Valley shelter offering classes for shy and feisty dogs

Posted at 9:11 AM, Sep 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-29 12:11:06-04

Many dog owners have experienced that panic feeling while out and about with their four-legged friend. While taking a walk, another dog may be heading their way. 

Sometimes, it is a friendly meeting. But, the interaction can take a turn with a growl or bark.

New research from the University of Arizona is uncovering why some dogs cannot seem to play nice with others and, despite a long-running debate, it most likely has nothing to do with the animals' breed.

The UA study states that a particular hormone, not testosterone or serotonin, but one called vasopressin. 

Researchers describe this hormone as working with the body for water retention and is also linked to aggression in people, with "previous research suggesting that people with chronic aggression problems have high levels of vasopressin. 

Vasopressin is also found in humans. They found that this particular hormone could shape your dog and the way they behave socially. 

This comes from research by Evan MacLean is an assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center ( in the UA School of Anthropology.

"Dog aggression is a huge problem," MacLean said in the online press release. "If there are ways to intervene and affect biological processes that produce aggression, that could have a huge benefit for people and dogs." 

Researchers conducted an experiment where they brought in dogs of different ages, breeds and genders. Owners in these groups admitted they had their dogs struggle with holding their dogs from barking or growling at other animals. 

They had the owners hold the leash while they play audio of a dog barking before revealing a life-like model dog. Researchers were measuring hormone levels as this was happening.

They found that dogs who acted aggressively showed higher levels of vasopressin, which is how they believe the two are linked. 

Researchers suggest the next step could be focusing on treatment for vasopressin in pets.

But, right now - MacLean said decreasing vasopressin is possible through "friendly dog-human interactions." 

That is something folks at the Arizona Animal Welfare League, or AAWL, seem to echo.

"People don't realize how important dog training is," said Director of Education for AAWL Heather Buck. 

AAWL offers a variety of training classes for your pet that kicks off October 1st, including Basic Agility, Puppy Manners and Basic Obedience.

This is how you could teach your old (or young) dog new tricks, as well as help tame that aggression by building a bond. 

"When you use positive reinforcement and you're there for your dog and you guys are a team, you have a much better relationship," explained Buck. 

AAWL also offers unique classes, like ones geared specifically toward shy or 'feisty' dogs to help make sure they are getting the attention they need. 

"It can be a challenge for the trainer," Buck laughed. "Depending on who comes to class... we work with the dogs to make sure we go at a nice, slow pace and keep their focus."

Classes range in price, depending on what you choose. For example, Basic Obedience is once a week for four weeks (one hour each class). Registration for that is $125.