If your dog is fear aggressive, it's important to attempt to learn the reason for the behavior and to commit to working through the necessary steps to change it. Handling fear aggression in dogs should include a medical evaluation, training program and consultation with a trainer or behaviorist.
Some dogs have a natural tendency toward fearfulness. If a dog isn't socialized to a particular situation at a young age, he may develop fearful tendencies once he is exposed. For example, a dog who is raised by a woman and who has little exposure to men may always react with fearfulness when meeting a new man. For other dogs, fearfulness to a situation may be established by a bad experience. For example, a dog may be kicked by a woman wearing sunglasses and develop fearfulness toward any woman wearing glasses. Aggression comes into play when the dog feels as if he can't flee from the situation.
There are medical conditions that can cause a dog to exhibit fear aggressive behaviors. Some hormonal conditions can cause anxiety to increase. Pain can increase tendencies toward fearfulness. When trying to change unwanted behavior in a dog, the first step should be a medical evaluation to determine if there are any underlying conditions that might be to blame. If your dog is unaltered, you should also schedule an appointment for spay/neuter. Spay/neuter is proven to reduce aggression in dogs and may also help to lower your dog's anxiety levels.
Your behavior can greatly influence your dog's behavior. Do not force your dog into situations where you know he will be fearful. If you are introducing your dog to a new place or person, it's important you are relaxed. Talk to your dog in a fun, reassuring tone. Give him a treat. Make sure you convey to him that you aren't worried and he has no reason to be afraid. If your dog begins to show behaviors that indicate he is becoming fearful, "protect" your dog from the situation that is making him nervous. This may mean stepping between him and a bicycle or walking away from a stranger.
Nutrition and Exercise
If your dog isn't getting enough exercise and mental stimulation, this can lead to increased anxiety. While working through fear aggression, ensure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Consider obedience training. Obedience training will provide your dog with mental stimulation and will be useful in programs to help your dog overcome fearfulness. It's also important to look at your dog's diet. Consult with your veterinarian about the best diet for your dog.
Training to address fear aggression in dogs should be approached with a certified trainer or behaviorist. The training usually begins with the dog at a distance from the situation, animal or person that causes him to behave with fearfulness. The dog is given treats and praise as long as he remains calm. The training continues with the situation moving closer until the dog is able to remain calm and relaxed in the situation that previously caused him to react with aggression.
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.