by Marina Somma
You put off your daily walks now because every time you pass another dog, your beloved Fido just about loses his mind. Does this sound like a familiar scenario? Well, you definitely aren’t alone; many other pet owners struggle with similar issues of aggression and reactivity. But what can you do about it?
In this article, you will find out all you need to know about aggressive dog training, including how your reaction changes your dog’s behavior, how to socialize an aggressive dog, safely introducing your dog to other dogs and what extra tools you can use to keep everyone safe during the process.
Your Dog’s Reaction and You: How Your Response Changes Your Dog’s Behavior
Many dog trainers will tell you that the first thing they see dog owners overlook is their own reaction to the situation. In reality, how you react to your dog is an incredibly important part of training! The pet owner’s reaction changes a dog’s behavior primarily through association.
Pavlov’s Dog is a great example of how dogs can develop associations between two unrelated things. The premise is simple: The researcher rang a bell before feeding the dog and then measured the saliva. Eventually, the dog began to drool when the bell rang simply because it associated the ringing bell with the food.
Now, what does that example have to do with your dog? Well, you can create many different types of associations — not all of them good. When your dog is barking and lunging at another dog, what is your first reaction? Most likely, you begin pulling on your dog’s leash. In this situation, the other dog already makes them uncomfortable, and now every time a strange dog shows up, they also start getting choked by their collar from the leash pulling.
Without realizing it, you have accidentally made your dog more afraid and uncomfortable around other dogs because when they see another dog, they automatically anticipate both the stress of the situation and discomfort from having their leash pulled on. Thankfully, you can safely socialize your dog with other animals without increasing their stress level or repeating the cycle of fear and aggression.
How to Socialize an Aggressive Dog
The absolute highest priority in aggressive dog training is ensuring that you provide positive associations rather than punishing ones.
Research shows that dogs who show aggression toward other dogs see improvement in behavior when trained using counter conditioning. Basically, in counter conditioning, you (or a trainer) pairs something potentially scary and uncomfortable with something the dog really enjoys, usually food.
Over time, the dog begins to associate the scary situation (or in this case, dog) with yummy food and positive interactions.
How to Introduce an Aggressive Dog to Another Dog
Now, to put that counter conditioning into practical application! When you introduce an aggressive dog to another dog, you need a strong leash, a well-fitted harness and lots of tasty food. Boiled chicken is a great choice because it will not upset your dog’s stomach.
The premise is actually incredibly simple. You want to start from a good distance; the more reactive the dog, the farther you start. If possible, have the other dog walk in the same direction as you so your dog doesn’t meet them head-on. When your dog notices the other dog, you call their name (use snapping, clapping or kissy noises if needed) to get their attention. Once they turn to look at you, reinforce them with the yummy chicken.
Go by your dog’s behavior. If your dog seems calm and comfortable, you can move closer to the other dog. If your dog is not very responsive, you might want to start from farther away. You might not necessarily need your dog to meet the other dog the first time or two. Simply seeing the dog from a distance and reacting calmly is a great start.
Tools of the Trade: What Else Can You Use?
Though the behavioral aspect is the most important part of aggressive dog training, you can also use a few different tools to make the task easier.
The use of CBD, also known as cannabidiol, has grown quite popular in recent years. In fact, multiple studies have investigated its use for the alleviation of epilepsy, anxiety, schizophrenia and more in humans. Some research has shown that CBD oil tinctures and chews could also have similar use in anxiety reduction and other ailments in dogs. Discuss with your veterinarian if CBD chews could be a good addition to your dog’s training regimen.
The only way for you to be 100% sure your dog isn’t going to bite another dog is by using a muzzle. Some dogs do not need to use a muzzle during the training process, but if your dog has bitten other dogs before, it might be the safest route. Even though muzzles have lots of bad press, if you properly train your dog to wear one, it can make training much safer for you and your pet. However, you must teach your dog to tolerate wearing the muzzle before you can begin working with them.
Combining the Principles
For the fastest results, you want to use all of the principles discussed together. You should create positive associations by training your dog with tasty food while also mastering your own reaction toward the situation. In addition, if your veterinarian recommends it, you can potentially use CBD tinctures or chews to promote a calm response from your dog before you walk out the door.
When you combine all of these tactics, the result is a dog who quickly progresses into a beloved pet that you can happily take with you on walks again. Tag us on social media (@heelrpets) with how the training is going.
Marina graduated from Monmouth University with a B.A. in psychology and a B.S. in marine and environmental biology and Policy. She also holds CPDT-KA dog training certification with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She has over eight years of experience in zoological and domestic animal care and has worked at various facilities all around the country. Marina and her husband, Vincent, own, operate and manage an animal behavior/training and media company based out of Central Florida called petsETC.