Due to our natural fear around our pets’ primal side, aggressive dog behaviour towards humans (or human aggression) is probably the most misunderstood/misinterpreted of all bad dog behaviours. There are many reasons for dogs to become aggressive, and depending on how it is broken down, there can be over a dozen types of aggression. In most cases, aggressive behaviour stems from a dog being nervous, pushy, excited, territorial or possessive.
Human Aggression or Scared Behaviour?
How to help people deal with their dog’s aggressive behaviours depends on these factors:
- Type of Aggression – Assessing the type of your dog’s aggression, i.e. is your dog aggressive because he is pushy and controlling or is he aggressive because he is insecure/afraid?
- History of Aggression – Has your dog bitten you (the owner) or others before?
The reason these factors are important is that they can help us understand where your dog is coming from: a nervous dog bites to keep you (and/or others) at a distance, whereas a pushy dog tends to bite because he is in charge and he doesn’t/didn’t like what you are doing/did.
Dogs Biting Out of Nervousness
Sometimes referred to as “fear biters”, dogs who bite/are aggressive due to insecurity/fear can be helped to stop aggressing the easiest with a few simple, small changes. Here, creating more confidence in your dog is often sufficient to remove his aggression.
A nervous dog typically only aggresses to try and keep distance between himself and whatever makes him nervous – and he has learned that barking at ‘frightening’ things stops them getting closer. Things to help a dog who is aggressive due to being insecure include:
- Increasing his exercise.
- Not petting him or talking to him when he becomes reactive.
- Recognising your dog’s body language cues or “signs” before he becomes reactive, so you can divert his attention away. When you see signs of your dog alerting, you can try to redirect his attention with a sound, treat or toy.
- If redirection fails, it is usually because your dog’s energy is already too high. In this case, you must either block or correct to “snap” him out of this state. However, if you try but cannot stop him, you must stop as it will only make matters worse.
- Sometimes, using time and waiting until your dog settles is the best approach. Once you have brought him into a state of calmness you can reward him with a treat or praise.
- Understand that your nervous dog barks and acts “aggressive” because he wants to keep a ‘safe’ distance between himself and his target. He does not intend to harm, only to chase away.
- When your dog becomes reactive, do not remove him from the situation. You must get him to calm before removing him.
Exposure generates confidence, so once you can control his reactions, practise taking him into situations he would normally react in and get him to calm down, stay there for a little while and then leave. Continue to increase the time you stay until your dog becomes completely non-reactive.
Dogs Biting Because They Are Pushy and Controlling
If your dog bites you when you trying to move him, take something away from him, or do something to/with him that he doesn’t like/approve of, he lacks respect. Changing this kind of aggression requires you to first of all change your relationship’s dynamic (check out our ‘Pack Leadership Tips’ to help you with this).
This type of aggressive behaviour is frequently displayed by spoiled dogs who are not given any rules, limitations or boundaries – when a dog doesn’t get proper discipline, he believes it is his duty to discipline you.
It is not at all uncommon for a dog like this to take to biting when you try to grab his paws, move him, wake him, take something away from him or correct him – he is telling you when and how you will interact with him, because seeing himself as a pack leader, he will instinctively correct any follower who attempts to tell him what to do.
Dogs believing that they are in charge/control are usually consistent in why and how they bite. Here are some suggestions for things to try if you should find yourself in a situation like this:
- Act aloof. Pack leaders naturally are very aloof and ‘playing hard to get’ for three days (no touch, no talk and no eye contact) may be extremely hard to do but can be a powerful way to regain your dog’s respect.
- Letting your dog drag his lead around allows you to move him without touching him.
- Follow the ‘expectation vs invitation’ mantra. If your dog barks at you to get something, jumps on you, paws at you or demands things (and gets them) from you in any way, he will think he is in charge. He should therefore only get things upon invitation and must always have to work for what he gets. Calling him to come to you and asking him to sit before giving him any affection is a good example of this.
- Nurturing calm equals nurturing respect, so before you give your dog anything, wait for him to become calm. Feed and pet him only when he is calm, only allow him to go through doors or get out of your car when he is calm, and so on.
- Attach one end of the leash to your dog and the other to your waist. Called ‘anchoring’, this a good way to stop a dog being pushy. Having control over his physical movement has an extremely powerful effect on an overly controlling, dominant or pushy dog.
- Anchoring your dog to something heavy like the couch, for instance, while you are watching TV is also very helpful. The reason anchoring works so well has to do with dogs’ instinctual understanding that whoever controls their movement is in charge.
- Don’t let your pushy or dominant dog sleep in your bed. There are two good reasons for this: firstly, canine pack leaders usually sleep alone and secondly, most dogs who will bite their owners will do so either when they are moved or when their owners try to remove them from the bed.
For any of this to work and to stop human aggression in a pushy, controlling dog, you must be the leader of your ‘pack’.
The Red Zone
If your dog has reached an aggression level where there is a prolonged and serious intent to harm and/or kill directed towards dogs, other animals or humans, he has reached the red zone. Dominant, excited or insecure dogs (any breed) mixed with a worried/nervous human can be the perfect recipe for behavioural disaster leading straight into the red zone.
It can be quite difficult to help red zone cases, because the human must be willing (and able) to make necessary changes within themselves. Here, we can only help you with your dog’s aggression if you are willing to work on your own personal growth. It’s far from over just because your dog bites – as long as you understand your role in this, you can change his behaviour by changing the message you are sending. The greatest tool in dealing with dog aggression is your own confidence and energy!
Getting Expert Help
I believe every dog should have a chance, regardless of what others may say – and there is a fair chance that your dog is the victim of a simple misunderstanding – so don’t give up on him just yet. Instead, allow me to break down and determine your dog’s aggression’s true causes and, once we have established why he bites, we can devise a plan and, starting with the basics, put it into action. To learn more and/or arrange for an appointment, call me now on 07776761289. Alternatively, you also drop me a line via our contact form here.