Aggression towards humans is easily the most misunderstood of all bad behaviors because of the natural fear we have around the primal side of our pets. Dogs can become aggressive for many reasons and depending on how you break it down there can be more than a dozen types of aggression. Most of the aggressive behaviors I encounter stem from dogs being nervous, excited, pushy, possessive or territorial.
Helping people get a handle on their dogs aggressive behaviors is determined by a couple of things:
- Assessing the type of aggression. Is the dog insecure or controlling and pushy?
- Has the dog bit the owner before?
The reason these things are important to me is that they help me understand where the dog is coming from. Nervous dogs bite to keep you at a distance - pushy dogs bite because they are in charge and don't like what you did.
Dogs who bite from being nervous
Dogs who are aggressive due to being insecure (sometimes called "fear biters") are the easiest to help and these dogs can stop aggressing with a few small changes. Often times when you create more confidence in the dog you remove the aggression. Check out the "fear and insecurity" page in the classroom section.
Nervous dogs who aggress are only trying to keep distance between themselves and what makes them nervous and they have learned that barking at things keeps them from getting closer. Here are a few things you can do to help dogs who are aggressive for insecure reasons:
- Increase their exercise.
- Don't pet or talk to your dog when the dog become reactive.
- Recognize your dogs "signs" or body language cues before they become reactive so you can redirect their attention away. When you see your dog is about to react you can first try to redirect with a sound, toy or treat.
- If redirection does not work its because the dogs energy is too high and that means we must block or correct.
- Sometimes the best approach is to just wait until the dog settles and once you bring your dog into a calm state you can reward with praise or a treat.
- Understand that the reason nervous dogs bark and act "aggressive" is to keep distance between themselves and their target.
- Dogs react because it works. Most owners quickly remove their reactive dogs from social situations which teaches the dog - aggression removes me from what makes me nervous.
- Don't remove your dog from the situation when they become reactive. You must get the behavior to calm down first, then you can remove the dog. Otherwise the dog learns that being aggressive will get me out of here.
- Once you are able to get their reactions under control you should practice taking them into the situations that they would normal react and get them calm, stay there for a few moments and leave. Keep increasing the time until the dog is completely non-reactive.
- Exposure creates confidence.
Dogs who bite from being pushy and controlling
If your dog will bite you when you try to take something from him, move him, or do something to him that he does not approve of your dog lacks respect. To change this you must first change the dynamic of the relationship. Check out pack leader tips in the classroom section.
This type of behavior is often seen in spoiled dogs who don't get rules, boundaries or limitations and when dogs don't get proper discipline they believe its their job to discipline you.
It is not uncommon for dogs like this to bite when you try to move them, take something from them, grab their paws, correct them or wake them - because the dog is telling you how and when you will interact with them. Pack Leaders are instinctively wired to correct a follower who tries to tell them what to do.
Dogs who believe they are in control are consistent in how/why they bite. Here are a few suggestions if you find yourself in this situation:
- Be very aloof to your dog. Pack leaders are naturally aloof and I suggest playing very hard to get for a while. No touch, no talk, no eye contact for 3 days. Its very hard to do but can be very powerful in regaining respect.
- Have your dog drag a leash around so you can move them without touching them.
- Follow the mantra expectation vs invitation. If your dog expects anything and gets it they can think they are in control. If your dog barks at you for something, paws at you, jumps on you or demands things from in any way and gets them - your dog thinks they are in charge.
- Your dog should only get things when invited and must always work for what they get. An example of this would be calling your dog to you and asking them to sit before they get affection.
- Wait for your dog to become calm before you give them anything. Only feed them when they are calm, only pet them when they are calm, only let them go through a door when they are calm, out the car when they are calm, ect. Nurturing calm is nurturing respect.
- Attach a leash to your dog and attach the other end to your waist. Its called anchoring and its a great way to take the pushy out of dogs. Having control over physical movement has a very powerful affect on a dog who acts overly pushy, controlling or dominant.
- Anchoring dogs to heavy things like couch while you watch t.v is also helpful. The reason this works has to do with a dog's instinctual understanding of whoever controls the movement is the one in charge.
- Dogs who are pushy or dominant should not sleep in your bed for 2 reasons. First, canine pack leaders typically sleep alone and second, most dogs who bite their owners do so when they are being removed from the bed or moved during the night.
- You must be a Pack Leader for this to work
The red zone is when a dog has reached the level of aggression where there is a serious and prolonged intent to harm or kill that is directed towards humans, dogs or other animals. Excited, insecure, dominant dogs of any breed, mixed with a nervous human can be a recipe of behavioral disaster that leads to the red zone.
Red zone cases can be difficult to help because the human has to be willing to make changes in themselves. If you are someone who is willing to work on personal growth, I can help you with your dog’s aggression. Just because they bite does not mean its over and if you understand your role you can change the message you have been sending.
Let me break down and determine the true cause of your dog's aggressive behaviors. Once we know why she bites we can put a plan in place and start with the basics. There is a good chance your dog is simply misunderstood, and I truly feel all dogs have a chance regardless of what others may have told you.