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In the wild, dog aggression was almost a necessity, in order to take care of everything such as eating, sleeping, mating and hunting. Over the years breeding has stripped away a lot of this trait but the truth is if your dog wants to inflict serious harm, he has the means to do so (open his mouth and look at his teeth). This is the way they were born and bred so; it is hard to overpower the way things evolve. However, we are not at a loss when it comes to handling aggressive behavior. There are many things we can do to keep dog aggression from becoming a problem and if not there are ways to deal with it.
There are many types of dog aggression but there are two that are particularly common.
1.Dog aggression toward strangers
2.Dog aggression toward members of the family
Why would we separate these? For one, dog aggression is just aggression, right? No, they are caused by two different things and will need to be treated differently. The dog aggression towards strangers is fairly simple to spot. He is usually very alert and cannot sit still or is nervous and jumps at the least noise and may pace and bark or whine. If he’s not nervous he may sit like a statue and stare at the person who he perceives as a threat. This could be the mailman, a visitor or the next door neighbors.
When does this usually happen?
One-reason dogs do not like strangers is because they do not know them. Your dog is dependent on you to allow him to see and get to know other animals. When you don’t take him out to see the world about him and to see things he does not recognize are not necessarily bad. How will he know not to be nervous when he does see unfamiliar things or people?
What can you do?
The socialization of your dog is very important to his growing up. It is hard to give too much importance to this process. He needs to be exposed to all types of sights and sounds from the time he is small. New people, places and things are necessary to his development. How does this prevent dog aggression toward strangers? When he is exposed to new things, he learns it is not frightening. It is not like taking an adult dog into a crowd of people he has never seen and telling him it is fine. He needs to learn for himself that everything is ok. This needs to be taught from the time he is small so that it will be instilled into him as a puppy. The more people he meets as well as animals (all ages, sizes, professions and dress) when he is in a relaxed mood, the better he will be around strangers.
What can I do to keep him from being afraid of strangers?
This is fairly simple. It is not a strict training program; it is more of a relaxed thing. First he needs to go to puppy’s version of preschool. This is a class of group training for puppies. Sometimes they have them at veterinary clinics, which kill two birds with one stone. He gets used to the vet and learns how to behave around other puppies. A trainer will begin teaching your dog the basic commands and you will also get to spend time with a professional trainer and pick up a few tips. Next the most fun part is playtime. This will be several times throughout the class when he is allowed to play among the other puppies.
This is great for them to learn how to get along with other dogs. There are people there that they do not know so this teaches them it is not scary. The situation is controlled so nothing gets out of hand. The training is quite helpful and you are getting your puppy started on the right way to become an adult dog that you can trust. This will have to be done for the rest of your dog’s life. He needs to experience new things always. Do not dump him in the middle of strange situations; just build him up over a period of time.
Dog aggression toward family members
Two main reasons dogs are aggressive to family member are:
1.He is protecting something he believes is his from harm (you). This is a behavior known as resource guarding and though you may not think so, there are more issues than him thinking someone is bothering something that belongs to him.
2.He is not at ease with some form of treatment he is getting from either you or other members of the family.
What is resource guarding?
This is actually a common thing among dogs and means they are overly possessive of the items they think belong to them. Resource guarding shows up when you go around him while he is eating, or when he is playing with his favorite toy. This type of dog aggression is in ever dog part of the time. It is a territorial thing left over from long ago. They are sometimes possessive about things that seem to be just trash – a wadded up piece of paper, old shoes or socks or a paper towel. Most of the time the things he guards are understandable as to why – they are his food and playthings.
Why do they do this?
It is all about dominance. This is the thing: in the wild dogs were pack animals. This means in his or her world each dog was ranked according to the position he held and the power he had. The animals knew their place and they knew the other dog’s places. They knew whether to fight or back away or stay out of it completely. The family dog is basically the same as the pack animal. They have already ranked every member of your family. They also have figured out where they belong in the pack.
Here’s the part that is quite a attention grabber.
If your dog thinks his rank is higher than everyone else in the family, he will be disrespectful and his dog aggression will show thru. This is due to the rights of the higher ranked dog to act this way within his pack. No dog that is ranked lower would ever show dog aggression or act like he was over another dog that is higher than he is – he knows what the consequences would be. Guarding their resources is dominant behavior. A dog that is ranked higher in the pack will act aggressively when it comes to resources. The dog that knows he is not the head of the family would never try to keep you from taking his toys or food. The lower ranked dog is obedient to the higher ranked dog, which are you and your family.
So what is the best thing to do?
The one thing that you can do to retrain a dog with dominant and dog aggression behavior is to work with him constantly and make sure he knows you are in charge. Even fifteen minutes, twice a day will let him know that you are in charge and that it is best to do as you say. The best way to let him know this in no uncertain terms is to treat him with praise and a few doggie treats when he does what you tell him to do. Also, when he misbehaves put him in ‘time-out’. Either put him outdoors by himself or in another room by himself. This may be done with the aide of a dog trainer if you have doubts about doing this by yourself. Make sure you understand what the trainer is trying to tell you because this will help you to stop the dominant behavior and let him know you are the boss. You will need to schedule regular training sessions 2 or 3 times a day and keep them to a minimum (about 15 minutes).
Why would my dog not want anyone to touch him?
This depends on the dog. Some like to be hugged and cradled and others do not. When you put your arm over his shoulder this signals to him that you are the boss and this is why many do not like for you to do this. Some dogs that have not been handled a lot when they were younger are uncomfortable when people try to show them too much affection. They may get nervous and antsy. One reason this type of reaction could be a bad experience at the groomers. Either from a bad experience having his nails clipped to short or a bad bath experience.
Is it possible to teach him to like being groomed and touched?
Yes, it is much easier if it is started when he is a baby. Handle him a lot, let him get used to it. Younger dogs usually love to be handled. The best way is to pick up his paws and just put the clippers on them without them being on. Practice is the key. You can do the same with his bath. Take him outside if you must but dogs prefer warm water to cold. Make sure you praise him and give him a treat.
When it comes to older dogs that have already had a bad experience, it will take a little more time. You will have to re-teach him how to trust by taking things one step at a time. Make sure you keep him calm while you are doing this. If he begins to show stress, stop and give him time to calm down. Act like this is a new game and tell him what a good boy he is and give him treats. Do not rush the lessons. If you get a nervous feeling, stop. Dogs warn you by being aggressive. Do not ignore this dog aggression. If it proves too difficult to try and get him used to baths or grooming leave this to the professionals. They are not that expensive. Make sure you tell your vet if he is going to be the one to trim your dogs nails that he does get aggressive over clippers. Whoever does the grooming; make sure you let them know how he behaves over this.