Dog Training Tips:Treating Aggressive Behavior in Dogs

Aggressive behavior is a natural tendency in dogs but must be controlled for the safety of humans and other animals.

Dogs have a natural instinct for aggressive behavior. Growling, biting, snapping, nipping and lunging are normal dog behavior, but it is not acceptable for pets who are companion animals. The safety and of humans and other pets should have first priority, and dogs who exhibit aggression should be taught to behave appropriately.

Aggression is a common problem and the first step toward solving the problem is to consult your veterinarian. Pain or other underlying physical conditions may cause a usually docile dog to snap or bite. A dog who has a sore limb due to arthritis might snarl at a child who inadvertently causes pain. Hypothyroidism, a low level of the thyroid hormone, can cause a dog to become anxious. Medical treatment may alleviate the condition and return the dog to his mellow self. If medical problems are ruled out the vet may refer you to a behaviorist who will evaluate your dog's behavior and develop a plan to moderate the behavior.

There are many reasons a dog may become aggressive. Some breeds are genetically predisposed for aggressive behavior. Early life experiences, hormonal surges, gender, physiological state, and external stimuli can all play a role in creating an aggressive personality. Unfortunately some owners actually encourage aggressive behavior in their dogs, perhaps to compensate for their own inadequacies.

The owner should keep a journal of the dog's behavior when he shows aggression. Knowing what appears to cause the behavior, how often it occurs, who the behavior is directed toward and the specific behavior (growling, biting, snapping) will help the behaviorist determine the dog's motivation and pattern of behavior. Videotaping the incidents may be helpful. Many dogs who aggressively protect their territory may not exhibit such behavior at the vet's office or when with the behaviorist.

Dominance-related aggression is the most common type. Dogs are pack animals, and they are not democratic! Dogs have their own social rules and established hierarchy within the pack. Household dogs consider the family their pack and may direct their aggression toward family members and other pets. Dogs usually accept adults as their pack leader but may consider children "litter mates" and try to dominate them.

Owning two or more dogs who are similar in breed, age, size, and gender (such as brothers from the same litter) can cause aggression that is similar to "sibling rivalry." Competing for attention and their place in the family "pack" can cause them to fight among themselves.

Adult males in the same household will often fight for dominance or territory, but two females may fight as well. Dogs of opposite gender will get along much better in the same household. It may be necessary to keep same-sex dogs separated. Owners may unwittingly add to the problem by coming to the defense of the subordinate dog. This encourages the subordinate dog to be bold enough to challenge the alpha dog. Support the alpha dog's position in the "pack" by feeding him first, greeting him first, or letting him out the door first. This isn't our human idea of "fairness" but it is one dogs will understand.

In multiple dog households, feed dogs separately if they tend to fight over food. Never step in to separate dogs who are fighting. Distract them with a loud noise, a spray of water, or a blanket thrown over them. Exert your authority as leader of the pack and calmly but firmly intervene when you can tell a fight is about to start. Give them the message, as you would your own children, that you don't care who started it, just knock it off!

Territorial aggression is directed toward people or animals who are not part of the family. Dogs have a natural instinct to protect their territory, owners, and family members. Many people own dogs for the security and protection they offer, but overly aggressive dogs may harm visitors or prevent emergency medical personnel from administering aid not to mention the scare they can give the poor mailman! Prevent such territorial behavior by properly socializing your new puppy so he doesn't view strangers and other animals as a threat.

Aggression may also be fear-induced. Some dogs are just naturally more anxious and jumpy. Loud noises and noisy, active children may upset them. Fearful dogs may also be created by owners who treat them harshly, physically punish them, crate them inappropriately, or by other adverse life experiences. When approached a fearful dog will fold his ears back, tuck his tail, and try to escape. If escape isn't possible (being chained up or cornered) he is very likely to bite.

Fearful dogs may be treated with anti anxiety medication or desensitization therapy. A dog who is afraid of strangers may be taken out to the park on a leash on several occasions. Gradually bring the dog closer to strangers, but never close enough to cause an extreme reaction. Don't reassure the dog when he acts fearful; this only reinforces the behavior. Ignore such behavior and praise him when he acts with confidence.

Maternal aggression occurs when the litter of a mother dog is approached. This is an understandable protective instinct and doesn't necessarily need treatment, unless the mother is overly aggressive. She's doing what nature intends by protecting her young. Teach the kids to respect this maternal instinct and leave those cute puppies alone!

Females experiencing false pregnancy may also become snappish. In the case of aggression caused by hormonal surges, spaying or neutering may reduce the problem.

Aggression may be redirected from one source to another. A dominant dog who is barking out the window at a cat in the yard and is pulled away by the owner may direct his aggression at another dog in the household.

Take steps to ensure the safety of your family, friends and visitors until you are able to get treatment for your dog. A comfortable basket-style muzzle that allows the dog to drink and eat but not bite may be necessary. Never allow children to be with the dog without supervision, or keep the dog in a separate room. Teach children to treat dogs with respect, to never tease or hurt them, and to leave dogs alone when they are eating, sleeping, or chewing on a bone or toy.

Keep the dog on a leash at all times. In the house the dog should wear a buckle collar with a thin nylon lead attached that the dog can drag around. This will give you a measure of control without handling the dog and risking your own safety. A head collar will give even better control. Do not physically punish a dog at any time. This creates a fearful dog who mistrusts humans and worsens the aggressive behavior.

Recognize situations that create aggression and when you feel such a situation may arise interrupt with a distraction such as an incompatible command ("down-stay"), play time, or a food treat. Adequate exercise and obedience training can help control a dog's natural tendency toward aggressive behavior.

Treatment and behavior therapy may reduce the severity and frequency of the aggressive behavior but will probably not eliminate it altogether. The behavior may seem to be modified and then return. The owner must consider the safety of himself, his family, other pets and people the dog may encounter. Dogs who pose a serious threat to the safety of others may need to be put down.

- By J. E. Davidson

16 comments:

Tina Scott said...

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Emma Towner said...

I'm not sure what to do. My partner has a dog who is very spoilt probably too spoilt but the problem is when people come over he gets very angry and has now bitten 3people he will growl and circle them and does not listen when u tell him to stop he might come when yelled at but will return circling them after a Min or so I'm not sure how to stop this we started putting him in the room for a few mins coz he loves being with us so try to send the message if he wants to be out here with us he has to be good but not sure if he understands that and I want to fix the problem from the start and be able to have people inside without him carrying on and without having to put him on the room

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Zach Thalman said...

I think it would be a very good idea to treat the aggressive behavior in your dog as quickly as possible. I would believe that this would be hard to do because like stated above, the aggression is mainly to show dominance. With those dogs, you would have to show your dominance to them for them to essentially stop. I think that it all has to do with how they were treated when they were little as well because if you baby a dog long enough, they still think they are puppies and act like them.

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Sylvia Sanderson said...

I've been looking for ways to make my puppy behave. She has been so wild, but the biggest thing is the potty training. I also want her to know that she can't run out in the street. She needs consequences to learn or some other pet therapy.
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rodgerssteph6 said...

I didn't know that owning dogs from the same litter could cause aggression. My friend has two dogs that are brothers that came from the same litter. It makes sense now why they a aggressive towards each other. They are both trying to be the dominate dog. http://animaldoctorsvetclinic.com/

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Romilda Gareth said...

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