Last week I went over same basics of dog aggression and what my definition of aggression is. Now let’s get into some specifics on treatment.
Aggression toward people due to anxiety or fear
Human and dog directed aggression often is a case of lack of socialization. Those of you who know me are very aware of how important I feel socialization for young puppies is. The majority of dogs suffering in shelters are there because of behavioral issues due to some form of lack of socialization. And no, letting your dog meet a few people and dogs on your five minute morning walk is not socializing your dog. If you socialize properly when your dog is a puppy you are ensuring he’ll have a lifelong love of people.
Dogs that are showing aggressive behavior due to fear or anxiety will typically bark, lunge and sometimes bite and then retreat. If your dog already has an anxiety or fear of people, start taking proactive steps to give him more positive exposure to people. When doing this it is absolutely critical you don’t push him too fast or far.
Set up situations in a controlled way so that everyone is safe. Have your log leashed if he’s had a history of making contact with people. Use high value treats (I like grilled steak or chicken) and enlist some volunteers to work with the dog in a very controlled setting. Have your volunteer make sure to not make direct eye contact or directly face the dog, then have them throw treats to him. If he takes them, you can continue, if he doesn’t you need to increase the distance from the visitor and try again. To be successful at this you need to go at the dogs pace and always let him take the first steps forward.
Never try to force your dog into a situation he is obviously not comfortable with. I highly recommend working with a trained professional to make sure you are doing the right things; otherwise you could be making a bad situation much worse.
Aggression toward dogs
Dog’s that are not friendly with other dogs are really out of whack. Dogs by nature are social animals – especially with their own kind. They live in close social groups (packs) that are based on continual interactions with each other. So a dog that doesn’t like other dogs is not acting very canine at all. The exception being some (not all! ) pit bulls, who man has stupidly bred to be dog aggressive.
I have found the best way to help with dogs that are dog aggressive is to walk them with other dogs. By unifying dogs as pack-mates and alleviating the direct eye contact you can open their minds as their bodies move forward, giving them a positive experience in the presence of dogs. It’s best to first walk them with calm dogs who are not too interested in them before working your way up to dogs with high energy. I’ve had a wide variety of dog aggressive dogs join my pack walks and I have never had it be a negative experience.
You don’t necessarily need a pack. Walking a reactive dog with even one dog can have an amazing effect. For very reactive dogs, you may not be able to walk right next to each other. Find a distance where your dog will move forward without being too out of control and then try to shorten the distance between dogs as you walk.
The walk is a very therapeutic thing for a dog and helps facilitate a calm mind which will open them up to a new experience in the presence of what normally makes them react. Every time you start an encounter with reactivity and end in a calm state of mind you should see the dog get calmer quicker in future meetings.
Any aggression treatment takes time and you should always make sure that everyone involved is safe at all times.
Next week I’ll discuss food aggression and resource guarding.