How to Train Aggressive Dogs

With careful training, aggressive dogs can become calm and affectionate.

With careful training, aggressive dogs can become calm and affectionate.

Aggression is among the most common behavior problems in dogs, but it is also the most dangerous. With careful planning and patience, you can eliminate aggression in your dog and teach her to obey basic commands.

Teach your dog to sit. This basic command provides you with a trick you can encourage your dog to do for rewards, and it gives you markedly more control over your dog's behavior. Hold a dog treat above your dog's head. She will sit down to get a better view of it. When she sits, say "sit," click the training clicker and give her the treat. Repeat this exercise five to 10 times. Then progress to telling her to sit. When she does so, click the training clicker and give her a treat. When your dog is reliably sitting, increase the challenge of the activity by taking her outside where there are distractions. Continue practicing the sit command surrounded by distractions.

Determine the triggers for your dog's aggression. Many dogs are aggressive only toward other dogs or toward children. Then determine the distance the object of aggression must be for your dog to react. For example, your dog might not growl when a child is 10 feet away, but she may begin growling when the child is 5 feet away. The object of aggression and distance that triggers aggression will provide you with the parameters within which you must work to retrain your dog.

Place a muzzle on your dog along with a securely fastened collar and leash. Enlist the help of a friend or dog trainer who has access to the person or thing which causes aggression in your dog. For example, if your dog hates male dogs, ask a friend with a male dog to help. Position your dog so that the dog is one foot more than her reaction distance away from the object of aggression. For example, if your dog reacts at 10 feet, she should be 11 feet away.

Tell your dog to sit. Then click the training clicker and give her a treat. Continue repeating this exercise several times each day over the course of a week. Then reduce the distance by one foot and repeat the procedure for a week. Continue reducing the distance. If your dog begins behaving aggressively, increase the distance by one foot again for a week. When your dog has begun to tolerate the object being two to three feet away, lavish her with praise and additional treats. Touch the object of aggression in front of your dog and continue decreasing the distance until your dog can tolerate being near the object that triggers aggression.

Items you will need

  • Dog treats
  • Training clicker
  • Collar
  • Leash
  • Muzzle

Tips

  • Because aggression can be challenging to manage, you may need the assistance of a dog trainer.
  • If there are multiple aggression triggers, you must do the training procedure for each aggression trigger.
  • Adding variety to the aggression triggers used can be helpful. For example, if your dog is aggressive toward all large dogs, use different large dogs each week. Otherwise you may inadvertently end up socializing your dog to a single large dog without remedying the underlying problem.
  • Spaying or neutering your dog may dramatically decrease aggression.

Warnings

  • Never allow children to train or play with aggressive dogs.
  • Never punish your dog for aggression. Fear often plays a role in aggression, and punishment increases fear.
 

References

  • Aggression in Dogs; Brenda Aloff
  • Behavior Adjustment Training; Grisha Stewart
  • Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog; Emma Parsons

About the Author

Brenna Davis is a professional writer who covers parenting, pets, health and legal topics. Her articles have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as on websites. She is a court-appointed special advocate and is certified in crisis counseling and child and infant nutrition. She holds degrees in developmental psychology and philosophy from Georgia State University.

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