Aggression is just as stressful for dogs as it is for dog owners! Since dogs have the same goal as humans- to get through each day with as little stress as possible- we owe it to them and to ourselves to help them resolve these issues. Aggression is not a natural state of mind for a dog, but rather, the result of negative experiences, frustration, fear, or lack of socialization. Sometimes it is a combination of these things, creating an even more complex issue. In all cases of aggression, we begin by assessing “why” your dog is behaving aggressively.
Below we have outlined several types of aggression that we deal with regularly and can work towards correcting. In all aggression cases, we require that the owners actively commit to following our guidelines and instructions following our Fort Collins training program. There are some forms of aggression, “predatory aggression” for example, that you cannot “solve” because it is directly linked to instincts. You may, however, be very successful in managing these instincts by teaching your dog impulse control and allowing appropriate outlets to use their prey drive.
Types of Aggression in Dogs
The most common forms of aggression we deal with are Fear Aggression (includes People and Children Aggression), Dog Aggression, and Predatory Aggression. People commonly misinterpret aggression and use incorrect labels when explaining it like, “my dog hates children” or “my dog hates other dogs”. Dogs do not react because they “hate” so much as they are responding from fear, possessiveness, or territorial instincts. In these situations it is key that we properly reassign the leadership role to the humans (instead of the dog) so that the dog does not carry the burden of making such stressful decisions! It is amazing how significantly strong leadership can alter a dog’s need to be reactive in stressful situations. When a dog understands that its human is advocating for him and will manage high stress situations, we begin to see the dog making better choices and feeling calmer.
Dog Aggression Is Common
Dog aggression is very common in today’s society. A lot of dogs will react toward a dog that has posed zero threat. This does not necessarily mean your dog is “dog aggressive”. In most cases the dog does not have social skills, which is a lot easier to work through than a true dog to dog aggression. Since aggression is NOT a natural state of mind for a dog, nor are dogs born aggressive something has shaped this behavior. Nine times out of ten it is related to either lack of socialization or poor socialization which resulted in a dog making a “generalization” or an “overall negative association” with something due to one or two bad experiences.
An example of this type of aggression would be a puppy that was attacked by an adult dog at an early age (say 12 weeks) and this just happened to be the 3rd dog it had met. Because of this “scary attack” the owners started “sheltering the puppy” keeping it away from other dogs for fear that he would be attacked again. So, what happened was the puppy had only met three dogs in his life and one attacked him. The puppy grows up thinking: “there is a very good chance when I meet another dog I could be attacked”. This puppy has a very high probability of being dog aggressive when he is older, but this will not show until he is about a year and half old. What the owner should have done is gone overboard finding as many friendly dogs as possible to introduce to their puppy to “outweigh” that one negative experience with the dog that attacked. If this puppy met 125 friendly dogs after that one bad experience chances are he will have forgotten about that negative one long ago and not develop an “anxiety” around other dogs.
Many dog owners don’t realize that social skills are something most dogs need to continue practicing throughout their life. You really can never stop socializing you dog in order to keep their skills fully fresh. We hear a lot of owners say their dog used to get along great with other dogs, and for some reason they hate other dogs now, this is usually a case of a dog whose social skills have not stayed “current” or “fresh”. For some dogs, social skills have to be practiced very frequently in order to be good with other dogs. Keep in mind too, social skills are required to communicate with “strange” dogs, not dogs they know or see all the time. If you are getting your dog around the same dogs all the time, that is not practicing social skills.
Because of lack of or poor social skills, most aggression is fear based (even though it can look the exact opposite). Even if your dog is the “initiator”, chances are he is still reacting out of fear or feeling uncomfortable. A great deal of aggressive dogs go on offense before they have to be on defense, and because it works for them, they continue reacting this way to solve the problem of “feeling uncomfortable”. What we have to do is find a different way to solve your dog’s problem and make them more comfortable in the situation from the start. Aggression is NOT a natural state of mind for a dog. No dog wants to feel this way – they are looking for a way out – and we can help them.