Recognizing, preventing, and handling dog aggression
A dog is by nature an aggressive animal. By learning to understand your dogs behavior and nature, it is possible to prevent and handle dog aggression. In the wild, aggressive behavior is needed for survival. Dogs need to be aggressive to hunt, defend themselves from other creatures, and to protect what belongs to them such as food, a place to sleep, and a mate. Selective breeding over the centuries has significantly reduced and refined this aggressive nature. However, be aware that dogs are endowed with instincts, teeth and physical prowess capable of inflicting serious harm. These traits have enabled them to evolve and survive over time.
Nature over nurture
It is not easy to overcome the power of instincts, but that doesn’t mean that we, dog lovers and owners, are totally helpless when it comes to handling and managing our dogs. We can do much to prevent our dog’s aggressive behavior from manifesting itself. There are steps that we can take to learn to recognize, prevent and handle our dog’s aggressive behavior.
Types of aggressive behavior
There are several different types of canine aggression. The two most common ones are:
* Aggression towards those unfamiliar to the dog/strangers
* Aggression towards members of the dog lover’s or owner’s family
You may be wondering why we’re bothering categorizing these behaviors: after all, aggression is aggression, and we want to control it or remove it, and not waste time with such details – right? Well … not quite. These two different types of aggressive behaviors are due to different causes, and thus needs to be given different types of treatment.
Aggression towards those unfamiliar to the dog/strangers
What is this behavior like? It’s quite easy to see when a dog’s anxious around strange people. He’s jumpy and on the alert: he is unable to sit still and is constantly fidgeting, leaping at the smallest sound, and pacing around barking and whining; or he keeps very quiet and still, like a rock sitting steady in one place, focusing intently on the object of his suspicions, such as an unfamiliar visitor, and the delivery man.
What causes such behavior to happen?
There’s one major reason why a dog doesn’t like strange or unfamiliar people: he’s never had the chance to get to know them. Remember, your dog depends 100% on you to expand his horizons for him: without being taken on many outings to see the world and realize for himself, through consistent and positive experiences, that the unknown doesn’t necessarily equal a threat or bad outcomes for him, how can he be expected to relax in unfamiliar situations?
How can I help the situation?
Socialization is the process of accustoming your dog to the outside world and all the strange people (and animals) that it contains. This is an exceptionally crucial aspect of your pet dog’s training: in fact, it’s pretty hard to overemphasize just how crucial it is. Socializing your dog means exposing him from a young age (generally speaking, as soon as he’s had his vaccinations) to a wide variety of new circumstances, new environments, new people, as well as new pets and other animals.
How does socialization help control stranger aggression?
When you socialize your dog, you are teaching him to learn through experience that new sights and sounds are enjoyable and can be fun, not a threat nor to be feared. It is not enough to expose an adult dog to a crowd of stangers and to tell him to “Settle down, Maxine, it’s OK” – he has to learn through his own experiences that it’s OK, that there is no danger to be concerned about. And he needs to do it from puppyhood for the lessons to be etched in his memory. The more types of people, animals and creatures he meets (babies, toddlers, teenagers, old people, men, women, people wearing uniforms, people wearing motorcycle helmets, people carrying umbrellas, et cetera) in a fun and relaxed context, the more at ease and happy, and safe around strangers he will be in general.
How can I socialize my dog to remove his fear of strangers?
Socializing your dog is more of a general effort than a specific training regimen, and it is easy to accomplish. It would be good to take him to puppy preschool. This is a common term for a collection of simple group-training courses for young puppies (often done at the veterinarian center, which has the additional benefit of educating your dog to have positive associations with the veterinarian!).
In a puppy preschool class, about ten or so puppy owners get together with a qualified trainer (often there’ll be at least two trainers present – the more there are, the better, since it means you get more individual time with a professional) and start teaching their puppies the basic obedience commands: sit, stay, and so on. Even though the obedience training is very valuable and a wonderful way to start your puppy off to becoming a trustworthy grown-up pet dog, truly the very best part of puppy preschool is the play sessions. The puppies are encouraged to run around freely, off-leash, and play amongst themselves several times throughout the classs.
This is an ideal environment for them to learn good social skills: there’s a whole bunch of unfamiliar dogs present (which teaches them how to interact with strange dogs), there’s a whole bunch of unfamiliar people present (which teaches them that new faces are nothing to fear), and the environment is safe and controlled (there’s at least one certified trainer present to make sure that things do not get out of control).
It is important to note that socialization does not just stop with puppy preschool, though. It is an ongoing effort throughout the life of your puppy and dog: he needs to be exposed to a variety of new places and surroundings and to continue to experience new situations. It is also important not to overwhelm him. As such this process needs to take place gradually. And his tolerance to such varied exposures will become evident over time.
Aggression towards members of the dog lover’s or owner’s family
There are two common reasons why a dog exhibits aggressive behavior towards members of his own human family
• He’s trying to defend something he thinks of as a perceived threat (you). This is known as resource guarding, and though it may sound harmless, there’s actually a lot more going on here than your dog simply trying to keep his kibble to himself.
• He’s not at ease with the treatment/handling he’s getting from you or other members of the family.
Definition of resource guarding
Resource guarding is common among dogs. The term refers to overly-possessive behavior of your dog. Examples include snarling at you if you approach him when he’s eating, or giving you “the eye” (a flinty-eyed, direct stare) if you reach out to take a toy away from him.
It is in their nature for dogs to be possessive from time to time. Sometimes they are possessive over things with no conceivable value to us humans and includes items such as inedible trash, balled up pieces of paper or tissue, old socks. More frequently, however, resource-guarding becomes an issue over items of real and understandable value: food and toys.
Why does aggression towards the human family happen?
It all comes down to the issue of dominance. Dogs are pack animals, and hence they are used to a very structured environment. In a dog-pack, each member is ranked in a hierarchy of position and power (or “dominance”) in relation to every other dog in the pack. Each dog is aware of the rank of every other. This means he knows specifically how to act in any given situation (whether to back down, whether to push the issue, whether to muscle in or not on somebody else’s turf, et cetera et cetera). To your dog, the family environment is no different than the hierarchy existing within a dog-pack environment.
Your dog has ranked each member of the human family, and has his own perception of where he ranks in this family as well. 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 really has an overinflated sense of his own importance, he’ll start to act aggressively. Why? Because dominance and aggression are the exclusive rights of a superior-ranked animal.
No underdog would ever show aggressive behavior or act dominantly to a higher-ranked animal (the consequences would be severe, and he knows it!) Resource guarding is a classic example of dominant behavior: only a higher-ranked dog (a “dominant” dog) would act aggressively in defense of resources. To put it plainly: if it your dg understands clearly that he is not in fact, the leader of the family, he would never even conceive of trying to prevent you from taking his food or toys. This is because a lower-ranking dog (him) will always go along with what the higher-ranking dogs (you and your family) say.
How to control aggressive dominant behavior?
Consistent, frequent obedience work, which will underline your authority over your dog is the best treatment for dominant, aggressive behavior. It is important to make it clear to your dog that you are the leader. This can be done in just two 15 minute sessions a day. This is sufficient time to make it perfectly clear to your dog that you are in charge, and that it pays to do what you say. You can make this fact clear to him by rewarding him (with treats and lavish praise) for obeying a command, and isolating him (putting him in “time-out”, either outside the house or in a room by himself) for misbehavior.
• If you are not entirely confident doing this yourself, you may wish to consider enlisting the assistance of a qualified dog-trainer.
• Brush up on your understanding of dog psychology and communication. This will help you understand what he’s trying to say and allows you to cut any emerging aggressive behavior in the bud, and to communicate your own authority over your dog more effectively.
• Train your dog regularly. Keep obedience sessions short and productive (no more than 15 minutes – maybe two or three of these per day).
Why does my dog not like to be handled?
All dogs have different handling thresholds. Some dogs like lots of cuddles, and are perfectly satisfied to be hugged, kissed, and have arms slung over their shoulders, which is the ultimate “I’m the boss” gesture to a dog. This explains why many dogs will not allow it.) Others, usually those who are not familiar with a great deal of physical contact from a very young age, will not be comfortable with too much full-body contact. They will get anxious and irritated if someone insists on trying to hug them.
A bad grooming experience is another common cause of handling-induced aggression. Examples include nail-clipping and bathing. When clipping a dog’s nails, it is very easy to “quick” him – that is, cut the blood vessel that runs inside the nail. The dog experience extreme pain when this happens. This is one definite way to cause a long-lasting aversion to those clippers. Being washed is another thing that many dogs have difficulty dealing with. This is because many owners, when confronted with a wild-eyed, half-washed, upset dog, feel that they have to forcibly restrain the dog in order to complete the wash. This only adds to the dog’s sense of panic, and reinforces his impression of a wash as something to be avoided at all costs, and if necessary, to protect himself from it by displaying aggressive behaviors.
How can I help make it enjoyable for him to be handled and groomed?
It is a lot easier if you start training your dog from a young age. You can do this by handling your puppy a lot, getting him used to being touched and rubbed all over. Young dogs generally enjoy being handled. Usually, only older dogs who have not had a lot of physical contact throughout their lives that would exhibit aversions to receiving physical affection. But even these dogs, when handled with kindness and love will ultimately succumb and learn to appreciate enjoying being handled and groomed. You must give it time.
Practice picking up his paws and touching them with the clipper. Practice taking him into the bath (or outside, under the faucet. whatever works for you. Remember that warm water is more pleasant for a dog than a freezing spray of ice-water, and augment the process throughout with lots of praise and the occasional small treat.
For an older dog that may already have had several unpleasant handling/grooming experiences, things are a little more difficult, as there is a need to undo the damage already caused by those bad experiences. You can do this by handling the situation very slowly, keeping your dog calm during the process. This cannot be overemphasized. Be observant of your dog’s behavior and respond accordingly. For example, the instant he starts to show distress signs, stop immediately and let him relax. Try to make the whole thing into a game: give him lots of praise, pats, and treats. Take the time needed to make this work. Do not force this onto your dog, and if you get nervous simply stop, and take the time to reax.
Dogs show aggression for a reason
If your dog just cannot seem to accept being groomed, no matter how much practice you put in, it is best to hand the job over to the professionals. You need to back off to avoid having your dog’s show of aggressive behavior towards you. Your vet will clip his nails for you (make sure you tell him first that he gets aggressive when the clippers come out, so your vet can take the necessary precautions! Be sure to inform your vet of other aggressive behaviors your dg has shown in the past while being groomed as well.
If needed, for a small fee, you can get your dog washed, clipped, brushed, and whatever else you require by experienced professionals in the booming dog grooming industry. Again, do make sure you tell them about your dog’s reaction to the experience first!
For more information on handling aggressive and dominant behaviors, as well as a great deal of detailed information on a host of other common dog behavior problems, check out Secrets to Dog Training. It’s a complete owner’s guide to owning, rearing, and training your dog, and it deals with all aspects of dog ownership. To get a great understanding on preventing and dealing with problem behaviors like aggression and dominance in your dog, Secrets to Dog Training is well worth a look. You can visit the Secrets to Dog Training site by clicking HERE.
Content for this post was provided by Kingdom of Pets.