Why Dog Aggression is Self-Rewarding
Dog aggression is such a complicated phrase and definition.
Dog aggression comes in many forms.
Dogs can be:
- Aggressive toward men
- Aggressive toward women
- Aggressive toward children
- Even aggressive toward children under a certain age (typically toddler age)
- Or aggressive with any unknown human
- Aggressive toward family members
- Aggressive toward animals (prey aggression)
- Aggressive toward fast moving objects (scooters, cars, skateboards)
- Possession aggressive or resource guarders
- Dog aggressive
- Aggressive when anything happens that the dog doesn’t want
And, then there are any kinds of combination of the above and of course more that I am sure I haven’t hit on in this list.
Dog aggression is very complicated.
That is why when people ask for specific behavioral advice over the internet related to aggression, I usually feel like I can’t help them.
After all, I can really only help dogs whose aggression and behavior I can witness.
It takes extensive history and time to treat dogs with aggression, which is why boarded veterinary behaviorist’s time seems expensive in the beginning.
But There is One Facet About Dog Aggression That is Pretty Universal
Dog aggression is self-rewarding.
This is a very difficult concept for some people to understand, mostly because we don’t want it to be true.
But, the truth is animals continue behaviors that are in some way rewarding.
They get something out of their aggression.
They scare the person or the dog away.
Or they feed off the adrenaline.
Sometimes they feed off of the adrenaline from the fear which, in turn, scares the person or dog away.
Have You Ever
Have you ever gotten scared or gotten mad and made a grand stand that scared someone or something away?
It was kind of rewarding, right?
And, if it was successful, chances are that you may do it again.
In order for it not to be successful, it requires pain or some other kind of traumatic event (which no one wants).
This is why putting an end to aggression is so very, very difficult.
Because although you want to think your dog is in complete distress, the truth is that in some way, he is feeding off of his aggressive feelings.
How, Then, Do You Deal With Dog Aggression?
This is kind of a trick question; because if you are looking to “deal” with dog aggression you have waited too long and are losing the battle.
I need to deny my dog that self-rewarding aggressive feelings.
I need for him to forget how much he enjoys the adrenaline of getting aggressive.
I need to avoid dog aggression all together!
That means you need to be perceptive enough to know what his triggers are and plan for them.
Does your dog get aggressive with people or dogs, or both?
You also need to be insightful enough to notice his slight changes of behavior before he gets into the throws of aggression.
Changes of Behavior
We use this phrase a lot when we are talking about dogs who do scent detection work.
When a drug dog is sniffing for drugs, and his nose begins to detect the drug, as handlers we begin to see minute changes of behavior.
He may slow down, his nose may point in a different direction or his feet may bounce. The truth is that each dog is different.
The end behavior or the alert is the same, but the miniscule behaviors just before the end is different in each dog.
The same is true for dogs with aggression.
The end behavior, AGGRESSION, is the same for each dog (it may look slightly different but the idea is the same).
But the miniscule changes of behavior before the aggressive event can be different.
Some Common Changes
- Pupils dilating
- Ears high
- Ears back
- Tail up
- Tail up and fast tail wag (the “rattlesnake wag”)
Each dog is different. For one dog it might be a slight glance out of the corner of their eye, for another it will be putting his ears straight up and for another, it will be a stiffened body position.
Some dogs may run through a combination of the above list or have some other sign that is not listed.
The important thing is recognizing the signs BEFORE blatant aggression shows it’s ugly head.
Once the dog is:
- Darting Back and Forth
You have lost the battle.
If you catch him early you can give him an obedience command; Sit, Down, Watch Me, Heel, etc. and give him something that will change his mind set and give him something he can accomplish.
We want to stop the aggression from coming forward.
Each time we stop the aggression we begin to positively condition a response to his trigger.
Each time he is allowed to or does get aggressive, it sets everyone back in the training process. And, unfortunately one negative experience will over ride several dozen positive experiences; so do your best to not allow it to happen!
And, if it does; and it will, just stick to your training regimen!
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.