Most of us who share our lives with dogs consider them to be members of the family. Thus, it's extremely difficult when our four-legged companion displays aggressive behavior. Although aggression is a complex issue, there are several steps that can be taken to alleviate the problem. To curb this trait and to train your pet to be a better companion in general, it's necessary to have a consistent dog training program that you can implement each day.
Try these ideas to help:
- Consult your veterinarian. If your dog has never shown any signs of aggression and suddenly begins growling at, snapping at or biting people, talk to your vet. This type of sudden change in behavior can be a sign of an underlying medical problem such as hypothyroidism or a brain tumor. Once a medical condition is treated or controlled with medication, your pet's behavior may go back to normal.
- Consult a professional trainer or behaviorist. Aggression is one of the toughest problems to overcome. Because of its seriousness, your best bet is not to attempt to fix it alone. Have a trained professional assess your dog's behavior and plan a course of action. The expert should also be able to tell you how your puppy got this way so you can prevent it from occurring again.
- Determine the situations that provoke aggressive behavior, and avoid them whenever possible. There are a number of reasons why dogs exhibit aggressive behavior including fear and territoriality. An important step in controlling the behavior is knowing what causes it. Does he growl and snap when people approach his food bowl? Does he try to bite if his feet are touched? Does he growl at strangers who enter your home? Knowing what sets off your pet can help you work with the trainer to decide the best course of action, and in the meantime you can simply avoid situations that elicits aggression.
- Create a behavior modification program. Again, this is not something that an owner should do on his or her own, but only with the help of a professional behaviorist or trainer. They can help you create a program using positive reinforcement training methods. For instance, if your dog growls a bit as you approach his food bowl, your trainer may have you practice approaching the bowl when it's empty and dropping a treat into it. Your pet will begin to learn that when people approach his bowl good things happen for him. You would slowly work up to approaching while he's eating. The starting point for exercises such as this depends on the degree of aggression exhibited. Medication may also be a part of the program.
- Be consistent. One of the toughest parts of working on a behavior modification program is being consistent. Your dog is going to learn new behaviors only if his actions result in the same consequences every time.
- Never punish your pet for acting aggressively. There are two problems with this: The first is that aggression breeds aggression. If you punish your dog for snapping at you, he may feel the need to defend himself or his territory with a bite. The second problem is that too often we punish our dogs for growling or snapping at people. Granted, this is unwanted behavior, but these behaviors are also an indication that the animal is uncomfortable in certain situations. If someone approaches and he growls, usually the person will heed the warning and back off with no further harm done. If you don't allow him to give a warning growl or snap, he is more likely to simply bite when put into a situation that makes him uncomfortable. This is why so many people report unprovoked bites. The bite is not usually unprovoked; the dog simply has no means of warning you that you're moving beyond his comfort zone.
- Be prepared for baby steps. Aggression is not a problem that's going to go away overnight, and it may never be fully cured. It may instead be a problem that you learn to manage. It's unrealistic to hope to see major improvementsovernight, but in many cases owners who follow these programs do end up seeing changes in aggressive behavior over time.
- Take steps early in your dog's life to prevent aggression issues later on. One of the best things you can do for your dog is to socialize him as a puppy. Dogs go through a critical development period between the ages of eight and 16 weeks. The more new people and experiences he can be exposed to in a positive manner during this time, the less likely he is to act aggressively in new situations later. You can also make an effort during this time to get him used to being held and groomed while getting lots of praise and treats. Also, take opportunities to drop special treats in his food bowl while he's eating, and to offer him treats in trade for a bone or other toy he's chewing on.
- In cases of serious aggression, be prepared for the worst. There are, unfortunately, some dogs who have aggression issues that even the best trainer is unable to change. In these cases, the animal may present a serious threat to you or other family members. You may have to make a very difficult decision and opt for euthanization in this instance.
Aggression is a serious and complex issue. In many cases, with consistency and the help of a professional, the problem can be overcome or managed.