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List: Posted: 10/13/11
Do you get nervous when you spot someone walking their dog on the same side of the street as you and your dog? Do you cross to the other side? Do you avoid dog parks? If you said yes, or flinched, or found yourself nodding while reading those questions, then you may have a dog aggression issue.
From genetics, to environment, to a traumatic event, dog aggression can exist for a plethora of reasons.
How Do I Get To the Root of My Dog's Aggression?
Ask yourself these questions: When does my dog show aggression? What is the other dog doing? What am I doing? What is your dog’s posture? Is there a pattern? Ask yourself too: is your dog a rescue and possibly traumatized from past experiences? If not a rescue, did your dog experience something that might create or encourage dog aggression?
More importantly – did you, or do you, behave in such a way that rewards or reinforces this behavior? Such as trying to comfort them, or petting them, or coddling in any way?
Careful observation may help you to spy triggers. Paying attention to your dog’s body language - that is how they communicate, and it can tell you what’s going on. There are several books that have diagrams pointing out what postures means, from tip to tail, to position of ears, or you can Google 'Dog body language' on the internet to see photos and videos. Study them well, for you must learn to better read your dog's body language before you can help him or her.
How Am I Going to Solve This Problem?
The good news is these issues, even some of the worst, are almost always fixable. There is always a reason for your dog’s behavior.
If your dog has extreme dog aggression, to the point of biting or previous violent episodes, my advice is to get help from a dog trainer or dog behaviorist with experience concerning extreme cases. Avoid ‘old world’ trainers who believe in punishment. Punishment solves nothing and truly only frightens and scares your dog, likely exacerbating the problem in the end. Punishment training also negatively affects your relationship with your best pal.
If a professional dog trainer is too far beyond your budget, then your best option is to learn dog body language and what posture mean, so you can nip threatening and attack behavior in the bud. Sometimes trainers and behaviorists can be contacted by email, and may be receptive to helping that way, or can at least point you in the right direction. I’ve found there are some knowledgeable people attached to pet rescues and shelters as well who you can ask to speak to.
Here are a few good books to get you started:
- Aggression in Dogs, Practical Management, Prevention, and Behavior Modification, by Brenda Aloff
- The Dogs Mind, By Bruce Fogle DVM
- Scaredy Dog! Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog, Ali Brown M. Ed. CPDT
Is There Anything I Can Do at Home to Help?
Yes! Dog aggression exists for three reasons: Fear, insecurity, dominance, and genetics. However, if a dog can trust that you are the leader, and believes that you will keep him safe, his aggression may be easier to address. Not to mention that giving your dog ground rules, routine, and consistency in his or her life, will help set a basis for obedience, security, and structure. Dogs need rules and security as much as children do.
Setting Up Rules for a Dominant Dog
For strong willed (or dominant) dogs that may be prone to aggression, you must be absolutely consistent in your routine and structure of his or her world. The house is YOURS, YOU control the food, YOU always win at tug, and YOU dictate where and when it’s time to sleep for the night. YOU allow or disallow marking outside. YOU control where they go pee and poop. The furniture is YOURS, no dogs allowed. Your bed is YOURS, no dogs allowed. The kitchen is YOURS, no dogs allowed. They sleep in their bed and not on yours. And so on. Be firm on walks, and until you have excellent control over the situation, never let your dog off leash, even if there are no other dogs around.
Who is to Blame if My Dog Gets in a Fight?
If your dog is ON leash, and another dog provokes him in to a fight, or in general just stirs him up, the guardians of the off-leash dog are the liable ones.
If your dog does physical damage to another dog, and your dog WASN'T on leash, you are 100% legally liable for any vet bills, possible fines, and strikes against your dog - which could include euthanasia. If you have an aggressive dog, keep him or her on leash or fenced in, at ALL times, for your sake and his. No "ifs" or "buts!"
It is also a good idea to warn other dog walkers that your dog is aggressive, and a slow introduction or no introduction is best. No matter how they take the news and say they once had a dog just like yours and would love to pet him, you have that right to keep yourself, and your dog, safe.
How to Regain Control of an Aggressive Dog
Many people, without understanding or realizing it, give their dogs the reins. Some dogs manage this well and it doesn’t become a problem, depending on the household. For most dogs, 'leading the pack' is not a comfortable situation, especially if they are not naturally dominant. It is a stressful position to hold, for anyone, but for a dog in a human society, even more so, which could lead to nervous or hysterical aggression.
Whichever way your dog aggression problem runs, the issue will take time, patience, consistency, and knowledge to work out. Don’t give up on you or your dog. There is help out there if you need it.
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