When Is It Time to Seek Professional Dog Training Help with Aggression?
I have been a professional dog trainer for almost 20 years, and although I sincerely hate confessing to that because it ages me, it is also something that I am very proud of! I have done many things in my vast career and I have seen even more things, admittedly good and bad.
Sometimes it is difficult to write blogs on dog training, especially dog aggression. I have to assume a common medium in most of my writing, not only about the dogs but also about the dog owners. Rarely are my articles geared to the most aggressive or the best behaved dogs because they are at the ends of the spectrum. Usually I write articles that are geared for the owners and their dogs that are somewhere in the middle.
This article is for those dogs and their owners who are at the peak of the most aggressive end of the spectrum. If you are afraid of your dog at times or his behaviors in any given situation, there is likely a good reason! Never deny or refute the feelings of fear, if you do you are liable to end up in the emergency room seeking at the very least stitches and a tetanus shot.
It is difficult if not impossible to gage the aggression of someone’s dog by simply reading a post or hearing information. The only true way to get a precise impression is to see it with your own eyes. When I do in home training and behavior modification, I can’t give accurate information until I have met the dog and witnessed the behavior.
The aggression a dog shows can be as small and simple as raising their hackles, or snarling, or growling or it can be as frightening as showing all of the above listed behaviors with lunging and biting.
What one person thinks is a serious display of aggression another may shrug off as normal dog behavior.
The truth is that almost no signs of aggression displayed by dogs are tolerable in normal society.
That being said, I take all reports of aggression very seriously. Even the smallest signs of aggression can escalate build on itself and lead to more serious and pronounced aggression.
I have often worked with brutal and terrifying dangerous dogs; I have seen many bites, incurred a few and I have seen many successful rehabilitations. However, rarely have I seen owners who were equipped with the knowledge and abilities to deal with these types of dogs. And occasionally I have even referred my clients to other professionals, usually veterinary behaviorists, when I feel that my clients were unable or unwilling to heed my advice.
Several years ago I worked with a dentist and his family, when their Great Pyrenees died of old age their family had gotten a white German Shepherd Dog puppy; his behavior was much different and much more dominant than they had ever experienced from their previously beloved Pyrenees. He was beginning to show some mild signs of aggression to their children, especially their youngest a girl of about 8 years old.
I had been called in and we discussed the seriousness of the behaviors and making the new puppy earn all of his privileges in life and the “nothing in life is free” principles then we set up a training regiment and I had their 8 year old working on clicker training, tricks and feeding the dog and changing their relationship with fun and games.
However, another trainer and a friend of the family suggested a different plan. He took the dog to his kennel for several weeks for “obedience training and behavior modification”. When he returned the dog he suggested having the 8 year old lay on the dog for a period of time each day. Despite my very adamant, vocal rejections and warnings of this program, they continued to force both the dog and child to engage in this very hazardous behavior.
Unfortunately after several days of this the girl was mauled and the dog was eventually euthanized; both cheated out of a normal life and both were unwilling participants in a perilous situation. Compulsion, corrections, force and pain are NEVER the way to treat aggression.
Aggression is no laughing matter, and even the smallest signs can escalate very rapidly into an uncontrollable dog.
What Can You Do?
As much as I would like to give you personal advice and information, I feel as if it would be negligent to expect to treat a dog with severe aggression without seeing it first hand. I can, however, give you the guidelines you need to be successful in your training and behavior modification endeavors.
If this is a new behavior, take your dog to the vet immediately! Many conditions can sponsor aggression. Ear infections, urinary infections, dysplasia, seizures and many more conditions can cause aggressive behavior. You owe it to your dog to do the proper verifying and make sure he is not in pain or suffering from other physical problems.
If your dog has been thoroughly cleared of a physical cause of aggression, it is time to seek help. The quality the help you find is in direct relation to how effective the behavior modification will be!
Sometimes what they say is true, “you get what you pay for” so don’t sell yourself or your dog short. That is not to say, nor to imply, that the most expensive alternative is the best. But don’t choose the trainer who is new to the field or has little experience. You don’t want you or your dog to be an experiment.
DO NOT use force or compulsion. I cannot say that enough! I have seen and heard about deplorable things done in the name in dog training and expelling aggression. Don’t try them, no matter how frustrated or angry you are! Aggression incites and breeds aggression; learn to use your mind to get your dog to do what you want. If it seems too easy, it probably is!
I almost ALWAYS recommend a veterinary behaviorist. That is a veterinarian who specializes in dog behavior and behavior modification. I recognize that you will probably pay a little more for such a service, but I also know that if they think your dog could benefit from medication you are hitting the “two birds with one stone”, so to speak. I know, too, that no good veterinary behaviorist would recommend things like prong collars, or choking dogs out; vets are going to use proven methods of positive reinforcement and behavior modification with the addition of proven prescription medication if needed.
Do not presume to treat severe aggression yourself or deny the work involved. Understand that any behavior modification process is lengthy. Be prepared to stick it out and do whatever you have to, to be successful.
Aggressive dogs are often not “re-homeable”. It is a HUGE liability to re-home a dog, that has bitten or shown signs of aggression. Even if you place a dog that “doesn’t like children” into a home without children, the odds of him never seeing or being exposed to another child is rare if not impossible. So what happens if that dog you placed mauls a child and you had previous knowledge of a bite? You could be in some deep trouble!
There are some tough decisions owners of aggressive dogs face; but I admonish you if you decide to work on the behavior, be willing to make some sincere changes.
Do not deny medication if your vet truly thinks it may help. So many owners I have encountered were initially unwilling to medicate their dogs for an infinite number of reasons, some reasonable and some irrational; I can attest to you that I have seen the benefit of the administration of medications.
I can also tell you that if I was bi-polar, schizophrenic, or had other mood disorders I would want medication to help me feel better and better control myself and my environment! Don’t deny your pet something that you would take for yourself or something that can make his struggle easier!
Owning an aggressive dog is not only a huge liability it also demands strict adherence and maintenance of your dog and his behaviors.
Only you can keep your dog from biting or showing aggression again. The safety of your dog and the public is in your hands! One moment of relaxed behavior or negligence can end in horror.
NO ONE wants to have to meet with the sheriff’s office, animal control or stand in front of a judge and have to try and explain WHY a bite occurred, especially AGAIN.
Don’t blame yourself. The old adage that if only a dog was “raised right” it wouldn’t have shown aggressive behavior is an urban legend. I have seen distinct and ruthless aggression from puppies as young as 6 weeks. Sometimes good people get aggressive dogs.
There is hope! If you are willing to adhere to the rules and the veterinary behavior modification plan, do your homework, and possibly administer medications there is a chance you can control the aggression. Aggression is usually not “curable” but it can be “containable”.
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.