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

Dog Training Tips and Tricks - Recall Training Your Dog

This article gives you tips, tricks and sound advice on recalling training your dog.

Do you have to keep an eagle eye on Buddy when you’re bringing in the groceries or answer a knock on your door? Is he just itching to make a mad dash for the great outdoors whenever the door is opened? If he makes his escape, does he fail to come back when called? If so, don’t despair, Buddy needs recall training.

Having a dog that comes the first time you call him is a rare thing. More often, it is the product of a grueling training schedule; repetition, rewards; repetition rewards. You probably know the scenario by now. If not, you have a lot to learn.

Before you throw your hands up in defeat and make Buddy wear his leash both indoors and out, or risk losing him to the dangers of the street, consider recall training.

Recall training has two basic concepts. The first is to treat your dog well each time he comes to you. Be it a kind word, a pat on the head, or a scratch behind the ears, Buddy will relish the affection you show him.

The second concept takes much more effort. Purchase a line that measures ten to twenty feet. Clip it onto Buddy’s collar and take him to the park or into the yard. Then, start training.

The line allows Buddy to put some distance between you. When Buddy has ventured almost to the end of his line, call him. A simple, “Buddy come,” will suffice. Be sure to have lots of treats in your pocket just in case he shocks you and comes immediately. If he does come, give him a treat. The worst scenario is that you will have to reel in the line to make him come. With this method, Buddy is responsible for his own behavior, but you still have control over the situation if he doesn’t obey.

If Buddy sits perfectly still when you give the “come” command, or watches birds and squirrels playing in a nearby tree, he hasn’t obeyed. Either reel him in, or go and get him and bring him to the spot where you gave the command. If this is the case, Buddy gets no reward, but no punishment either. Down play the incident and try again later.

The next time you try recall training, follow the same agenda. Never repeat the “come” command. Buddy should come the first time he’s called. If not, reel him in or go and get him and take him to where you gave the command. Down play the incident and try again later. Do this again and again and… well, you get the picture. Repetition is the name of the game. The process is long. It may take a week, a month, a year or more of constant recall training before Buddy gets it right and comes on your first command every time. But…diligence pays off and in time when you say, “come,” Buddy will obey.

In the meantime recall training will have its ups and downs. There will be times when Buddy will come. When this happens, give him a treat, rub his head, and scratch his ears and say, “good boy,” or some thing similar. Whatever else you do, reward his obedience immediately. He’ll soon get the message that obedience reaps rewards and affection.

Above all, never scream, yell, or hit Buddy if he doesn’t obey. If you do, it will set your training efforts back to day one. Buddy will fear you and instead of coming on command, he will put more distance between the two of you. When he doesn’t obey simply go to him, grasp his collar and gently take him to where you gave the command. This lets him know you are ready to enforce your commands and that he has no choice but to obey.

If you run into problems and Buddy just won’t obey, seek the services of a professional dog trainer. It may cost a bit, but a professional will be able to point out where you’re going wrong. It’s well worth the expense to know that Buddy will respond to your commands. This ensures that he will always be safe, so you can enjoy each others company for many years to come.

Dog Care - Who Does Your Dog Think He Is?

A tongue-in-cheek discussion of having and understanding a dog

Some dog owners insist that their dogs think they're people. There really could be something to this. When we think that dogs are chasing cars, maybe they're actually chasing ambulances because they think they're lawyers. We've always discouraged dogs from car chasing. Lately, this has become more important than ever with the possibility of your dog catching a Smart car. Obviously, the worst case scenario would be your dog catching a Smart car driven by a lawyer.

Hopefully, you don't live next door to a toy poodle who thinks he's Pavarotti. If people want a pet with a voice that high, why not just get a bird? As a rule of thumb a dog's too small if he has to stand on a phone book to drink from a toilet. Small dogs in posh neighborhoods are so stuck up they'll only drink from a toilet if there's no bidet. If you happen to meet such a dog on the street, be polite. Resist the temptation to ask if he's afraid of real dogs. On the other hand, the advantage of toy poodles is that they can be caught with Velcro.

Maybe the dog's “finding himself” because he's still a puppy. By the way, if you'll be house-training him with newspaper, don't forget to clip the coupons first. Some puppies become paper trained very quickly. The real challenge is grasping the difference between newspaper and wallpaper.

Pet dentistry is getting very popular. It may be hard to take it seriously if you're still trying to get your kids to brush after meals, but your vet will expect you to brush your dog's teeth. Couldn't somebody just invent a fluoride Frisbee?

Regardless of who your dog thinks he is, you'll probably want to train him. If you're teaching him to catch, you may want to start with pieces of liver. Some people can put a biscuit on their dog's nose, and the dog won't take it till the owner gives a spoken signal. Initially, this works better if the dog's sleeping. Dogs can also be taught conditioned response. At the sound of a bell, they salivate. At the sound of a bath running, they actually spit. Most dogs have the ability to eat on command, which is not great if that's all there is to show from the $200 spent at obedience school. But it's worth some effort, because a smart dog will bring you a paper every day. A really smart dog will get it from next door.

Dogs will definitely learn, though. When a dog wants to go for a walk, he gets his leash. When he wants to eat, he lights the barbecue. Dogs like people food, but it shouldn't become a habit. If you're a good cook, your dog will beg. If you're a bad cook he'll beg, specifically to go for a walk. You know you burned a burger badly when you drop it on patio stones and the dog puts it back on your plate with his paws.

There may come a time when you decide on some family planning for your canine Casanova. Unless your dog's a part of a controlled breeding environment, you'll probably want to get him neutered. Dogs seem to be able to understand a great deal of what we say, so if you're in front of him, don't refer to him as being “fixed.” After all from his point of view, he was never “broken.” If you want to be sensitive to his condition, you could refer to his surgical alteration as his “vasectomy.”

People who love their dogs demonstrate it by buying toys, clothes and specialty food for them. But know when to draw the line. Love your dog, but don't throw him birthday parties. He'll just think you're a jerk for only remembering every seventh one.