Strategies for working with aggression in dogs

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

What does aggressive behavior in dogs look like? To begin with, being around dogs means seeing and hearing all sorts of canine behaviors from play bows and growls and attention seeking barks to warning nips and bites, especially when dogs are around other dogs. A lot of behavior that we see is a reaction to what is happening in the environment canine communication utilizing body language, actions and vocalizations to get the message across. Our actions are a huge part of what our dogs are reacting to. By using positive reinforcement for the behaviors we are encouraging and ignoring the behaviors we would prefer not to see we set up our dogs for positive interactions with both human and canine but what happens when we don’t?

How do you handle an aggressive dog at a doggy day care, in your home or in the dog park? For starters, is your approach increasing the behavior or lessening it? If what you are doing is not stopping the behavior you want to try something else. If you are seeing the behavior getting worse you definitely want to try something else. If you are seeing displacement behaviors-other behaviors that are occurring that had not been happening before (usually a result of the corrective action being taken) then here is another approach. Review the case history below to see if you can integrate the methods into your day care or home environment.

What was happening: A three year old female boxer, “Gladys” (not her real name) was reacting to new entrants to the play area. Whether dog or human, Gladys would menace the newcomer by nipping and biting. Some staff would scold Gladys to end the behavior and if that was not effective, tie her to the wall. Other staff members would grab a slip lead and tie Gladys to the wall as soon as a new presence entered the play area. Not surprisingly, Gladys was getting worse and was being blamed for her “aggression” as if she alone was responsible for it. (Continue Reading Below)