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When your dog snaps at other canines, lunges with a snarl at people or behaves in other aggressive fashions, you may be trying to figure out how to train an aggressive dog. The answer is fairly simple to state but time-consuming to perform. It is also highly rewarding to reform a dog with aggressive behaviors.
Terminology of Dog Aggression or Aggressive Behavior
Few dogs are simply aggressive in every circumstance. It is better to reference particular contexts. Instead of saying your dog is aggressive, say that your dog, for example, growls at other canines when out walking, or growls at children who approach to pet. Specificity helps you to remain clear regarding the topic of discussion. The label of aggression, when placed on a dog, does not help anyone.
Aggression is a blanket term. It covers such behaviors as barking, growling, stalking with hackles up, snapping, and biting. The most common canine aggression is based on fear. You will see references to fear-based reactions because of under-socialization. A fearful dog focuses on a single concept or object. An anxious dog has frightened reactions to a host of things. A final word to know is a trigger; this is the event that provokes an aggressive reaction in your dog.
Why Some Dogs Have Dog Hostility
Dog-on-dog hostility is among the most common problems in canine behavior handled by owners, trainers, breeders, rescue volunteers, and shelter staff. Fewer dogs are receiving the proper early socialization with other dogs of even temperament. The result of this is an abundance of dogs growing up with inadequate social skills. They cannot read fellow canines, exchanging expected subtle signals of communication with them. Regular playmate contact is a requirement for dogs to grow and develop social confidence. Puppy classes are a popular means of combatting this trend—they are a perfect way to socialize a dog. Unfortunately, dogs with aggressive triggers are generally more isolated than socially adept dogs. This means the anti-social behaviors tend to intensify more the older these dogs get.
What Causes Aggression?
Unfortunately, it can be hard to track down the causes of canine aggression. There are many options, from physical disposition from the parents to patterns learned from bad experiences. Health can be a factor as well. So can poor leadership from the dog’s main handler.
A dog with a neurotic mother is more likely to be neurotic itself. Even a mentally healthy mother can experience extreme stress while pregnant, which leaves a mark on the pups in the womb. The mother’s intense hormonal changes can impact the puppies’ well-being. Obviously, this is impossible for a would-be adopter to know in most circumstances.
Bad Experiences in the Past
A dog that has been well-bred and properly raised can still be aggressive if it has been exposed to mistreatment and violence. Physical punishment is one culprit for aggressive reactions. So is being left in a shelter. Dogs that have experienced extended periods of neglect out on tie ropes can also become anti-social in their reactions to people and other animals.
A dog with a sweet nature that abruptly becomes irritable, with aggressive triggers, maybe ailing in some way. If touching triggers pain and discomfort, a dog may growl or snarl when you move to pet it. A reach for a cuddle that results in a panicked scratch from sharp claws indicates something is wrong if this is not a typical reaction. Seek out a veterinarian to rule out health conditions that may have arisen before asking the advice of a professional dog trainer.
Poor Leadership From Dog Owners
Owners can also be problematic for their dogs’ social lives. If you are a strong leader in whom your dog has confidence, your dog is probably relaxed on a leash and out and about for walks. If you use violence in punishments to correct improper habits, or if your dog has begun running your household, you’re letting a dog’s dark side come out and play. Breeds that have bold personalities especially need strong management. Note that strong does not mean physical. It means that you establish yourself as the leader. Fix your attitude and behavior and you might have an improved canine companion.
Lack of Early Socialization
Socializing a young puppy with good-natured dogs, plenty of people, and a variety of experiences is vital if you want a well-rounded dog down the road. As you expose your dog to various stimuli, you desensitize it to potential triggers. As that dog grows, it will be friendlier and calm around what might have been a trigger without the early foundation.
Older Dogs Can Still Learn
If you have an older dog such as rescue dogs that came to you fully grown, or if you simply did not have the opportunity to socialize your dog, such as happened during quarantine, do not be alarmed that it is too late. Even an aggressive rescue dog can still learn if you use consistency and the proper methods. It will be challenging. The dog already has established dispositions, fears, and reactions. But if you are willing to work at it, you and your dog will be much happier.
Training an Aggressive Dog
The first method in training a dog with aggressive tendencies is classical conditioning . Remember the old experiment where Pavlov made dogs drool at the ring of a bell? You need to teach your dog that encountering humans or dogs means a tasty treat is forthcoming. Operant conditioning is another technique. Show your dog that its actions are capable of earning treats, play, and praise. Both conditioning methods change an underlying emotion leading to aggression rather than simply suppressing an outward symptom.
Outdated Methods to Avoid
Avoid trainers who use the dog leashes to pop or yank to correct dogs under their supervision. This forceful technique can interrupt the aggressive action of a lunge, but it does not change how the dog feels or is going to react upon the next encounter with another dog. Punishment does not work. It does not create a foundation for your dog to build on. It can even exacerbate aggression.
A Four-Component Process
There are four components of a successful process in training dogs with aggressive behavior. These are shaping, or reinforcing small actions toward a desired goal; desensitization, or presenting another dog far enough away that aggression does not occur, then decreasing the distance; counter-conditioning, which means you pair other canines’ presences with pleasant rewards; and training to provide behaviors on cue that simply cannot coexist with aggression.
The training that builds with shaping can achieve many amazing results. Trainers have taught dogs to flush toilets after their owners leave the bathroom, to fetch beers from the fridge, closing it behind them, and to do all manner of complex tricks simply by shaping the behavior one tiny step at a time.
Start at a distance, perhaps on the other side of a fence. Approach until your dog starts to react, then take a step back. You now know the triggering distance. When the dog does not react when you re-approach, give a treat. Work your way gradually closer. Rushing this step can be tempting, but take your time.
Every time you and your dog see another dog when out and about, it is time for a treat. A positive word, a bit of play with the best indestructible dog toy, or a delicious morsel can all help your dog associate the sight of other canines with good things.
Training Behaviors Incompatible with Aggression
This could include doing a sit-stay instead of lunging toward another dog or person. When your dog sees another dog, eventually it will realize that doing a sit and looking at your results in a favorite treat. This is incompatible with aggressive displays and acting out on the leash.
Socializing Aggressive Dogs
Start by introducing a jackpot treat that is not given at any other time. Whenever you see another dog, give that treat if your dog does not react with aggressive behavior. Create a strong positive connection with the sight of other pups. It will override the previous reinforcement of undesired behavior. This may take weeks or months. But be consistent and give it time. You may find that setting up passes along the street with a friend who has a dog is useful. Position yourself 50 yards from some spot where you can either hold your dog securely or tie it to a tree or lamp post. It should be on a street 50 yards down from a corner. That way your friend can disappear around the corner with the other dog. Your friend should wait until you are ready. Then they should appear, strolling through your dog’s sight. As soon as they appear, the jackpot treats should be in front of your dog’s nose. Be dealing with the treats while they are in sight. As soon as they are out of sight, the treats go away again.
Socializing With Humans—Identifying Your Dog’s Triggers
You want to be a step ahead of the behavior of your aggressive dog. Know what is triggering the aggression around people. Is it a particular sound, a threatening nuance, a moving object, or just people in general? You can be aware of each if you pay attention. Then you can start desensitizing.
Establish Your Dog’s Threshold
But before desensitizing, you need to know how close triggers can come before your dog grows neurotic. This is generally measured by distance. If a man in a hat comes within ten feet of your dog and it goes crazy, your dog has a ten-foot threshold. If your dog is triggered by sound, volume is generally the threshold, such as a 50-decibel siren.
Manage Your Family’s Safety
You and your family can be harmed by an aggressive reaction. Throughout the training, and before it begins, place key safety measures in place. Separate the problematic pup from the household so they do not pose a threat. You can use dog crates or baby gates so they do not feel trapped while still being safely corralled. Muzzle training may be helpful if your dog bites at triggering sights. Also, always train aggressive dogs on leashes. That way you control their reach.
Aggressive Dog Training Tips – Utilize Positive Reinforcement
Punishing the negative does not work for training dogs. Research and behavioralists have studied the matter extensively. Instead, reward positive actions. Set your dog up for success by ensuring that positive action can easily take place and reward lavishly. Over time, you can replace food items with affection and praise.
Every Dog Has A Pace of Learning
Keep in mind that some dogs do not respond adequately to basic steps like these and may need professional help. Other problem dogs may simply need more time to undergo consistent, constant training to deter aggressive reactions. People tend to hold dogs to a ridiculous standard of behavior.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can an aggressive dog be cured?
Most dogs who display aggressive behaviors can be guided out of them with consistent training. Aggression is not a disease, although it may be a symptom of one. Also, few household dogs display constant aggression. Identify triggers and go through the steps of desensitization and counterconditioning to correct your dog’s aggressive reactions.
How do I train my dog to not be aggressive?
Be patient, be understanding, and be consistent. Use small steps to shape your dog’s behavior until the desired norm is reached. Desensitize your dog to its triggers and counter condition the dog to react positively to them.
Can I train my aggressive dog myself?
The answer to this is a qualified yes, depending on the severity of your dog’s reactions and your own experience in training dogs. There is no stigma in asking for help with a dog that displays aggressive reactions. Otherwise, simply follow the training tips as laid out above to learn how to train an aggressive dog.
Is it ever too late to train an aggressive dog?
No dog is too old to have its lack of socialization as a puppy corrected. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more work to unlearn behaviors than to learn proper social techniques in the first place. With regular and consistent training, along with really good treats, you can teach your dog to associate its triggers with good things instead of focusing on an aspect to which it has taken a dislike.