Experienced dog trainers commonly work with dogs who have shown aggressive tendencies — whether or not they have actually injured another dog or a person, it is critical that their owners understand the severity and the commitment it takes to own an aggressive dog. Many owners are desperate by the time they realize training is necessary, and unfortunately often with that desperation also comes unrealistic expectations on what future life could be with their dog.
It is important to understand that aggression, whether stemmed from fear, territorial guarding, resource guarding, or outward aggression, is almost always managed and not totally cured. With dogs that have been practicing aggressive behavior for a long period of time, we have to understand that our dogs have learned the aggressive behaviors work and that we cannot undo that knowledge. What we can do is provide our dogs with structure, consistency, and management to help prevent aggressive outbursts in the future. Owning an aggressive dog is a serious responsibility and should not be dismissed until a serious incident occurs.
The first step to working through aggression is to admit there there is a problem. Making excuses for the dog or dismissing their behavior simply will not work. Once we accept that there is a problem, the whole family needs to be on board to managing the dog in the same way. Certain steps need to be taken in order to keep the public safe and any deviation from the agreed protocol cannot occur.
1. Always consult a veterinarian for a full examination to rule out any physical ailments. This visit should include a full blood panel and check up.
2. Work on conditioning your dog to a basket muzzle. Muzzles help keep the public safe, but are not fail-proof nor are they a stand-alone solution.
3. While searching for a trainer or waiting for your appointment, do not put your dog in situations where it is doomed to fail. Limit walks, but if you need to get your dog exercised or walked for potty breaks try to go in areas that are not as populated. Do not allow strangers or other dogs approach your dog.
4. Crate train your dog so they have a safe place to hang out in when you have guests over. If you are using any sort of baby gates or closed doors for confinement, make sure there is no way for your dog to get loose or for anyone to enter the room they are contained in.
5. Limit your dogs freedom of movement (no free reign of the house) and resources (toys, bones, food, etc) unless you are directly supervising them.
6. Keeping a leash on your dog when you are home allows you to quickly interrupt any aggressive, unexpected outbursts such as when a package is delivered.
7. No dog parks or public gatherings — before or after training. It is too difficult for us to have control of outside influences, so using common sense and having realistic expectations of where our dog can be out safely is critical.
Again, it cannot be stressed enough that aggression is not a disease that can be cured, but rather a state of mind in your dog that can only be interrupted and directed. Your dog needs to learn alternate, appropriate behaviors such as place/go to bed, come when called, and heel. A dog that is clear on the criteria expected of them in all situations is easier to direct and more responsive to obedience cues. Be your dogs’ advocate and do not put them in unfair or unsafe situations. The results from a bite can be devastating, not only for the victim but also for the dog and owner. Being proactive in management techniques can help your dog lead a more normal life, and a less stressful life for your family.