I've gotten this phone call from Clients more times than I can count. Their dog just got into a dog fight or tried to bite a guest in their house-They are understandably upset and need immediate help. If this sounds familiar and your dog is acting aggressively towards other dogs or people, here's what to do, and what not to do:
* Remove Triggers immediately
If your dog is acting aggressively towards other dogs not in the same household (dog parks, on walks, dog daycare, etc), remove them from the situation. Until you can get help from a qualified dog trainer, stop dog daycare and dog parks. Keep walks very brief and consider muzzle training to keep other dogs as well as yours, safe. Visit www.muzzleupproject.com to learn how to properly condition a dog to a muzzle. Dog's do whatever works for them- if they are fearful and acting aggressively to keep other dogs away from them, the aggressive behavior becomes a learned behavior because chances are, it worked last time. If the dog is acting aggressively towards other dogs in the same household, separate the dogs and put them on a crate and rotate schedule for the meantime. http://www.pbrc.net/misc/CrateandRotate.pdf
If humans are concerned, and it only involves aggression towards strangers in the house, if at all possible, wait to have new visitors come over until your Trainer ok's it; If this isn't possible (I still can;t advise this option), put the dog in another room with a two barrier system. This would mean something to the effect of the dog goes in a crate with the door to the room securely closed. This keeps humans safe as well as your dog from the possible risk of euthanasia if something were to happen. If the aggression is towards other people in the household, a Force Free trainer that's well versed in Animal Behavior needs to be called immediately, and the dog must be muzzled and safely away from the person who they are showing aggression towards.
*A Vet Visit is in order ASAP
Any qualified trainer or behavior consultant will always rule out medical issues before trying to tackle the problem. Dogs in pain can act aggressively; even if it may not seem like they are in pain, dogs are great at hiding the fact that they don't feel well, for self preservation. Thyroid levels can also play a part in behavior, so make sure you ask your vet about this. Always Rule out any medical issues or diseases first.
*Contact a Force Free Trainer or Behavior Consultant.
Solving Aggression with Aggression won't get you anywhere. Check out my blog post about the problems with Shock Collars. Force Free Trainers use Humane, Science Based methods that Veterinarian and Animal Behaviorists recommend. For this fact, its critical your Trainer or Behavior Consultant is Force Free.
Not all Dog Trainers and even Behavior Consultants work with Aggression. Some Behavior Consultants prefer to specialize in Fearful dogs not displaying aggression, or Separation Anxiety among other things. Not all Dog Trainers work with aggression. Ask your Trainer/Behavior Consultant what they specialize in, and about previous aggression cases they've worked and what the outcome was. Find a Trainer or Behavior Consultant: www.ccpdt.org, www.petprofessionalguild.com. If cost is an issue, many Pet Professionals will work out a payment plan with you.
*Become extremely familiar with dog body language
If your dog is acting aggressively, this is critical to know. Read this and then read it again and again!
*Write down and learn your dogs triggers
Analyze a typical day in your dogs life and try to pinpoint other possible triggers and stressors. For example- if your dog displays aggression on walks when seeing other dogs, does this happen everytime they see a dog or is only towards certain dogs and not all of the time? Does your dog react more to large dogs, small dogs or is it equal? If you've never really noticed before, start a daily log of your dogs day, any possible stressors in their life (Thunderstorm that day, You got home late from work, etc) and how they reacted to triggers that day. We want to keep the dog away from triggers at all cost, but if your dog reacts to dogs outside, and you have to take them outside to go to the bathroom and you happen to run into a dog, this is the perfect time to observe these details. (Not to sound redundant, but avoiding triggers as much as humanly possible is critical). Share these notes with your Dog Trainer/Behavior Consultant and study them to learn more about your dogs behavior.
*Be easy on your dog- and yourself.
Don't blame yourself for your dogs bad behavior. Many dogs have "issues"- this isn't anything to be embarrassed of; Youre contacting a professional to help with the issue. I know aggression can be incredibly frustrating for dog owners. You just want your dog to be normal and friendly and get along with everyone. While aggression isn't ok, dogs don't do things out of spite. Your dog is having a hard time coping and needs Behavior Modification. It's our job, as dog owners, to make sure we provide that for them.
*Don't punish the dog for reacting.
Our main goal is to keep the dog from reacting in the first place. I know this always isn't possible, so if by chance your dog does react to a trigger, don't punish them- immediately remove them from the situation. Punishing a dog can lead to a dog redirecting onto you, or the dog associating the punishment with the wrong thing. Besides, this doesn't teach them what to do instead or how to learn to be ok with the trigger.
Aggression is a very serious issue, whether it be towards other dogs or people. Left untreated, it usually gets worse and is harder to manage. Follow steps above to help your dog.
Jaime Devereaux owns Jaime Doolittle Dog Training, in Palm Beach County, Florida. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed and trains in the following cities:
Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Wellington, West Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee, Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach and Jupiter. 786-521-5023 www.JaimeDoolittle.com