Aggression is not a natural state of mind for a dog, so it is a correctable behavior. This is another issue we love working through because dogs are so much happier once they are free from this burden. The first thing we need to do in solving your dog’s aggression problem is change his state of mind and the way he not only perceives but chooses to respond to stressors or triggers that result in the aggressive behavior. There are several types of aggressive behavior (see chart below), and most aggression can be eliminated. Some aggressive behavior, such as “predatory aggression” you cannot “solve” because it is directly related to instincts, but you can be very successful managing it by showing your dog when it is and isn’t appropriate to use their prey drive.
TYPES OF AGGRESSION IN DOGS
The most common types of aggression we work through are Fear Aggression, Predatory Aggression, Dog Aggression, and Human Aggression. A lot of times aggression is misdiagnosed, or someone has put inappropriate label on it like, “my dog hates other dogs” or “my dog hates people with hats on”. Dogs can’t “hate” or at least that is not why they react. Reasons a dog might react could be possessiveness, fearful, territorial, and some dogs even have a false sense of entitlement. All of these are symptoms of the underlying problems, lack of an advocate to help guide them to the right decisions, lack of mental exercise creating a stressful, crazy frame of mind, lack of leadership in the dog’s life, to name a few. This forces the pup to make decisions on his own, which honestly VERY few dogs are good at doing, they would much rather have a leader and a guide until they are comfortable making these decisions on their own.
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.