How to Help an Aggressive Dog

Knowing the cause of your dog's behavior problem is key to correcting it.


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Dominance is not the only trigger for biting. "In general, dogs bite to assert themselves in situations over which they feel the need for control," Dodman says. Consequently, before taking remedial action, owners must examine the context of the dog's behavior. This sometimes requires the help of a dog trainer or behaviorist. In rare cases, intractable aggression may be rooted in organic brain disease, systemic ailments, or plain irresponsible breeding, such as when two dominant-aggressive dogs are bred indiscriminately with one another. A dog conditioned to be aggressive is difficult to retrain. Sometimes euthanasia is the most humane option.

Fear of people (often uniformed), places (such as veterinary clinics), and situations (such as being cornered) can also incite biting. To modify the aggressive behavior of fearful dogs, many behaviorists recommend desensitization. It teaches a dog to be less reactive to a bite-provoking stimulus through low, gradually increasing levels of exposure to it. Desensitization works best when combined with what behaviorists call counter-conditioning, where the dog is rewarded for remaining calm during the retraining process. Thus, the dog learns to expect pleasure amid a situation that once triggered fear and aggression.

Dogs that chase and assault passersby are often set off by predatory drives. Instead of seeing an innocent jogger or cyclist, a predatory dog sees prey on the run. Often the simplest solution is to confine the dog to your property. Any dog running at large is an accident waiting to happen, but the stakes are much higher when the roaming canine is prone to aggression.

Unfortunately, predatory dog behavior is nearly impossible to "train out" because the instinct is hard-wired. Dodman recommends channeling predatory energy into harmless activities, such as fetching balls or Frisbees, swimming and agility practice.

A daily 20- to 30-minute aerobic workout, such as running off leash in a safe, closed-in area, often complements training when treating any type of aggression. Additionally, Dodman recommends adjusting an aggressive dog's diet to suit its activity level and avoiding nutritional surpluses, such as excess calories, that might fuel aggression.

Miller practiced the positively reinforced "work for a living" approach with Murphy every day for the rest of his life. Murphy had a 10-year no-biting streak when he died last year. But Miller stresses that owners of "reformed" biters can never become complacent. "I never considered Murphy 'cured' or 100-percent trustworthy," she says. "But the years of loyal companionship and fun more than made up for the extra attention he required."

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Ezzie   Boulder Creek, CA

6/19/2013 6:26:03 AM

I have an 8 year old pom/yorkie mix and she is very aggressive. When she was a very small puppy we came home to find a pit bull trying to get in the screened porch where we had her so I started taking her with me to work with me which was a real estate office. There were always other people in and out of there plus a couple of dogs so she was always around people and dogs but she is still aggressive and has been her whole life. If anyone she doesn't know even looks at her she just goes off. I have tried everything but nothing works. Luckily she only weighs 9 pounds because she gets so out of it she will even bite me if I try to pick her up or move her. Then she is totally hyper after the event.

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lewison   boston, MA

3/23/2011 2:07:25 PM

took my 5 yr.old 80lb.lab/akita to the clinic to be neutered .put a muzzle on him which has been used 3 times for shots only & because there was a smaller dog in the lobby. he is a house pet and doesn't socialize with other dogs.also never been in a cage was put in one i believed to have been to small.he wilded out. they said he was an agressive behavior training still in his future. he has never bitten anyone gets along well with family members and certain people

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janet   bethlehem, PA

3/8/2011 4:18:49 AM

good article, thanks for the info

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Jan   Downingtown, PA

11/16/2010 6:29:57 AM

I have aggression issues in my 3 year old Rottweiler since a particularly bad experience at the vet when he was a year old. He was in training for the entire 1st year of his life and socialized, socialized, socialized. That one day upset the apple cart. Since then, I have been constantly in re-training with my dog. He was coming around when my youngest son had to come back to live with me for a while. Now, my dog is so stressed he can hardly stand it. He doesn't know my son and refuses to accept him! I have to use a series of gates to keep everyone safe. I am going to try a flower essence called Devil Be Gone. If that fails, I guess I have to locate a really good behaviorist for my dog. I love my dog and don't want to see him like
Good article.

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