, rubbing dog snot on the window. She adored kids forever after. Bravo loved all people. She loved nothing more than greeting new people and inviting them to rub her silky ears.

On one occasion at the dog park a big, beautiful Borzoi arrived and was surrounded by a gang of Goldens and Boxers who were up to no good. Bravo trotted into the fray from across the park, got in beside the Borzoi who was bucking with fear, and put her nose to the ground. She walked peacefully along until he got the idea and imitated her. The Goldens and Boxers stopped, shook themselves off and backed away. The Borzoi, still bewildered, went about his business of sniffing the park. Bravo came to me, exhausted and ready to go home.

Bravo was the lead decoy dog for the Constructional Aggression Treatment procedure, working with a lot of scared and angry dogs to help them find better ways to deal with the world. She did important work and she did it well.

Bravo came into this world in April 1999, bred for a life as a racing hound, but she didn’t spend long in that life. She was better suited to keeping the yard cleared of squirrels and making sure she had the first choice of dog beds and making sure there were toys all over the downstairs of the house, just in case.

On her last night at home she slept on the couch cuddled up next to my husband, getting her ears rubbed, her very favorite thing. The next morning she ran outside and around the back of the house, the important first act of any good day. She came in and ate, and found her way to her bed in my office. After a short nap she tried to get up and her good old bones just couldn’t hold on any longer.


Some of you have asked what you can do to remember Bravo. The best gift of all would be a donation to ORCA, the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals, at the University of North Texas. Write ORCA in the subject line and “In memory of Bravo” in the memo line.

Mail your check to:

ORCA Treasurer, Department of Behavior Analysis, P.O. Box 310919, University of North Texas, Denton, TX 76203-0919


April 1999 to February 22, 2008

Adopted into her family on Dec. 22, 2001

Kellie Snider, BS, MS



Kellie Snider

Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst

Co-Developer of the Constructional Aggression Treatment for Dogs



For the past 2.5 years I have been at work with Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz developing an effective behavior change procedure for the treatment of aggression in dogs in the natural settings where the dogs live. In the course of our work the procedure has been painstakingly evaluated. Data is collected each step of the way, compared to earlier data, and examined in the current environment. When something did not work, we went back to the drawing board, took a closer look, and either adjusted the treatment or eliminated the component that was either detrimental or useless. If it did not work or did not produce a meaningful change, it did not stay in the procedure.


Breed specific legislation (BSL) has not been subjected to this kind of scrutiny.  If it has the data are not seeing the light of day. BSL is an attempt by the legal system to resolve the canine aggression problem. Unfortunately, the data cited to determine whether breed specific legislation is justified is the wrong data. The question researchers need to ask to validate BSL is, “Are there fewer dog attacks per capita after BLS was enacted than before it was enacted?” They might even add the question, “Are the attacks less severe?” Instead, the data typically cited to defend BSL involves the number of people attacked by a specific breed of dog (Nelson, 2005). There is little or no data other than anecdote available to the public about whether eliminating specific breeds of dogs from a community actually reduces the numbers of dog bites, attacks or dog-related fatalities. If they are not making the data public either they are not collecting the data, which is unacceptable, or there is something they don’t want us to see.


Dogs of any breed obtained for the purpose of fighting, guarding and protection are high on the list of dogs that attack and kill. Dogs of any breed kept in the yard on a chain or in a pen outside are among the dogs most likely to kill. Dogs of any breed that are allowed to roam loose or that are abused or neglected are more likely to kill than other dogs. Unneutered male dogs are frequently counted among those dogs that bite. (Delise, 2002)


If you take all the pit bulls out of a community, the people likely to harbor dangerous dogs will keep another large, powerful breed. The people who kept a pit bull outside on a chain will keep another breed outside on a chain. The people who abused or neglected a pit bull will abuse and neglect another breed of dog. The people who let their pit bull roam will let the dog that replaces their pit bull roam. Families that owned unneutered-male pit bulls are likely to obtain and keep intact another breed of dog. When children are allowed to interact unattended with unfamiliar dogs, chained dogs, penned dogs and family pets with histories of unresolved aggression it can be a recipe for disaster no matter what the breed. Getting rid of a breed without changing how people care for and manage their dogs will not solve any dog attack problems. 


Before another community enacts breed specific legislation statistical comparisons must be made between the before and after picture in those communities where BSL has already been enacted. To determine whether BSL is valid we do not need more proof that pit bulls are strong, powerful dogs. Everyone already knows that. But people who spend time around dogs also know that many pit bulls are friendly, gentle animals despite their strength. If communities are going to enact BSL someone needs to demonstrate that it works. So far I have not seen the data.


With pit bulls out of the picture there will still be dog attacks. Denver, Colorado banned pit bulls in 1989, and in a 1994 study Chow Chows and German Shepherds had taken their place as the dogs most likely to bite (Gershman, Sacks & Wright, 1994). Can you imagine the outcry if a community tried to ban German Shepherds? Without data showing that BSL results in a statistically significant decrease in dog attacks, legislators are misleading their community’s citizens if they claim that the knowledge that pit bulls are strong and powerful necessarily means that eliminating them will eliminate the problem of dangerous dog attacks.


Where is the data?  Until there are valid data to compare the numbers of attacks before and after enactment of BSL no one can claim that it will do anything more than cause dissention among proponents and opponents of breed specific legislation. For that we have plenty of proof.



Delise, K.A. (2002). Fatal dog attacks: The stories behind the statistics. Slanesville, WV.

Gershman KA, Sacks JJ, Wright JC. (1994). Which dogs bite? A case-control study of risk factors.     Pediatrics 93:913-7.

Nelson, K.A. (2005) One City’s Experience: Why pit bulls are more dangerous and breed specific        legislation is justified. Municipal Lawyer. 406-6.

© Kellie Snider, 2007

pan2a.gifHere’s a fictionalized compilation of stories I’ve heard from people about their aggressive dogs.  Most people who work with aggressive dogs will recognize this story from their work.

Josie Q. Owner will say, “We adopted our dog from the shelter.  He was fine for a few weeks but after he’d been here a while he started barking and growling at any man that came over to visit.  When our friend lifted his hand one day our dog lunged at him then hid behind me.  We are sure he was abused by a man before we got him.”

People commonly assume that if their dog behaves either fearfully or aggressively that he or she was the victim of abuse.   To my surprise, while surfing the web about this subject,  I noticed that even some experts have presented the “he was abused” assessment as part of their response to owners asking about aggression in their dogs.  While certainly being abused may be the start down the slippery slope toward aggressive behavior, assuming that abuse actually occured is often stretching it.  If we didn’t see the abuse happening, it’s best not to assume it occured.  That assumption may lead us off on a path that doesn’t help us make progress in dealing with the aggression.  The good news is that we don’t need to know how behavior got started to change behavior. 

Aggression is situation-specific, and aggression toward a specific kind of person or in a specific situation does not necessarily mean that the dog was abused at any point in his life.  I’ve worked with quite a few dogs that were adopted into good homes as puppies, who were never hit or mistreated, and who still show up with aggressive behaviors at some point down the road.  Dogs, like all animals and humans, behave in ways that pay off for them.  Unfortunately, aggression sometimes pays off quite neatly for them. 

The 2 imporant questions to ask when trying to understand a given dog’s aggression is, “In what situations does this behavior happen?” and “What happens after the dog behaves aggressively?”  It is also helpful to understand situations in which the dog is not aggressive so that you can appreciate that your dog can behave in desirable ways. 

In most cases of problem aggression the dog has learned that his aggressive behavior makes people or animals go away.  The most common answer to, “What happens after he behaves aggressively?” is, “People or animals back off.”  The behavior puts distance between him and something or someone else.  The more experience the dog has in getting people or animals he doesn’t want around to back off by being aggressive, the more aggressively he will behave.

What if his aggression involves chasing prey (which may include small dogs or cats, squirrels, even children)?  It depends.  I once had a dog who eagerly chased squirrels throughout her life, and never once caught one. It appears that she was just as happy getting them to go away as she might have been catching one. Since she never caught one we might be right to assume that her behavior was reinforced by getting the squirrel to run away. For other dogs who actually catch some of the prey they chase, we might be looking at something a little different.  These dogs don’t get rid of the thing they behave aggresively toward- they kill and possibly eat it.  

From time to time we come across a dog that has been taught to play roughly and in order to initiate play they begin to act roughly.  This can accelerate to the point that they begin to growl, bark, and even bite at people they want to play with. 

The other question, “In what situations does this behavior happen?” includes all the stuff in the environment at the time the aggression occurs.  Often it will be something like, “A stranger approached him” or “another dog came into view.”  Sometimes it will be quite specific, like, “She’s only aggressive toward my sister, and only when my husband is gone.”  (Seriously!) Other times the dog may be aggressive only in one place, but not in others (e.g. He’s aggressive toward dogs in the park, but fine with dogs in our back yard), or only toward a type of person (men or children, for example).  There can even be very subtle situations like the time of day or how cold it is. 

The aggressive behaviors described here indicate that the dog has been successful in chasing men away by behaving aggressively.  We may not know why the dog wants to chase the guy away, but we can change the behavior by teaching the man to go away only when the dog is behaving nicely and stay put when he is behaving aggressively.  Clearly this may involve some training.  (The procedure is described in detail in the DVD mentioned at the end of this blog. 

The outcome of the procedure described in the DVD is that the dog will learn that his aggression doesn’t pay off, but being nice does.  Over time he will most likely stop wanting the guy to go away because he’ll learn that he is not a threat. 

The good news is that we don’t have to know why a behavior got started in order to treat it. This is especially good news because with dogs adopted in adulthood from shelters we rarely know anything about his life before the shelter.

Constructional Aggression Treatment:Shaping Away Canine Aggression                         Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, PhD & Kellie Snider                                                                                      A 10.5 hour seminar on videotape                                                                                      Produced by Tawzer Dog Videos Copyright, 2007


Constructional Aggression Treatment:Shaping Away Canine Aggression 

Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, PhD & Kellie Snider 

A 10.5 hour seminar on videotape withProduced by Tawzer Dog Videos 

Copyright, 2007 

Is available now! 

Current consensus in behavioral science labels aggression as a classical conditioning problem, and the treatment, accordingly, is desensitization and counter conditioning. But that might all change in the future. Research done at the University of North Texas suggests that classical treatments for aggression may have us all barking up the wrong tree. Kellie and Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz have devised a shaping-based, operant approach to treating aggression in clients’ homes that is producing stronger and much faster results than classical treatments.This seminar introduces the UNT research and Kellie and Jesus’ training procedure. Demo video and live demonstration is used to see their training in action. Other topics covered include cue poisoning, functional analyses of aggressive behaviors, and stimulus control.

Contains videos, demonstrations, powerpoint animations, lecture and Q&A.  


What’s in it for me?  

If you are interested in the emotional lives of animals, this DVD will be of interest to you.  This DVD is the culmination of several years of research by Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and his students on emotions in animals.  If you work with aggressive dogs this work may, as one DVD participant put it, “rock your world”. We will be talking about canine aggression in a completely different way from what you’ve learned at all the other aggression DVDs you have attended.  We explore the genetic, dominance and instinct-based theories of the nature of aggression and replace them with our research which reveals aggression as an operant… in other words we explain that aggression is learned behavior, and that by changing the consequences for the behavior using the Constructional Approach we can change the aggressive dog into a friendly dog.  We will present a training procedure that will provide trainers and pet owners to make significant differences in dogs’ behavior.


What will I take away from this DVD?  What will I be able to use? 

This DVD will provide you with the tools to replace the aggressive behaviors in dogs with peaceful, friendly behaviors.  Many people who have attended a weekend seminar have written to us that they have successfully used the procedure on their own and are now changing how they approach aggression issues.  Some are working with aggressive dogs for the first time because finally they have a tool they can use to make a significant change. In addition this work can be used with fearful animals, including feral cats and fearful hoofstock such as llamas and cattle.  Feral cats slated for euthanasia are being not only tamed but made into loving pets through the use of a version of this procedure. 


In addition, we have a Yahoo Group that is exclusively for the support of those who have attended a seminar or viewed the DVD and who are interested in actively using the procedure.  These people help us develop the procedure and provide us with data, and we, in return support them by providing additional information and helping them brainstorm their ideas.  We have learned much from these field testers and would love to have you join this body of trainers.  We are currently working on additional materials to answer frequently asked questions and to expand on points made in the DVD and seminars.  These will be made available to those who attend a weekend seminar or purchase a video to answer your questions.  We will do as much as we can to support you in your progress.  Beyond that, we will listen to your ideas and experiences and use them to develop the procedure.  We are delighted to credit all of the people working with us in the development of the procedure.


Why should I buy this DVD?

In addition to the points made above, if you have been to seminar after seminar hearing the same old things, this is a DVD you won’t want to miss. This is a completely new and proven effective approach to the treatment and understanding of aggression. Rather than relying exclusively upon generalized information from old published research or the work of other trainers we have examined the specifics of the lives of aggressive dogs and addressed them as the subject matter for our research.  The research was conducted in the dogs’ real lives, not in a laboratory.  Pet owners and dog trainers are now taking it and using it with their real dogs in their real worlds with real success