Dealing With Dog Aggression And Aggressive Dogs

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Recognizing and preventing dog aggression is important. The lack of prevention is one of the main causes aggressive, dangerous dogs are euthanized.

If a dog is born aggressive, if the dog aggression is in his genes for some reason, there is no trainer or obedience school on earth that can change that dog to the point the he can be 100% trusted to never bite. Also, once an aggressive dog has been taught to fight, and has actually fought in a ring, that dog must be euthanized. Period.

Dogs in the wild are aggressive by instinct. They have to be to survive. Aggression is necessary to hunt for food, to defend themselves against natural prey and to defend their space when sleeping and with a mate. As far as humans are concerned, any aggressive dogs are dangerous dogs.

Selective breeding over the centuries has minimized this aggressive dog trait quite a bit. However, dogs are still capable of inflicting serious damage. That’s how they have managed to survive and evolve.

There is a lot we humans can do to prevent dangerous dogs.

Different types of dog aggression:

  • Aggression towards strangers.

  • Aggression towards family members.

  • Resource Guarding…(Food bowl and toy aggression.)

  • Aggression toward other dogs

  • Fear biting. Commonly shy or abused dogs.

What is it?

It’s not hard to tell when a dangerous dog is tense around strange people. He’s jumpy, on alert and either he can’t sit still and jumping at every noise or he’s pacing around and barking.

On the other hand, he may be VERY still, like a rock, in one place, starring hard at the object or visitor or someone approaching him while he’s tied up outside. This deadly, motionless stare by a dangerous dog is highly intimidating and dog aggression at it's worst.

Why does this happen?

There’s one main reason why a dog doesn’t like strange people. The dog has never had the chance to get used to them. Remember, your dog relies 100% on YOU to broaden his horizons for him. You need to take your dog out into the world and let him see other people and other dogs so he can realize for himself through constant positive experiences that the unknown doesn’t mean bad news for him.

A little Chihuahua is
angry, probably about wearing a dress!

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What can I do about it?

The process of accustoming your dog to the world and all the strange people and dogs that it contains is known as socialization.

This is incredibly important to your dog’s upbringing. In fact, the importance can’t be overemphasized. We humans can go a long way toward preventing dog aggression and dangerous dogs. Yes, some dogs are born aggressive, but too often, the dog aggression comes from plain lack of socialization.

Socializing your dog means exposing him from a young age, generally as soon as he’s had his vaccinations, to a wide variety of new experiences, new people and new animals, from cats to iguanas. Otherwise, how can the dog be expected to be relaxed in unfamiliar situations as he grows older?

Don’t keep your dog closed up in a crate when company comes over to visit. Let the puppy or adult dog be a part of the activities. Dogs need to socialize just like people… maybe even more so.

This dog needs a lot of work on
his aggression problem. Under all this
he's probably a very sweet pooch.

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A well socialized dog is a joy to own. This retriever is happy with
himself and his surroundings, content, sociable, friendly and content.

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Caution When Approaching Strange Dogs

How does socialization prevent “stranger” dog aggression?

When you socialize your dog, you are getting him to learn through experience that new sights and sounds are FUN. not scary. It’s not enough to expose an adult dog to a crowd of unfamiliar people and tell him to “settle down, it’s OK” — he has to learn that it’s okay for himself. HE NEEDS TO DO IT FROM PUPPYHOOD! for the experience to sink in.

The more types of people the 8 week old puppy meets (babies, toddlers, teenagers, seniors, men, women, people in uniform, people in motorcycle helmets, people with umbrellas, people in bathing suits, garage mechanics carrying big tools, mailmen in uniform and so on) in FUN and RELAXED context, the more at ease and happy, and safe around strangers he will be in general when he grows up.

This is true of any breed or size of dog.

This dog enjoys the kitten and his owner. They are "family" and
the dog's excellent past socialization allows him to be a welcome member.

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  • If you have a vet that offers a puppy preschool class / clinic, or any local organization that offers such a thing, that’s a good place to start.

  • A preschool gathers a number of “parents” with their puppies in one room. There is time for the puppies to play off leash.

  • This gives your puppy a chance to interact with maybe 10 or so strange puppies and that many strange adults all at once. These places are run by several (or more) dog trainers so you get some one-on-one help too.

  • The puppy begins to learn basic obedience commands while at the same time he is learning good social skills. This in an ideal environment and the puppies learn there is nothing to be afraid of.

  • If a puppy is socialized right and goes through pre-school, her chances of showing dog aggression will be almost zero!

Man at left is socializing his puppy by introducing it to other
people, young children and other dogs in a NEUTRAL area such as a park.

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Socialization doesn’t stop with puppy preschool. It is an ongoing effort throughout the life of your puppy and dog. He needs to be taken to lots and lots of new places and environments. Most dog aggression does not need to happen.

Don’t overwhelm the dog. Start off slowly and build up her tolerance. If she seems nervous or like she’s getting too much, back off a little and give her some room to grow.

Even this tiny Pomeranian
can show serious dog aggression!

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Dog aggression towards family members

There are two common reasons why dog aggression toward members of his own family happens:

  • He’s trying to defend something he thinks of as his from a perceived threat (you)

    This is known as resource guarding. It may sound innocuous, there’s actually a lot more going on here than your dog is simply trying to keep his kibble to himself and this is a form of dog aggression and is a sign of potentially dangerous dogs.

  • He’s not comfortable with the treatment / handling he’s getting from you or members of the family.

    What is resource guarding?

    Resource guarding is pretty common among dogs. The term refers to overly-possessive behavior on behalf of your dog. For instance, snarling at you if you approach him while he’s eating, or giving you “the eye” (a direct stare) if you reach your hand out to take a toy away from him.

    Visit our page Dog Food Aggression for a look at another form of resource guarding.

    Some dogs can be possessive from time to time. Sometimes they are possessive over things of no conceivable value like inedible trash, balled up pieces of tissue or old socks.

    These are aggressive, dangerous dogs that need immediate attention!

    This Beagle doesn't try to guard his food.
    Eating with other animals and people around is okay for him.

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    Why does it happen?

    It all boils down to the issue of dominance.

    Let me explain the concept of dogs in animal “packs” because it is important in understanding this issue.

    Dogs are used to a very structured environment in a dog pack. Each animal is ranked in a hierarchy of position and power or dominance in relation to every other animal.

    Each animal is aware of the rank of every other animal, which means he knows specifically how to act in any given situation (whether to back down or to push the issue, whether to muscle in or not... on somebody else’s turf, etc.)

    To your dog, the family environment is no different to the dog than a dog-pack environment. Your dog has ranked each member of the family, and has his OWN perception of where HE ranks in your environment.

    This Labrador Retriever is very dominant and this is what results. He'll fight with dogs, people, anything to prove he is "boss!"
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    This is where it gets interesting. If your dog perceives himself as higher up on the social totem-pole than other family members, he’s going to get cheeky. If he’s really got an overinflated sense of his own importance, he’ll START TO ACT AGGRESSIVELY. He becomes aggressive to let you know he's in charge.

    WHY? Because dominance and AGGRESSION are the exclusive rights of a superior-ranked animal. No underdog would ever show aggression or act dominantly to a higher ranked animal. The consequences would be severe. This is where you get dog aggression.

    Resource guarding is a classic example of dominant behavior. It's dog aggression. Only a higher-ranked dog, dominant dog, would act aggressively to defend his resources such as food and toys.

    If it was clear to your dog that he was NOT, in fact, the leader of the family, he would never think of trying to prevent you from taking or moving his food or toys. Lower ranking dogs will go along with whatever their masters want. Dog aggression doesn't exist at the bottom of the pack and only dangerous dogs exist at the top of the pack.

    What can I do?

  • The aggressive dog must be shown that he is not “top dog” in the house.

  • He must learn that a dangerous dog, that dog aggression, or anything showing aggressive dog behavior will not be tolerated.

  • The best treatment for aggressive behavior is consistent obedience work. Fifteen minutes twice a day is enough to teach the dog that YOU are in control.

  • Reward your dog with a treat and lavish praise for obeying a command.

  • Isolate him (outside or in a room) in “time outs” for misbehaving.

  • Keep giving the dog commands, especially “down-stay.” Don’t forget the praise!

    Please visit our page: “Become An Alpha Dog.”

    Why doesn’t my dog like to be handled?

    Dogs have different handling “thresholds.” Some dogs like lots of cuddling and are content to be hugged, kissed and have arms slung over their shoulders. (this is the “I’m the boss” gesture to a dog which is why a lot of them won’t tolerate it.)

    Others, the ones not accustomed to a lot of physical contact from a very young age, are not comfortable with too much full body contact and will get upset if someone persists in trying to hug them. These are the candidates for dog aggression. There is no room for aggressive dogs in our households.

    Some dogs won't tolerate hugging with arms and hands around the neck,
    head or body. A well socialized, well balanced dog like this one
    enjoy the attention of hugging and kissing.

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    It all starts in puppyhood. That’s the importance of physically handling puppies. They need to get used to humans handling them. They need to realize that humans do not mean harm and that handling is good fun, not something harmful.

    Another common cause of handling-induced dog aggression is a bad grooming experience. Nail clipping and bathing are the two main culprits.

    When you clip a dog’s mails, it's very easy to “quick” him — that is, cut the blood vessel that runs in the center of the nail. This is very painful to the dog, and a sure fire way to cause a long-lasting aversion to those clippers.

    Along with the grooming is washing. Some dogs just don't like to be washed. The tendency by dog owners is to restrain the dog in whatever manner causing even more panic on the dog’s part.

    The dog decides this washing thing is something to be avoided at any cost so the snarling and growling start and the bare teeth come out. Not a good experience for either of you.

    Can I train my dog to enjoy being groomed?

    Yes, but it is much easier if you start when the dog is a puppy. Handling and rubbing a puppy all over as much as possible is so important.

    This Tibetan Terrier is content with grooming.
    No dog aggression or upsets here! He's well adjusted.

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    Young dogs love to be touched and handled. It’s the older ones who haven't had much physical contact in their lives that find physical affection and handling difficult to deal with.

    For the puppy, practice picking up his paws and touching them with the clippers. Take her in the bath or under the faucet for brief spells, long enough for her to see the water isn’t going to harm her.

    Use warm water when you can; it’s a better experience for the puppy. Give her plenty of praise while this is going on. She will grow up liking water and baths!

    Older dogs may have already had unpleasant experiences with grooming and might be a bit more difficult. Take your time and keep the dog calm. If she starts to show stress, stop immediately and let her relax. Give her a little water at a time until she gets the idea water is not going to hurt her. (Somewhere along the line she has had bad experiences with baths and water and maybe grooming.)

    Give her a lot of physical touching, but back off when she starts to tense up. If this is a big dog, or especially aggressive, you might want to muzzle her first.

    The idea is that she has got to learn that grooming and water are NOT going to harm her. Give lots of praise, petting and treats to get her through this training.

    WARNING: Dogs become aggressive for a reason. They are warning you to back off or else! If your dog can’t seem to accept being groomed, no matter how much praise you put in, it’s best to hand the job over to professionals. Dangerous dogs are not to be fooled with.

    Either your vet or groomer will clip your dog’s nails. Be SURE to tell them first that dog aggression exists when the clippers come out so they can take the necessary precautions against a potentially dangerous dog.

    Dog-grooming (including washing) is a big industry and is done by professional dog groomers. The fee for an average small size dog is around $40—$45 for bath and all. Grooming should be done every 6 to 8 weeks for most breeds.

    From Dog Aggression Back To Dog Behavior Training