Dog Aggression Training
Dog Aggression Training is one of the most relevant training topics for numerous trainers and owners around the world. Whether you have a puppy that’s just beginning to exhibit aggressive tendencies, or a prime adult who is a regular terror to other dogs, you must address the aggression.
When your dog or puppy regularly growls, snaps, or bites, you have a serious behavior problem on your hands. In fact, aggression is the top reason why dog owners seek the help of a professional dog trainer. And it’s not just the “scary” larger breeds of dogs that are prone to aggression; any breed is capable of becoming aggressive under the right circumstances.
When it comes to learning how to stop dog aggression, you have two choices…
You can take the approach of punishing the outbursts of aggressive behavior using methods like electric shock collars, sending your dog to a so-called “Professional Dog Trainer” who’ll FIX him, aka “beat him into submission” for a few weeks, or any number of punishment tactics to dissuade your dog from being aggressive, or,
You can try to get rid of the root cause of the aggression.
Sadly, most people choose the first option because it SEEMS like it works quicker. But, in reality, using punishment actually increases the likelihood that your dog will become more aggressive as he ages. To make matters worse, the more aggressive a trainer’s use of punishment, the more likely your dog’s aggressive behavior will actually get worse, up to 43% more aggressive, according to one research study.
And if we think about it, doesn’t this make sense? I don’t know about you, but if I look back at my own life, I’ve only ever been driven to punch another human being once in my life.
And you know why I punched that guy?
Because he punched me first, so I let him have it. His outward aggression towards me caused me to react in a way that was more aggressive than I had ever reacted in my life. The other guy was trying to “FIX” something he didn’t like about me with aggression, and let’s just say it didn’t work out for the guy.
But here’s the interesting part… some might say, “See, punishment can work, you taught him to never mess with you again!” And while it is true that that kid never messed with me again, and that my aggressive response stopped him from being aggressive towards me… He still hated me. And he still attacked me.
He just did so with subtle, sneakier methods like talking bad about me behind my back to coaches, spreading rumors, and lying. So sure, my physical dominance over him that day in 5th grade stopped me from being attacked in the future, but at the cost of actually making the kid hate me more and become passively aggressive. Because in general… Aggressive Behavior CREATES More Aggressive Behavior.
Punishing your dog for aggressive behavior usually backfires and can escalate the aggression. If you respond to a growling dog by hitting or yelling, it may feel the need to defend itself by biting you. Punishment may also lead to your dog biting someone else without warning. For example, if your dog growls at children, it’s letting you know that it’s uncomfortable around them.
If you punish your pet for growling, it may not warn you the next time it gets uncomfortable. It may simply bite. That’s why we don’t want to use it as a tool for fixing our own dog’s aggression.
Even if you think punishment is warranted in certain situations, and on the surface, it seems like the punishment ends up “working”, it usually does so at a huge cost to you and your dog’s relationship by making your dog fear, resent and sometimes even hate you. This is the classic case of positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement.
That’s why we believe that the best way to cure your dog’s aggression is to target the root cause of your dog’s aggression. Because how your dog feels determines how he will act.
Noting when your dog becomes aggressive and the circumstances surrounding the behavior plays an important part in determining your next step.
There are a number of ways you can manage the hostility and help your dog remain calm, but it will take time, consistency, and possibly the help of a professional.
Recognizing Aggression in Your Dog
Watch for subtle changes in your pet’s demeanor, such as sudden stillness, looking out of the corner of his eye instead of directly at something, lowering his head, or hunkering down. Quickly divert your dog’s attention when any of these things happens — warning signs often occur a split second before a dog’s behavior escalates.
You can also head off aggression at the pass by respecting what your dog’s body language is telling you. Don’t impose your will on the dog. Pushing your pup to play nice with a small child or another animal, even as he’s pulling away, is a recipe for disaster.
When a normally placid dog becomes aggressive, visit a vet to rule out medical causes for the sudden change. If your dog is still fighting mad after following these steps, seek help from a certified dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
Any dog has the potential to be aggressive. Genetics, personality, socialization, home environment, obedience training, and the current situation all attribute or dissuade from aggressive behaviors. Please note it is very important not to subscribe to breed stereotypes as “aggressive” breeds can be (and usually are) very sweet and “sweet” breeds can be aggressive.
It can be very difficult and complicated to diagnose aggression!
So here’s one chart that we created that starts to give you an idea about how to recognize how your dog is feeling.
Part of the complexity lies in the fact there are several different types of dog aggression (territorial, fear, food, dominate, predatory, sexual, etc) and some normal socialization can look aggressive (some growling, biting, jumping, barking, etc). Frequent socialization and training can attribute greatly to limiting or eliminating aggression. However, noticing the signs of aggression is very important.
Dominance, assertiveness and fear (defense) can all lead to aggression and are the most obvious and potentially dangerous types of aggression. First of all, if you think your dog might be aggressive, do not “test” your dog at a dog park where you don’t know the other dogs and the other dogs and owners don’t know your dog. If he is aggressive, not only do you risk hurting your dog, yourself, someone else, or another dog, you also risk a lawsuit.
Call a professional and work with them to test, and if necessary, address any aggressive behaviors.
Signs of dominant behavior include blocking people’s/dog’s path; barging through doors; demanding attention; protecting of sleep area; stopping eating when approached; mounting legs or other dogs; approaching another dog from the side and putting his head on the other dogs back/shoulder; inserting himself between you and another person or dog (e.g. when you and your significant other hug); and lunging at people. Any one item may not turn into a big deal, but should be monitored. If you are comfortable, you should discourage dominant behavior with training and diversions so your dog will look to you for direction.
Recognize when dominant behavior crosses the line to aggression as dominant-aggressive dogs are dangerous. The signs of a dominant and aggressive dog include staring; excessive low-range barking; snarling; growling and snapping; standing tall; holding ears erect; and/or carrying tail high and moving it stiffly from side to side. However, beware, often a dominant aggressive dog will give no sign before biting. Remember that a dominant-aggressive dog is likely to attack; retreat without running.
Fixing the Root Cause of Your Dog’s Aggression
What many people don’t know is that there are 3 main types of aggression in dogs, and each type stems from a different root cause emotion that your dog feels. So just like a human might be driven to anger by jealousy, revenge, hatred or low self-esteem, dogs have their own different reasons for why they act aggressively. And in order to have any hope at fixing their aggression, we need to get to the root of the behavior.
Let’s dive into the first one…
Aggressive Behavior #1: Resource Guarding
One of the most common forms of aggression in dogs is resource guarding-related aggression. Resource guarding, also commonly referred to as possession aggression, is very normal dog behavior that can be caused by several factors. Dogs who better protected their food or mates from others were more likely to survive in the wild. However, just because it’s normal behavior, doesn’t make it a behavior that we want in our domesticated dogs.
For example, it’s unacceptable for our dog, even if it’s a puppy, to lash out at a toddler who crawls onto our dog while he’s eating a bone, or to have a dog bite someone’s hand simply because the dog feels the desire to hoard some food while someone was trying to pet him.
Resource guarding can show itself in a few different ways, from growling at you when you reach for your puppy’s food, to your dog taking food into another room to eat it or grabbing things and running away with them.
Oftentimes, resource guarding can start to develop when young puppies are competing for food with their littermates.
This is because the puppy who is the best at stealing all the food usually gets the biggest and strongest and is most likely to survive. Try to get puppies from a breeder who feeds their pups in an environment where there is not as much food competition.
I learned this lesson the hard way, because my own golden retriever, Tucker, was born to a litter of 16 puppies! And because Tucker’s mother only had 10 nipples, it created a food competition situation I couldn’t avoid… and that I have had to continue to work through with Tucker.
Here’s how NOT to handle possession or food aggression.
Do NOT attempt to take the item away from your dog with force; especially if he starts growling at you. That’s a good way to get yourself bitten!
Trying to take a resource that your dog wants away from him WILL ONLY make your dog more aggressive.
Instead, here’s some things you can try:
- Try to spend a lot of time feeding your puppy by hand when he’s young. Spend time taking food from a puppy and then giving him even better food, so he knows that he always gets rewarded if he gives up food and doesn’t need to be fearful about you taking his resources away.
- Spend time teaching your dog to drop items on cue. We recommend teaching dogs how to drop items of low value, like a plush toy, first, and rewarding those dogs with higher value items like tasty treats, or a fun game of tug. You want your dog to realize that ‘Giving Things Up… Gets Better Things, Faster’. We believe this is so critical a skill that it should be one of the first two you train.
We believe this so strongly we’ve developed a cheat sheet you can print off and put on your fridge that walks you through exactly how to train this behavior. Check it out here:
- Work on teaching your dog how to build up what we call impulse control, specifically around high value food items. By teaching our dogs how to be less impulsive in a situation where they REALLY want something, we help them build the capability to be less reactive around things like food in the future. We recommend doing this around meal times by using a game we like to call the Elevator Game.
Here’s a video that shows you how to play this game with your dog.
Don’t chase your dog if he does get ahold of something he’s not supposed to have. With my dog Tucker, we were able to get him to overcome his food aggression by putting a leash on him and letting him drag a leash around the house. This was beneficial because if he ever got ahold of something he wasn’t supposed to, instead of just grabbing for the thing he wasn’t supposed to have in his mouth, I simply stepped on his leash (which was 6 feet away from his mouth – far enough away to not be deemed a threat to his resource) and took him over to his crate, where I’d make him go in.
But here’s the trick…
On the way to the crate I would ask him to “drop it”. And since we’d already worked on drop it he knew what this meant. If he decided not to drop the item I let him keep it, but he had to go in his crate with the item for 20 minutes.
But if Tucker obeyed me and dropped his item before he got to his crate, he didn’t have to get locked inside of it… PLUS I’d give him a treat from the treat bowl if he dropped the item. So he got extra goodies from me for obeying.
Putting dogs on a leash avoids the confrontation and potential retaliatory bites that can occur if I tried to stop my dogs possession hoarding by yelling or hitting or reaching for the item the dog has in its mouth.
It helps the dog realize that life is better if HE decides to give something up, in a way that didn’t involve aggressive punishment, and instead just involved giving my dog two choices… to either keep what he has, but be in a timeout. Or drop it, get a treat of equal or greater value, and not be in a timeout.
Taking this approach to training a dog to be less aggressive when it comes to protecting their resources will result in a dog who slowly builds up more and more tolerance and acceptance when it comes to sharing his things, because this approach is aimed at teaching him that we really aren’t trying to steal things from him like he thinks we are; and allows him to chill out and become less paranoid.
Aggressive Behavior #2: Dog-To-Dog Aggression
Dog-to-dog aggression is a very common form of aggression in dogs. Its root can usually be traced back to poor socialization; a dog who was poorly socialized as a puppy may be aggressive.
The same applies to dogs who were in isolation as a puppy and continued to be socially neglected as time wore on. When it comes to dog to dog aggression one of my favorite animal training quotes says. And the same can be said about dogs…
One of the most important things you can do to help your dog NOT be dog-to-dog aggressive is to make sure he is properly socialized as a pup, and not fearful around other dogs. Most people think that proper socialization is just letting your dog hang out with other dogs, like by taking them to a dog park.
But what they often fail to realize is what types of dogs usually go to dog parks?
ANSWER: Other dogs who also need socialization!!!
So, if you’ve got a dog who is dog-to-dog aggressive, don’t think that just dumping him into a dog park is going to help you – it won’t.
From our experience, dogs who are antisocial actually have a very specific problem.
They don’t know how to read the body posture and cues being given by other dogs, and this makes them more likely to be fearful and overreact with aggression, because they are essentially blind to “getting a read” on how other dogs are feeling about them. As you can imagine, if you couldn’t tell the difference between whether another dog wanted to play with you or bite you, that would make it pretty hard to be a confident dog in a social setting, wouldn’t it?
Because you wouldn’t know how to read other dogs, you’d be full of social anxiety about whether how you were behaving was being accepted or rejected by the other members of your pack. A properly socialized dog does not have this problem, because it has learned how to read eye, body, posture, and tail wagging cues; which researchers believe is the non-verbal language dogs have evolved to communicate with each other from the wild. And unsocialized dogs simply haven’t learned this language yet; that’s why they struggle to get along with dogs who have.
If you feel like your dog is bad at reading other dog’s social cues, we have a Socialization Course that helps dog’s learn how to read other dog’s.
Invest In a Dog Walking or Daycare Provider
We always recommend to new puppy owners that they invest the extra money into finding a local doggy daycare, dog walker or pet sitter that has pre-screened their dogs as ‘dog friendly’, where you can expose your dog to proper socialization.
When you bring your dog to a doggy daycare facility where they can interact with a whole pack of other friendly dogs, here’s the beautiful thing that happens…
- Your dog will have a desire to do something, let’s say it’s to wrestle with another dog
- There will be some dogs who want to wrestle at that moment, and…
- There will be some dogs who don’t want to wrestle at that moment
- Your dog will attempt to wrestle with one of them and will either be met with a “NOPE” response from that other dog (with some sort of avoidance response) or your dog will be met with a “SURE! Let’s Play!” response.
Over the course of a week, your dog’s behavior towards other dogs will be continuously met with a variety of social body cues that you or I could NEVER hope to teach him. These are cues only taught by other dogs. And if he’s met by negativity there is almost undoubtedly another dog in the pack who’d be happy to play.
Only in this type of environment can your dog quickly learn how to tell the difference in body language between dogs who want to be left alone, and dogs who want to play; and this allows them to learn how to read social cues and start to respect how other dogs want to be treated.
But if your dog is like a social ‘bull in a china shop,’ and thinks everyone should want to play with him, when you introduce him to dogs that aren’t as willing to play… (where your dog continues to try to play, oblivious to the other dog’s social cues that they don’t want to play)… your dog is going to end up getting bitten over and over again… and will start to think that all other dogs are bad.
So please, when getting your dog around other dogs, do it in a pack environment, that way at least one dog in the pack will want to play rough, and your dog will learn how to tell the difference between the one dog who wants to play and the others who don’t.
So that’s step one 😉
How to Handle Dog to Dog Anxiety
If your dog already has too much anxiety around other dogs or is an OVERREACTIVE dog when around other dogs (like if he’s lunging, barking or snapping at every dog he sees), then here’s what you want to do. Don’t allow your dog to get too ramped up around other dogs. When passing by other dogs on a walk, use devices like a head halter to prevent your dog from getting too amped up and charging off. It’s a great tool for preventing your dog’s anxiety around other dogs from growing as you take your dog for walks. However, head halters won’t fix your dog’s anxiety, they just prevent it from getting worse.
To attack the root of your dog’s dog-to-dog anxiety, or over-excitement…
Play THIS game with your dog.
It’s called the Look Away Game, and it shows you how to teach your dog to control his over-excited or over-anxious, impulsive emotions and behavior when near or around other dogs. This exercise is the first step to un-training dog-to-dog aggression. The Look Away Game trains your dog to make eye contact with you when he sees other things like dogs, cats, squirrels, or deer out in his world. (note how the trainer in this video doesn’t have to use punishment to get her dog to learn this behavior)
After you watch this video, make sure you download this FREE training exercise that shows you the next steps you need to learn when helping your dog learn to behave around other dogs.
Aggressive Behavior #3: Dog to Human Aggression Issues
If your dog is acting aggressively due to root causes of fear, territorial or defensive aggression (where they feel the need to protect you or your home excessively) or they have dominance aggression issues, we recommend that you seek the help of a veterinary behaviorist.
Trying to self-teach yourself some dog training methods for these types of aggression is not recommended.
A veterinary behaviorist will do a full work up to see what type of training, treatment or medication might best help your dog overcome his aggression issues. Veterinary behaviorists have helped more dog owners with their dogs aggression than any other industry and they are experts at working with your dog’s breed type challenges, so PLEASE seek out their advice if your dog is aggressive towards people.
Sometimes they’ll suggest something as simple as putting your dog on an anti-anxiety supplement like our CALMZ supplement or a CBD oil for dogs. Other times it requires specific types of positive reinforcement based training or medications to help manage your dog’s specific type of aggression.But one thing is true with dog to people aggression.
Most experts agree that dog to people aggression is one of those dog behavior problems that you should look to try to manage, instead of cure. Fortunately there are lots of resources for helping you manage your dogs aggression, and if you’re looking for a great place to start, we recommend learning how to manage your dog’s aggression by taking our ERT (Emotional Recalibration Training) Program For Aggressive dogs.
It’s our interactive program where you get to interact with a real canine aggression expert who helps teach you how to manage the different types of dog aggression you may be struggling with.
The Bottom Line:
Knowing what to look for when it comes to dog play behavior will help you understand if your dog is displaying signs of distress or discomfort, or if your dog is being aggressive to other dogs. For example, look for things like raised hackles (which is the hair on a dog’s back between the shoulders), quickly looking around for an escape, or constantly going under furniture to hide. If your dog is in a group play situation and is constantly trying to get away, looking nervous or stressed, or has his tail tucked while running, those are also warning signs that they are not enjoying playtime and it’s time to break it up.
Lack of training and socialization is almost always the cause for either people or dog aggression. It is so important the dog understands you are the leader. As I said in other articles, I do not subscribe to the need to “dominate” most dogs. Most dogs will understand you are the leader if you just lead.
The problem is, many people don’t know how to lead their dog or what their dog needs. Instead they attribute human emotion to the dog – and dogs are not human and do not process the world the same way that humans do. If you think your dog might be showing any signs of aggressive or dominant behaviors, please contact a dog trainer. A good dog trainer will teach you how to work with your dog and through simple exercises and obedience training show your dog you are the leader and that he or she can trust you!
The dog is man’s best friend. We have a relationship that stretches back generations; while today’s dogs generally aren’t trained and used the same as the hunting and sporting dogs of yesteryear, they still may express some of their older tendencies. However, the reasons aren’t what one may think; very rarely are dogs just aggressive because they were bred to be aggressive – though this may still play a small factor. Instead, focus on identifying the problem if your dog is showing some aggressive tendencies.
Is it showing resource guarding aggression? Could it be dog-to-dog aggression? Dog to human aggression, even? Find the root of the problem. Once that’s done, you can work to actually solving the problem, rather than covering it up or suppressing the reactions that may occur due to the problem. Finally, feel free to enroll in our ERT course to help your dog to overcome any other emotional or persisting aggression problems that it may have!
Want to Learn How to Eradicate Nearly ALL Your Dog’s Aggressive Behaviors?
Enroll in our 8-week MASTER-CLASS on Emotional Re-calibration Training (ERT) specifically for Over-reactive, Fearful and Aggressive dogs.