Should you punish an aggressive dog?

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.

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Do not resort to choke chains when you get frustrated with your dog

This morning I was walking my dogs and saw a woman walking her dog. From the look of the dog's dry elbows and physical stature, I would guess he was about 5-6 years old. I have no way of knowing how long she has had the dog. He might have been newly adopted, or maybe she finally had time to work with him. What I do know is that she seemed extremely frustrated, her dog was not paying attention to her at all, he was pulling on the leash and she was lifting the dog off the ground with each turn. Also the dog was wearing a choke chain. I resisted the urge to go talk to her about positive reinforcement training, but I wanted to. I don't offer advice unless people ask, but it can be tough to keep my opinions to myself. I hate to see dogs being mistreated. And, yes, I believe a dog getting lifted off the ground on a choke chain is being mistreated. On the other hand, in ten years of professional dog training, I have worked with thousands of dogs and I can appreciate dog training challenges and the frustration that accompanies it. But, that never gives the excuse to use physical methods. If you are frustrated with your dog when leash walking, go back to the fundamentals. Stop walking, and ask for eye contact from your dog. That is much easier for your dog then expecting him to walk nicely by your side when he is completely distracted. Also, stay closer to home and warm your dog up before walking farther. Leash walking is not an easy obedience exercise, but if you focus on the fundamentals and build on them, you will make progress. To help you learn how to do this, you should watch my free dog training videos on leash walking and other free dog training videos to learn more. Keep an eye on the site for more videos on leash walking in the future. One easy way to make leash walking easier is to buy a Sense-ible Harness. This is the best dog harness on the market. You can also sign up for my free dog forums to ask me questions about leash walking or any other topics. 

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Choke chains and other mistakes when working with dog aggression

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.

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Are dog bootcamps a good idea?

Another potential client contacted me a while back to "fix" her dog that she dropped off at a "boot camp" for two weeks.

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Choke chains can increase dog 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.

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Jeff Millman
Hi Bruny, thanks for your comment. If you are in my area and are interested in private training services, you can fill out my dog ... Read More
Saturday, 01 January 2011 22:29
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