Dog aggression is the number one behavioral problem we are called on to fix. Dog aggression is a multifaceted condition, and it takes a lot of skill, time, and experience to overcome. The vast majority of dog-aggressive dogs are not the crazed demons that they make themselves appear to be. Most dog aggression comes from a place of fear and anxiety. They begin to become nervous and anxious in a situation where they are uncomfortable, and the only way they know how to handle it is to growl, snap, snarl, and bite their way out. There is a lot of work that goes into fixing these dogs. Relieving them of that anxiety can be a bit of a tricky situation. On one hand the dog is scared, but on the other hand the dog is also trying to bite another living creature so you have to tread carefully.
Inappropriate and mistimed corrections can lead to a nasty situation of pain and confusion for a dog that is already stressed to the max. There is lot of nonsense out in the dog world that your dog is attempting to be dominant when they show aggression like that. People will say you need to be the alpha. Some people go as far as instructing people to grab their dogs, roll them on their backs, and hold them down or lay on top of them. Now think about how that would feel to a dog that is already tense, nervous, and scared. While appropriately timed corrections are often necessary to remedy dog aggression cases, at no point is grabbing your dog and flipping them over on their back the appropriate response.
Those seeking information on what to do with a dog-aggressive dog need to be very careful with all of the advice you will receive. Everyone seems to think they know how to handle these things, when the truth is, it is a very delicate situation. Many people will recommend obedience training classes to someone with an aggressive dog. While obedience training is always a part of a behavior modification program, it is only one single aspect of a much bigger picture. We have to work on changing how the dog actually feels about the situation. We want them calm, relaxed, and happy. Getting your dog to that state of mind takes time, patience, and skill.
On the opposite end of the “alpha-rollers” are those that believe you should only attempt to fix aggressive cases with positive reinforcement. Just like those that believe you need to force your dog to submit to you as alpha, those that believe you can fix serious aggression with nothing more that a treat pouch are just as incorrect. What many people don’t understand is that a dog in a heightened state of arousal will learn to enjoy that behavior and the crazy, out-of-control behavior becomes rewarding itself. For most severe dogs, you cannot win them over with a treat when all they are worried about is fixating on another dog.
One must take a very careful approach to handling and training dog aggressive dogs. You have to know exactly when to correct, and exactly when to reward your dog. You also have to make sure you don’t push your dog too far too fast. You have to reward the calm moments and correct the moments where your dog is about to lose control. You want your dog to develop positive associations with time spent around other dogs, while having a clear understanding that you won’t tolerate aggressive behavior.
With time, patience, dedication, skill, and most of all, consistency, you can get dog aggression under control. In all my years I have only encountered one dog who could not safely be around other dogs after months of training. 99% of all dog aggression cases can be resolved.