Is My Dog Aggressive?
CAUTION: If your dog has any aggressive tendencies at all, it is inadvisable and potentially dangerous for you to attempt any new strategies on your own without proper guidance from a professional. See Disclaimer below.
Aggression is very misunderstood by most dog owners and is an expression of something else that you may be mis-interpreting. Dogs are never born aggressive but over time problematic behaviours accumulate in layers so if the problems in each layer are not addressed then your dog knows no better than to have a reactive outburst of confusion, fear, panic, dominance, over-excitedness and frustration all rolled into one. Sometimes, but very rarely, you may have a high level of aggression which will require a higher level of skill to change.
Most people can begin to address the layers underneath the lower-level aggressive tendencies and help their dog to use their healthy animal instincts instead, and at the same time learn to place their trust in you to protect them, not the other way round. You must never correct aggression with aggression or the problem will escalate. From my own experience I have found that the most common underlying issues for aggressive tendencies are nervousness and over-excitedness and these behaviours will be very apparent in many areas and situations in the dog’s life but you probably don’t recognise it, yet. If you spend time increasing self-esteem in your dog and correcting over-excitedness showing up at the wrong time, by allowing your dog to be excited after initial calmness only, then your dog will feel more at ease and relaxed even if there is chaos all around them.
It is so important to understand what good social etiquette means amongst dogs. It is imperative that you allow your dog to sniff the behind of another dog, regardless of how you feel about them doing this. Your dog can get all the information they need to know about a dog by sniffing their bottom! If you have issues with dog aggression or dog socialisation then always guide them, calmly and slowly, to the back end of a well socialised dog first instead of allowing a face-to-face (the biting end!) greeting which some dogs can interpret as confrontational or fight provoking. Well socialised, well behaved dogs will be able to meet face-to-face with no problems but their animal instincts will still tell them to sniff the rear end as well. Remember they are dogs not people!
I strongly advise seeking professional help if you have a problem with socialising your dog who may have aggressive tendencies. With the temporary use of a muzzle and controlled conditions you can start the process of reprogramming your dog to get closer to another dog until there is no reaction. Make sure they are calm and happy to sit, facing you, with a treat or toy if it helps, and start decreasing the distance between you and the other dog. Never rush to speed up this process as it takes time for them to trust that you can and will correct them effectively enough to help them experience other dogs in an entirely new way. When your dog can tolerate another dog and it’s safe to get closer, then you should allow your dog’s natural instincts to smell them first to take over, and try very gradually increasing the time you allow this from a few seconds to a few minutes before you walk away. You are the one who is helping to change your dog’s experiences so they no longer react to the sight, movement or sounds of other dogs. So keep practicing the Back to Basics principles and use The STOP WAIT LISTEN Rule at every opportunity to improve your leadership skills.
A step-by-step plan tailored to your dog’s problems will be the solution for this issue.
One important tip – never play tug of war with a dog who may have aggressive tendencies (or dogs that lack impulse control). Contrary to some people’s beliefs that this game helps to get the aggression ‘out of their system’, unfortunately it only helps to encourage them. To a dog, the toy you will be playing with becomes a moving target and they become excited at the prospect of it feeling ‘alive’. When you grab and pull back you’re effectively encouraging your dog’s need to fight for it and even to satisfy their need to kill it. Any dog who also guards and possesses their toys has been allowed, by you, whether intentional or not, to practice dominance and needs to gain your trust to know that he can willingly share his toys, as this pleases you and there are positive consequences with doing this (as in this picture of a happy game with a happy, relaxed dog who therefore has a happy, relaxed owner).
You can learn how to teach your dog to know that you expect them to willingly give back the toy they have in their mouth, when you ask for it. You can teach them that you own everything and are the well respected leader who they can trust and who is never competing with them or challenging them, and who is always firm, calm and consistent with the rules and boundaries.