Working with Dog-Aggressive Dogs

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by tx_cowgirl, Nov 21, 2007.

  1. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    First of all, know the signs of aggression. Ears forward, muscles tense, probably leaning forward a bit into the collar, eyes locked on the other dog, and of course, lip curling and/or growling. Fear-aggression is slightly different...the ears tend to be back, but usually the other signs are all the same. Don't let him progress to a full-blown, all-out, lunging kill-fest. Pay close attention to your dog's body language. If the dog shows aggression, correct him/her at the FIRST sign of aggression. This kind of depends on the may start with the ears, it may start with the muscles. Just pay attention to your dog. Correct the dog by a light snap of the leash. This should NOT be strong enough to yank the dog back, just strong enough to get his attention. If you are causing him pain, then you are snapping too hard. This is not meant to hurt is meant to get his attention quickly and painlessly. It is slightly uncomfortable, but not painful. In some cases, it may accelerate the aggression momentarily---do it again, and only discontinue the corrections when he is walking quietly. Reward him when he stops. If he will not stop, try to get him down on his side. This is the ultimate sign of submission, and keep him there until he will willingly stay there. You may get some wierd looks, but oh well. This, again, does not cause him any harm. The dominant wolf, when fighting another wolf, will often continue showing dominance until the less dominate one submits. The more submissive wolf will expose his most vulnerable area--his stomach. This is full submission to the alpha. The same is true of dogs, so by getting him to lay on his side and expose his vulnerable tummy, he is submitting to the dog who may or may not be showing him any signs of dominance. If he simply does not respond to the correction by becoming more submissive(ears going back, muscles relaxing, etc), then repeat the correction until he responds. The snap should be are not putting constant pressure on his collar, just a momentary snap. Constant pressure gives him the feeling of being held back, which will heighten his aggression. The snap is only a split second---not holding the leash taught, pulling him back. When you can walk him without any lunging but still some signs of aggression, try getting him to turn his back to the other dog. This is another way of submitting. He is, again, making himself vulnerable to the awful papillon who "looked at him the wrong way." Stay relaxed. Don't tense up when you see another dog. Take a deep breath, keep your gaze foward, and keep walking just as you were before the other dog came along. This can be hard, because lots of people have dogs that are showing minor or extreme signs of aggression and don't do anything about it. This obviously puts your dog on guard. You can't control other dogs...but you can control yours. Be patient...he won't be cured in a day. He can be helped though. I promise. =) This method is a very complex one, and tricky to master. If it is misused it will definitely cause more harm than good. There are many factors at play. For one, the dog. The handler. The environment. There are so many variables that effect these methods. Be careful, pay attention, and don't rush things. If your dog is aggressive, start working at a good distance from other dog-walkers---don't just rush right in right next to them.

    My Rottie mix became very dog aggressive a few years ago, both on and off leash. Through lots of hard work, patience, and a few willing helpers with very dog-friendly dogs, he has improved greatly. On leash he is the perfect is something I am still working on. Life issues kind of got in the way so I didn't get to work with him as much as usual, but he is definitely much better.
    My border collie was adopted from a local shelter. She was good with most dogs, but not good with females. She was ready to eat any female in her sight. Through these methods, she is now completely good with all dogs. She hangs out with female dogs that belong to my friends, and we take frequent visits to Petsmart, where she encounters lots of dogs of both genders. Both off and on leash, she is perfect with all dogs.
    A friend of mine asked me to work with his 8-month old male sheperd mix. He had been randomly attacking their other dog, an older schnauzer/terrier mix--female. He showed many signs of aggression toward dogs on- and off-leash. Through these methods he is now very well behaved. He still shows some signs of aggression with new dogs, but after a few corrections and a little time he calms down and is ready to play. I have only been working with him for a month or so, but he has improved greatly. There is no doubt in my mind that he will soon be completely calm with all dogs, new or familiar.
    Aside from dogs I have encountered, there is also Mr. Cesar Millan, dog psychologist. He has a show on National Geographic called "The Dog Whisperer." He has a variety of books, an e-newsletter. He has a pack of over thirty dogs, ALL who have been rehabilitated. Each dog came to him as a behavior problem case---some fighting dogs, some Houdinis, some notorious chewers...the list goes on. These 30+ dogs live together at Cesar's home in Los Angeles. Look him up; he's really great. =)

    And finally, know your limits. Know if your dog's problem is one you feel you cannot work to solve. If this is the case, contact a professional or find a better home for him/her. If he can be helped in a home other than yours, then be willing to let him live in an evironment better suited to his needs. If you have never worked with behavior problem dogs, do not decide to take on your severely aggressive dog. I applaude your confidence, but contact a professional. This is your best bet to helping your dog. A physically AND MENTALLY healthy dog is a happy one! :doglaugh:

  2. bipa New Member

  3. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    Of course. =) No two dogs are the same. This is simply the method that I have had the most success with. If I find another, better solution, then I will certainly use it. And for the record, Cesar does describe that he does not use so much force that it causes the animal pain. His approach is firm, but not overly so. But again, it may not work with all dogs or all trainers. One of the quotes on that link state that he "kicks" dogs. To my knowledge, he does not suggest this nor does he actually do this. There are also many quotes suggesting that he use leadership----for anyone who has studied these methods, leadership is a vital part of his teachings. It is one of the most important part of his methods.
  4. l_l_a New Member

    Thanks Tx_Cowgirl for that informative post! It is so important to know the signs of aggression and develop the skill at reading your dog's body language to take preventive action at the first signs of aggression before it escalates out of control.

    My dog is extremely well socialized to other dogs, but he is fear-aggressive to people (an inherited trait), so I can sympathize.

    I'm personally not a big fan of Cesar Milan, I prefer to deal with my dog's fear-aggression using the techniques outlined by Patricia McConnell, Brenda Aloff and Jean Donaldson, but I respect that there are different ways to approach the same problem and it's highly individual to the people and dogs involved. And no matter what technique or approach you use, you still need to know the signs of aggression and be able to read the dog's body language. And also that there is different types of aggression, and to know the signs of those as well.

    And I also agree with you that staying calm and collected is of the utmost importance! If your dog is displaying aggressively, he has "lost his mind", so between you and your dog, at least one of you should be calm and thinking clearly! :)

    Also wanted to add, in case anyone reading this is not familiar with the issue, that aggression is a very serious behavioral problem that is best dealt with by seeking the help of a qualified professional, not just by getting advice online or through word of mouth. Aggression can very easily worsen through improper management or misguided attempts at training, and the consequences can be very dire for both people and the dogs involved.
  5. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    To be honest I haven't even heard of those three behaviorists. Do you have any links? This method is the method that I have had the most success with thusfar, but I know that there is no end to learning. There are millions of trainers and behaviorists all over the world that I am likely clueless to. I use a variation of Cesar's methods.
    I most definitely agree that seeking the help of a professional is the best road to take. Aggression is not half as easy to fix as simply teaching your dog to sit. A misused method can easily result in making the issue worse rather than better. Thanks for the reply l_l_a! =)
  6. bipa New Member

    tx_cowgirl, you've hit on a very important aspect of the dog world that is unfortunately all too prevailent today. The average dog owner probably has no intention of becoming an actual dog trainer or animal behaviourist. They just want a nice, well-behaved family pet and companion. That's fine! But too many folks either aren't willing, or simply don't have the time, to study and learn much about dogs, training, and their behaviour. So they do a quick scan of the current dog scene, pick up on the latest fads, and often end up following the advice of whichever trainer or program has the best Public Relations Firm and flashiest advertising campaign going on at the moment.

    In some ways it reminds me of the diet fads that come and go. Just look at the NYTimes Bestseller list, and you'll almost always see some new diet book hitting the top ten. And rather than getting professional advice tailered specifically to their own body and lifestyle from a nutritionist, doctor or nurse, these folks get all enthusiastic about whatever craze is the newest. And the new diet might really be great --- for SOME people, yet be completely the wrong one for their own specific needs.

    Dog training has many different aspects and complexities. There is no one single correct way, and yet all the time you read about programs that are GUARRANTEED to work for every dog every time. That's just a pile of doggie crap! As soon as I hear such a claim then I go into red alert and my alarm bells start ringing.

    Actually, for a well balanced dog with good temperament, the choice of program doesn't really matter all that much. (assuming it isn't abusive) Dogs that have no real problems, learn quickly and are good natured, will learn well with just about any basic training program. A dog that never acts out or behaves badly will never need to be corrected, so that becomes a moot point.

    The real conflict in training theories begins when you start to deal with dogs which have special needs or don't pick up as quickly. Let's take a simple "sit" as an example. There's some discussion as to how to initially get your dog into the proper position. Some trainers say to push down on the dog's rear, other's say no, that's wrong, and you should run your hand down along the dog's back, over his rear to the back of his "knees" and then lightly press to make his legs fold under and thus get him into the sitting position. So which is the correct way to teach your dog to sit?

    Frankly, I don't think it makes that big a difference to the average, healthy, well-adjusted dog. Yet now let's consider a puppy with hip problems. Pressing down on his rear could cause pain, make the dog yelp or growl or snarl or even try to bite your hand. The dog may learn to associate pain with the sit command, and refuse. Not exactly what we're looking for when we are simply trying to teach a nice sit, eh? So then the reasoning for pressing in the legs rather than the rear becomes clear.

    I hope that by demonstrating how even teaching a simple sit command can cause controversy, I have helped you better understand some of the debates currently raging about the pros and cons of various training methods. Through research and experimentation, modern scientists (animal behaviourists, psychologists, ethologists) are starting to converge in their opinions. We all know that learning is hampered under stressful conditions. Just what causes stress in animals can be very different than what causes stress in people. Yet many popular dog trainers today go by their gut feel and intuition rather than following the scientific developments.

    Let's take that popular Apha Roll. In the wild, when a wolf attacks and goes for the throat of another animal, it is with the intent to kill, not dominate. We are not dogs or wolves, and there's no way that a dog will see us as just another dog. We are a totally different species. So when we forcibly roll over our dog and put pressure on the dog's throat, we are signalling our intention to kill! Is that truly what we want to do?

    It would be great to see more dog owners get interested in animal behaviour and animal psychology. Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of time and effort. And why the heck should a person spend so much time when all they want is a nice sit? Makes sense that many are looking for a simple quick fix. Unfortunately, we aren't talking about fixing an appliance, or fine tuning a car's engine for better performance. We're dealing with living, breathing, thinking creatures who are each unique in their personality and characteristics. We mustn't ever fall into the trap of thinking that "one size fits all". And we should do our best to rely on the results of scientific research rather than personal theories which might not apply to our own unique and special companions.
  7. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    Very true, Bipa. The unfortunate truth is that the dog society is easily impacted by Hollywood. For instance, when 101 Dalmations came out, suddenly everyone in America wanted one. Dalmations are an extremely sensitive breed, and are not meant to be yard ornaments(of course, no dogs are). When the Dalmation took America by storm, their bad reputation was immediately formed. When Air Bud was released, everyone wanted a Goldie. Homeward Bound--everyone wanted any of those dogs. And of course, when trainers are televised, America tends to fall in love with them.
    Really, there are few people in this world that have the desire to harm animals. Every trainer and/or behaviorist is seeking the same end result--a mentally and physically healthy and happy dog. There are many, many different methods, and we know just a small percentage of them. I seek the most natural methods possible with both my dogs and my horses. As of yet, I have found success with Cesar's. However, I do not shun other methods. I have simply just not learned them yet. Through professional help, research, and experience, I will find out which method is best for me and the dogs I work with. I am very interested in the methods you and l_l_a describe. I plan to look into it, and pursue it if I am satisfied with it. According to you two, it is a very natural method and you have had success with it. I want to learn about it and plan to. Thank you for your comments and for informing me of these methods. :dogsmile:
  8. drivingtenacity New Member

    My husband and I have an ongiong argument about the dog whisperer.
    I think I'll introduce him to the link Bipa posted.
    I'm not a fan of his methods or his outlook. I've always wondered how many episodes of the show remain unaired because his approach didn';t work with the dog.

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