by: Kathy Pierson
As a trainer, aggression is a problem that comes up frequently. Most owners are afraid that their dog is aggressive but most often it is not true. Based on my experience, most dogs are not aggressive but rather exhibit signs of aggression that are misunderstood by the owner.
Aggressive behavior can be hereditary, can be caused by poor health, or can be the result of the dog’s environment. Hereditary aggression is relatively rare. Aggressive behavior is more often the result of the dog feeling bad or being in discomfort. In these cases, the dog’s actions are not aggression but rather a health problem. If you suspect that your dog has pain or may not feel well, have your dog check at the veterinarian to be sure that his/her condition is good.
A misunderstanding of what aggression is occurs when a dog nips at the owner’s hand during play or when the dog is playing retrieve and accidentally bites the hand when he tries to get the stick. Most dog owners recognize this as just a mistake, but in some cases, owners believe that the dog intentionally is biting. That is simply a misunderstanding. This is the fact that the owner is not really paying attention to the signals that the dog was sending or mismanagement of the situation.
A bite occurring because of mismanagement is another topic. For example, if you are playing with your dog and he decides “no more” and runs and hides under the bed, and when you stick your hand under the bed to get the stick, your dog bites. Well, that is not his mistake but the mistake is yours. Your dog was telling you that “I am done” but you did not pay attention to that signal. Always look for your dog to give you signals about how he is feeling. Example: He may stare up at you if he is looking for your direction because he is in an unfamiliar place or situation. Your dog may be saying, “what are we doing here”, so use your leaderships skills by standing tall, use the leash to reinforce that you are the leader and continue to encourage your dog to do what you want. This will relieve his desire to become aggressive.
Sometimes a dog becomes aggressive because of lack of socialization. The more often your puppy or dog is allowed to experience new situations, new people, new dogs, the more even tempered your dog will become. Anyone who is interested in gaining the full scope of socialization skills at the basic level should inquire about Canine Good Citizen Certification. This is a ten step series of training tests that teach basic skills for any dog. If you are interested, you can contact the AKC or me for more information. You will be amazed at how confident your dog will be after working on these 10 steps.
Remember, be kind, be firm, use a happy voice and always do what you say you are going to do. Set expectations for your dog, and follow through with your leadership and he will begin to realize that he can rely on you. Perfect.