Aggression in Dogs

Canine aggression will always be an interesting topic discussed among dog lovers.  We know conflicts are normal and it is our job as humans to teach young children how to cope or resolve conflicts with other children and adults.

We humans are taught to resolve conflict by using our words at a young age, often through examples by our parents, teachers and grandparents.  Yet, many teenagers and adults have difficulty coping with conflict and may find themselves in a yelling or physical situation.  Having someone who loves them and are willing to help them change their behavior in very small steps is a blessing and a must for them to be successful.

If you find yourself the owner of a dog showing aggression, take a deep breath and first realize that changing behavior is difficult and will take time.  Many animals use whatever defensive mechanisms they have  to scare threatening intruders or scary stimuli away as a mechanism to feel safe.  Cows may only be able to kick at their aggressor, chickens may claw and use their beaks to peck or bite a scary stimuli.  Cats are known for their hissing, arched back and fast clawing as a way to say “back off.”

Our furry canine friends also use what works for them which is often rapid barking, growling, show of teeth, lunging or snapping to scare off anything that they are afraid of.  If your dog is getting into scuffles at a park or daycare, please do not take him there anymore.  Aggression is a defensive mechanism that dogs will use to keep themselves safe or gain resources.  If your dog learns that aggression works, then he will continue to use it and even get good at it.

Now, avoid putting your dog in situations where he is showing even the smallest amount of aggression as you want to change this behavior right?  Then eliminate the possibility of practicing an unwanted behavior.

  • Make a list of the triggers that set him off, even those that put him into a heightened arousal or anxious state.  
  • Make a list of the alternative behavior you prefer your dog do.
  • Start slow and set your dog up for success.  For example if your dog barks at kids 20 feet away, then keep him 60 feet away for now.
  • Know what motivates your dog and be GENEROUS with the reward when he offers the alternative behavior.
This is just the beginning, breathe, really take a big breath as your tension is not helpful to your dog in any way while helping him feel safer.  Make your plan and remember your entire day is a series of habits or sequences of behavior just like your dog.  So, your plan should set your dog up for success just for today as we will be taking this one day at a time.  Stay tuned for more tips on changing your dogs behavior.