Dog aggression is a serious and common behavioral problem for dog owners. There are many reasons as to why your dog may be aggressive toward other dogs, animals or even people. One of those reasons could be that your dogs doesn’t feel as though you can or will address potential threats, so they decide to meet the issue head on. They quickly learn that they can push those threats away with aggressive displays.
Another reason your dog may be exhibiting aggressive behavior is resource guarding due to a lack of order in the home. For example, your father is visiting from out of town and sits on the corner of the couch where fido usually sits. Fido goes over to him, your dad reaches out to pet him, and Fido nips his hand. Basically, the dog believes that the couch is his, and to get your father out of his spot, he decides to correct him with a nip… if your father jumps up out of the seat, Fido has succeeded and the behavior is reinforced.
In this article we’re going to cover 3 ways you can manage dog aggression. Correct, Redirect, and Protect. Keep in mind, these are not the only ways, but they tend to tackle most aggression problems.
NOTE: If you are experiencing any aggression in your dog, make sure you find a professional dog trainer that specializes in aggression. The problem needs to be diagnosed properly before you choose the best approach.
The first method of aggression management is to correct. A correction is technically a form of positive punishment. For example… you ask Fido to sit, he doesn’t comply, so you apply a leash correction. Positive meaning you’re “adding” something, and punishment meaning he’s less likely to repeat the unwanted behavior.
When correcting your dog for aggression, the key is to actually correct the dog before they hit a high level of arousal. Most effective corrections with dog aggression happen way before the dog explodes. You want to manage the behavior by picking up on your dog’s warning signals. There are various tools for correcting your dog, and they’re all controversial. Corrections tend to be imposed on the dogs neck by way of slip collars, prong collars and e-collars. Regardless, of their controversial nature, all can be effective if used properly.
I can’t stress it enough… please seek professional help for aggression. Different dogs will need different kinds of corrections, and different levels of intensity. For some dogs a firm “No!” will be enough. Others dogs might require a light leash correction. This type of evaluation is best left to professionals who will teach you how and when to use this method.
WARNINGS when using corrections:
- If you are heavy handed, you can actually train your dog to suppress these warning signals, and they will go-off without you seeing any preemptive signs.
- Sometimes prong collars, slip collars, and e-collars can overstimulate a dog and make them more aggressive or even redirect the aggression to their handler.
The second method often used for dog aggression is to redirect. Redirection is a form of classical conditioning or counter-conditioning. In this method, you are trying to get the dog to associate positive feelings with the presence of something that would normally make them act aggressively.
When redirecting, you want to first have a high value reward which is usually food (meat and or cheese.) Before the dog reacts to the stimulus, you redirect them to the treat. Next, you want to find the dog’s threshold. The threshold is the distance that your dog needs to keep before acting aggressively. Once at this threshold, you want the dog to be slightly distracted by the dog, animal, or person. however, they should still be accepting of your reward. Gradually, you want to start getting closer to these distractions. If the dog will not take the treat, you are too close. Take some steps back and start over.
This method requires you to really read your dog and the various situations that trigger the aggression. This way also tends to take a while before it can really be reliable. You have to stay very consistent and practice this anytime you see a dog, animal or person on your walks. This can be an unrealistic option for some people.
This is the last method we will cover, and unfortunately the one that’s usually overlooked. To really address this strategy, we have to look at the root of aggression. Most aggression comes from dogs being fearful or worried. With protection, we show our dogs that we have the situation under control and will protect them at all costs. This is also a form of classical conditioning. We teach the dog that they don’t have to react because we keep them out of situations that they feel the need to show aggression.
The first thing you need to do when protecting your dog is to get control of YOUR emotions. When you are worried, nervous, or scared that energy goes straight down the leash. You may unconsciously tighten up on the leash telling the dog that somethings wrong, so the dog goes… “Don’t worry, I got this!” and is up on its hinds bearing teeth. If you continue to reprimand your dog after he has complied, you can add stress and make the dog worried that the stimulus promotes your negative reaction too. Make sure you get control of your own emotions and learn to recognize compliance.
The next thing you want to do is position yourself and your dog in a way that you can see the stimulus, but it can’t reach you. If there’s a dog on a flexi-lead, then you need to go in the street, up a driveway, or across the street. Don’t allow that owner and dog to put you guys in a tight situation.
Third, you want want to be assertive with people. Don’t let people just come up and pet your dog, don’t let people just let their dog walk up on you and Fido. Tell them to put their dog on a leash… Tell them your dog is in training or that he’s not friendly. People are under the misconception that all dogs should be friends or friendly to people, and that’s just not true or fair.
This protection isn’t limited to outside. You need to protect your dog in your home as well. Give you dog a bed or “place” that is out of the way, but allows the dog to see what’s going on in the house. When your dog is in his place, no one is allowed to touch him or bother him… that means you too! If you want to play with the dog or pet him, call him to you and play someplace else. Once you start to control your dog’s environment, your dog will start to relax and feel less of a need to exhibit aggression.
In conclusion, keep in mind that often the expectations we have for dog aggression would be considered unrealistic and ridiculous for any other animal… including people. We want a dog that is void of aggression toward any other dog, animal, or person at any time for the entire life of the dog… really? Think about that… for the rest of your life you should never lose your temper, say something you regret to a person you care about, throw the finger in a fit of road rage, or yell at anyone, including your dog. Keep your expectations realistic with aggression. It takes time, and repetition, and it’s never fully cured, only managed. If you stick to a program, odds are you will be happy with the result. Happy training…
If your dog is exhibiting any aggression, feel free to contact us and we’ll help you find a qualified trainer in your area. firstname.lastname@example.org