NOTE: This is my
hand-out sheet used to assist clients whose dogs are exhibiting
aggression related to power issues between dog & owner. This is NOT
an approach for fearful dogs exhibiting defense aggression (though some
techniques are similar) or for dogs whose aggression springs from
biochemical or physical problems.
PLEASE: If your dog is exhibiting aggressive behavior,
the assistance of a competent, experienced trainer or behaviorist.
The aggression problem you are
experiencing is a symptom of a confused relationship between you and
your dog. Surprisingly, this is not uncommon, and it is understandable
since two very different species are involved. Just as cultural
differences exist between people, there are strong cultural differences
between dogs and humans, which can lead to serious misunderstandings.
Your human perception of your behavior toward the dog is not the same as
your dog's perception of the same behavior. For example, you may pet
your dog simply because you love him and want him to feel good. But
unless that attention comes as a result of the dog complying with your
rules and wishes, he may perceive the attention as proof that you rank
lower than he does in the family structure.
When dogs deal with other dogs, animals higher on the pecking order may
elicit attention from lower ranking animals. Lower ranking animals
rarely elicit attention from superiors, but when they do, they also
"give" appeasement behaviors (such as groveling on their
belly, laying down, licking, etc.) to the higher ranking animal. When
combined with many other mixed messages, something as simple as petting
your dog whenever he demands without having to give you anything in
return may result in your dog believing he ranks higher than you.
The most powerful tool you have to change your dog's behavior is your
attention. DO NOT use any kind of physical correction (grabbing the lead
or collar or the dog himself) to force the dog to obey you. Instead,
walk away, refusing to acknowledge his existence for a few minutes.
Then, in a nice tone of voice, ask again. If it is something the dog
really wants, such as his food, playtime, a walk or whatever, you will
usually get his cooperation within a few tries. Eventually, this new
rule starts to sink in - "The ONLY time you get what you want is
when you cooperate."
Reward all positive behavior with praise. When withdrawing attention is
not possible, or leads to the dog increasing his objectionable behavior,
try putting him outside alone in the yard for a few minutes, or into a
room or his crate for a time out. Use a treat if needed to get him
outside or into the crate. This does not reward him for disregarding any
previous commands, but does reward him for cooperating with your last
request of "outside" or "in your crate."
Whenever you find yourself frustrated, give yourself (and the dog!) a
break with some time out. Dogs are easily confused by emotions such as
anger and fear (their own or yours), so if you lose your calm, sensible
approach, avoid further problems and separate yourself and the dog
briefly until you feel ready to try again.
Be aware that as you change the rules, the problem behavior may escalate
briefly as the dog pushes harder to see what the limits are. It is
helpful to write down a daily record of aggressive incidents so that you
can begin to see the patterns of frequency (how many times does the
behavior occur?) and intensity (how far does the behavior go?). Changes
will not occur overnight, but gradually over a period of time. A written
record helps during times of frustration. For example, when it seems
that nothing is happening at all, the written record may show that in
fact, the behavior has decreased from 9 times a day to only 4. This is a
To resolve this behavior problem, you will need to change your own
behavior so that your dog can begin to clearly perceive his place in the
family structure as the least ranking member, and under the control of
all family members, including children. All family members must
agree on this program, and be faithful in adhering to it, or you will
doom the dog to failure and possible death.
- NO FREE LUNCH - Your dog
must learn to value your attention, playtime and food. From now on,
he will receive nothing from you without giving you something
in return such as a sit. For example, if he would like to be petted
or have a toy thrown, he must sit promptly on the FIRST command. You
may then pet him briefly or throw the toy once or twice. If he fails
to sit, ignore him and do not give him any attention or petting for
at least 3 minutes. You may then try again.
- TEACH SELF CONTROL - See the
hand-out sheet on Teaching
Self Control as well as our booklet, "Understanding
& Teaching Self Control"
- PUT ALL TOYS AWAY - Leave
one or two toys to chew on & put all other toys away. YOU will
now choose play time, when it begins, when it ends, and what the
rules are. DO play with your dog, but expect him to sit before you
throw the toy. If he refuses, quietly get up, put the toy away &
ignore him for at least 10 minutes
- PUT FOOD UNDER YOUR CONTROL
- Free choice feeding is a poor idea for dogs who are not by nature
meant to nibble all day. At specific times, you feed your dog, and
use this time to make him really work for his meals. Remember, you
may be giving him a hundred or more "training
opportunities" in each bowl - make him work by sitting for just
2-3 kibble in his bowl at a time.
Have him sit, put 2-3 kibble in his bowl, and insist that he stay
sitting until you tell him "OKAY, Eat". If he moves or
jumps toward the dish, calmly put it back on the counter for a
minute or so, then try again. When he will politely sit and wait,
allow him to eat the few kibble, then reach down, take the bowl,
move a few feet away, ask him to sit (and WAIT), put the bowl down
in the new spot and repeat with a few more kibble. You can work with
this all over the house & yard, expecting him to sit and wait
politely in all rooms before receiving a few kibble. The 10-15
minutes to "serve" a meal in this fashion is time is well
If he decides he'd rather not eat rather than play by your rules,
quietly put the food away and then try again at the next meal. Dogs
will not starve themselves. It may take up to 4-5 days before your
dog decides that he values his food enough to work with you on your
terms. If this seems a little heartless, think hard about the reason
this step is necessary - you have allowed your dog to get
dangerously out of control, and he has either bitten someone or
threatened to. A biting dog is not only a huge legal liability, but
sooner or later, may have to be put to sleep. Being firm at this
stage could save your dog's life.
- CONSIDER CHANGING FOODS -
Your dog may not have skin problems, diarrhea, vomiting or other
obvious signs of allergies, but in my experience, behavior problems,
irritability, poor appetite, excessive stool and/or gas, recurring
hot spots or ear infections point to possible food allergies or food
intolerances. Many dogs receive far too much protein, which is
converted into energy which can be a problem if the dog has no
acceptable outlet for that energy. First, evaluate the protein - see
if you can lower it by switching to another food. Try a food whose
main ingredients are unlike your current dog food. If, for
example, your current dog food contains chicken and corn, seek out
lamb & rice, turkey & barley, duck & potato, etc. Also
read the labels on treats - high calorie, high protein & stuffed
with chemicals, sugars, salts & preservatives, many dog treats
are not a great addition to your dog's diet.
- EXERCISE - A huge percentage
of problem dogs do not receive sufficient exercise. Increase your
dog's exercise by long walks, jogging, playing in the back yard or
whatever he enjoys, and keep it regular and vigorous. Remember -
unused energy has to go somewhere, and a tired dog is almost always
a good dog.
- WHEN IN DOUBT, WALK OUT. Use
your dog's natural desire for your attention to work for you. If the
dog becomes aggressive when asked to do something, simply withdraw
your attention. This may mean you need to go into another room and
shut the door for a few minutes. When you re-enter the room, use a
treat to call the dog to you, then ask him to sit or lay
down, rewarding him for showing you his willingness to work with
you. If he does not comply, walk away again.
- USE TRAINING EQUIPMENT -
Rather than grab a dog who is misbehaving, you are better off
leaving a training collar and lead on him while you are with him.
(Never on an unattended dog.) If appropriate, quietly pick up the
leash and gently reinforce the command. Be calm but firm.
- ANTICIPATE PROBLEMS -
Knowing what situations may trigger your dog's aggression and his
body language changes will allow you to prevent this behavior from
occurring. For example, if your dog is aggressive when people enter
the house, have him on lead and sitting as they enter, instead of
trying to stop him from running around out of control and biting.
Whenever possible, help the dog substitute desirable behavior for
his problem behavior and PRAISE!
- TRAIN - Initially, you may
need to work on your dog's behavior and your relationship with your
dog in private lessons. Once your dog's basic problems are under
control, enroll in a basic obedience class to help your dog become a
more enjoyable companion, and improve your overall relationship with
your dog. Remember, training is a lifetime process, not a quick fix.
The sooner you begin, the more years you will have to truly enjoy
© Copyright 1998 - Suzanne
Clothier. All rights reserved.