The Top 5 Reasons Your Dog is Aggressive
The puppy in the video below is 4 weeks…YES, 4 weeks…old! This is much too serious a behavior for such a tiny puppy!
Dog aggression seems to be of epic proportions lately!
Sometimes I wonder if it is because I am a dog trainer and the majority of dogs that I see have some kind of behavior problem.
But, as of late, I think the majority of the problems I deal with are aggression.
It used to be simple lack of appropriate behavior, like jumping or barking or pulling on a leash…
Now, it seems it is a large combination of lack of appropriate behavior AND aggression.
And, for the most part, I can usually narrow down the reason for the surge in aggression issues, so I thought I would share those with you so you can avoid some of these pitfalls with your dog or puppy (in order of the most important complications, in my opinion).
Here Are The Top 5 Reasons Your Dog Is Aggressive:
5. Lack of Socialization
Puppies need socialization!
They need to see clear, concise and happy pictures of what life will look like when they are older.
They need to see people of all color, gender, and size.
They need to have positive experiences with children.
And, we must be especially careful with them while they are in their fear imprint impact periods.
From the age of 8 weeks to 11 weeks is their first fear impact period.
Learning at this stage is PERMANENT, yes, permanent, meaning if there is a traumatic experience it can be difficult, if not impossible, to completely change.
The second fear impact period happens when the dog is from 6 months to 14 months old.
It is critical at this time to NOT reinforce bad behavior or condition the dog by cooing to him. When he is scared, saying “it’s okay, it’s okay” will often condition or teach the dog to be scared in many situations. Eventually just these words, “it’s okay”, can create fear because you are using them when the dog is in a negative emotional state.
Just like your words can create excitement or happiness: “Go for a walk” means you are taking him for a walk, “It’s okay” will teach him that something scary is about to happen! Don’t do it!
Instead, teach him through training to be confident and encourage confident behavior!
4. Inappropriate Socialization
This seems to happen so often in our society today.
People think that “socialization” means placing the puppy in a stressful environment and letting him work through it.
Want to “socialize” him with kids? Find a pack of kids and let him go.
Want to “socialize” him with dogs? Take him to the dog park.
The truth is that this is completely WRONG!
Heck, I don’t even really like puppy socialization classes that allow the pups to play with reckless abandon! It seems that there are always one or two puppies that run around bullying the other puppies in the class… and that is not fun.
Imagine taking your toddler to “class” and allowing him to play with bigger toddlers with sharp ice picks that they are using to poke some of the smaller, more scared, toddlers.
Because, let’s face it, these puppies chase down the smaller, more scared, puppies, corner them and then bite them… not fun!
Appropriate socialization means controlling the environment.
Find a dog that you know is great with puppies and let your puppy play with that dog.
Find ONE child at a time that you know is kind and who will quietly sit on the floor with your puppy or give treats.
I’ve shared this story before, but I feel it appropriate to share again. I had a friend who had a small Jack Russell puppy and the kids in the neighborhood wanted to play with him and hold him.
She was happy to be able to socialize him.
However, one of the kids dropped him.
He NEVER liked kids again. He was scared and defensive whenever children came around.
It is easier to say NO to a group of kids and then wait until you can control the child or children and the environment.
I’d rather hurt a few kids’ feelings than have to deal with a dog that is afraid of and hates kids for the next 15 years.
3. No Leash Manners
I know that sounds trite and like it is coming from a dog obedience trainer… and IT IS, because I know what happens if your dog is training himself.
Dogs that are in charge of their own leash training easily become reactive.
They see a dog, or person (or cat, scooter, kid) and begin pulling toward them.
The owner becomes agitated because their shoulder is getting pulled, so the owner tightens the leash.
The dog struggles more.
The human shortens the leash, yells and I have even seen owners whack their dog on top of the head…
This all becomes a negative experience and will undoubtedly bleed over to the next time the same person or object is seen.
Time and time again, the dog has a negative experience and begins to be “reactive” or defensive when they see this thing or person.
The dog and owner have conditioned each other that whatever the distraction is, it’s a bad thing!
And, because there were no leash manners to begin with, the dog’s behavior gets worse and worse until often the owner simply gives up and leaves the dog at home.
Leash manners and teaching your dog to ignore distractions and “heel” is one of the most important skills that you will ever teach him.
Click here to download your FREE copy of “The Look-A-Way” Game to help teach your dog to ignore distractions and pay attention to you.
By teaching him where to be next to your body and conditioning him to walk with a loose leash, you are preventing him from becoming reactive or aggressive in the first place.
There is no pull-and-pull-back.
There is no frustration from either source.
Instead, there is an obedient dog that knows exactly what to do and where to be.
Doesn’t that sound nice?
2. No Training
This one sounds a lot like the former example, and it is true, they are similar.
Leash manners and obedience go hand in hand.
Allowing an aggressive dog to lunge and spit and twirl on the end of the leash is the last thing you want to do!
You want to give an aggressive dog, or a potentially aggressive dog, something else to do with his mind.
When left to his own devices, he locks on to whatever is making him aggressive and he is working himself up into the red zone and the point of no return. Once he has reached this level, there is literally almost nothing you can do to change his mindset except pull him away from the situation as quickly as you can.
Instead, you need to be able to give him commands that he can adhere to, so that his mindset changes.
Instead of “I’m going to kill that other dog”.
I want to notice the subtle changes in my dog (just as he notices the other dog and before he locks on) and give him a command that he can be successful at achieving.
I want to say “heel” or “sit” or “look” or “watch”.
I might even turn him around and get him to give me push ups.
So instead of “I’m going to kill that other dog”, the dog thinks “OHHHHH, I CAN DO THAT”.
It totally changes his emotions and allows him to do something positive.
And, it gives you a chance to change directions (if needed) and diffuse the situation!
A dog with aggression issues should have the best obedience possible, because you both need it in times of stress.
Yes, I think all dogs should go through dog obedience.
But aggressive dogs should have impeccable obedience.
These skills will also help you to feel more secure in stressful situations.
For example, I have a dog that isn’t fond of people or other dogs, but his obedience is ON POINT.
If I see either a dog or another person that may get too close, I ask him to go into heel position and give me eye contact as we pass.
Ironically, now, even if he sees the distraction first (he saw a person running with a double baby stroller once and was a little freaked out), he goes into heel position on his own and gives me focus.
You see, the focus allows him to accomplish something that calms him. He can look away from whatever is causing him stress and allow me to take over.
It is actually relaxing to him for me to be in charge and allow him to let go of situations, knowing I will confidently protect him.
This allows him to be more confident in his environment. He will never be expected to do battle alone. He has ME!
Genetics are often the #1 cause of aggression.
You know that old “it’s how you raise them” spiel? It actually, really, isn’t true!
Remember that 4 week old puppy?
Genetics play a HUGE role in behavior!!!
Whereas “nurture” and socialization and training are crucial components and even more crucial at controlling aggression, genetics plays the largest role.
I know… you are angry right now.
You don’t want to believe that 4 or 6 week old aggressive puppies exist and will likely lead a life of aggression.
You want to blame the human in the video for “tormenting him while he ate”, when actually they were simply trying to depict how serious the puppy was when he stiffened and growled.
They are trying to show us how young a puppy can be and have severe aggression issues.
I mean, he isn’t likely to leave much of a mark at 4 weeks (which is why many people would ignore it) but at 6 months old, this dog will likely be dangerous if he is not worked with appropriately (which I am sure he will be since this video was to educate us and the humans recognize that this is a problem).
You want to be able to blame some human who “didn’t raise him right”.
Truthfully, in a lot of cases you can blame the breeder.
Sure, aggressive puppies can be born to mothers and fathers that are not aggressive, but most likely the aggression is passed down from mom and dad.
And, a female dog that has aggression and/or fear issues will not only pass that genetic information along to the puppies, she will teach her puppies through behavior and imprinting when they are young.
The most important thing when breeding dogs is NOT what they look like.
It isn’t the perfect top line, or the perfect shaped eyes. It isn’t tail carriage or straight hocks.
IT IS BEHAVIOR.
Friendly dogs tend to breed friendly puppies and aggressive and fearful dogs tend to breed aggressive, fearful puppies!
It is sad.
Because people are under the impression that all young puppies are a clean, empty slate that can and will become everything they want or train them to accomplish.
Those of us who compete in certain venues and sports know that this isn’t true.
We value genetics FIRST and then add the “nurture” and training foundation.
I know, I know, you are still mad.
And, you are doubting all this wordiness!
So here, check out this video of a 6 week old Border Collie herding sheep.
Now, try and tell me that this isn’t “genetics or instincts”, that this is purely training and nurture from the farmer.
I mean, it is ridiculous when you think of it in those terms.
It is clear that this dog was genetically bred and manufactured to herd sheep with precision.
Mom and dad were likely fantastic herders.
Yet, somehow, we think that 4 week old aggressive puppy had some kind of “trauma” that we can fix with just enough love.
That is simply not the case.
I will tell you that through training and the things we talked about earlier in this article, that, for the most part, you can learn to control and teach the dog to control his/her aggression.
It doesn’t even take YEARS of training. It just takes consistency, willingness, and perhaps an hour of work (several sessions broken up during the day) to see a distinct change.
But, the next time you lay judgement at the feet of the owner of an aggressive dog, who is legitimately trying to work with the dog and give it a better quality of life through obedience and determination, please remember this adorable little Border Collie puppy and remember that a lot of personality and instincts are also related to genetics.
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.