Training The
Aggressive Pet

By Dr Laurie Green

Training The Aggressive Pet
Written by Dr. Laurie Green

Animals may be born with certain behavioral tendencies such as fearfulness or confidence. These traits can be strongly shaped for better or worse by yourselves and by the environment in which the animal is kept.

To help prevent behavioral problems:

If you're buying a dog, make sure you can see one if not both of your puppy's parents, ideally more than once. The dispositions of the parents are likely to be passed to the pups. Watch the pups at play, and avoid the most dominant and the most timid. Make sure you can handle the pup easily, that it is attracted to humans, and that it relaxes in your arms with gentle restraint. Make sure the breeder keeps accurate health records on all her dogs, and that she has done any testing for genetic problems that are appropriate for the breed.

Proper training of puppies:

From 4 to 12 weeks of age is a critical socialization period for dogs. During that time, they are most open to accepting new experiences. The experiences of the first 8 weeks of life are up to the breeder; the next 8 are under your control. This is the time to get your new pup used to a large variety of stimuli. Introduce you pup to the mail person, and have him/her give your pup a treat of your choosing. Introduce your pup to friends and strangers of different ages, genders, races, etc., and have them give her treats. Take her to puppy kindergarten where she'll be well socialized with other pups and people and where you will learn the beginnings of properly shaping her behavior in a way that is fun for her and gets results for you. Take her for rides in the car, and take her for short fun visits at the vet's office, so it doesn't become a scary place. Continue training and socialization after puppy class and throughout adolescence and puberty.

Handle your pup all over her body during this time. Let her know that no area is off limits. If she objects to being handled somewhere, don't let go of that part until she relaxes and "gives". If you let go when she's struggling, then she's won and knows she can get her way by putting up a fight. Gently put your hand over her shoulder and neck from time to time to reinforce that you are the pack leader. Also, take her food away and give it back while she's eating. Take food out of her mouth. She needs to learn to tolerate this from the start. Teach her "sit" by holding a treat just above her head so she has to look up. Her bottom automatically drops down. Tell her "sit" when she's in that position and give her the treat. Repeat this often. Have her do a "sit" before she gets anything to eat.
Make all training very short, fun, and consistent. Use only positive reinforcement, never lose your temper and never strike or use abusive training, no matter what your pet is doing. That will introduce unwanted fearful or aggressive behaviors and could injure them.
Take advantage of several good resources to help you choose, care for, and properly train your pet to be an excellent addition to the family. Some good titles include: "The perfect puppy: How to choose your dog by its behavior" by Benjamin and Lynette Hart; "The right dog for you" by Daniel Tortora; "How to raise a puppy you can live with" by Clarice Rutherford and David Neil; and "Dog behavior and training: Veterinary advice for owners" by Lowell Ackerman, DVM. Some of the best training video tapes are by Ian Dunbar, a British DVM and behavior expert who gives excellent advice and concrete, easy to understand examples. You will see many of your own inappropriate behaviors on the tape, and many of your dog's bad habits, and you'll learn how to prevent and correct them. Also, see our sections on "ChooseDog.html" and "pickPup.html", or contact this website for further suggestions.

Retraining an aggressive animal:

If you have an aggressive animal, there are steps that must be taken for the safety of your and your family.

Step #1: - Recognize that an aggressive animal is a potential danger to all humans and must be trained or removed from your home.

Step #2: - Assess what causes the aggression. Is it directed toward other dogs, strangers, family members, or something else? Are dogs fighting over food, toys, or attention? Is your dog snarling and snapping when you try to groom him?

Step #3: - Stop whatever you're doing to elicit the behavior. Remember, much of this is under your control, directly or indirectly. If your dogs are fighting over food, get two dishes and always feed them in separate rooms. If your dog is constantly nipping at your hand, keep your hand in a fist when you're near her mouth so your tempting fingers are not accessible, and don't play mouthy, rough games with her. Give her an approved toy to chew on. Get a Gentle Leader or Promise halter to keep your dog under control and reinforce your position as leader. The beauty of these halters is that they work with the dog's natural behaviors and relieve you of trying to strong-arm your dog into control. Make sure your dog has plenty of exercise to expend her pent-up energy.

Step #4: - Call your veterinarian and have him/her refer you to an animal behaviorist, if necessary. Don't put it off, you need immediate help to tailor a program for your animal's particular behavior problem and personality. You need to learn the right things to do to eliminate this behavior and avoid other problems in the future, and this can only be done by a qualified professional. Unless you see a person trained in behavior modification who has a variety of techniques available and can tailor the treatment to your pet, your chance of success is low. Also, some animals may need dietary modification, lengthy desensitization, or even temporary drug therapy to help change the undesirable behavior. Only a veterinary behaviorist has all these tools available.


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