Every day, an estimated 1,000 Americans seek emergency care for dog bites – often leading to the responsible dogs getting euthanized.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way. Most of these bites are preventable, and often aggressive dogs are able to be trained out of the behavior.
If your dog has bitten someone or shows signs of aggression, don’t give up on him. When you made him a part of your family, you made a commitment to care for his needs, and that includes handling behavior issues.
The most important step to take is seeking the help of a professional. Aggression is a serious issue, and in many cases, can be dangerous for someone who isn’t trained to address it.
When looking for someone to work with, find out more about their training methods and track record. Some trainers aren’t comfortable working with aggression and may be quick to suggest euthanasia. You want someone with experience turning around these types of cases, so don’t be afraid to ask for references of past happy clients.
But that doesn’t mean that your job is over! Here are a few other steps you can take to help your pooch.
Be involved in the training. Dealing with an aggressive case involves focus, and sometimes your presence can be a distraction for both the dog and the trainer. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be involved in the process eventually.
Once your dog has some training under his belt, you want to get trained as well! Look for a professional who is willing to work with you and teach you how to cope with the warning signs of aggression and keep mild behavior from escalating to more serious problems.
Know the warning signs. A dog bite may seem to come out of the blue for the human, but it’s likely that your dog actually gave you plenty of notice before it happened. Many dogs become aggressive because something scares them.
In this case, you will notice: a lowered head, front and back teeth bared, ears held back, raised hackles, tail tucked, and sometimes fast panting or barking. A dominant aggressive dog will have different body language: upright and confident stance, head held high, only incisors bared, lips curled, ears up and forward, and upright tail (which may be wagging stiffly).
Teach your children how to treat dogs. “But Buster’s never done this before!” All too often, otherwise perfectly behaved dogs bite a child. Why? Because children are more likely to act in a threatening way towards dogs, even though they don’t know it!
Since they’re closer to eye level, they often make direct eye contact and stare, which can be viewed as a threat. And they tend to move quicker and more impulsively, even pulling on ears and tails or hugging the dog, and these behaviors can overwhelm even a mellow pup. So it’s very important, particularly if you have a dog that shows symptoms of aggression, to train any children in contact with him or her safe ways of connecting.
Exercise, exercise, and more exercise. For many dogs that sit at home alone all day with nothing to do, aggression is just an outlet for their frustration. Just like humans, they need physical and mental stimulation, and ensuring that your dog is satisfied and tired can go a long way towards reducing aggressive symptoms for some dogs. Make a long daily walk a priority, and also find other ways to challenge your dog, such as agility courses, learning tricks, and swimming.
Try Schutzhund training. It may seem counterintuitive to train a dog with aggression issues to be a protection dog, but an important part of training for this sport is obedience. Many dogs do well by channelling their protective tendencies in productive ways, and their owners benefit by having control over their behavior.
Teach people the right way to meet your dog. If someone approaches a dog in a threatening way, whether they intend to or not, the result can be a dog bite. When on the walk or otherwise out in public with your dog, instruct people on how to appropriately greet your dog.
They should avoid eye contact and let the dog approach them first, with their side or back to the dog. If the dog seems relaxed and open to the exchange, they can pet the dog under the chin or on his body – but not the top of his head.
Warn people that your dog is in training. Even if you’re on high alert while on the walk, it’s possible for someone to surprise you – and your dog – and approach in a way that’s not appropriate. You can decrease the chances of this happening by including a few “stay away” signs while your dog is in training, such as having your dog wear a muzzle or a vest that says “in training.”