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We’ve all heard the old adage – it’s not the dog, it’s the owner – when dealing with an aggressive dog. So, what can you do to prevent aggression in your growing dog? Some of the tips below from Dog Basics Magazine might surprise you!
Puppy Basics: Preventing Aggression in Your Growing Dog
When choosing a dog, learn about the breed to help you understand its genetic potential. Choose dogs whose parents and lineage have the right disposition for your family. Recent studies show that temperament testing of young puppies doesn’t predict adult behaviour, except if the puppy is very fearful. If you are adopting an older pup or adult dog, personality testing may help determine if the dog is likely to be fearful or friendly, possessive or aggressive.
Socialization and exposing the puppy to new experiences are key elements in preventing or minimizing fear and anxiety in adult dogs. The sensitive period for socialization is the first 14 weeks. Every effort should be made to expose the puppy to as many people, places and environments as possible during this time. In fact, any type of person, animal or situation that the pet doesn’t become familiar with during this socialization time can be a source of fear and aggression as the dog matures.
During the early part of the socialization period, the puppy is best housed with its mother and littermates to learn how to interact and communicate with other dogs. A good maternal role model and regular human handling in these early weeks can reduce fear and help the puppy better cope with future stress.
Seven to eight weeks of age is a good time to introduce the puppy to its new home and family. It’s well within the socialization period and an age when fear is just beginning to emerge. Take a close look at what sort of people, animals, sights and sounds are not in your household and then expand the puppy’s socialization to include:
People who look different – beards, glasses, uniforms, ethnic groups
People who act differently – children, infants, elderly, mentally or physically challenged
A variety of dogs, breeds and other animals
Different sights and sounds – vacuums, planes, cars, bikes, roller blades, joggers
Places – veterinary clinics, cages, grooming facilities
Surfaces – grass, carpeting, tile, wood decks
Experiences – stairs, elevators, car rides
If your puppy shows fear or anxiety, go slower and take along some favoured treats or toys so he (or she) learns to enjoy new experiences. If you’re concerned about your puppy visiting parks or meeting unknown dogs before vaccinations are complete, enroll in a puppy class where dogs are screened for health and vaccine status. Classes expose your puppy to a wide variety of people, dogs and experiences as well as guiding you in rewards based training.
Training With Rewards
Use rewards based techniques to shape and encourage desirable behaviour. Undesirable behaviour should be ignored or prevented, not punished. Identify what the potential reinforcers are for your dog and give them only for desirable responses. In other words, when you want to give your dog a toy, treat or chew toy or whenever your dog wants something – affection, walk, play – this is your opportunity to train. Also, if your dog does something good, don’t forget to reward him immediately.
No Punishment In Training
Punishment can be a major contributing factor to aggression. Even an occasional physical rebuke can lead to increased fear, anxiety, defensive behaviour or hand shyness. At best, it may stop the undesirable behaviour but does nothing to teach desirable behaviour. It may also reinforce the bad behaviour by providing attention. For example, punishment during play aggression may cause the behaviour to escalate, either as a defensive measure or because the puppy thinks it’s part of play.
Punishment can also lead to conflict which is a common cause of aggression. Conflict arises when the dog has competing motivations, such as wanting to greet or play, but is also fearful of the outcome, perhaps because he has been punished for the behaviour in the past.
Physical Handling & Restrain
Puppy training should include a wide range of handling, always positive. Avoid punishment or unpleasant outcomes that might lead to fear. Each time your puppy is in a mood for affection, treats or play, practice stroking or touching a different part of his body, or practice lifting him or have him lie calmly in place on his back, belly or side. If he enjoys this, gradually progress to other forms of handling and restraint. If he resists or becomes anxious, gradually repeat the handling using treats to make it enjoyable. Also, consider using favoured rewards while brushing, bathing, nail trimming, rubbing the gums and teeth, cleaning the ears or around the eyes, or place a treat in his mouth to mimic giving a pill.
Most puppies use their teeth as part of play, however, play biting can quickly become more aggressive. First, make sure he’s getting enough regular play periods and chew toys. Then, each time the puppy’s play increases to biting, immediately stop the play. The key is for the puppy to learn that the play stops when teeth are used.
Food Bowl & Give/Drop Exercises
Some dogs are aggressive when eating or when they have a favoured possession in their mouth. You may be able to prevent this by beginning with hand feeding and progressing to small meals where you are holding the food bowl. As soon as the dog is done, remove the bowl and refill it (even add an occasional treat). Next, walk by the dog when he is eating and toss a treat near the bowl, so that your dog learns to move away from the bowl and expect good things when people walk by. Do not do these exercises with dogs who are already protective of food or toys without the guidance of a behaviourist.
The dog that is possessive of toys or objects that it steals is another problem. Practise a ‘give’ or ‘drop’ command by training your dog to give up toys for special treats.
Protective, Territorial or Fear Aggression
Teaching your puppy proper greeting behaviour and rewarding him each time he’s successful can greatly reduce fear and protectiveness towards strangers. First, have him learn to greet family members by teaching him to sit, lie down or give a paw for treats. Then, move on to new people.
Conversely, punishing your dog for barking, lunging or jumping up each time he meets a stranger or new pet can make him increasingly fearful or aggressive with each new greeting.
Read the rest of Dog Basic’s article here. And, tell us – have you had any experience with an aggressive dog? Or, any other tips to prevent aggression in your growing dog? Tell us about it below!