Blazing Trails K9 Academy
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Can an aggressive dog be "fixed" ?

The answer to this question varies by the individual case at hand. There are a number of variables involved when working with a dog who is showing aggressive tendencies. Almost any trainer worth their weight in gold would not guarantee that a dog is fixed of aggressive tendencies, you are after all dealing with a living being. But aggressive tendencies can be lessened to tolerable levels, or even rehabilitated in many instances. I have been a trainer for over 23 years, specializing in aggressive behavior for much of that. My first dog in fact, had aggressive behaviors. I understand the frustrations and the fears, the heartaches etc involved in dealing with aggressive dogs. I take my work with these cases very seriously. In my other entry on “help my dog is aggressive what do I do now” I mention some very important questions any trainer/behaviorist is going to want to know the answer to in order to best help you and your dog. A lot is determined by the answers to these questions, as well as a full evaluation from someone with a “trained eye”. Those of us professionals who know how to read a dog, and get a feel for what is really going on, can feel better about telling an owner whether there is hope, only after seeing the situation in real life. This is partly why it really is better to hire a professional to come out and work with the individual case.

I DO have some criteria for when I think the risk factors for not being able to fix it are higher. 3 components that help me determine when to tell an owner that I don’t think it’s workable are these: 1.no warning, 2.no triggers, and 3. no bite inhibition.

 No warning means that the dog went from being “normal” to reacting aggressive very quickly, without a whole lot of warning.  Sometimes it’s best to have a pro come out because they would have a better understanding on what constitutes a “warning”. There have been times when I’ve had an owner tell me their dog bit “out of the blue”. Yet I walk in and after investigating the case, find the dog had been warning that he was going to bite for years! Some warnings are just more subtle then others. 

No trigger means the dog is biting at random for apparently no reason. A trained professional can not find a reason. Again, it’s good to have a trainer or behaviorist look at the case because they know dog behavior, and may see an actual reason. For instance, the dog was laying on the bed, someone walked in and tried to make the dog get off, the dog bites. Some owners might say the dog just bit for no apparent reason. But I would look at it and know exactly why the dog was biting in that situation. 

No bite inhibition means the dog did not inhibit the level of his bite, or the level of his bite escalated very quickly. For instance, a dog with good bite initial bite inhibition may just air snap, or bite but not break the skin. A dog with very poor bite inhibition would bite multiple times, puncturing and/or tearing the skin each time. I use Dr. Ian Dunbars “bite levels” to help me determine the “level” of bite. With me, Level 6 (mauling) is not something I would work with, and if I did, I would recommend euthanasia. Level 5 (multiple puncture wound bite in the same attack) I would look very closely at the circumstances but may recommend euthanasia. Levels 3 and 4, I generally will work with depending on owner compliance (if the owner is unable or unwilling to do the work needed to help keep this dog “bite free”, I may not consider it). Levels 1 and 2- I consider very hopeful if the owner is willing to work with the dog and comply with my protocol very closely. 

I also take other factors into consideration. For instance, a large breed of dog that is showing food guarding issues (even with very good bite inhibition), that lives in the same household as a toddler. If the owner just wanted me to turn the dog into a teddy bear, without taking extreme precaution to protect the child, I would not do it. I could not in good conscience put a child in danger. A lot is determined by owner compliance really. A dedicated owner with the time and patience to put into working with the dog, who follows directions well, and is willing to protect those around the dog etc, will fare much better then an owner who just wants me to “wave my magic wand and fix the dog”. 

But, in MANY situations with an aggressive dog, there can be hope. You just need to work with the right trainer/behaviorist for your situation and dog, and be willing to prevent problems as well as spend the time and energy to work on it.

HELP! My dog is aggressive when on the leash, what do I do?!

Please note we are currently moving many of our previously written posts over to our new website. You can read much more on a variety of subjects at our old blog: http://www.bestk9blog.com

In our last post on this topic, we talked about reasons WHY a dog can be more aggressive towards other dogs when on the leash. Here we will give just a few tips on things to do to handle this problem. We of course have more tricks up our sleeves to deal with this annoying problem, after all, where would we be without a job? But these are some things to think about and do to lessen the behavior while you’re trying t find a trainer to come and help you with this problem.

1. hire a trainer or behaviorist. Look for someone that has experience with dealing with this problem, and ask to speak to people who they’ve worked with on it. Ask how those dogs are doing now. This is an important step (hiring a trainer) since all dogs are different and a professional is able to see things from a different light. Plus, a good trainer will be able to act according to what your individual dog is doing. 

2. Maintain your cool! All too often I see owners who feel embarrassed by their dogs aggressive behavior on leash, or they’re scared that the dog is going to hurt another dog or something. These owners often over react or under react. If you tense up at all, the dog can tell and is more likely to increase the aggressive behavior. Be aware of your body language, and even your breathing patterns. Do whatever it takes to maintain your cool. Focus on working with the dog, or escape routes as necessary, and not on what others are thinking about your dog. 

3. Be aware of your surroundings. It is better to notice a dog coming from a distance and to start working with your dog, then it is to wait for that dog to be upon you and then try to CALM your dog. 

4. Do not reinforce the behavior. Oftentimes I see owners that are nervous, stop and pat their dogs… saying “it’s ok” in a singsong fashion. This simply teaches a dog that you approve of the behavior. After all, he’s not doing anything but behaving reactively, and you’re patting him and cooing at him over it! 

5. give the dog something to do. Do not just require a sit stay, but work the dog in a sequence. You want to keep his brain engaged. 

6. prevent problems by reading the warning signals ahead of time, and keep a muzzle handy if you must. Do not be afraid or embarrassed of using a muzzle if it means everyone remains safe! Preferably a basket muzzle to avoid overheating the dog. 

These are just some very basic tips for handling a dog that is aggressive towards other dogs on a leash. It is still best to contact a trainer experienced in handling the problem, but we hope these will help until that can be arranged.