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Dog Training Tips For Prevention & Training of “Aggression”

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All too often I hear “my dog is aggressive”. Although this is a subjective term, I do take this matter of dog aggression seriously. As a professional certified dog trainer I feel it’s important to not only be able to train and educate the dog and the family, like the students who attend my Ventura dog training classes, but to help prevent such situations from occurring in the first place.

Just like we have preventative medicine for humans, we need to be more thoughtful with “aggression prevention” in our pet dogs. These are a few dog training tips that we can take to help with current, and prevention, of dog aggression issues:

  • Training “aggressive” dogs is important for a few important reasons.
    • “Aggression” based behaviors often get worse if not treated. It’s similar to humans that suffer emotional problems. They often don’t resolve on their own. You must change the dog’s environment either through training to teach them ways to enjoy their surroundings or by removing them from the stressful situation.
    • It’s important to curb these behaviors to protect the dog. Since aggression issues can often get worse, dogs are more likely to be euthanized.
    • It’s also important to protect the public. Aggression that is untreated can result in dogs getting worse and responding in ways that are “normal” for dogs – biting and causing injury to humans or other dogs.
  • Are there dog breeds that are more prone to aggressive behaviors.
    • Dogs are animals. Dogs have specific traits that include predatory behavior. Dogs are able to “grab, shake and kill” (and ingest) other animals. Just like humans, if provoked in the right way, we will fight back or become more aggressive. Like us, dogs are a product of their environment.
    • Are certain breeds bred for more of the aggressive elements of the predatory sequence? Yes. But I would look more closely at how the dog was raised, their current environment, and how they are currently treated, along with socialization as a pup.
    • As for aggressive behaviors “popping up” when you least expect it – I feel this is often due to the irresponsibility of the humans to not take notice of their dogs’ behaviors and reactions to certain situations. Be aware of the dogs environment! This is often the cause of dogs behaving in undesired ways.
  • Where does aggression stem from?

I don’t believe there is one specific area or reason. I believe it is usually the result of multiple factors.

    • Improper socialization.
    • Improper training methods – aversive and coercive type methods usually train in aggressive behaviors, and often make them worse.
    • “Abuse” can definitely lead to aggression in dogs. Violence begets violence.
    • Illness can definitely cause a dog (or any animal) to behave in a more aggressive manner.
  • I would recommend seeking help from a qualified and reputable vet, behaviorist or trainer immediately. However, it is important to make sure this person uses techniques that actually help the dog get better, not make them worse.
  • To help prevent aggression from starting:
    • Proper socialization as a puppy is important. 6 – 13 weeks of age is the prime socialization period for a dog – however, it’s never too early to start, nor too late. This way, dogs adapt to their surroundings much more easily than they would as adults. Whatever you want them doing as adults, get them used to it when they are young. Just like us humans, it’s easier to relocate, make friends, learn a sport when we are young versus when we are adults and set in our ways.
    • Understanding canine behavior is also important to preventing aggression. This includes understanding what is normal and what you can do to teach them to live in our human world. Mouthing, jumping up to greet, barking, not knowing how to walk on a leash are all normal canine behaviors – however, these are often interpreted as dogs being “dominant,” then dogs get in trouble for these behaviors.
    • Teaching proper bite inhibition can help discourage aggressive behavior. Dogs use their mouths to explore their world and to play. Again, it’s often misinterpreted as aggression, and not normal play behavior. Best to provide “legal” outlets for them.
    • Teaching resource guarding prevention exercises can curb aggressive behaviors from starting. Guarding objects is a normal behavior so it’s important to teach them it’s okay to have humans touch their stuff.
    • It also helps to socialize them with other dogs. If they never learn how to play and be around other dogs, they become social misfits.
    • Additionally, it’s key to use training methods that reward and motivate the dog (and the human). Coercive and aversive techniques can inadvertently train aggression into dogs, making matters worse.

Final notes: Aggression is a construct. A label. A very subjective term. It’s often misunderstood and misinterpreted. We, as a society wouldn’t think it was right to yell at someone for being upset or depressed. Telling someone their emotional feelings aren’t valid and that they’re bad for feeling a certain way isn’t acceptable. Plus it doesn’t help them feel any better. It is completely unfair of us to subject dogs to certain situations, then label them, then blame them for behaving in a way we think is wrong. Their feelings are valid too. It is up to us to take responsibility for what is far too often our fault to begin with.

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