Dog Training Blog
Subcategories from this category:on leash aggression
Your dog growls at your son when he walks by his food bowl and then snaps at him. He barely misses sinking his teeth into his 6-year-old leg.
Should you yell at your dog? Put him in another room? Something more physical such as use a choke chain or shock collar to "show him who is boss" and put him in his place?
What should you do?
The important thing to keep in mind is that unless an animal is hunting, aggression is fear-based. If you punish a dog for acting out of fear, you can train him to reduce or stop any signals of aggression for fear of punishment. You can then end up with a dog that is afraid, but afraid to show it. Your dog can then attack without warning.
If you use desensitization, my recommended treatment strategy, you will observe subtle anxiety signals before they turn into aggression and slowly get your dog accustomed to the triggers that caused the anxiety. Over time, your dog can be calm because he truly does not feel like reacting to the events before him.
The puppy class is loud with barking puppies jumping and bouncing happily over the padded floor. All the puppies are about the same age, but you can already tell that some are bound to be much bigger when they reach their full size. The Bernese Mountain dog puppy rolls on his back while a Beagle mix chews on his ears. A Yorkie, the smallest of the group, is right there with the rest of the group running back and forth with a small brown dog and a bigger Visla pup. Your puppy doesn't engage the other dogs and mostly stays under your chair watching the action. The trainer comes over and tries to coax her out with a treat, but she won't come out or take the treat. Is this normal? Should you be concerned? No, it is not normal and yes, you should be concerned. As a private dog trainer I have many responsibilities. Often I show my clients how to work with their dog to train her to be more obedient such as not jumping on guests, stopping puppy biting, or walking nicely on leash. (See my free dog training videos for samples on these topics and more.)I also work with fear, anxiety and aggression if those issues are present. But, I think my most important jobs are to help prevent problems before they start or prevent the beginning signs of a problem from turning into a major problem later on. The scenario above is based on many conversations over the years with clients. Often people will hire me because their dog barks at people and/or dogs, has bitten someone, is "skittish" or unpredictable. I always get a history of a dog before I work with them and ask about their early experiences. Often someone will say that their puppy was a "little shy" and then describe a story similar to the one above. They might say that they "were fine with other dogs" or got socialized properly but then also hid under their chairs at puppy class. Their puppy might have been great with dogs, but after a couple questions I learn that "dogs" means great with the neighbor's dog but a little shy with all the other dogs in the neighborhood. If you have questions about socialization, read this post about how to socialize your puppy or sign up for my free dog training forum on my video site. As a shy puppy gets older, if they are not socialized properly, their shyness can later turn into aggression. They live a daily life of fear and uncertainty. It may look harmless, or even cute to see such a shy puppy but at some point they are probably going to perceive something that seems particularly threatening. Maybe it is just another dog being a bit over-exhuberant and jumping on them playfully. Maybe it is an adult that comes towards them a bit too quickly to say, "hello" and pet them. Maybe it is a toddler that falls on them. They might at that point growl for the first time at this threat or show their teeth, or even bite. What happens next? Unless it is a small child or puppy that doesn't pay attention to signals (and is at a greater risk of a bite) a person will probably back off. Your dog has now learned to growl, bark or show teeth when threatened. Even though this wasn't an actual threat, your dog has lived a life of fear and low confidence and reached her breaking point. If dogs growl, bark or show teeth and it works for them, (the threat backs off) they can now think that showing aggression is the way to protect themselves. Then you can start to see aggression happen more frequently and escalate if the lower-level displays are not taken seriously. A bite might occur if the threats are not respected or multiple triggers are present. For instance, a dog might not like her collar being touched, and might not like small children. If a small child approaches that dog and touches her collar, a bite might occur. If it was an adult, maybe the dog would have just growled instead. If you think your puppy is shy and you are practicing sound socialization strategies and you are not seeing improvement, you should hire a good positive reinforcement trainer to assess the situation. Your puppy might benefit from a class, but often classes are too stressful. Before my full-time private practice, I taught classes for two years as well. Don't lose sleep over this, but instead be proactive and take this very seriously. You will have your dog for a long time and a well-socialized, calm dog can more easily be an integrated part of your life. If you have to shelter your dog from normal stimuli that occur in your world, it will make more challenging for both you and your dog. Sign up for my free dog training forum on my video site if you have questions.
I have tremendous success with my aggression cases and have been helping dogs overcome aggression since 2002. There are strategies that you can use that can make the situation worse.
I want you to avoid doing that and help your dog become more comfortable faster.
When I am working with my clients, I focus on determining what strategies are most effective with each individual dog. I have found certain techniques to be extremely effective and I also see mistakes and read about other trainer's suggestions that can create problems and cause the treatment to take longer or be ineffective.
I saw something horrifying on Tuesday. I was working with two of my fantastic clients and their Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. I was hired to help McIntire with a bit of fear around men, hand shyness, and other assorted issues such as teaching him to have better off leash control.
I received two calls this week that that reminded me about the importance of making sure a dog is physically healthy before I recommend training strategies. One call was in regards to a 3-year old dog that recently started whining uncontrollably whenever his person was out of the room or out of the home. He also had a few housetraining regressions and his guardian found a few accidents when he got home.
I frequently work with fearful or aggressive dogs. They are grouped into the same category because aggression always has a fear component unless an animal is hunting for food. Fear aggression manifests itself in warnings to tell the other dog or person to stay away. A bite is a more intense warning if the other warnings, such as growling, go unheeded.
One of the more frequent issues with shy dogs is to be afraid of getting petted by strangers. When dogs are getting petted the person is close to them, they are looking at them, they are looming over them and then they touch them. These are all potential triggers for anxiety or aggression. If your dog is shy, you should help her get comfortable with people to avoid escalation of anxiety, which could potentially lead to aggression.
I got a sad call from a new client recently. She said her dog was showing signs of dog-dog aggression and, from the advice of someone in the dog park, she hired a trainer that uses choke chains. She said initially the training wasn't too physical, but she ended up firing him because of his increasingly abusive techniques when dogs were around her dog.
I work with dog-dog aggression a lot. I get lots of practice in the congested city of Chicago, and I use techniques that work. As with any training topic, there are many competing strategies out there, but I urge you to think about the psychology of anxiety and aggression.
While working with a private client recently, we ran into another local Chicago trainer. It was interesting, because we were both teaching our clients the exact same lesson, using different philosophies. The goal was to have our dogs meet each other calmly. My client and I were walking a 2 year old wheaten terrier, and the other trainer and his client each had a dog that they were working with.