Guide to Training Aggressive Dogs and Puppies

When it comes to understanding and training aggressive dogs, many considerations need to be kept in mind. A honest recognition of the problem is the first step many dog owners should take.

You also need to realize that aggression-based problems do not go away on their own and dogs simply do not "outgrow" them.   

To reduce and eventually stop the aggressive behavior, a proactive role must be taken by managing the dog's environment and addressing the underlying cause for aggression.

Recognizing the Signs of Aggression in Dogs

As natural conflict solvers, dogs have an innate predisposition for displaying ritualized aggression. It encompasses the many aggressive displays dogs are capable of without producing serious, damaging effects.

These outbursts help tone down any conflicting situations and are meant to avoid serious injuries. Yet, not all dogs engage in ritualized aggression; indeed, some poorly socialized dogs may have never learned this important skill.

The following are some outward signs of ritualized aggression in dogs:

  Showing teeth Stiffening
  Growling Barking
  Raising hackles Staring
  Lunging Snarling

While the above dog and puppy aggression symptoms are ritualistic displays, they do portray a serious problem.

If you are planning on training aggressive dogs, it is important to learn more about dog behavior and how to deal with aggression. Ignoring the dog or puppy aggression problem will allow the dog or puppy to rehearse the aggressive behavior over and over, which will only make the problem more severe.

Also, ritualistic aggression may evolve into real aggression if the dog is pushed beyond his bite threshold. This may lead to the following more serious displays:

  Muzzle punches Nipping
  Growling Inhibited bite
  Bite that breaks skin Bite and shake
  Repeated bites Bite with puncture wounds

Scolding the dog for engaging in ritualistic displays will cause the aggression to intensify. For instance, if you scold and suppress dog growling, your dog may eventually decide to snap or bite in the future without warning. For this reason, when training aggressive dogs and puppies, understanding what triggers the aggressive display in the first place is required so to address the issue accordingly.

Training an Aggressive Dog

Causes of Aggression in Dogs

What causes aggression in dogs? There are several causes. The following are some of the most common types of aggression affecting dogs. If you are not sure exactly what type of aggression is affecting your dog, consult with a dog trainer or behaviorist well versed in dog behavior.

Food Aggression

Does your dog freeze and emit a low guttural growl if another dog or a family member gets too close to his food bowl or bone? If so, your dog may be suffering from food aggression.

Dogs suffering from food aggression act in such a way because they are afraid they will be deprived from their possessions. They are, therefore, telling you to move away and steer clear from their prized item. Ignoring such signals and moving closer to the dog will cause the aggressive display to escalate.

Inter-dog Aggression

Inter-dog aggression is a form of aggression taking place among dogs. Many dogs may get along well with other dogs during puppyhood but may change abruptly as they reach social maturity. Some dog breeds are more predisposed to dog on dog aggression than others. Same-sex aggression is also quite common in certain dogs.

Aggression Towards Strangers

Some dogs are aloof by nature and may not like to be approached by strangers. Other dogs may not have been socialized properly, causing them to have a hard time telling apart people who are friend or foe.

Territorial aggression often causes dogs to bark, lunge and attack people when they come too close to their perceived territory. This tendency may be particularly strong in guardian breeds.

Aggression Towards Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year about 800,000 Americans get medical attention because of dog bites and a good half of these victims are children.

Statistics show that children under the age of 10 get bitten most often and, usually, the offender is a family pet. This explains why you need to put a lot of emphasis on ensuring all interactions between children and dogs are always supervised.

Training aggressive dogs that have shown aggression towards children is something that should be left to the pros. Re-homing the dog to an adult-only family may be necessary in severe cases.

Aggression Towards Family Members

At times, dogs may demonstrate aggression towards family members. In such cases, it is important to try to recognize the trigger. What was happening at the moment? Were you scolding your dog? Were you doing something the dog does not like? Were you too close to something the dog perceived as a resource? Identifying the cause is important for the potential resolution of the problem.

Training Aggressive Dogs

Wondering how to stop dog aggression? If your dog is displaying aggression, it is important to address the issue with the utmost care. The following steps are helpful to prevent your dog's behavior problems from escalating:

  1. Find the cause of your dog's aggression by observing him carefully and keeping a record of the episodes. Is the aggression following a pattern? Does it happen only in certain circumstances? Does your dog have a history of displaying aggression or is this happening suddenly out of the blue? Is your puppy biting or just playing roughly? Is the aggression triggered by something in particular? What stops the aggressive display?

    The answers to these questions will help you evaluate the issue more carefully and will be helpful if you decide to hire a dog behavior specialist.

  2. Manage your dog's environment. For your safety and the safety of others, you will need to prevent your dog from engaging in dangerous behaviors. For example, if your dog is aggressive towards strangers or other dogs, have him wear a muzzle on walks. If your dog is aggressive towards children, crate him when you have children over. If your dog is food aggressive towards other dogs, feed him in a separate room.

  3. Prevent your dog from rehearsing the aggressive behavior over and over.

    Aggressive displays tend to reinforce the more they are allowed to occur. For example, if your dog is aggressive towards the mail man, the more he is allowed to bark at him and chase him, the more this behavior will repeat. From your dog's perspective, his barking and chasing is effective because it is sending the mail man away! Rover 1, mailman 0!

  4. Change the emotional response. Quite often, aggression in dogs is triggered by fear or by simply feeling uncomfortable about something. As mentioned earlier, the aggressive behavior seen in dogs is a symptom of a problem. If you can change your dog from the inside out, you should see a decrease in the aggressive display.

    For instance, if your dog is aggressive because he dislikes nail trims, you will have to work on this problem by changing your dog's emotional response. In other words, when training aggressive dogs, you will have to gradually expose dogs to the activity, stimulus or trigger they dislike under the threshold by using behavior modification programs such as desensitization, behavior adjustment training and counter conditioning.

    Training aggressive dogs takes time and some knowledge and should ideally be done under the guidance of a dog behavior expert; which brings us to the next step...

  5. Find a dog trainer well versed in dog behavior or look for a dog behavior specialist. While dog trainers may know some basics about dog behavior, dog behaviorists are professionals with a graduate degree and are more familiar with behavior modification. Calling a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a veterinary behaviorist may be the best option.

  6. Enroll your dog in a dog obedience school. Obedience training will turn out helpful for keeping your dog under control while emphasizing your leadership skills. Some trainers also hold classes purposely for dog-reactive dogs and call them "growly dog classes".

Additional Tips on Handling an Aggressive Dog...

Check with your veterinarian to rule out medical causes of your dog's aggressive behavior.

Avoid exposing your dog to situations where he is likely to show aggression. When taking your dog for a walk, always put him on a leash. With larger breeds, consider using a muzzle.

Unless assisted by a professional dog trainer, the worst possible way to handle an aggressive dog is to try to corner him or to use physical force. Actually, it's always a bad idea to use physical force on any dog.

Punishing an aggressive dog will. only make him even more aggressive. This is especially true with dominant aggressive dogs.

Sometimes it's best to leave training of overly aggressive dogs to professional trainers. I know, I am repeating myself, but so many people choose to ignore this advice that I thought it was worth repeating it.

A medical procedure, neutering, may reduce aggression in male dogs. Visit dog neutering for more information about this procedure and its effect on male dog's behavior.

Final Thoughts...

Behavior does not change overnight. Training aggressive dogs and puppies takes some perseverance and lots of patience.

Dog aggression can be dangerous. When tackling aggressive behavior, safety should be your top priority. If you are planning on training aggressive dogs, make sure to keep other dogs and yourself safe and protect the public from any harm.

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Want to learn more?

Puppy Training

To learn more about dog aggression, I recommend the Secrets to Dog Training guide. It offers a lot of practical tips for living with and training aggressive dogs.


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