Handling Dog Aggression without Experience

There seems to be a noticeable increase in the amount of dog aggression. I don’t know about your dog training calls,  but I personally have seen an increase in calls about dog on dog aggression. It presents a complex and serious behavioral problem to the average dog owner. I know it can really shake them up to suddenly and unexpectedly be on the other end of the leash when it happens – and many of your clients may have already experienced this.

handling dog aggression with no experience

Categories and Causes

There are many different categories of aggression in dogs that cause them to become reactive to other dogs. Some of the categories are: fear aggression, dominance aggression, territorial aggression and protective aggression – just to name a few. And, a dog can have a combination of aggressive behavior.

There can be many causes for aggression in dogs. Aggression, like a ticking time bomb, can go off at any time during the life of a dog. If your client doesn’t recognize the issue and address it immediately, it can escalate rapidly and become even a greater problem, not to mention a liability for them – and that’s the last thing they need or you want.

There are many influencing factors that ultimately lead to dog aggression. The cause of most aggression can be attributed to a lack of early primary and secondary socialization, a very bad experience with another dog in the past creating fear or struggles over dominance or status related conflicts.

Sometimes it can be the result of medical issues like hip dysplasia, an undetected injury or even a thyroid imbalance. So the first thing to do in any case it to recommend that your client have their dog evaluated by a veterinarian to make certain that everything is okay medically.

Bringing in an experienced trainer or behaviorist

Since dog on dog aggression is a very serious matter,I always recommend owners with this dog issue work with an animal behaviorist or trainer experienced in the type of aggression with which you are dealing.

When coaching dog trainers not experienced in dog aggression, I recommend they refer out to someone they know that is qualified and who’s training style is compatible with theirs.

To gain more insight and experience, ask the experienced trainer if you can observe or assist him “as he works with your client.” This will help you learn as you go.
I’ve been on both ends of the rope with this.

I’ve assisted on the aggression work before I gained the experience charging for my time on the front end for consulting on structure in the home setting rules and personal boundaries and obedience training in and out of the house.

I also basically worked for free as I observed and learned. This kept my client from getting double billed. I usually provided my dogs as distractions while my consulting trainer worked with my client’s dog. That was a win-win situation and most good trainers don’t mind.

As I gained experience in aggression, I occasionally got calls from new trainers to work with their clients and was glad to have an extra pair of hands on the distraction dogs. When using another trainer, I managed to pay the trainer directly as a consultant as I was paid by my client. That way, I maintained the relationship with my client.

If this system works for you, it’s a good thing to contact trainers in advance and confirm their area of expertise and willingness to work this way.

But before you bring in your consulting trainer for the specialized work, there is still much to do off the grid so to speak with your client and his dog.

You’ve got to access your client’s handling skills, their dog’s response to commands in the house with you present and outside in the real world but not around dogs at first. My guess is that their dog’s obedience training leaves a lot to be desired and there are probably at least 3-4 lessons of work to do on basic dog obedience training and structure in the home and outside on property before you confront your first dog with your consulting trainer.

Meanwhile, what can your client do with their dog’s aggression?

Until you and/or the trainer are able to schedule lessons to address the dog aggression issue, ask your client to keep their dog away from other dogs to minimize their stress and anxiety. Being in too close proximity to other dogs causes unnecessary reactivity before the dog is ready. It sets them up to fail.

I also recommend working their dog on basic commands like sit, down, off and a “Watch me!” commands – first in the house, then in their own yard before they finally present other dogs to their reactive dog.

Have your client exercise their dog to constructively manage energy so that they have less to use in a destructive manner. Providing their dog with long, structured walks combined with intermittent free time, can go a long way to work on leadership. You would really be surprised how much mileage you will get out of structured walks!

Although in the beginning I do recommend not exposing dogs to other dogs before he is ready, your client does have to walk them to get in the exercise. They must be aware of and know their dog’s threshold distance in order to have stress free walks by keeping their dog a safe distance from other dogs.

Have them watch their emotional energy when with their dog at a distance around other dogs. They should be as relaxed as possible while keeping the leash slack.
By keeping a safe distance, their dog will not become stressed and they will gain confidence over time. Just ask them to relax and put their dog in a sit, down or give him that attention or “Watch me!” command as the other dog passes. Remind them to praise and teat for a job well done.

So you can see that even before you turn your client over to another trainer, there is much to be done on training. Most of these reactive dogs don’t have nearly the level of obedience response to be put face-to-face with another dog. This will keep you in the picture for a while before you have to bring in someone who has experience with aggression.

When working with a referring trainer, make note of the specific program, equipment and exercises they use to work out that dog’s specific issues. The process should not be rushed because it is a process and every dog is different.

So depending on the dog, it could move along quickly or take a lot longer. Try to relax and enjoy the ride! It will be good experience for you. Speaking of programs, here are just some of the books I have in my library. You would do well to have them in yours too.

Remember, not every aggressive dog can be rehabilitated. Some dogs require a lifetime of management. But you can make substantial progress with these dogs if the owner is dedicated to consistently working the dog.

Recommended Books for Your library

Aggression in Dogs by, Brenda Aloff: Brenda does a great detailed job of explaining the “over 20 different types of aggression” in dogs and how to fix them. It’s complete with body language descriptions and communications in dogs, equipment to use and how to use it and much more.

Dogs are from Neptune by, Jean Donaldson: Jean lays out real life cases of all kinds of dog problems – especially dog to dog aggression as her clients presented them and her recommended solutions. This is an awesome book.

Click to Calm by, Emma Parsons: a trainer that gives solid advice on clicker use and why it works with aggressive dogs. She recounts her experience, step-by-step, with her dog’s aggression and got him to view other dogs as his visual cue to sit and look at Emma for further instructions – instead of reacting to the dog.

Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad.  Jim has the ability and the experience of mentoring and teaching dog trainers how to excel and grow their dog training talents and their business.

Be sure to come visit me on these sites also:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jimburwell.dogtrainer

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PetiquetteDog

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