How to Spot Fear & Aggression in Dogs
News headlines are constantly highlighting dog attacks. As such, even more dogs are being euthanized in shelters as they are deemed aggressive, dangerous and unpredictable. Would it surprise you to hear that all of this would be preventable with a basic knowledge of canine behavior?
The Fearful Attacker
It is true that no dog attacks without reason, and almost every time that reason is that his body language was ignored. The vast majority of dogs who bite, bark, growl or lunge do so out of fear. Something occurred, whether you can see it or not, that made the dog feel threatened and fearful. His language was ignored, and thus he reacted in the only way he knew to protect himself. Other behaviors can come into play as well, such as resource guarding which is another fear based behavior. Remember being told as a child to not pet an eating dog? It is because a dog with resource guarding problems may lash out if prompted, even when you are just trying to be his friend.
The fearful dog who causes harm to a human or other animal is a serious danger. The people and animals around him can become hurt or even killed, which also puts his life in danger. If your dog has a bite history or at risk of biting, don’t try to train him yourself! You need a specialist or experience animal behaviorist to help your dog get a better grip and understanding of the world around him. This expert help will keep you all safe!
Unpredictable Shelter Dogs
Shelter dogs are often characterized as aggressive dogs. Dogs who are healthy and yet considered non-adoptable according to a shelter’s temperament testing system also falls into the category of being misunderstood. These dogs are in need of help and are often just scared. A scared dog will act in the only way he or she knows, which is to protect themselves from harm. This is often seen as an aggressive dog.
Considering a dog has no ability to understand what humans are telling them, they have no idea if the next person that walks into their kennel, picks up their food dish or puts a leash on them will cause them harm or not. The human may unknowingly provoke the dog by moving their body in a manner that gives the dog reason to be fearful, such as walking straight up, bending over the dog, reaching a hand towards the dog and even eye contact.
There is hope for these shelter dogs if they are given a chance. The fear in them can be changed through the training method called counter conditioning. It is a simple, but time consuming tactic based on the premise of changing a dog’s emotion over his trigger. The trigger can be a human, another dog, or even loud noises.
Counter Conditioning for Fear in Aggressive Dogs
Teaching a dog to accept something that he is terrified of can be challenging. It can take from a few days to months to change how a dog feels about something, but it can be done! Counter conditioning is the act of doing just that, and it requires patience, time and consistency. Get started with a handful of irresistible treats and the dog’s trigger at such a distance that the dog hardly notices. Every time the dog acknowledges the trigger without reacting, give him a treat. Work up, over time of short sessions, to having the trigger within only a few feet from the dog without him reacting. When you get to that point, you can call it a big success!
Dogs who are euthanized or have lashed out, bitten or snarled over resource guarding is a terrible tragedy. Resource guarding is a natural behavior that even the dog’s wild cousins, the wolves’ exhibit. Resource guarding is when a dog feels protective over an item, food, or even a person or another dog. This is the dog’s fear of that item being taken from him. Even this dangerous and overly common behavior can be trained out of a fear aggressive dog, sometimes within days!
Don’t Throw In The Towel!
It is extremely rare that a dog may be beyond the ability to rehabilitate or reform in their fearful and aggressive behaviors. Professional help is often times the best answer, but those few who are lucky enough to have the natural ability to communicate with dogs and are educated in the theory of training can effectively treat or even cure fear aggressive behaviors. Learn all you can, and never throw in the towel!