What to Do if Your Dog Becomes Aggressive Toward Family.
What to Do if Your Dog Becomes Aggressive Toward Family By Will Bangura, M.S., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, (Dog Behaviorist), Certified Behavior Consultant.
Aggression in dogs can be a serious and dangerous problem for the pet guardian, other household members, and other dogs in the home. Sudden aggressive behavior in dogs can be concerning and requires immediate action from the pet guardian. This article will discuss what pet guardians should do if they have a dog in the house that has suddenly become aggressive towards family members or other dogs in the home.
Management and safety for dog aggression.
The first step in managing an aggressive dog is to ensure safety by avoiding triggers and managing the dog’s environment. This means preventing the dog from having access to situations that may cause it to become aggressive. For example, if the dog becomes aggressive around other dogs, separating them and avoiding having them in the same room or area is essential. Similarly, if the dog becomes aggressive towards family members, it is essential to supervise interactions and manage the dog’s access to people. Keeping people and dogs safe from any harm or injuries caused by an aggressive dog is crucial.
Rule out any possible medical contributing factors or causes of dog aggression.
The next step is to have the dog seen by a veterinarian to rule out any medical causes for the aggression. Sometimes, medical issues such as pain, thyroid problems, or neurological disorders can cause sudden aggressive behavior in dogs. Therefore, it is essential to get the dog checked by a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions contributing to the aggressive behavior.
Won’t my dog grow out of it?
It is a common misconception among pet guardians that dogs will “grow out of” aggressive behavior. However, this is not true, and aggressive behavior requires immediate action from the pet guardian to ensure the safety of all involved. Various possible reasons for sudden aggressive behavior include fear, anxiety, territoriality, dominance, or medical issues. Therefore, it is crucial to identify the root cause of the aggression to manage and modify the behavior effectively.
To manage an aggressive dog, it is important to use safety and management protocols, including positively conditioning the dog to wear a muzzle for safety. A professional dog behaviorist, veterinary behaviorist, behavior consultant, or dog trainer should be consulted to help identify and modify the dog’s aggressive behavior. Behavior modification is not always a total cure, but it can lead to a reduction in the frequency, severity, and duration of the unwanted behavior.
Foundational behaviors to manage your aggressive dog.
Foundational obedience behaviors such as come, sit, down, go to your place, look at me, and touch are just a few basic commands that should be taught to control the dog’s behavior. Counter-conditioning and desensitization are the gold standards for behavior modification of aggressive dogs. Counter-conditioning involves changing the dog’s emotional response to a specific trigger, while desensitization involves gradually exposing the dog to the trigger at a low intensity until it no longer elicits an aggressive response.
Is medication necessary to treat dog aggression?
In some cases, the severity of the dog’s behavior may require using behavior medicine in conjunction with training and behavior modification. A veterinary behaviorist or veterinarian trained in behavior medicine should be consulted to determine the appropriate medication and dosage for the dog.
What to Do if Your Dog Becomes Aggressive Toward Family.
Avoid the use of punishment.
Pet guardians need to understand that punishment can exacerbate aggression in dogs rather than resolve it. Punishment may suppress aggressive behaviors temporarily, but it does nothing to address the underlying emotional state of fear or anxiety that is often the root of most aggression. Punishment may also create fear, anxiety, and stress in the dog, which can worsen the aggression in the long term.
Studies have shown that using aversive training methods, such as physical punishment or verbal reprimands, can increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior in dogs. This is because punishment does not address the underlying cause of the behavior and may increase the dog’s fear and anxiety, which can worsen the aggression.
Pet guardians must understand that punishment can seriously affect a dog’s behavior. One of the dangers of punishment is that it can suppress a dog’s warning signs, such as barking, showing teeth, and growling.
When a dog displays these warning signs, it communicates that they are uncomfortable or feels threatened. If a dog is punished every time they display these warning signs, it may learn to suppress them to avoid punishment. This can be dangerous because the dog may no longer give any warning before biting, resulting in unexpected and potentially dangerous behavior.
It is also important to note that punishing a dog can damage the relationship between the dog and its owner. Dogs are social animals and form strong bonds with their human family members. Punishment can cause fear, anxiety, and mistrust, eroding the dog’s and its owner’s bond.
In addition, punishing a dog can cause them to become fearful and defensive, which can lead to other behavior problems. For example, a dog that is punished for growling at strangers may show signs of fear or aggression towards all strangers, even if they pose no threat.
Seek professional help for dog aggression.
Pet guardians need professional help from a qualified dog behaviorist or trainer who uses positive reinforcement-based training techniques rather than punishment. These professionals can help pet guardians identify the underlying cause of the dog’s aggressive behavior and develop a personalized behavior modification plan based on positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement-based training uses rewards to encourage the dog to exhibit desirable behaviors rather than punishing undesirable behaviors. This training can help build the dog’s confidence, reduce fear and anxiety, and strengthen the bond between the dog and the pet guardian.
In summary, sudden aggressive behavior in dogs can be a serious problem that requires immediate attention from pet guardians. The first step is to ensure safety by managing the dog’s environment and avoiding triggers. Pet guardians should have their dog seen by a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical causes. It is important to seek professional help from a dog behaviorist, veterinary behaviorist, behavior consultant, or dog trainer to manage and modify the dog’s aggressive behavior. The goal of behavior modification is not always a total cure but a reduction in the frequency, severity, and duration of the unwanted behavior. Foundational obedience behaviors and counter-conditioning and desensitization are essential tools for managing and modifying aggressive behavior in dogs.
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- American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on Punishment: This statement outlines the AVSAB’s position on punishment in animal behavior, including the negative effects of punishment and the benefits of using positive reinforcement instead. You can read the statement here: https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Punishment_Position_Statement-download_-_10-6-14.pdf
- “Why Punishing Your Dog Doesn’t Work” by the American Kennel Club: This article explains why punishment can be counterproductive in dog training and behavior modification, including the potential for suppressed warning signs and damaged relationships between dogs and their owners. You can read the article here: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-punishing-your-dog-doesnt-work/