Dog, Training

Tips For Stopping Your Dog From Being Overly Aggressive

If your dog lunges, growls or tries to attack people or other dogs, he’s displaying aggressive behavior, a serious problem that you absolutely must address immediately. Fortunately, it is possible to extinguish this behavior by understanding the problem and responding accordingly.

Dog-Dog Aggression

If your dog growls and behaves aggressively toward other dogs, he is usually responding to his instincts with inappropriate behavior. Although aggression between dogs is common, it’s still unacceptable. See below for specific situations might trigger aggressive behavior in your dog

Resource Guarding

If your dogs growl or snaps when he’s guarding something precious from another dog, he’s exhibiting signs of resource guarding. A resource can be anything your dog perceives as valuable, including toys, chewies, beds and even you.

Territorial Behavior

When another dog invades your dog’s territory, it can definitely trigger an aggressive response. Whether the strange dog is visiting your home or walking down the sidewalk, your dog thinks it’s his duty to defend his territory.

Protective Behavior

Your dog can also behave aggressively when he’s protecting you or your home. Part of the problem might be that he is unsure of his pack status and worried that it’s his job to make sure nothing happens to you.

As soon as you see your dog exhibiting aggression toward another dog, take measures to ensure the problem doesn’t escalate. Remove your dog from the situation immediately, and train him to respond appropriately.

Dog-Human Aggression

Aggression toward humans is never okay and must be trained out of your dog before you allow him to be around other people. Human aggression can have the same triggers as dog aggression: resource and territory guarding and protective behavior. But your dog could also display aggression toward people he doesn’t like or doesn’t know well.

Visit the Vet

If you see your dog exhibiting aggressive behavior that is unusual for him, take him to the vet for a checkup, including a blood test. Dogs can’t tell you when they’re feeling poorly, so they have to rely on nonverbal communication to let you know they’re sick. If there’s an underlying medical cause for your dog’s behavior, treat it as soon as possible. If not, then you know you’re dealing with a behavioral problem and can respond accordingly.

Pay Attention to Warning Signs

Most dogs will warn you when they’re edging toward aggressive behavior, which allows you to be proactive in dealing with it. Common warning signs include growling, raising their hackles and baring their teeth.

Don’t discourage him from this instinctive behavior. If you do so, your dog might skip the warnings and go straight into attack mode. Likewise, never punish a dog who is giving out warning signs, or you might inadvertently exacerbate the problem, jeopardizing your safety.

Instead, train your dog to respond appropriately to triggers and do everything you can to prevent aggressive behavior.

Preventative Measures

Setting a good example is key in preventing aggressive behavior. Don’t play roughly with your dog or encourage him to play bite. He won’t be able to understand when he’s allowed to behave like this and when he isn’t. Channel his love of wrestling and playing tug-of-war into safer games, like fetch.

Regular exercise can also help. If you give your dog an outlet for his excess energy, you’ll tire him out, making him less prone to act aggressively.

The best way to prevent aggressive behavior is to enroll your dog in a basic obedience class and regularly practice what you learn. By engaging his mind, you’ll give him a job to do that is more important than guarding and behaving protectively.

How to Extinguish Aggressive Behavior

When you see your dog giving out warning signals, step in immediately to curtail his behavior and redirect his attention. Command him to sit, stay and/or lie down, and keep him in that position until the threat is gone. Reward him with a high-value treat and lots of praise.

If he doesn’t respond, remove him from the situation immediately by crating him or putting him in a different room. Although it’s important to train him in the correct behavior, your safety comes first.

Teaching your dog preemptive commands is another great idea. Teach him “look at me” or “leave it” to redirect his focus from the object of his aggression back to you, the pack leader.

Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)

A training method that builds your dog’s self-esteem and reasserts your status as the pack leader, NILIF (“Nothing in Life is Free”) is an easy, effective way to prevent or interrupt aggressive behavior.

You’ll teach your dog that whenever he wants something, like food, belly rubs or a cozy lap, he has to perform a simple task, like sit or down. The trick to this technique is firmness and consistency. You must make him perform the task every single time you ask until he complies every time.

When you praise him for being a good dog, you’re actually teaching him his status in the pack, namely that you are in charge. Once you’ve reestablished that you are the alpha in the relationship, your dog will understand that he needs to follow your commands, whether he wants to or not.

Consult a Behaviorist

If you are unable to manage your dog’s aggressive behavior, it’s time to consult an expert. A dog behaviorist will examine your dog’s behavior closely to determine his triggers and why your efforts haven’t been working, and then give you suggestions for how to manage the situation better. For example, if your dog growls, barks, lunges or bites at a member of your family when he or she approaches the dog when he’s sleeping, the solution might be as simple as moving your dog’s bed to another location.

Behaviorists can be costly, but it usually doesn’t take many sessions to diagnose and treat behavioral problems. Some will even give you a free phone consultation before meeting your dog in person.

Consider Your Options

If even a behaviorist can’t help, you can consult a veterinarian about Prozac or other behavior-modifying medications. If those don’t work either, you may have to face the fact that the best thing for your dog is euthanization. It’s a sad, horrible solution, but you simply can’t risk having an aggressive dog around anyone, including yourself.