Dog Training Blog
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.
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.
There are a lot of misconceptions about playing tug with your dog. In my experience, (and lots of other trainers I respect) as long as you teach your dog some ground rules, tug is a great way to condition your dog to have a soft mouth as well as providing your dog exercise.
Another potential client contacted me a while back to "fix" her dog that she dropped off at a "boot camp" for two weeks.
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.
Barrier Frustration can occur if a dog is behind a window, fence, or on leash and is not allowed to interact with the environment. After a while, she may get frustrated and aggressive. One indicator of Barrier Frustration having a part in aggression is if a dog barks behind barriers and is calm around dogs when off-leash, but is very aggressive behind a barrier or on-leash. Dogs, of course, can also show aggression no matter how much they are being contained as well.
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.
It is so important to gently handle your dog throughout his or her life. I received a typical call a while ago from a client that is afraid because her dog growls when she puts on his harness.
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.