This article is not a manual for how YOU can train your dog out of aggression. This is informative as to how you can identify qualified help, and the suggestions that IMO you may hear that might be good or bad.
It is unacceptable to not to seek out professional help if you are having an aggression problem with your dog and you do not know how to deal with it. The Internet is not way that the proper advice can be given which will successfully train YOUR dog with behavioral issues. Neither will advice received through friends that are not dog training professionals, or strangers that have no measurable experience in dog training.
Imagine that your dog has just broken his leg. Which would you do first?
A. Look up on the Internet ways to fix a broken leg
B. Either immediately rush to the emergency, or call your vet for an appointment.
I'm crossing my fingers that you picked B!! If you picked A, I hope it's because you live in a real remote area where veterinary care is days away.
If your dog is suffering from a behavioral issue that puts others at risk, it's really the same thing as a physical problem that needs professional care and expertise. Doing the wrong thing could cost your dog his life and hurt someone else. In extreme cases it could cause the death of someone or something else. It's nothing to fool around with.
Dogs are not televisions, stoves, or vacuums. You will not find the magical fix e-mailed to you or in writing in a manual. Your dog is an individual. While some blueprints can be found for a general training plan, many dogs present with unexpected reactions or symptoms of physical problems that you won't find there. This is why you need professional and experienced help when dealing with these problems for the first time.
WHY DO YOU NEED PROFESSIONAL HELP?: These problems are complex and combine a variety of factors including medical issues. It is quite likely that you will need a veterinary diagnosis first of physical problems. Unfortunately, aggression to likely sources of pain or confusion, generally, are learned behaviors at this point. So even with the physical issues cleared up, it is most likely that you will need training help to be able to communicate with your dog that they are safe with you.
Not all aggression comes from physical changes in a dog, but the sources can sometimes be surprising and confusing, if you are not familiar with reading many different types of dogs and their behaviors. You need someone who has some experience doing this, and will also know if they see something really different about this situation.
THE BEST TIME TO START A GENERAL TRAINING PLAN/WHY IT PREVENTS 80% OF PROBLEMS: An owner has purchased a dog or puppy. A great way to prevent problems in the future is to learn how to train your dog to a measurable standard. That means finding a trainer that will train you how to train your puppy under distractions reliably. If you are successful in doing that, and you maintain your training through the life of your dog, you will actually avoid many behavioral problems.
Occasionally a puppy will be a little more difficult in behavioral problems for a myriad of reasons. Finding a trainer during puppy hood or early on in ownership will help you effectively deal with oncoming problems early on.
Most owners wait until the problem has become worse. Some owners have friendly dogs who start to have physical challenges due to their changing body and age and then act out. If they had put the time and effort into obedience, they would be able to give their dogs directions when things change. For instance, you might tell one dog to come to you instead of jumping on their sister with the arthritic hips in her old age. Things like this can avoid fights that are caused by dogs whose owners are not watching out for them or stepping in. Repetition of these commands helps the other dog learn that perhaps her sister does not like this play anymore.
When this training wasn't done early on, it makes for a stressful situation that needn't have been later on. Do not wait and see if it gets better! Get professional help immediately.
HOW TO LOCATE A TRAINER: Recommendations will help you flesh out who is in your area. If this person trained with their dog, please be sure to note that dog's behavior or progress. If you are doing an Internet search, search for [state + dog trainer] or [state and city + dog trainer]. If you look under pet services in the Yellow Pages, there should be even more dog trainers that you can identify. Professional dog training organizations such as the International Association of Canine Professionals, also have referral lists of dog trainers.
I personally advise against looking specifically for a "niche" trainer in these situations (clicker trainer, choke collar trainer, treat trainer, puppy trainer, pet trainer, electronic collar trainer). I don't mean that you won't come up with a "niche" trainer in the end. I suggest that regardless of whether you want a purely positive trainer or a balanced trainer (a subject for another day) that the first thing you search for is qualifications. You can always identify the best qualifications in either category (and perhaps learn a lot in the process).
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT AND QUALIFIED TRAINER FOR YOU ONCE YOU HAVE LOCATED SEVERAL TRAINER OPTIONS: Alright, so you now have a list of possible trainers. How do you find the right one? I set up a trainer selection form for a client that had moved out of the area. If a trainer is not up to providing this information for you (and you are having a serious behavioral issue), then you know that trainer is not for you. Also be sure that they even will deal with the problems that you are having.
At the end, you should have at least one trainer whose experience and qualifications impress you. Please use common sense in this search. If it does not sound right or feasible to you, it probably isn't right or feasible for you. If during the training you become uncomfortable, you may need to stop the training and service. However, doing your research up front is the absolute best way to hedge your bet on getting the right trainer for you and your dog. If you have done enough research, you should have some backup trainers in mind if the first one does not work for you.
WHY DON'T ALL DOG TRAINERS DEAL WITH AGGRESSIVE DOGS? Many average dog owners will not follow the directions or do the homework as they should, which puts the dog trainer at risk (physically at risk and a liable risk). A dog trainer realizes that a client without a work ethic will also put others at risk, and that liability may come back to haunt the dog trainer, regardless of the quality of training and advice that was given.
A large portion of trainers that do not use all tools at their disposal for their clients, will not work with dogs whose training will require them to veer from their philosophy. Therefore, they can not work every temperament of dog out there. The unfortunate conclusion that these trainers can come to is only euthanasia for these dogs rather than the use of tools that they are unfamiliar with or do not agree with. A small portion of these trainers will be happy to refer you to someone else who deals effectively with these cases.
Many clients expect that bargain shopping will work when selecting a trainer for their aggressive dog. Personally, if that is the main concern of someone calling me, they need to call someone else. Trainers who are ethical in their dealings will try to only work with clients that realize the human clients need to do the work in order to get the results. Regardless of method, the work that I am talking about are repetitions and drills to get the response that they want. It should not be a robotic process, but a lot of that depends solely on the attitude of the owner. An owner that has not realized the seriousness of their problem (IE they are bargain shopping) will not do the work (most likely). The proper direction in training will only come from a qualified trainer with experience. Remember paying someone money who will not be able to help you reach your goals is like flushing it down the toilet. In the end, the trainer with the higher fee may be able to save you money, if they can help you achieve your goals.
The physical risk, liability, and work involved for the trainer does not go along well with a discounted price. Also, clients that normally ask for this outright are the ones that will not value the free training given to them. I know, I have learned this the hard way.
INFORMATION THAT YOU CAN PREPARE FOR YOUR TRAINER BEFOREHAND:
HISTORY Trainers, who regularly deal with these issues, will have a client interview form set up. This will have questions covering how long you have had your dog, what your experience with dogs have been, who they interact with, and the history of their bites or behavioral issues.
IDENTIFY BITE LEVELS It is often helpful to a trainer if you can identify the bite level that your dog has inflicted. Bite inhibition vs a dog that has no inhibition in their bite can tell a trainer a bit about the dog, and how they can keep themselves safe. It can also help tell a trainer if you or your family are in immediate danger.
TRIGGERS These are things that you have observed before the aggressive behavior became full blown. There are all sorts of things that can lead to aggressive responses prey drive, resource guarding, on come of a seizure, protection of territory or self, fear, or control issues. It's good for a trainer to get a sense of what MAY BE driving your dog before the first meeting.
ACTIVITIES WITH YOUR DOGS What do you do now with your dog, and what are your reasonable goals for the future? Sometimes long term goals won't be reached in the initial phases of training, but plans can be put in place to reach the crucial goals. For instance, it is very hard to change your living environment for your dog (city living vs country living) and so the primary goals may be to get your dog used to their environment first, and then move on to other goals.
THE FOUNDATION THAT YOU NEED FIRST FOR A SUCCESSFUL RESULT: Obedience training is a language between the human and a canine companion. The relationship that comes out of successful communication is a partnership. Without this relationship and language, behavior modification can not IMO be successful. You should know roughly what a training plan looks like, and what basic obedience training normally includes.
OTHER SUGGESTIONS AND EXERCISES THAT YOU MAY FIND IN A SUCCESSFUL BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION PLAN:
- Request for a veterinary and health check.
- The human owner learning a calm, quiet, and confident attitude, even when internally they may not feel that way.
- Exercises that teach a dog to relax and chill out that are non confrontational.
- Ways the leash can be handled for safety and effective direction to the dog.
- The ideas of clarity and consistency when communicating and training your dog.
- Equipment explanations and demos, which can be used to keep yourself, your dog, and others safe while training the correct responses to situations.
- Explanation of body language and position, and how that communicates itself to your dog.
- Emphasis on the quality of foundation training and the technique, timing, and quality that the human client is bringing to the table.
- The concept of NILIF (nothing in life is free). Earning praise, attention, play, food, and privileges.
- The difference between fear aggression (defensiveness) and forward aggression.
- Discussions of other options may be necessary. This usually refers to re-homing or euthanasia.
SUGGESTIONS THAT YOU MAY HEAR, WHICH I AM NOT TOTALLY FAMILIAR WITH THE RESULTS (QUESTIONABLE BUT MAY WORK):
- Constructive Aggression Treatment Scroll down for explanation.
- Agility (I just wince when I read this, but done with a responsible owner it may have benefits) I would strongly suggest that obedience to a high measurable standard is done first.
REALLY BAD SUGGESTIONS THAT YOU MIGHT HEAR (THOUGH HOPEFULLY IT'S AS RARE AS I HAVE FOUND IT):
- Hanging a dog.
- Hitting a dog.
- Kicking a dog.
- Yelling along with the dog when they go into a reactive mode.
- Being very confrontational from the get go.
- Avoiding the situations all together (as opposed to steps for the dog to learn to be in control in situations).
- Management as the total solution.
- Fixes that do not include any work beyond a few minutes on the owner's part.
- The training only happens in weekly lessons (as opposed to ongoing work and training being accomplished by the owner and handler).
- That residency and board/train programs alone will solve the problem that the owner/handler is having with the dog. Owners need to realize that they have to learn as well as the dog, otherwise old habits will resurface.
NOTE: If some one's (or something's) life or physical well being becomes endangered, this is a totally different thing. That situation needs to be stopped by any means. Probably, also, this is not a dog that belongs as a domestic pet in the average dog owner's home.
SAFETY-WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW AND KEEP IN MIND WHEN WORKING WITH AN UNKNOWN DOG:
- Getting on the other side of anything to block an aggressive dog can prevent serious injury.
- If a dog is coming at you, offer them something else (like your jacket or anything loose that you can get in their mouth first.
- Getting through and closing a door can keep you safe.
- If you have their leash, and you can hook it to something before leaving to ensure the dog does not get loose and attack something or someone else.
- Thick (non summer) jeans, socks, full leather shoes, and a baggy thick sweatshirt can keep dogs from getting at your actual skin.
- It's very unwise to kiss an unknown dog (no matter how friendly they behave and look) on the face.
- It's also very unwise to hug an unknown dog (no matter how friendly they behave and look).
- If you must pick something up from the ground, presenting the dog with your back butt can at least direct a possible bite to the least vulnerable part of your body.
- Do not stick hands and faces into cars with dogs in them.
- Do not open doors to places that have dogs. Be sure that the owner comes to answer the door.
- Not allowing full access to privileges and things, while getting to know a dog, can start the relationship off on the right foot.
There is so much more that can be gone into on this topic, but that is all that I have time for now.
Does your dog have behavioral problems that concern you? Call, e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or fill out our client interview form. We will get right back to you, if we are not immediately available.