Why “Correcting” Your Dog For Jumping on People Can Create an Aggressive Dog
I recently had a client come to me, with a Golden Retriever that is about a year old but is suddenly getting aggressive when people approach.
The dog has always been social with people, and is overly social at home although she is showing small signs of beginning to change at home as well.
The owner is devastated, and can’t understand why all of a sudden there is such a change in the demeanor of her dog.
She did all the right things with the puppy when she was young, socializing her, taking her to a training class, and spaying her before her first heat.
But now all of a sudden things are changing rapidly and scarily.
Her dog tried to bite a child who approached them the other day.
So I as I got more history from the owner and information we began to deduce why this is happening.
The dog has always been pretty happy go lucky and has always jumped on people in greeting.
When she was a puppy and little, her owner didn’t really mind, so she learned to socialize with people in this way.
Originally as a puppy she was a little nervous and shy and hesitant, but the owner was able to work her through it well by letting her warm up and then socialize with people.
The owner had taught her through classes to stay “Off” of them so she has learned not to jump on her owners.
But as she has aged and gotten bigger the jumping on people has become more of an issue for her owner.
The dog knocked down a child with a happy jump and wag and she was then severely corrected, yelled at, smacked and then whacked across the face with the leash. This was the “defining moment” that the owner decided it was time to teach her some manners.
As you can now imagine the “dog obedience class” was not one that focused on positive reward, control, and teaching behaviors motivationally; it was a class that focused on prong collars and using compulsion to deal with problems when they arrived.
So the owner; terrified she would knock down another child began harshly correcting her with a prong collar at first when she would happily approach people; and then what she thought was proactively as people approached her.
As you can imagine, she learned to stay “Off” of people.
But her owner still used corrections to “ensure obedience and her alpha role in their relationship” and to make sure that the dog didn’t jump on people.
She did everything she was taught and have even gone back to the original trainer for more advice; which was to proactively use corrections to keep the dog “Off” as she gave the command and give a stronger leash pop. If she wasn’t having success, it was because the dog did not respect her as alpha and leader of the house.
She came to me because I am known for my positive techniques and success and not only was she getting tired and scared of the aggression she was also tired of using the techniques she had used all her life with all her dogs.
So What is Happening?
Why on earth is her dog getting aggressive? And, WHY is her initial training not working?
It is pretty simple for me to see when she breaks down the history of the dog, the dog’s temperament, and the way the dog has been trained; paired with the corrections she is getting now for interacting with people.
The dog was a nervous puppy, to me this tells me she was initially not confident and was worried about probably people and her environment.
Through socializing (and unfortunately jumping) the puppy learned to enjoy the interaction of people and began to get excited when she met people.
The owner allowed the behavior to become a bad “habit” and we all know how hard it is to break a “bad habit” so she let the behavior slide until she got a scary situation when the dog jumped on a child.
The dog didn’t know any better, she was just doing what came natural to her; but right after the interaction with the child she was corrected, beaten and yelled at.
She Associated the Beating with the Child
Even if she didn’t associate it with the child at first, she quickly learned that interacting with people brought PAIN.
She learned to stay off of people but she also was corrected just when people approached so PEOPLE became her common denominator.
It is also my assumption that she was even more severely corrected for approaching children because the original stressor was with a child; so children were even more scary. Plus children are closer behaviorally to dogs and easier to succeed showing aggression towards.
For example; if you are a nervous dog you might be scared to bite the 6’4 man that has approached you… you will probably chose to run to try and get away… but if a child comes at you your odds of successfully biting something smaller with poor social skills (remember kids run at, scream, move too quickly and can stress dogs anyway) are more likely, plus it is harder to run away from a running child. A full grown human, most anyway see and understand not to touch a dog when it is trying fiercely to retreat, but a child will still try to get at a dog.
So to the dog:
As a way to keep her safe, she uses her defense mechanism of aggression; growling and snapping to stop people from getting too close to her.
AND she is pretty successful!
Most people don’t want to pet a growling, snapping dog (even a Golden)so she has learned to control people.
I believe if she had been a stronger natured dog, more confident, she would likely have bitten her owner for hurting her by now to get the pain to cease.
What Should She Have Done
I hope, that as you are reading this you are not HERE in the shoes of THIS OWNER because she has some serious work to do, and in my opinion will never be able to fully trust her dog again. However she can turn the tide for her dog, it will be much more difficult than teaching the dog appropriately in the beginning.
Dogs need to be taught appropriate manners as puppies.
They should not be allowed to socialize with people unless they have good manners.
This is really hard with a puppy, because we want them to be social, and we don’t see the “big picture” of how bad this behavior will be when the dog his big.
But puppies are capable of learning control.
Most 8 week old puppies can be taught to sit and wait on command (at least for a short time).
Using a method like this to stop a dog from jumping up are MUCH more effective and don't have the negative side effect of potentially creating aggression issues.
So for puppies who WANT to socialize they can learn that sitting and waiting brings what they want “socialization with people”; and for puppies that are nervous they can learn to sit and wait and people can give them treats for confident calm behavior (which makes these new people more fun and exciting) and the owner can teach them confidence by getting them to give the owner eye contact and focus.
For more on eye contact and focus click here our Companion Dog Program also revolves around this skill, so for more help email email@example.com to find out when our new session will begin.
The puppy would learn in a positive way how to control people and it’s environment without force and still would learn appropriate manners and obedience that would keep him from jumping on people, especially when he gets older.
This dog will now have to work on some pretty severe desensitization (for more on that click here)to learn that people are once again good.
But with her history, her owner will have to control people and her environment to make sure she does get stressed and revert back to her fear and aggression.
She will now always need to keep a faithful eye out for any signs of aggression.
And, she will need to work as slowly as the dog needs to ensure she doesn’t stress the dog to the point of aggression.
She needs to stop using the prong collar and pain! For help on weaning your dog from training collars click here.
The dog will learn to work for toys, and treats, games and attention and affection of her owner.
Her owner must also change their relationship because right now the dog doesn’t trust her and certainly doesn’t see her as fun! She needs to avoid conflict which causes stress and aggression for more on avoiding conflict click here.
And, remember if it doesn’t feel right (you don’t want to hit, smack, whack and otherwise correct or hurt your dog) it isn’t. There are other ways to train that don’t leave you and your dog at odds and in fear of each other!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.