‘WHAT should I do if I think my dog is becoming aggressive?’
‘Is this something my young dog will just outgrow?’
‘Are there some things I can do at home, and where do I start?’
Aggression in dogs is the most common problem I have to deal with. Like any other behavioural problem, there is no ‘quick cure’ for aggression. However, if an owner is willing to get qualified help and put in the time and effort required, aggression can usually be controlled.
Most dogs are content to let people be in charge. As puppies, they quickly learn to look to us to let them know what we want them to do. Some dogs seem to have a harder time with this. A dominantly aggressive dog will consistently growl, snap, or bite when a person does something, or asks the dog to do something, which the dog does not like.
These dogs may be protective over food or toys, or favourite sleeping areas. They may react if they are groomed, or if you stare at them, or if they are punished. In the beginning, the problem usually only occurs at certain times, for example, if you disturb your dog while it is eating. Then it begins to occur more often, when you move to place the leash over their head, or tell them to get off of the sofa.
The problem is not the situation, but the issue of control. Yelling, or physical correction such as scruffing, rolling the dog over, or ‘hanging’ the dog by the collar or choke chain are not appropriate or effective forms of discipline, and will only make matters worse.
Dominance aggression usually begins at around 12-18 months of age, when dogs become socially mature.
While intact dogs may have a higher tendency towards dominance aggression, spaying or neutering alone will not solve the problem once it has started. Effective treatment involves behaviour modification, combined with anti-anxiety medication, if needed.