Aggressive Dog Behavior Modification

Aggressive dog behavior is a detrimental flaw in any dog, and many dogs are given up each year because of their aggressive tendencies. But most aggressive behavior can be treated with the correct form of behavior modification and a patient, knowledgeable trainer.

Types of Aggression

Any good trainer will determine what kind of aggression your dog displays before trying to treat him. Some of the types of aggression include:

  • Fear-motivated aggression: a fear of being in danger or being harmed.
  • Social Aggression: or rivalry; a dog being possessive over his "status" as alpha and perceiving things such as hugging or playing as a social challenge.
  • Territorial Aggression: a dog violently defensive of "his" space.
  • Possessive Aggression: gets angry and may attack if someone gets too close to his food or toys.
  • Protective Aggression: the over-protectiveness of a dog's family; he may attack other people or dogs if he perceives them as a threat to his family.
  • Pain-elicited Aggression: injured dogs may lash out violently when in pain.
  • Frustration Aggression: dogs restrained in some fashion that may lash out at someone else nearby in retaliation.

Medical Causes

Before doing anything, take your dog into his vet to rule out any underlying causes to his aggression. A sick dog may be more likely to lash out at his owners because he perceives their touches and contact to be causing his discomfort.

Behavior Modification Programs

If medical causes have been ruled out and you've decided you want to work with your dog, you should contact a professional to see about creating a behavior modification program. This shouldn't be conducted on your own, and what the professional suggests will depend on a variety of things, such as:

  • Severity of aggression (biting at air and growling versus full-out attacks)
  • How long the aggression has been going on
  • What is causing the aggression
  • Predictability of the aggressive behavior
  • Age of onset of the aggressive behavior

What kind of behavior modification program the trainer puts you and your dog on depends on what stimulates your dog into attacking. For instance, if your dog has food aggression, the trainer may start off by placing a treat into the bowl so your dog can begin to associate people being near his bowl as a good thing.

Likewise, if your dog is set off by the sight of other dogs, or perhaps a certain sound, teach them to focus on something else. This gives the stimulus a chance to pass, and for the dog to come to associate that nothing bad happens and therefore the stimulus is nothing to get aggressive over.

Do Not Use Aggression to Treat Aggression

Never, ever treat a dog's aggression with punishment or negative stimuli. Do not lock him up, strike him, or use things such as pinch collars or shock collars. This can make the situation much worse and increase the dog's aggression.

Medication for Behavior Modification

Dogs cannot be placed on medication to simply fix their aggression problems, and attempting to do so will backfire.

However, medications are available that can greatly help the behavior modification process. These meds can stabilize your dog's mood and help him relax while the modification process goes on, making him less aggressive while he is taught that the things setting him off are nothing to be confused by.

Untreatable Aggression

No matter how good the modification techniques, sometimes a dog is simply untreatable. Perhaps they are too violent and unpredictable. This is common in dogs who've been bred and raised for the sole purpose of fighting, and are often euthanized when received at animal shelters because of the emotional trauma they've endured. When dealing with such dogs, sometimes the kindest form of treatment can be euthanasia.