Petiquette With Jim Burwell: Changing Dog Aggression — Is It Possible?
When you are the owner of a dog that often shows aggression whether to other dogs or people, finding the best information on how to remedy this can be difficult and confusing. There is so much information out there on dog aggression, much of it by hobby trainers. The information could even be harmful.
The best time to start training your dog is when he is still a puppy. This allows you time to socialize your puppy to other dogs, people and children so that as the puppy gets older starting at about 4 to 5 months, the chance of fear being associated with these things is greatly diminished or not a problem at all. Fear can be the basis for dog aggression.
Working with an aggressive dog can be a bit frightening to the owner. If this is the case, you may want to consider getting some help by using a trainer who understands positive behavior modification and has worked with aggressive (reactive) dogs. If the aggression is not severe, you may be able to change this yourself with consistency and patience.
The first step you should take when you begin the process of eliminating the dog’s aggression problem is prevention. What do I mean by this? As you are beginning to work on your dog’s behavior, don’t put him in situations or settings he is not used to. Prevent problems from occurring as you begin to rehabilitate your dog. This is a slow process.
You must learn how to re-direct the behaviors of your dog. If you place him in areas where he will become aggressive before you have the understanding and the handling skills of how to re-direct those behaviors, he has the chance to once again display the bad behavior. You want to eliminate this, not give him even more opportunities to act out his aggressions. If you do this, you have set your dog up to fail.
The next area you want to approach is obedience. Teach your dog to “sit” first. You can progress to down, stay, off and all the other commands once you are comfortable that he has the first command down. By teaching your dog obedience, you will find that you feel more comfortable in the leadership role. You dog will also begin looking at you in a different light and will begin to believe that you can handle any situation, so he doesn’t need to.
Teaching your dog to obey simple commands will go a long way in changing the aggressive behavior. Obedience commands give you appropriate actions for your dog to do instead of aggressing. This is called re-directing. Give your dog the opportunity to do an appropriate action and praise him instead of allowing him to fail.
This is the point where you may want to join a class that involves people who have dogs with aggression problems. It isn’t likely that a friend will let you use their dog to see if your dog is still aggressive after you have worked on your dog. A class specifically for aggressive dogs, with experienced trainers lessens everyone’s fear and you will have assistance in helping your dog not to aggress. It will also teach you the appropriate handling skills you will need to help your dog be successful.
Teach your dog desired behavior and you may soon find that he loses much of aggression he had before.
Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog, as you are the teacher of your children, and remember, “Opportunity Barks”