Somewhere buried deep down inside of every dog, is a cunning pack-hunting wolf. It’s easy to forget your fur baby is a descendent of such a predatory animal. But if you’re struggling with an overly aggressive dog, understanding his instincts is going to be your most effective tool.
Luckily you’re not alone — aggression is the most common behavioral problem reported amongst dog owners. Here are some of the major causes and tips on how to train your dog to be less aggressive:
Causes of Aggression in Dogs
Dogs need to get outside and play every four hours. Your pup has a lot of pent up energy and expending that energy is essential to maintaining a balanced and calm demeanor. It is important to research your breed and schedule the right amount of daily activity for your pup.
Breed is very important to consider, but not because one is more prone to aggression than the other. Rather, it’s because some breeds have specific needs that must be fulfilled. Mastiffs, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Cane Corsos are a few breeds who need a strong alpha as an owner.
Dog-to-dog aggression is often caused by a lack of leadership. Without a pack leader, your dog’s need for dominance will be ignited. As an owner, you need to establish respect and loyalty through firm rules, limitations, and boundaries. Constantly remind your dog that you are the pack leader.
Aggression can stem from puppies not being exposed to proper socialization with other well-tempered dogs. When pups are not properly socialized in outside environments, they are disoriented and frustrated. Dogs are not able to read social cues and communicate adequately with other dogs, so your dog will respond with territorial aggression. It can be a vicious cycle, because aggressive dogs are often kept isolated, and as they get older, more isolation can lead to an even bigger aggression problem.
If your dog sporadically lashes out after being touched, and this is not a typical behavior you’re used to seeing — it may be a cry for help. Numerous physiological disorders can cause irritability and pain. Have your veterinarian conduct a thorough exam to see if your pup is physically ailing.
Aggression is the most challenging behavioral problem to curb and, in most cases, a professional dog trainer is the best solution. If you use an animal behaviorist, make sure they are certified in their respective field. It’s best to begin training early on when your dog is a puppy to prevent long-standing behavioral issues. In addition, when your puppy is young, it is easier to make behavior modifications and lead him to become a well-behaved dog.
Training Tips to Combat Aggressive Behavior
Here are some training tips to help combat aggressive behavior:
Be the Alpha
Showing that you are the alpha and leader of the pack is the most important part of correcting aggression in puppies, especially with more dominant dogs. By setting firm limitations and boundaries, you will build trust, respect, and loyalty. Since dogs have been domesticated and removed from nature, it is up to us to fulfill that void and treat dogs the way nature intended.
If your dog struggles with social situations (i.e., people, other dogs), introduce these environments in small doses and work your way up. Leverage positive reinforcement to reward desired behavior with treats, toys, and praise. Make sure your dog understands the he is pleasing the pack leader when he behaves.
Use a Leash
Use a leash around the house. It shows your dog that you are the one who decides where to go. A harness or prong style collar is recommended because it does not choke the dog. Prong collars are the most conducive for training because they administer a small discomfort to the back of the neck, similar to what a disapproving mother does to her pups.
Change Up His Sleeping Situation
If your dog sleeps on the bed, try having him sleep off the bed until he is trained to identify you as the alpha. Once that relationship is established, give your dog clear permission that it’s okay to cozy up with you.
Crate Your Dog While You Eat
As the head of the house, you eat dinner first. Try crating your dog while you eat. It establishes a hierarchy and sets boundaries. Eventually your dog can graduate to eating at the same time as you.
Like food, playtime is a powerful training tool. Try to keep toys out of reach so that you are always the one to supply your dog with one. You initiate playtime and you decide when it’s over. Once your pup firmly understands this, you can return to leaving some toys out.
Don’t Pick Up Your Dog
If you have a small dog, resist the urge to pick him up when he becomes aggressive. Your dog will interpret being picked up as affection and ultimately, a reward. Use his leash or kneel down and get on his level.
Aggression can be frustrating to deal with. Don’t let your dog’s behavior problem get the best of you. Fighting fire with fire doesn’t change the way a dog perceives social situations. It only teaches him that social situations lead to punishment.