Aggression is a powerful force. Aggression from an animal that can’t communicate his or her needs with you is even worse. There’s no reasoning, there’s no soothing, it’s just the dog you love with all of your heart turning on you, a loved one, or another animal. You wonder why, what you did wrong, if you’ll have to hand him or her over to a shelter—or worse.
Canine aggression is my specialty. As the most severe behavioral problem we dog trainers deal with, I have to be well-educated on the subject, its causes, and how to fix it. Fear is a common culprit, and because a dog’s brain works differently than a human’s, dog owners may not understand or even realize their dog is acting out of fear. They’re simply standing their ground. Their instincts have begged them to choose between fight or flight and they’ve chosen fight.
I worked with a German Shepherd mix named Luke last month. His owners called because he bit a distant family member who had originally planned to stay with them for the weekend. Luke was two at this point and had never met the man before, and this wasn’t the first time he’d shown aggression toward a stranger. In fact, when I arrived for the in-home consultation, he laid his ears back, bared his teeth, and growled at me. His owners put him on a leash and kept him close to them, but he stayed on high alert for the entire two hour session.
You may have heard of dogs that don’t like men or are overprotective of their family. It seems like an odd personality trait or a case of territoriality. But in Luke’s case, I could tell it was fear. He was anxious, and it made sense. There is no way to verbally say to your dog, “Trust me. He’s cool. Calm down.” That doesn’t make sense for the dog, and he’s left feeling as if he has to keep an eye on this person.
That’s a lot of stress for a dog to take.
My job is to help owners communicate with their dogs in a language they can understand. And that’s just what I did for Luke’s owners. Through basic obedience training, proper leash handling techniques, and designating a corner of the living room to be Luke’s calm own place, his owners helped him feel at ease, and Luke learned to focus on his owners. Focus is incredibly important during the training process. When a dog is focused on his or her owner, they pay attention to their commands and body language. They learn to take cues from their owners instead of their own, often oversensitive instincts.
This is how Luke’s owners managed to curb his aggression. The next time a stranger entered Luke’s home and he began growling, his owners were able to get him through the encounter in a way that was safe for everyone (including Luke) and that helped Luke feel calm and secure. From there, he observed the interactions, realized there was nothing to fear, and remained calm and relaxed during the entire encounter.
If you’re experiencing a similar problem, let me do for you what I did for Luke’s owners. Give me a call at 800.649.7297 and together we’ll create your own success story.